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1980 Chevrolet Malibu - Spooky

A sneaky G-body with a 427ci LS surprise

Ro McGonegal Jul 7, 2011
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"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.

The rules of a winning racecar are consistency and repeatability, something that comes fairly easy with the right tune-up for the situation... and an automatic transmission. To that end, the ATI Turbo 350 was fitted with a trans-brake and a 3,800-stall speed converter. John changes up with a B&M Pro Ratchet shifter. To complement the system, Precision Shaft Technologies in Clearwater constructed an aluminum propeller fitted with Spicer ends. To add strength to the whole and keep torsional stress to a minimum, John bolted in a hefty G-Force crossmember with a dropped center for the transmission mount and arches for the exhaust system pass-through.

Meanwhile, Texas Speed was plastered to the 427 (4.127 x 4.00) project. They based the assembly on a Callies Comp Star crankshaft matched with Comp Star 6.125-inch-long connecting rods. Time was taken to fit the Wiseco forgings (hi-temp coated skirts, offset wrist pins, flat deck with deep valve notches) to the combustion chambers of the CNC-ported LS7 cylinder heads and produce a pump-gas-amenable 11.0:1 compression ratio (93 octane). Further, the seats were finished with multi-angle competition Precision Race Components hollow-stem stainless valves, PRC springs, guides, retainers, and locks. The wet-sump oiling system includes an F-body sump and blueprinted pump. Wiseco forgings are favorites of juice and forced-air addicts and the ones in John's engine are surrounded by companion Wiseco GFX ring packs.

Comp Cams ground John a special one featuring 240 degrees of duration at 0.050-inch, 0.609/0.615-inch lift, and lobe separation angle of 110 degrees. Harland Sharp pedestal rockers (exhausts offset) yield a ratio of 1.8:1, and the Comp solid rollers hump Texas Speed chrome-moly pushrods. TS put cam to block with an LS2 double-roller timing chain and gears and covered the internals with a Wegner Motorsports conversion for carbureted applications, including and MSD controller and moving the distributor and coil to the front of the engine.

With its combustion chamber design, optimized ports, and a 12-degree valve angle, this engine doesn't need a mountain of ignition timing. Sans nitrous, John's maintains 28 degrees total. Induction includes a Holley 1,000-cfm HP carburetor with a K&N hat atop a spidery GM Performance Parts intake manifold. Fuel is sourced from a fuel tank sump and Mallory Comp 340 pump. The residuals resultant come out of Hedman headers 1-7/8-inch primaries into a 3-inch system, zigzags through an X-pipe, and on to ancient, stubby two-chamber Flowmasters.

Race rubber is in constant attendance: 28.0x7.50 Mickey fronts roll on 15x4 Hole Shot (Bunnell, Florida) Hole Star three-piece lightweights followed by either 295/65 M/T Drag Radials or 29.0x10.0 Goodyear slicks on 8-inch-wide Hole Stars. Local rules require a parachute used in league with Aerospace Components 11.75-inch-diameter discs and four-piston calipers. The stock, although rebuilt, 12-bolt drums are there for the ride. John added a bit of contrast to that '86-89 Chrysler Silver by having the wheel centers powdercoated black.

In the office, things are tidy and clean, black and gray. Once past the rollcage stringers, the Kirkey race seats stand prominent. John covered the sun-mauled, severely cracked dash pad with a slick inexpensive cap from National Parts Depot. To modernize, he and Brayman installed a Classic Dash panel assembly fitted with Auto Meter Ultra Lite gauges of various denominations. John swears by the shift light and admits to rarely consulting the tachùracer's intuition, an educated butt, and a big ol' wink light get him through. Steering wheel is a Grant GT.

"John's motor barks loud," said Campy. "I especially like the big cowl hood behind the factory stand-up hood ornament. You sure this car isn't a ringer from I-78 Dragway outside Newark Airport?"



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