Muscle-Bound: A Brief History of the Malibu


One of Chevrolet’s oldest sedans is all new and ready to take on the town.  The Malibu has been completely redesigned for 2016, and your friends at Finnegan Chevrolet Buick GMC has them.

Any time Chevy rolls out a fresh take on one of their classic models, we tend to get a little nostalgic. So we thought we’d take you on a quick tour of the Malibu brand starting all the way back to the Muscle Car Era.

A Malibu was a Chevelle

chevyhistoryThere is some debate about which car, exactly, started the muscle-car craze of the 60s and early 70s, but the point is essentially moot because most of the cars commonly credited for it were introduced the same year, 1964. It seems everybody got about the same idea at about the same time, and General Motors — which generally receives most of the credit on account of the Pontiac GTO — entered the muscle car market in 1964 with a mid-sized, A-body car known as the Chevelle.

To put it most simply, the Malibu was a fancier Chevelle — cooler interior patterns, nicer upholstery, a fancier steering wheel, different wheel covers, etc.

You could get them with a V-6 or the iconic 327 V-8, which made 300 horsepower in 1964.

Second Generation

Chances are, when you hear the word “Chevelle,” the image that pops into your head is the second-generation Chevelle, which ran from 1966-72, and included what many consider the ultimate expression of what a Muscle Car was: the 1970 Chevelle SS 454. It’s not only the massive big-block that makes the car a legend (although that is a major part of it). It is the rounder, more muscular body, the aggressive stance, and that beautiful dual-headlight setup that was gone by 1971.

By 1970, Chevrolet had dropped the lower trim packages and sold Chevelles as Malibus only. The overlapping branding didn’t seem to bother customers of the time or enthusiasts of today. Second-generation Chevelles sold like crazy in their time, and remain some of the very most collectible cars in the world, regardless of classification.

End of an Era

That the Oil Embargo of 1973 effectively ended the Muscle Car Era has been well documented. It took several years for all of the effects to change the way American manufacturers and American buyers thought of American cars, but by the 1973 model year you could already see some changes in the works.

The Chevelle was completely re-designed that year. It retained its engine lineup for the most part, but horsepower was down. By 1977, the Chevelle had evolved into the kind of high-cubic-inch land barge people associate with cars of the late 70s.

Also of note, in 1974, the Malibu became the entry-level Chevelle, replaced with something called the Malibu Classic, which had briefly been known as the Laguna.

Fourth Generation

Beginning in the throughs of the Malaise Era, the fourth-generation Malibu had disconnected from its muscle-car roots entirely by 1978. It was a foot shorter and, depending on the package, 500-1,000 pounds lighter than its predecessor. The once-loping body design was squared off.

This marked the end of the Chevelle nameplate. With the exception of a specialty car sold only in the Carolinas, this generation was known only as the Malibu and Malibu Classic, with a Malibu Classic Landau series offering two-tone paint and a vinyl top.

Ironically, these fourth-gen cars have become popular with enthusiasts and hot-rodders, who appreciate their simple styling, rear-wheel-drive chassick, and the ease with which they can be modified and reconfigured. This may have had to do with the Malibu’s extensive use in NASCAR from 1973-83.

Death and Resurrection

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Chevrolet discontinued the Malibu for the 1984 model year, and it appeared to be gone for good. Throughout the 80s and 90s, first- and second-generation Chevelles soared in popularity among collectors and drag racers, and as a result the Malibu brand name remained strong. It stood for muscle, performance and style, and connected people, particularly Baby Boomers, to a fondly remembered era.

So it made sense in 1997 when Chevrolet decided to bring it back. This was a new configuration to be sure. Front-wheel drive, and not offered with a V-8, the fifth-generation Malibu was not intended to revive the Muscle Car Era — GM had other vehicles in the works for that. But it was named Motor Trend Car of the Year in 1997.

The Malibu has been continually restyled ever since. With the introduction of the 2016 model year, this ninth-generation Malibu remains one of Chevrolet’s strongest brands and one of the best selling models available at Finnegan Chevrolet Buick GMC.

Learn more: 

A history of muscle cars, from History Channel.

An original review of the 1966 Chevelle.

(c) 2013 Finnegan Auto Blog