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This 1980 Chevy Malibu bruiser Runs 8-Second Elapsed Times

G-Thang: With a sprayed LS and 8-second timeslips, John Dodson’s G-body kicks ass on the dragstrip

Stephen Kim Aug 18, 2017
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To slightly modify a rather politically incorrect expression, if you throw enough stuff against the wall, some of it’s bound to stick. With less-than-inspiring machines like the Galaxie, Falcon, and Fairlane, FoMoCo’s product development department evidently took this expression to heart. Nevertheless, while the Blue Oval brigade has manufactured plenty of turds, it definitely got things right with the Fox-body Mustang. Thanks to its notchy good looks, low mass, easy hp potential, and hook-and-book four-link suspension, no single vehicle platform inspired a new generation of drag racers like the Fox. Even so, GM by no means fell asleep at the wheel. People in the ’80s weren’t smart enough to realize it at the time, but The General had its very own notchy, lightweight, four-linked, dragstrip-ready platform called the G-body.

Truth be told, few hot rodders in the ’80s had enough vision to look past the G-body’s wheezy 305- and 350ci small-blocks and see their true drag potential. Had they been able to do so, they would have realized that all the G-body needed to stick it to the Fox Mustang was an infusion of horsepower and some sticky tires. Interestingly, the turbo Buick guys most definitely figured this out, but the Chevy boys didn’t. Although John Dodson wasn’t old enough to drive back then, he saw the potential. “When I was a kid, whenever my dad saw a G-body he said they’re the best platform to build a drag car out of because they were the last full-frame Chevys. Ever since then, I’ve always wanted to build a G-body,” John recalls.

1980 Chevy Malibu Drag Car Grille 2/40
1980 Chevy Malibu Drag Car Rear 3/40

Decades later, John proved his old man right by dropping an LS small-block into an ’80 Malibu, hooking up a 300hp hit of nitrous, and running 9.07-second e.t.’s on drag radials. “This car was originally owned by two nuns in New Jersey. They shared the car and parked it in their basement,” says John. “A friend of mine bought it from them and swapped in an LS1 and a 4L60E trans out of a fourth-gen Camaro. When he decided to sell it, I flew up to New York with my good friend Jason Doisher to pick up the car. I made a bet with a couple of guys at work that we would make the drive from New York back to Dallas in 24 hours. After a photo op in Times Square we drove straight through in 22 hours. We stopped and slept for an hour in Kentucky, then got pulled over in Arkansas for having a fake paper plate.”

Initially, John had no intention of building a drag car, but his plans quickly changed. “I originally bought this car to have a cool sleeper and daily driver. I drove it around for about a year, but then decided to install a built 408, Powerglide, and a Strange 9-inch rearend,” John recounts. The low-buck, big-power LS combo matches a factory 6.0L iron block with a Callies/Compstar crank and rods and Diamond pistons. Airflow comes courtesy of a set of ported Chevrolet Performance LS3 cylinder heads, an Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake manifold, and an Accufab 4150 throttle body. The big kahuna in the mix is a Nitrous Outlet 300hp plate system. “I run 93-octane in the main tank and 116-octane in the enrichment cell with the 200hp jet. With the 300hp jet, I step it up to 110-octane fuel in the main tank.”

1980 Chevy Malibu Drag Car Engine 4/40
1980 Chevy Malibu Drag Car Engine Detail 5/40
1980 Chevy Malibu Drag Car Suspension 6/40

Those brutal hits of power get routed through an NTC 4,000-stall converter and a spooled 9-inch rearend. As with the engine, the suspension combo didn’t cost a lot but does some seriously good work. Up front are TRZ control arms and stock V-6 Malibu springs. Out back, Trick Chassis control arms and Viking springs drive the rear end into the pavement. Strange double-adjustable shocks at each corner manage weight transfer to the 275/60R15 Mickey Thompson ET Street Radial Pro rear tires. With minimal suspension mods, the G-body cuts blazing 1.20-second 60-foot times.

1980 Chevy Malibu Drag Car Side 7/40
1980 Chevy Malibu Drag Car Wheel 8/40

For most hot rodders, building a fast street car on a budget with your own two hands is plenty satisfying. For John, he had to put both man and machine to the ultimate test by flogging his G-body on Hot Rod Drag Week. “If you hate money and love working, Drag Week is awesome,” he jokes. “Honestly, it’s the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. The first year we went, we ran 9.07 and finished in Fifth place in the Street Race Small-Block Power-Adder class. There are over 30 cars in that class, so it’s definitely the most competitive class in Drag Week.”

Not content with finishing Fifth, John decided to step things up big time by replacing the nitrous combo with a turbo setup. With no changes to the 408 other than a camshaft swap and an 88mm turbo, suddenly the Malibu was going too fast. “The fastest you can run in that class is 8.50, and the car has been as fast as 8.43. There were plenty of timeslips we couldn’t turn in on Drag Week because the car went too fast,” says John. “The car has a new 427ci combo for this year, and the main goal is getting the car more consistent. That’s why I’m doing so much testing right now. The car finished Second last year, but I plan on winning the class this year.”

1980 Chevy Malibu Drag Car Interior 9/40
1980 Chevy Malibu Drag Car Shifter 10/40

That’s not too shabby at all for a platform that most Chevy guys have forgotten. Had the G-body platform continued into the ’90s and gotten an infusion of horsepower from the factory like the Fox Mustang perhaps it might have captured the interest of more racers. In hindsight, we know this never happened but while most hot rodders overlooked these machines, every now and again someone had enough vision to realize their potential. As it turns out, John’s old man was right. G-bodies do, in fact, make excellent dragstrip machines. All it takes is some extra horsepower, a sticky set of tires, and someone with the will to transform potential into real performance.

1980 Chevy Malibu Drag Car Rear Quarter 11/40

Tech Check
Owner John Dodson, Lake Dallas, Texas
Vehicle 1980 Malibu
Engine
Type LS small-block
Displacement 408 ci
Compression Ratio 11.5:1
Bore 4.030 inches
Stroke 4.000 inches
Cylinder Heads Ported Chevrolet Performance LS3 aluminum castings
Rotating Assembly Callies/Compstar forged crank and steel rods, Diamond pistons
Camshaft Custom Bullet hydraulic roller
Induction Ported Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake manifold, Accufab 4150 throttle body
Power-Adder Nitrous Outlet 300hp plate nitrous system
Ignition Stock coil packs, MSD plug wires
Engine Management Holley Dominator EFI
Exhaust Hedman Hedders 2-inch long-tube headers, custom X-pipe, dual 3-inch MagnaFlow mufflers
Built By T.J. Akins
Tuned By James Kargar
Drivetrain
Transmission Nate Duran Powerglide, North Texas Converters 4,000-stall converter
Rear Axle Strange 9-inch rearend with 3.50:1 gears and spool
Chassis
Steering Stock
Front Suspension TRZ upper and lower control arms, stock V-6 Malibu springs, Strange double-adjustable shocks
Rear Suspension Trick Chassis upper and lower control arms, Viking springs, Strange double-adjustable shocks
Brakes Strange discs front and rear
Wheels & Tires
Wheels Weld AlumaStar 15x3.5 front, 15x10 rear
Tires Mickey Thompson Sportsman S/R radial 26x6.00 front, Mickey Thompson ET Street Radial Pro 275/60 rear
Interior
Seats Kirkey buckets
Upholstery Stock
Instrumentation Holley EFI Digital Dash
Steering Wheel Stock
Carpet Stock
Shifter B&M
Exterior
Paint Original GM Light Blue
Grille Stock
Hood Stock

Photography by Stephen Kim

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