Rodney Dangerfield couldn't get it, Aretha Frankin had to spell it, and Brittany Spears is struggling to get it back. It's called respect. It's also something guys who own wagons seem to miss out on ... a little. As an owner of an '82 Malibu wagon I know this firsthand. Yeah, I know they are commonly referred to as grocery getters, but I sort of like that term. Maybe it's because of all the cool, vintage drag race Stockers I used to see back in the day.
But in today's world of building cars, having that grocery getter handle corners just as good as the coupe it's modeled after isn't a problem thanks to companies like Hotchkis Performance. Their TVS Extreme kit for G-bodies is tuned and ready to go. It basically bolts up to our Malibu Wagon pretty much the same way it would on a coupe or its El Camino cousin.
We picked up the car a few months ago with the idea of having a wagon for us editorial guys to haul a bunch of timing and photo equipment to photo shoots and car test days. When we purchased the car, we knew the existing suspension was, for the most part, original and it would need new shocks and springs at the minimum. But once we got around to ordering up the new parts, we figured it would be cool to go with a total sport suspension system and turn our work wagon into a hot handler.
We called the folks at Hotchkis and told them what we had in mind for this car, and after the chuckling on the other end of the line finally subsided, they realized we were serious. Actually they loved the idea of bolting their kit up to our wagon. They're pretty familiar with our driving habits so they knew the TVS Extreme G-body kit would be perfect for what we had in mind. They also suggested we go with the rear airbag kit since we'll be loading the car with some pretty heavy equipment. We also went ahead and ordered up new shocks since the ones that came on the ride were toast. They may even have been original equipment. Seriously, the ride was incredibly bad, unless you like bouncing four extra times over speed bumps.
With the new suspension parts bolted up, the fact that the stock steering had a wicked flat spot became painfully obvious, so before hitting the track, we called up the crew at CPP (Classic Performance Products) and ordered up a new steering box. After all, new suspension will only perform as good as the car's steering ability.
Needless to say, after all the new suspension goodies and steering box were bolted up, we couldn't wait to test out the new parts. So we packed up our gear and took the car to our testing facility at the old El Toro Marine Base in Irvine, California. We hammered it through our 420-foot slalom course and 200-foot skid pad and couldn't believe the handling improvement. It's also important to point out that the Hotchkis Sport Suspension is tuned for every day driving as well as aggressive cornering, so we didn't give up any ride comfort on city streets and highways.
All in all, we were quite surprised at how well the car held up through the rigorous testing. Not that we doubted the strength and ability of the Hotchkis suspension components, but the fact that we were running some no-name-brand 380 treadwear tires on front and non-matching 200 tread wear rubber on the rear, was a testament to the quality of the suspension components. And it was all done on 15x6-inch wheels up front and 15x7s out back.
Of course that got us to thinking, 'what if we had 18-inch wheels with more accommodating rubber on this thing?' Well, that's another story for another test day, but I'm sure that will happen soon.
So the bottom line here; don't be disrespecting the wagon. And even though our extra long G-body hauls around a bunch of camera equipment, it can also haul around corners with the best of 'em.
Now we don't mind if you refer to our little wagon as a grocery getter, but all we ask is that you do so with a little respect. You never know, we might have to unload our camera gear and show you what this thing will do on the autocross. We're pretty sure you'll be surprised.
Stopping The Slop
On the drive home from Hotchkis, one thing became painfully clear: While the ride was hugely improved, the vague and sloppy steering was now a glaring deficiency. With a huge dead spot in the middle, it was nearly impossible to fully appreciate the wagon's newfound handling prowess. Since Hotchkis didn't offer a steering box for our application, we stopped by Classic Performance Products (CPP) for a little help.
By The Numbers
We've done quite a bit of testing over the years, and have yet to back down from any sort of a suspension challenge, but we didn't feel 100 percent confident that our wagon would hold up under the rigors of our testing requirements with the stock suspension and sloppy steering. Besides, the stock stuff was so worn out, that we really wouldn't have gotten valuable data. So we thought it would be interesting to show how our '82 wagon fared against some stock, factory-built performance cars we've recently tested.