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A 1965 Chevrolet Malibu SS with a mad reputation

5 September 2015


This 572 big block–powered Chev Malibu doesn’t just haul arse in a straight line, it’s a weapon in the twisty bits too

I knew it was coming before I saw it turn the corner. There she was at last, in all her glory. People had told me about Garth Williams’s 1965 Malibu before the fateful day, and I knew upon sighting it — and hearing it — that it really was as special as it had been made out to be. 
The car is spoken about often, almost as if it were an old wives’ tale. “They say it breaks traction in top gear on the motorway.” “It made it from Auckland to Americarna in two and a half hours.” “It runs on the blood of small children.” 

From its reputation alone, I knew we had to somehow capture this wild machine and coerce it into the confines of our central city photography studio. 

But how would something that sounds so untamed and looks so staunch cope with the captivity of CBD rush hour? “I’ll drive it in, no worries,” was the reply from its fearless driver. With the shoot booked for 9am, I had to confirm traffic wouldn’t be a problem. “Not at all, it runs cool all day long, no matter what.” How can this be? It was a thought I pondered, until the studio day rolled around.

Lights, camera, action

The shoot wasn’t until a few weeks after I had first seen and heard the car, so I was wondering if it really was as impressive-sounding as I had first thought. Was my memory playing tricks? Nope, not at all. When I heard it again it was just as wild as I remembered. 

The car’s classic circuit racing looks didn’t come about by accident. Garth’s good mate and long time friend Brent Hyde is the man responsible for those. Before the car came into Garth’s hands, it had been in Brent’s possession for many years. Brent originally built it with pre-’65 circuit racing and Dunlop Targa events in mind. With a worked 427ci motor, the car would only run on race gas, so during Targa the team had race fuel stashed around the countryside, which would be put into the Malibu without arousing the suspicion of the competition. 

After racing the car Brent moved on to other things, and it was left sitting unloved in his garage for around eight years. That was when Garth convinced his mate that it needed to get out and be returned to its former glory.

New hands, new motor

Rather than play with the old race motor, Garth decided he would go big, as in big block and big power. Wanting a reliable combo without any hassles, he had DC Trading source on a GM ZZ572 crate motor. 

From the factory, these motors are pieced together with a GM tall deck block, 4340 steel crank, H-beam rods, forged pistons, alloy intake manifolds and a Barry Grant 850cfm carb. The ZZ572s are marketed as nine-second turn-key motors if dropped into a sorted drag chassis, and I would believe it. It’s not just the 620hp that has the car scrambling for traction, but the 881Nm of torque that’s present throughout a large chunk of the rev range. 

However, the Malibu isn’t a sorted drag chassis, it’s set up to turn corners at speed and cruise the streets in style. 

With brushed alloy rocker covers and other matt items in the engine bay, onlookers are no doubt often confused about what the engine is. But it’s not hard to tell that hours of detailing have taken place to ensure it looks just right. Not too flashy, but not too subtle. 

To take the big block’s torque and turn it into melted rubber and forward momentum there’s a Muncie M22 close ratio four-speed ’box with Centerforce hydraulic clutch. Tucked up under the car’s rear, just forward of the 90-litre drop tank, is a nine-inch Detroit locker diff. Rather than risk breaking an axle on the circuit, 31-spline items were added years back.

Hold on to the road

Suspension and braking are departments often overlooked, with many owners focusing on outright power. When Brent originally built the vehicle, he obviously did a fantastic job in these areas, as they remain the same. 

The 255/50R16 Falken tyres wrapped around the 16×10-inch Arrow rims may not be able to tame the power from a standing start, but once out on the twisty back roads they do a remarkable job of keeping the car moving forward. 

The traction is most likely due to the well-sorted suspension package, which consists of Bilstein shocks wrapped in custom springs at each end. Up front are Hotchkis tubular A-arms and sway bars, while down the rear a four-link kit from the same manufacturer has been added. 

To fit within Pre ’65 class rules the brakes are nothing too flash, but they’re set up correctly and seem to do the business. Both front discs and rear drums receive cold air via plastic ducting, and high-performance pads and shoes have been fitted. 

Done right the first time

Though it had been used on the race track, for Targa, and sat in Brent’s shed unloved for eight years, Garth didn’t touch the paint, he simply gave it a good buff and it came up good as new. 
Although the car is a ’65, and a 327 was the biggest engine available in that model year, the car has been fitted with 396 badges from a ’66, which has been known to confuse a few people — especially as there’s a 572 in the engine bay.

The interior is a similar story to the exterior. It’s basically as last raced. Obviously Brent didn’t take the racing too seriously, since the car features a decent sound system and a full leather re-trim. What with the six-point roll cage, the rear seat doesn’t see use these days, but at least it looks the part in pure white. Up front are two Racepro bucket seats, a Hurst shifter and a host of aftermarket gauges. 

Besides the roll cage, there are a few hints to the vehicle’s competitive past, like the switch box and harnesses, but the car is so immaculate it’s hard to believe it has ever been driven in anger, let alone on the track. 

The perfect package

Both Brent and Garth are obviously very fastidious when it comes to looking after and building the car. While it’s extremely purposeful in terms of build style, it’s all been done to a show quality. Not one area of the car has been overlooked, yet not one area has been overdone. either: the easiest way to describe it would be as the perfect package of form and function. 
Make sure when you see (hear) the car out on the street you don’t dismiss it as just a tidy-looking Chevelle; it’s far beyond that. It may not be the fastest, most powerful or most modified car we have ever featured, but in my mind it’s up there with the best of them. 
Oh, and for the record, it didn’t make it down to Americarna in the said amount of time, although it managed to impress many people on that journey. As for breaking traction on the motorway… Perhaps that’s best left to the imagination. 

Photos: Dan Wakelin

1965 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu SS

  • Engine: GM Performance ZZ 572ci, (9373cc) GM Performance tall deck block, 4340 steel crank, 4340 H-beam rods, forged pistons, GM Performance aluminium heads, aluminium single plane manifold, Barry Grant Speed Demon 850cfm carb, Barry Grant 220 fuel pump and regulator, 90-litre drop tank, MSD HEI distributor, MSD coil and leads, 2.25-inch headers, four-inch collectors, four-inch pipes, custom muffler, Steve Long twin pass radiator
  • Driveline: Muncie M22 close ratio four-speed, custom flywheel, Centerforce hydraulic clutch, nine-inch Detroit locker, 31-spline axles
  • Suspension: Bilstein shocks, custom springs, Hotchkis tubular A-arms and sway bars, Hotchkis four-link rear
  • Brakes: GM ventilated front discs, ducted rear drums
  • Wheels/tyres: 16×8 and 16×10-inch Arrow Starline wheels, 225/50R16 and 255/50R16 Falken tyres
  • Exterior: Arctic white
  • Interior: Racepro seats, four-point harnesses, 
  • six-point roll cage, Momo steering wheel, Hurst shifter, Alpine amplifiers, Alpine front and rear speakers
  • Performance: 620hp (462kW), 881Nm torque

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