By on March 5, 2010

You want to know why the Honda Accord took the country by storm in 1976? You’re looking at its ugly face. That grille looks positively unreal, like something cobbled up by a high school shop class with some leftover extruded sheetmetal. Where were you, Bill Mitchell, when this abomination was approved? In the Accord CC I said Detroit didn’t just open the portcullis with its obese “mid-sized cars” of the seventies. It actively invited the invasion, and Honda led the charge. Well, here are GM’s gates swung wide open. And the problem wasn’t just the front end, but a face does reveal much of what’s behind it. And this mug wasn’t lying. 

The 1976 Malibu Classic Coupe was about the same price ($3926 for the six) as the Accord. Given that it weighed almost twice as much, on a price per pound basis, it was a hell of a bargain. In other respects, not so much so. GM’s mega-mid-sized cars of the seventies were the perfect embodiment of why the Accord took the country by storm. They were longer, wider and heavier than full-sized Chevys not that many years earlier. Their arrival in 1973 on the eve of the energy crisis didn’t help, but it’s not completely fair to say that GM didn’t have any idea which way the wind was blowing. Small cars were booming, and GM launched its own Vega just two years earlier.

GM was just following the path of least resistance; to obesity. And boy, did they time it badly. Not only because of the spiraling cost of gas, but also emissions. Tightening standards and lower compression sent performance running of to the hills. The solution? Bigger engines to push fatter cars. The 454 (7.4 liter) big block made all of 235 hp, and was optional in Malibus through the 1975 model. Not that this was an SS or performance model; just something to keep from getting left in the dust. By 1976, the 11 mpg big block was gone; and the biggest gun in the arsenal was the 175hp 400 CI (6.6 liter) that managed maybe 12 mpg. I’ve never seen a six in one of these, and given its 105 hp rating, that was probably a good thing.

The real shocker was space utilization. These two-ton coupes had little if any advantage over the tiny Accord, save for width. The rear seat was a veritable cave, lacking visibility, light or adequate leg room. And the front seat gave a chance to gaze lovingly on GM’s new-found love of cheap and hard plastics as well as the fauxest wood hydrocarbons ever gave their lives for. And that trunk was as misleading as the opera windows: a remarkably shallow and pathetic affair, given the real estate it occupied.

Any redeeming qualities? Of the Big Three, only GM really applied itself to the black magic science of handling. Yes, Chrysler products were the best handling of the three in the sixties, but for the most part Chrysler thought it best to try to chase GM and Ford in the quest of a quieter and softer ride in the seventies, at the expense of precision. Not that Mopar power steering ever had any. But GM actually decided that what the Europeans had been perfecting for many decades was not really impossible: a compliant ride as well as a modicum of handling control. It started with the new 1970 Camaro; and new geometry in these intermediates resulted in some perceptible degree of improvement, especially in comparison to the terminally wallowing Fords of the era.

In the standard suspension, the benefits were mostly obliterated by the sheer size and poor structural rigidity of these cars. But with the optional HD or sport package, they could be hustled, if one was so inspired. I know this from first hand experience, from a GM aficionado at the time who ordered his Malibu wagon with every trick in the option book. But how many buyers were so inclined or inspired? Especially so when brisk driving dropped mileage in the single digits. GM’s steering was also the best of Detroit, and the disc brakes inspired a type of confidence that wasn’t there a few years earlier. It was the usual GM personality-disorder issue: engineers capable of almost anything, hamstrung by lousy product planning and the bean counters.

I realize that GM’s stylists were a bit hampered by the dreadful 5 mph bumper law, but it did go in effect the same year the new Malibu arrived in 1973. So its not like that is an excuse for the Malibu’s pathetic mug. In the first couple of years, if you wanted to fork over some extras bucks, you could get the Laguna, a high-end Malibu with a body-colored Endura nose job. But that wasn’t all too hot either, and faded away in a couple of years.

This won’t be our last look at these big-boy intermediates. Strangely enough, I sort of found the sedan roof line to be of some visual interest. It at least was a change from the typical sedan lines of the times, and I suspect it looked great when it was first conceived on the drawing board. The Collonade Coupe? Well, everyone who really would have rather bought a Camaro probably loved it. In 1973, it was a bit of fresh air, but it quickly lost its appeal, especially when the side panels were closed up in later years like this one, except for those ridiculous gun slits. And some of the Malibu’s corporate cousins at least tried to make their front ends a bit interesting. No effort went into this one, though. And when the enemy is at the door, its a good idea to put your best face forward.

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110 Comments on “Curbside Classic: GM’s Deadly Sin #7 – 1976 Chevrolet Malibu Classic...”

  • avatar

    As bad as these were, the sedans were worse. It seems as if they’re the car of choice for your friend’s creepy dad/creepy uncle/neighbour. At least the coupés were somewhat attractive, at least when new.

    As a child of the eighties, I find it surreal that these are starting to show up at car shows.

