Who would have ever thought that the car that was supposed to be Chevy's family car of the future would turn into the street racer special of the present?
When it was introduced to an unsuspecting public in the fall of 1977, the redesigned, downsized '78 Malibu was expected to do combat with the likes of the Plymouth Volare and Ford's upcoming Fairmont, and to drive the Japanese imports back to Tokyo. The days of the Malibu being the basis for Chevy muscle were long gone. Now, it was the right car for the right time. Small, efficient V-6s abounded, the car itself was 550 pounds lighter than its predecessor, and (as luck would have it) there was another energy crisis looming in the near future, practically guaranteeing its popularity.
You could get a base, 49-state, Malibu sport coupe with a 200-inch six for a base price of $4,204. Its factory shipping weight was listed at just 3,001 pounds. A 305 V-8 model was optional from day one, for the bargain price of $4,394-and it weighed just 137 pounds more than the V-6 model.
Who could have imagined that such an austere automobile from humble beginnings would become the vehicle of choice for drag racers, street rats, and outlaws who only come out at night to battle heads-up for big bucks on shadowy industrial roads? But that is the fate of the Malibu. The hard-core among the faithful realized that a nitrous-gulping 383 stroker is a direct bolt-in, and they can fit heavy-duty drivetrains and rears with ease.
With the explosion in popularity of centrifugal superchargers over the last decade, it's no surprise that stealth-bombers are using them in Malibus, too. Take our feature car, for instance. It has an intercooled ProCharger F2 blower hooked up to an injected 355, and, let us assure you, this sucker storms down the track.
"The car was originally a 6-cylinder with a bench seat. It had yellow paint and a tan plaid interior. From the first time we saw it, we knew this was the one," according to owner Rick Dupont, a telephone technician from Massachusetts. "It had a clean body, low miles and a vinyl roof. The car was built to be a sleeper. We decided to run 10s on pump gas and not attract too much attention."
The other person who makes up the "we" he was referring to is his brother-in-law Mike "Dez" Dezotell of Dez Racing in Seekonk, Massachusetts, who planned the build of our feature vehicle, and who also drove it at our track day. While Dez scienced out the combo, it was Rick who put it all together.
Except for the ACCEL EFI setup and Gen VII DFI computer, the engine (built by Richie Morse at RPM Performance) is a model of simplicity. It has a short-block stuffed with JE 9.2:1 pistons, an Eagle crank and rods, and a Comp hydraulic roller cam topped by AFR 210 aluminum cylinder heads. The cam specs read .565-inch lift and 244 duration on the intake side, and .570 and 254 on the exhaust. The car is tuned to run on 93 octane fuel, in spite of the F2 supercharger stuffing 20 psi of boost through the throttle body. That means not a lot of timing.
"Fuel injection was chosen for the 'wow' factor," explained Rick, who just loves driving the car on the street, the track and to cruise nights. "It's fun when you pop the hood and people look amazed. We just wanted to bring a little tech to such a popular car."
An MSD 7AL2 lights the mixture and Hedman 1 7/8-inch headers clean it out through a Torque Tech 3-inch exhaust with Dynomax Race Magnum mufflers. A Dynamic Racing Transmissions Turbo 400 sends power to a Ford 9-inch with 3.70 gears and a spool. The end result twists the chassis dyno rollers to 660 hp at 6500 rpm and 572 lb-ft at 6000.
Equally simplistic is the suspension. The only change up front is a set of KYB shocks. In the rear KYBs work with Wolfe Racecraft control arms and an antisway bar.
Inside, Rick did all the work, changing the tan plaid to blue. Mid-'80s Monte Carlo SS buckets add a degree of comfort and style, while a Hurst Quarter Stick changes the gears. The steering wheel is from Grant, the gauges Auto Meter.
Rob Robbins sprayed the Dupont blue paint onto the mostly stock exterior. A Harwood cowl hood with airbrushed Bow Tie emblems and Wheel Vintiques rims are the only deviations from its factory appearance. The wheels measure 15x7 fore and 15x10 aft (with 5.5-inch backspacing). The rears are wrapped in sticky Mickey Thompson 275/50 drag radials.
Going into our test day at New Jersey's Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, the car's best run had been a 10.90 at 128 mph at the Super Chevy show at Maple Grove Raceway in 2006 (with Dez behind the wheel). The suspension was not quite right that day, and he and Rick had great expectations pulling into the fabled quarter-mile facility at RP.
They didn't have to wait long to improve on the 10.90. After spinning the tires to an 11.57 at 127.64 mph, Dez altered his launch technique and wheeled the Malibu to an impressive 10.41 at 133 mph. Later, the car went a 10.733 at 132.02, but the engine developed a wicked miss at the top of third gear. That was all she wrote.
Literally. The next attempt down the track resulted in some broken rods. Bad news? Perhaps, but this is all the excuse Rick needed to start building a 427 stroker small-block. Are 9s on pump gas in the cards?
We wouldn't bet against it.