Sunday, July 23, 2017

Cars in Yards: 1976 Chevrolet Malibu Classic, Part II - Exile on Craigslist

The rough, rusty colonnade looks solids and complete but a long way from roadworthy.

$200 project car. The old Malibu had lost a little shine by the time I saw it. A friend told my partner in grime, Ron Kidd, that he found a car in a yard that needed to be moved. That means “sold cheap” to guys like me. I learned the specifics after Ron hurriedly looked the car over one afternoon after work.

 “It’s all there. A silver 1976 Malibu Classic, 2-door, power steering/brakes, A/C, and it has a rear defroster!” said Ron. “The 350 engine looked complete. The black interior looks good too, it even has the original headliner in place.”

 After a winning endorsement like that, how could I say “no” to a $200 car? How is the body? Any rust?
 “No rust, straight,” Ron said. “It has power locks and roll-up windows!”
 Ron loves power locks and roll-up windows. Any oddball talking points that make a car unique get Ron’s motor running. His enthusiasm is contagious.

  “Tell the family, of the original owner, that I want it,” I said. “Sounds like a good deal. I don’t even need to see it.” Bold words from a guy who lives by two simple, hard-boiled, car buying rules:
  • Don’t buy a car you haven’t seen in person.
  • Don’t buy a car you haven’t driven, if operable.
This car only met one criteria. There was no chance this car could be driven. Still, I shrugged off the other criteria. This was a no-brainer.

Covering the entire bed of the wrecker, the 208-inch A-Body looks massive for a GM mid-size of 73-77 fame.
1976 Chevrolet Malibu Classic looks fast with the black steel wheels.

Dream plans
 A quick scan of the web offered images of ’73-’77 Chevys with massive tires, lowered stance, and Bassett steel racing wheels that borrow from the NASCAR look of the 1970s. I couldn’t wait to get the ’76 Malibu Classic home. What would it take to get my Malibu looking and driving good? I would soon be diagnosing the engine to see what it needed to make it fire up. Maybe she’ll run? I’ve bought cars for $300 and drove them home after some tinkering. Just add fresh gas and a hot battery. A $200 car is what dreams are made of.

Trailing the wrecker and watching as the prized project is delivered home.

Family history
 The Malibu was originally owned by Joe Scott, a career railroad man in Birmingham, Alabama. Barbara, his daughter, said he loved the car. But, his family never understood why he spoke so highly of the Malibu. It was just another one of the cars he eventually parked in the yard. Joe never sold any of his cars. Just parked them when the next car came along. When Joe passed away in 2016, at age 84, there were eight spare vehicles in his yard. Barbara said he was wary of car dealers or would-be buyers who might try to take advantage of him. He saw no reason to deal with the hassle if he could just park them. I also think it was because Joe liked his cars and trucks.

104k on the odometer of ’76 Malibu Classic’s 350-V8.

Payment, pickup, and delivery
 It was official. A deal was made over the phone, with Joe’s daughter Barbara, that I would pick up the car ASAP and bring payment. On a steamy, 100-degree afternoon in Alabama I handed over the cash and waited on the wrecker driver. I brought along an air tank, jack, and a spare tire/wheel combo, to be used if needed. I filled each tire with close to 40-lbs of air and lifted the Malibu using the floor jack to remove a concrete block that was positioned under the frame near the engine. Everything was cleared away from the car and it was ready to move. Or so I thought.
 The large rollback wrecker was unable to reach the car deep in the backyard. The Malibu was tucked behind several obstacles, including outbuildings and field lines. “Chief,” the 72-year-old wrecker driver, a former police chief, tried to get the wrecker backed into place but the path was too narrow. This meant lots of pushing and shoving was needed to move the car closer to the wrecker. Pushing the 4,000-pound beast was made trickier because the tilt steering column was loose. Cranking hard on the steering wheel would inadvertently shift the car into park. What fun! Did I mention it was 100-degree day and half the car was painted black and it had a black vinyl interior? I jumped into the moldy sweatbox and cranked hard on the wheel while trying to hold it in neutral. Maybe this $200 Malibu idea was a bad one? The family of the seller even suggested as much. I was in it too far to back out now.
 “Chief” winched the Chevy in as soon as we had pushed it close enough to the rollback. Once loaded, delivery of the Chevy A-body into my backyard was a piece of cake.