    • 0 avatar

      My neighbour had a Malibu sedan back in the eighties when I too was a child. It was a terible car in comparison to my dad’s Civic. I learned many cuss words from him on cold mornings when he couldn’t get it to start.

      He used to criticize my dad for buying an import, but was always grateful for the rides to and from his favourite mechanic.

    • 0 avatar

      Well… “ask the man who owns one” (not packard) I have an ´75 malibu classic sedan, and its the best car i ever owned.
      Almost everything is still original except alternator and tires.
      Yes, exhaust, carb, spark-wires, etc. is still there from start.
      Sadly to say the AC has gone in to retirement, but here in Sweden
      the temperature doesnt call for AC all the time…. Since I got the
      exportversion of this car I also have F40-package with stiffer springs and that makes a difference! The imports of similar cars
      (Regal etc) wich I driven with US standard springs was in the rocking chair department. I goin about 15 mpg with the standard 350″ 145 hp and i think thats fair enough. With 70K there are many years left for this kind of vehicle, and the service needed like oilchange some greasejob etc. is a small pain compared to a “modern” car Honda or whatever. Take care of your domestic cars over there! /Virgil

  • avatar

    There really are people who find this thing attractive (as well as the Cutlass of same vintage). I’m 45. I never got it. Never will.

    At least it’s not a Matador.

    The part we always found the most amusing were the names…

    Malibu? Oh yeah, I can see it parked in front of the beach house with bikini-clad hotties lined up to go for a ride…

    Monte Carlo? Nothing quite evokes the grandeur of the city like a mullet and it’s vinyl roof. Just picture Bond pulling up to the casino…

  • avatar

    I have always found most of the GM Colonnade-style cars very attractive. My favorites are the Cutlass and El Camino’s of this era. The Cutlass was a strong runner for it’s time when equipped with the Olds 350-4V. IMHO the Olds 350 was one of the best/reliable V-8 engines ever produced. These sold very well during their day so I guess most Americans share in my poor taste.

  • avatar

    Hey! No fair! The second car I ever owned was a 1974 Malibu coupe with the 400ci v8. Worked all summer in 1980 (I was 16) painting houses so I could save up the 600 bux to buy it. Yes it was a POS but I have fond memories of it, especially the big front bench seat and a certain cheerleader I knew at the time. BTW the first car I ever had was a 1969 Opel GT that I got free. It was so rusted that it literally blew apart on me one day driving 60mph on a back road in NE Ohio where they really know how to lay down salt but can’t maintain asphalt to save their lives.

  • avatar

    My grandmother’s second husband owned a 1977 Malibu Classic sedan in appliance white with a red vinyl roof and one of the V8 options as about the only thing that had been selected off the order sheet. The man bought it in the late 1980s and died a few years later. (Right before I got my permit.) The only thing I remember about that car is that it rusted like crazy in Indiana and 5’2″ grandmother couldn’t see over the steering wheel from her perch on the bench seat unless she put a big sausage shapped pillow behind her back.

  • avatar

    I had one of these as company car in ’76. It rode well, handled OK and was comfortable but it was slow, ugly and got bad gas mileage; basically a hunk of $hit on wheels.

    I beat a$$ on that car for a year and it held up surprisingly well inspite of its poor workmanship; I managed to dent most of the sheet metal and lose all four doggie bowl hupcaps in the process. Never broke anything significant however.

    I mark these as the beginning of the end for GM in spite of their brisk sales. It find it odd that Hemmings Muscle Machines have been attempting to sing the accolades of the more “sporting” models; their editors must truly be lost or not really old enough to remember how bad these crapsters were, comparatively speaking.

    I worked for a Chevrolet dealer in ’73 & ’74 and found these collonades to be the bane of my existence.

  • avatar

    Hey! I get to be the guy who writes “they all rusted out” again. They really did. In northeast Ohio like dignitov says, they can lay down the salt. I’m a bigger fan of the Fords of this era, and they were even more biodegradable.

    Regardless, ALL of the cars up until the mid 80’s had these kludge 5 mph bumpers grafted on. Actually, AMC did the best job of integrating them by not using a valance panel and just covering the shocks with rubber tubing. The Honda has the big rubber bumper end caps, the turn signals that hang off the bottom. They could get scraped off pretty easily in high snow drifts.

    It’s a shame you couldn’t find a ‘Bu in similar shape to the Accord you located. But, that said, I wouldn’t mind having one of the ‘colonnade’ coupes, particularly the 77 Buick Regal, it’s bumpers were better integrated into the overall design of the car. And this is from an Olds fan…

    The V8 versions usually had anti roll bars front and rear and were pretty decent handlers for the times, especially considering the tires we had to deal with. The same young lady who I dated with the ‘gift’ Accord, her aunt had a 6 cylinder version of the 75 Malibu Classic 4 door. The straight six, while a dog, was still quicker than that first gen Accord up any of those hills.

    Neat old car, Paul. Keep it up!

