1971 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu Wagon - Two Tons Of Fun

This Global West-equipped Malibu wagon proves good parts and sticky tires can beat the laws of physics

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One thing about the Super Chevy Suspension & Handling Challenge, presented by Nitto Tire: You just never know what will show up. Since we started this free-for-all in '08, we've tested everything from a six-figure C1 Corvette with a full aftermarket frame to a Smokey Yunick tribute Tri-Five. The one body type, however, that seems to always put a smile on everyone's face is the wagon. Forever considered dorky by the cool kids, they somehow have gained cult status in the new millennium. Maybe if more family trucksters were equipped like this instead of with wood paneling, people would have had a different opinion of them when new.

The 1971 Malibu you see here was originally found in Massachucets by Yancy Johns of Tennessee, and was surprisingly rust-free. It was also bone stock with faded paint and a flat hood. Yancy had the wagon painted and gave it the pseudo SS treatment. Paint was done at a local shop in the Volunteer State.

1971 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu Wagon 2/8

Eventually, the wagon then came to Steven Rupp in California. Rupp, tech editor of sister publication Camaro Performers magazine, is the man behind the "Bad Penny" '68 Camaro g-machine (SC, August '07), one of the most influential F-bodies in history. Rupp wanted to transform this giant A-body into a modernized wagon that would be fun to drive, get good gas mileage, and be different.

"With the pro-touring craze going on, it was only logical to carry that build style to the wagon," Rupp explained. "Since it's so heavy it only made sense to try and knock off some weight by going with the LS engine. Still, even with that the wagon tips the scales at just over 4,000 lbs. It also, in concert with the Tremec Magnum six-speed, lets the wagon get just under 21 mpg on the highway. Besides, a wagon with a manual transmission is just cool."

The engine swap, along with raising the transmission tunnel, was done by Dick Kvamme at Best Of Show Coach Works in Escondido, California.

1971 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu Wagon 3/8

The wagon was meant to be a cruiser, so things were kept simple, but Rupp knew he wanted the wagon to handle well, so it was taken to Global West, where Doug and Eric Nordin welded in their coilover system, complete with Penske single-adjustable shocks. They also tightened up the steering with their gearbox and welded gussets into the frame to control twist.

The result is "ginormous" wagon that can handle as well as a new musclecar. It will be going back to GW for a new "secret" system they are working on, and at that point it should be lapping new Camaros, which is pretty cool for a 43-year-old boat.

"Now if we could just find that third-row seat," according to Steven.

On The Track

"Two Tons of Fun" was my pet name for the Global West-equipped wagon this year, and if someone had bet me a few nickels that a 4,000-plus-lb wagon could get around Streets of Willow in a decent time, I'd have quickly taken that wager. Who'd have thought? Here's this grocery getter, a definite mom-mobile, that is better suited as a family truckster than something you'd choose for hammering it hard out of any racetrack corner, yet it got with the program.

1971 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu Wagon Front View 4/8

Once behind the wheel, initial perceptions quickly changed. This wagon had all the goods—a "hot cammed" LS3 from Chevrolet Performance backed by the bulletproof Tremec T56 Magnum gearbox, big Wilwood 14-inch stoppers, excellent Saginaw 12.7:1 ratio steering, and Nitto NT05s wrapped nicely around some really purdy Forgelines. And the suspension ... nothing less than a true conversion by Global West: Coilovers, tubular arms, and Penske single-adjustables finished off with an aggressive alignment grounded the wagon and gave it confidence and stability. Words not normally used in the same sentence as "station wagon."

I started the engine and when I hit the track, I was expecting ... well ... I didn't really know what to expect. I mean, this is a wagon and it'd been eating well! It was a ponderous machine, huge panels of body and glass enveloped me, a single lap belt was the only means strapping me to the seats, but apparently no one had told this Chevelle its job today wasn't to imitate a land yacht!

It was anything but ... my first lap was the "get to know you" lap, and I only needed one fast turn to feel comfortable heaping some serious flogfest pressure on this car. "Drive it like you stole it" were the owner's instructions and I followed 'em to the letter. The Chevelle was really easy to drive, and almost every system worked in synchronity, which is a fancy way of saying all the stuff got along well. Driving sedately can be done by anyone, but pushing a car to it's "pissed off" point tells you so much more about it's personality and willingness to work. Is it a Rottweiler or a Golden Retriever? For this one, I say it's the Golden, as there was no bite, no grouchiness, and absolutely no copping a curmudgeon-like ‘tude at all.