Hood left up to keep animals from nesting under the hood. Mice are scared of birds of prey that can swoop down and grab them.

Time to see what I bought
 Unfortunately, my neighbors only see the silver and rusty orange side as it sits under a backyard carport. I settled into the torn driver’s seat and realized that despite the musty smell, the interior was the best part of the car. A wobbly tilt steering column, a crack in the dash and foam spilling from the split driver’s seat were the only troubles inside.  
 Outside, the body was straight except for the around the rear window where body filler or caulk had been used to seal the rear glass and cover damage caused by moisture trapped under the vinyl roof. Underneath the belly of the Malibu was crusty and thin. I tested the strength of the floors by stabbing a screwdriver up into the floor pans. They provided little resistance. I also found the trunk was a minefield of gaping holes, exposing the top of the gas tank. The holes were hidden beneath large pieces of plastic runners that your grandma may have used to protect the carpet. Intensive metal rehab would be necessary to get this where I would want it to be my daily driver. This was the turning point of my $200 dream.

Bright Silver paint under trunk lid show what color the ’76 Malibu used to be.

“Rust! What rust?”
 I got Ron on the phone after I inspected the trunk of the Malibu.
 “Hey Ron, did you look in the trunk of the car?”
 “Yes, I glanced in it,” said Ron. “A junk spare tire, jack, and some fan belts?”
 No need to quibble over a little rust. It was still a deal. Worth more than $200 in scrap metal. But I’m not one to scrap out a solid-looking Malibu Classic with a complete 350-V8/2-bbl engine, transmission, decent interior (decent to me, I’m not too picky), and complete A/C system, including compressor that turns freely. I was happy to have it, but this was a long way from a pro-touring, daily driver.

Gas tank visible through floor of trunk.

Then there was a 1973 Pontiac Grand Am
 A fan of our Colonnade stories from New Jersey contacted me about buying his 1973 Pontiac Grand Am. It was only a few weeks after I bought the Malibu. He needed to sell and made me a deal. A running Grand Am with a few body issues (I’m thinking, please don’t let it be a rusty basket case), and I could be daily driving a Bill Porter-designed A-Body with a Poncho 400-V8 and posi-traction. 
My Malibu was no longer an option. Time to sell. A quick post to Craigslist was in order. Four hours later, a buyer was standing in my yard. I sold it too cheap at $500. I made back my $120 towing cost, and the $200 purchase price, but not much more. Very little compensation for the sweat equity but a valuable lesson in my back pocket for future “rust free” purchases.
 I wish I had held onto the Malibu a bit longer, at least until my ’73 GA is delivered. But those are the breaks when you’re living a Junkyard Life on a shoestring budget. You got to sell to buy another one.
 Stay tuned.

Jody Potter
 Junkyard Life

My dog, Gracie, loved the driver’s seat in the 1976 Chevy Malibu.

Faded silver paint gave way to the orange, rusty patina on one side of the Malibu. Passenger side painted black.

Sagging tilt column and torn driver’s seat.

Water trapped beneath vinyl tops would rust the car from the top down.
Rear glass sealed to protect the car from moisture damage. Not sure it did much good after glancing into the swiss cheese trunk. 

Older NASCAR fans will remember these beast roaring around tracks in the 1970s.
Gray beard NASCAR fans will remember these beasts roaring around tracks in the 1970s.

Some are not fond of the stacked rectangle headlights adopted by the Malibu Classic in 1976. Round headlights were available on the base model Malibu.

You need to be committed to a project to see it through or else it will languish.
Sometimes your project cars look better leaving – before you dump a pile of money into them. Commit or call it quits.

Do you have a classic or muscle car barn find? Got a cool car story about buying a car you didn’t want? Send us details and we’re on the way!  Send emails to Jody Potter at 


RCooper said...

Have you any idea of selling? Would like to speak to you.

Junkyard Life said...

@RCooper I don’t get many comments but when I do, I wait six months to process them for integrity before I answer.
Did you read the story? Probably no reason to discuss selling.

Anonymous said...

Im looking for a car like this if you want to sell it