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1980 Chevrolet Malibu - Spooky

A sneaky G-body with a 427ci LS surprise

By Ro McGonegal, Photography by The Author

"Looks like a Newark street racer," editor Campy snickered. "Let's do it!" Street racers used for big-buck clandestine shootouts often appear like beaters, which in fact they are, stripped of fat, parasites, and anything else that doesn't appeal directly to the cause. Sometimes, the gig is to look like junk all around, thus making it easier to suck in chumps.

John Morrell's crisp '80 Malibu is neither, but it retains only what the local eighth-mile rules require (current registration, working headlights, wipers, etc.), but a rear seat is optional. To this schedule, Morrell lightened the front of the car with VFN Fiberglass hood and front bumper, and with the all-alloy 427ci LS engine the overall load is 3,108 pounds, right down there at street-fightin' weight, boys, and pretty much the same as stock. But, Morrell shuffled the weight where he needed it.

"I bought the car in South Carolina from two guys who just used it for racing. It didn't even have a headliner. What really sold me were the mint-condition door and side panelsàand the body, which was in very good condition, too. Before we'd hit the Georgia border," John chirped, "we'd (fellow racer Justin Brayman) stripped off the old lettering. The next day the car was at JD's Custom Paint & Body in Port Richey, Florida."

John's RMP Automotive, also in Port Richey, is a general repair shop that also fabricates exhaust systems. In central Florida you'd be hard-pressed to find a good-ol'-boy late-model pick-em up that doesn't have a pair of pipes sticking out the back of it. So the 53-year-old John was on the case with his 'Bu, having already experienced a '68 Chevelle, '67 Nova, and a '69 Camaro RS.

"I always wanted to build this particular car for the simple fact that the G-body Malibu works. The sound body and good interior were the keys to the buy. Just to make it different, I put an LS engine in it," he declared. "I also like the fact that it's a dual-purpose car in that I can drive it or race it. Soon, we'll be working the Zex perimeter plate (150-300hp) and the new NX Safeguard fuel system." The latter assumes the space usually reserved for the battery, which has been banished to the boot, which aids in weight transfer and traction.

At first he ran a 427ci small-block. The LS has the same displacement, but it's lighter and more powerful (652 hp at 6,800 rpm). On nuts, the 'Bu has gone 10.29/137 at Gainesville and 6.30s (100hp shot) on the Sunshine Drag Strip (Clearwater) eighth-mile. John contracted LS specialists Texas Speed & Performance in Wollforth (a 'burb of Lubbock) to build the motor while he cranked on the chassis and set up the rest of the car. It already had a legal 10-point cage from its former life. John: "The car is pretty basic, mostly bolt-on parts. When I switched to coilovers in the rear, I had to weld in a crossmember for the upper attachment point as well as relocate the shock mounts on the 12-bolt axle."

He rebuilt the front end with stock components, adding Moroso springs and 90/10 shocks to get the front of the car to work in concert with the tire-bite as quickly as possible. The former owners had posted South Side Machine lift bars and adjustable upper links, and John added an Edelbrock adjustable antisway bar and Chassis Engineering adjustable coilovers. Bite is tight; wheelstands are routine. For reliability, John filled the coconut with 4.56:1 gears on a Chassis Engineering spool torturing Moser 33-spline axles, capping it all with an LPN support/cover.

By Ro McGonegal
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