The car was easy to horse around as I "backed" it into corners by asking for rotation, pointing to a late-apex for everything that had concrete with an angle attached. Applying power in the middle of all this got me through the corner and spit out the other side ... all easily under control and within the boundaries the Chevelle had set. The Nittos complained mightily but never gave up the fight. The shock damping was perfect as well. It kept the tires from bouncing along, and coupled with the Global West bars, controlled body roll, but never produced a harsh ride or responded negatively to road chatter. Best of all was the feel as a driver. This wagon didn't drive "big," but felt very fluid and nimble throughout my phase of the testing. No surprises with handling and when stuff happens, it happens slowly. Like every other Global West suspended car I've driven, a definite "two wrenches up" from me!

I did find the brakes to be quite touchy and very hard to modulate. The pedal had minimal travel, making gradual slowing and speed reduction almost impossible. Those poor Nittos now have about a million little flattened sections of what was once round tread. That and a few more feet of lap and shoulder harness would be my only recommendations for improving this fun ride.—Mary Pozzi

On The Street

Unlike the other two vintage cars at our Suspension Challenge in 2013, this Malibu was not owned by an employee of the company whose parts it wore. Steven Rupp drove it to The Streets of Willow Springs in track-ready condition. He didn't have a lot of time to spare, and could only be at our event for one day. That meant it arrived loaded for bear, which didn't help it in the street-drive portion of our test.

Over the real choppy pavement it definitely felt jittery and nervous, especially in the rear. It was by far the harshest of the three classics I put through their paces, less suited to over-the-road driving than it was track action. We're sure with a few adjustments it could have been made more agreeable.

Still, there was plenty to put in the plus side of the ledger. The steering was excellent, the handling flat and sure-footed. The action of the clutch and shifter was exemplary, and the response of the "hot-cammed" LS3 was instantaneous. The suspension parts are obviously doing their job, as this car was able to run lock-step with the '13 Camaro SS in every measured facet of performance.

While I can't say I've ever been a "wagon guy," the inherent goodness of this package would work in any body style Chevelle. There's a lot to like here. We only wish we had the chance to drive the car in a softer state of tune.—Jim Campisano

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1971 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu Wagon Side 8/8

Specifications

Global West 1971 Chevelle Malibu wagon
Engine Type: LS3
Block: Aluminum w/ six-bolt, cross-bolted main caps
Fuel Delivery: GM fuel injection
Drivetrain
Transmission: Tremec T56 six-speed
Clutch: LUK LS clutch package from Hurst Driveline conversions
Rearend: Custom Narrowed Currie 9-inch with TSD limited slip and 3.50 gears
Chassis/Suspension
Chassis: Stock GM with added gussets
Front Suspension: Global West Extended Travel coilover system with tubular arms
Steering: Global West 600 series steering box with 12.7 to 1 ratio
Springs: 800 lbs/in
Spindles: Global West 2-inch drop
Shocks: Penske single-adjustable
Sway Bar: Global West 1-1/4-inch solid
Brakes: Wilwood 6-piston calipers and 14-inch rotors
Rear Suspension: Global West coilover conversion system
Springs: 175 lbs/in (Wagon Only)
Shocks: Penske single-adjustable shocks w/ remote canisters
Sway Bar: ¾-inch solid(was disconnected during testing)
Brakes: Wilwood 4-piston calipers and 14-inch rotors
Cost of Suspension:
$7,296.50 (without brakes)
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Forgeline RB3C three-piece, Front-18x9, Rear-19x10
Tires: Nitto NT05, Front-275/35R18, Rear- 275/30R19
Weight
Total: 4003
Results
Skid Pad: CW 0.88g, CCW 0.89g; Average 0.885g
Slalom: Best 44.3 mph; Average of 5 runs 43.4 mph
Road Course: Best 1.05.67; Average of 5 runs 1:06.36
Baseline
2013 Camaro SS
Skid Pad: CW 0.88g, CCW 0.88g, Average 0.88g
Slalom: Best 45.5 mph, Average of 5 runs 45.5 mph
Road Course: Best 1:05.56, Average of 5 runs 1:06.20

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