Factory Stick: 1978 Chevrolet Malibu

Once upon a time, in a not-too-distant land, most cars were available in both automatic and manual transmission configurations.  Today, unfortunately, cars with three pedals (excluding the parking brake) are becoming rarer than hens’ teeth.  This Chevrolet Malibu, for sale here on eBay in Scio, Oregon, and equipped with a 305 v8 and a manually-shifted four-speed transmission, is a reminder of a time when the car-buying public had much more choice as to what to do with its left foot while driving.

1978 was the first year for GM’s downsized intermediate-size models, and while smaller on the outside than the 1977 model, the 1978 Malibu had more passenger space and a roomier trunk.  The exterior got a more boxy but modern look compared to the previous year’s model, and weight decreased significantly.  The changes were well-received by the buying public, and GM sold millions of cars based on the A/G body platform before it was finally retired in 1988.

By 1978, emissions and fuel economy constraints had dramatically changed the cars Detroit was producing, but if you were still looking to buy a factory-built race car off the showroom floor in 1978, this Malibu was about as close as you could come.  Equipped with a 305 V8, the largest offering that year, factory gauges and a four-speed, this car wasn’t equipped with many options from the factory, but it has all the important mechanical bits.  The seller says the car is rust free and has a driver-quality paint job.  The car does exhibit issues common to GM models of this era, including a cracked dash, discolored door panels and a broken clock, but overall it appears to be in great shape for its age, and if it’s really rust free, it’s in a lot better shape than many other 1978 Malibus out there.

The seller says this car is one of 1654 four-speed cars produced in 1978.  Of those 1654, there can’t be too many left in this condition, but is this car worth preserving?  There are tons of performance parts available to make g-bodies into respectable drag-racers, autocrossers or cruisers, so the temptation would be great to modify this car to suit the new owner’s tastes, but would that be ruining a rare, future classic?  What would you do with this car if it were yours?

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  1. Andre

    A couple of years ago I found one of these, which was I guess one of the 1654 (?), being parted in a yard. I scavenged the manual specific parts (except the trans) to convert my platform-mate ‘84 Cutlass to a T-56 in an effort to use as little butchery as possible.

    This is a cool car. I’ll be the first to admit that 78-87 GM intermediates won’t likely ever be legendary, but a great way to get into the hobby at a relatively low cost.

  2. Mike

    What was it with clocks in Detroit cars of this era. I can’t remember a single car from the era that had a working one. It usually took less than a year for it to fail, and nobody ever bothered to fix them, even under warranty. I guess they all used the same lowest bidder. On the subject of this car, I’d upgrade the engine just enough to make it a little more fun, and maybe some better wheels. Oh, and remove those fender eybrows and hope there’s no rust underneath.

    • Blueprint

      The fender trim was stock on the uplevel Malibu Classic, but this one doesn’t have the badges on the lower rear fenders.

    • Nathan Avots-Smith Member

      It’s a little earlier, but one of my favorite gripes about Detroit build quality comes from a 1968 road test of a pretty blue Corvair Monza coupe. The magazine (I think it might have been Car Life, but I’m not sure) noticed that the optional clock only kept time when the engine was running!

    • That AMC Guy

      Prior to quartz clocks, mechanical wind-up clocks with electrical automatic winders were used in most cars. They just never worked well, kept lousy time, and in pretty short order would stop working entirely. (In 1978 AMC started using a quartz digital clock in the Concord and at the time it was a fairly exotic feature. Not sure when Chevrolet made the switch.)

    • Camaro guy

      My 1st brand new car was an 84 Monte Carlo SS i owned it for 31 yrs until a garage fire destroyed it. but my clock worked perfectly until the last day. Guess i must have been one of the lucky ones

  3. Troy s

    It’s clean and all there, with a few upgrades already on it. If it was mine I’d keep it looking pretty much as is, smog legal performance under the hood is what I’d be after, if that is possible in California. The 4 speed transmission would seem to be aimed at gas mileage originally.
    I’ll restrain from any negativity I have towards the smog motor years, we all know the lowdown on these anyways.

    • CCFisher

      You’d think the 4-speed was for fuel economy, but no. The automatic did better, according to the EPA. (Click on the picture for the full view.)

  4. Fordfan

    All the clocks back then were mechanical clocks powered by a electromagnet with contact points that wore out. They now can be converted to quartz. Movement

  5. Blueorint

    Heck, parking brake pedals are getting rare too, with e-brakes now in most cars.

  6. David

    I had no idea a stick was available in this model/year. Nice car. I’d sure enjoy this one.

    • Danno

      As I recall, there were a bunch of these made with a wee V6 and three-speed manuals transmissions. They were ordered by Iran for taxis, but the deal fell through after GM had built them all, so they got dumped on the North American market.

  7. Dave

    I believe that a 3 speed manual on the column was standard on V6 Malibus of this era.

    • Fred

      3 speed for the V-6 was on the floor. My father in law had one.

  8. jdjonesdr

    Another favorite of mine. (sure got a lot of favorites, don’t I?)

  9. WM. Jeffrey Simmons

    I bought a 1979 Malibu Classic Landau blue on blue with 305 and 4spd back in the summer of 1993 it’s was my “General Lee” even smoked my buddy in his ’93 LX HO 302 Mustang in the 1/4 while still running the 14 year old cat and muffler had for more than year till the ex talked me into selling it with regrets till this day, any ways with this one LS3 6spd swap and turn it into an auto-cross burner, unlike the black on black ’78 406sbc TH400 I have now.

  10. kelly g

    My folks both bought these new in 1980 i believe. Dad had the 2 door V6, which was a dog, but Mom opted for the V8 auto four door. It would FLY. Id love to have this car.

  11. S. Ryan

    I had a 78 wagon with this combo. From a farm in Wisconsin, hay left in back was free. One of the ones I with I could find again.
    Anyone have numbers on 2-4 door or wagon?

  12. Ian

    My first car was a 78 classic 4door. I spent every penny I could muster on this car. Remember the ZZ crate engine? I had the short block, spent an unreasonable amount of cash on some very cool bolt ons. 700r4, 12 bolt@ 4.30. And 295 50 15 fit the rear 255 60 out front. I spent stupid money yes, but I was just a kid……….doin 12s and could turn left,,@up to .83g.(right was .79g never did figure out why). 6 years later in 2002 the car was impounded while I was away. 6 weeks later I returned to fetch my car and was told it sold at auction. (Sad face)

  13. Ted Buerk

    I bought a 1979 Malibu brand new that had a 267 V8 and a 4 speed and air that I believe stickered for $5100. Good car for the money

  14. Joe Haska

    I like these cars, I had one and it was a great driver ,it just had an over the top paint job, that was for sure , a love or hate, and maybe more hate. However, I think the look these cars have is special, after market wheels great, just not the ones on this car, eyebrows could go. Right wheels , lowered- right stance, nice detailing a great driver car. Downside for me, I live in phoenix, A/C would be a must. But price is great and please don’t tell me, it needs to be saved,because it is such a rare car. It would be very cool with a few minor in-expsnsve tweaks!

  15. Johnnyhoo

    These were great cars I had two Elcamino’s a 78 Super Sport and a 79 Royal Knight Both V8 four speed cars The only weak spot was the Saginaw transmission, they had a small input shaft bearing that would go bad with the torque of a V8 especially a 350 like in my 78. I pulled the engine and trans and put a 396 big block and a Muncie in the 78 when it was 4 years old. After that it became a serious holeshot car.

  16. Wrong Way

    Very nice car, but those wheels, I am in love with the wheels!

  17. Sal

    Cool car. I would add factory a/c, a nice sounding dual exhaust and maybe a set of gears and enjoy it. Maybe some Monte SS wheels too.

  18. P Wentzell

    Ah, yes, ‘downsizing’ – where the sedan and wagons had fixed rear windows with the incorporated vent for some fresh air.

  19. Steve

    I wish I had money for one more! I have three malibus; a 79 coupe an 82 wagon and a 16 “Premier” with the turbo four. While the 16 is ahead of the other two technologically, i am stuck on the look feel and “modifiability” 0f the two old ones. The 79 came with a 267 sbc/ TH200/ 7.5″ with 2.29 gears and now has a 468 BBC/ 200r4 and 8.5″ with a 3.73. The wagon has a 3.8 v6/ TH200 and 26 spline 7.5″ with unknow gears. Its getting swapped for a warmed over vortec 350/ s10 t5 using stock g body pedals and bellhousing and 3.42 gears in a 98 Camaro 28 spline posi carrier and GN 28 spline axle upgrade.

  20. Steve

    Another One of the drawbacks to these cars was brakes. (The anemic powerplants didnt need much help braking!) however adding power will het you in trouble quick. While ther are numerous aftermarket kits, they are pricey. I recently did the 4×4 s10 blazer front brake swap on the 79 for under $300. All new parts except the spindles and backing plates. The rotors are only slightly larger, but the four piston calipers do a better job clamping than the original 2 piston. I will probably do the same swap on the wagon when the time comes. Up next for the 79 is LS camaro rear disc swap.

  21. Kevin

    My Dad has my grandfathers 1980 Malibu and it is in mint condition. He’s had the car repainted and the headliner replaced. It’s an automatic and has stock 3.8 V6 in it. But when I get the car someday I plan to put a V8 in it.

  22. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    Funny that nobody mentioned the Yenko badge on the grill. Pretty fair deal in my book. Ended: Jul 29, 2018 , 2:30PM
    Winning bid:US $7,200.00
    [ 20 bids ]

  23. Rick A. Loera

    Great looking car. Love the V-8, 4 speed. As far as the clock, I agree. Every car my Parents owned from the sixties to the mid seventies had a clock that failed. My dad bought a brand new 1972 Mercury Montego MX 2 Door hardtop in May 1972. Anyway it had the optional clock which died under warranty and they had it replaced. By May of 1974 that clock was DOA. Might have been earlier, but that is when I noticed it not working. When he bought a new 1977 Mercury Cougar in July 1977 it had the optional clock with date functionality within an analog clock. This clock was quartz driven. It worked the whole 13 years that he owned the car. I guess the quartz feature made the clock better.

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