  • avatar

    My family had a 1973 Chevy sedan like this that was a metallic army green (with green vinyl interior and green rubber floor). It had kind of an off-brand name like Classic or something similar. I was amazing how small the trunk was compared to the overall car. Even then as kid I thought how lame it was that the name tag on the trunk said Chevrolet in such tiny script it didn’t fit the scale of the car (it was put on crooked too). After only about a year or so, the trunk wells filled up with water and would slosh around dirty water on everything inside the trunk. This was solved by nature as the trunk wells quickly rusted out and they would no longer hold the rain. Inside the engine compartment, there were huge stamped cross bars diagonally placed from the fender to the from of the radiator to hold the whole clip up. My dad only drove a few miles to work, but one day the throttle spring on carburetor broke, putting the throttle in the wide-open position (350 CI). My Dad was not mechanical and drove it wide open for a few days controlling it only via the brakes (amazing given the upset over unintended acceleration these days); he was amazed I diagnosed and fixed it easily (I was 12 I think). The other thing this car had was really loud buzzers under the seat for when the front seat belts weren’t buckled. This was a federal mandate I think for 1973 only; it was obviously not as intelligent as the systems in today’s cars and it was loud and constant. I fixed this for my dad, too with some wire cutters- snip snip. The other thing this bad boy had was a huge ashtray that my dad would fill up about every three days. This thing lasted about 7 years (Michigan) and we ended up donating it to the High School auto shop class.

  • avatar

    We at Accent Planet Dot Org like your review of the Tucson, but we are implored to respectfully protest your Accent/Rio Reviews.

    Since this is a non-journalistic site where Im not allowed to criticize the journalist “Flaming” we must respectfully protest your reviews. Since this site is tied to the LA times, We Accent Drivers are spreading the truth about The Truth About Cars.

    We respectfully would like a better review of the Soul. The KIA B-Segment car which was a nomimee for NACOTY, and a nominee for World Car of the Year 2 years in a row did not get a review deserving of a car that’s worthy of a nomination for those awards. However the Cube wasnt even a consideration, and for good reason.

    Who’s going to want a car that’s going to look Absolutely Ridiculous in 5-10 years time used? That Cube is the new Aztek, hands down. In fact, the Cube is the new 1976 Chevrolet Malibu Classic you have been ragging on lately.

    The Accent is the second largest Selling car in its class (Subcompact) in America, and has been for almost 2 years. People dont want overpriced Fits with the same quality plastics and fabrics, smaller fuel tanks, Less interior space, less MPG , etc… AND YOU NEED TO RESPECT THAT!!!!

  • avatar

    These cars of that era are surreal. Then and now. At least if you drove one of these, you could probably survive a wreck, especially with a Honda or VW I guess. Every now and then I see a movie from this era where a guy drives one of these huge things through a farm field while being chased by the cops also driving similar, and I think ‘try this with your VW or BMW.’ But that is as far as I go.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    I have never understood GMs problem with back seats. The ‘bu might have had an unusable one, but what made them do the same thing in the Eldorado of that vintage. The car was a duce and a quarter and had no back seat legroom. None.

  • avatar

    The GM mid-size sedans were actually attractive from an exterior POV. Certainly better than the coupes.

    • 0 avatar

      Unless it was the Cutlass Supreme version … uglyist torpedo-shaped car of the bunch … my mom had a ’76, deluxe version, two-tone metallic brown, brown velour interior … looked good, except for the profile … was totally anemic … had lousy air-conditioning … my sister, and her friends, smoking joints (presumably) while driving managed to let some of the coals get blown into the back seat and burn multiple perforations in the seat fabric … eventually, she trashed it so much, they gave it to her, and her treatement of it didn’t improve, story went she eventually hit some kind of concrete lamp-post base (without a lamp-post mounted on it) in a mall parking lot (didn’t see it, but possibly due to being hi, less likely to hoonage) and managed to bend the left front side of the car up at like a 10° angle viewed from any angle, without crumpling too much sheet-metal (oh, and whoever the passenger was, they smacked their noggin hard enough on the windscreen, no belts anyone?, to put a nice sunburst crack in the glass … the car soldiered on for a while after that, and, in an odd way, looked better after the accident than before. After all that, she decided to move out of state, and she ‘gave’ it back to my parents … my dad sold it off at scrap value.

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    complete dreck. Yes this was fatal to GM, they never recovered.

    I remember committing a faux pas back then. I foolishly told girlfriends neighbor that their “custom” custom coupe classic etc. wasn’t “actually” custom, it was just same car with extra labels and stickers. The woman had come over on bright sunny day to show their new car. Sitting there slightly off center with panel gaps and plastic gas fogged interior windows etc.

    She had no idea what I meant except it was somehow negative. She was crestfallen. I regretted it right away. She is probably driving an expedition today.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    The father-in-law had a ’75 Monte Carlo Coupe, the high zoot version of this car. Similar body, slightly shorter wheelbase and single round headlights. I recall it as a nice car to look at and for two people to ride in, but the quality was lower than whale poop. The doors were so long and heavy the hinge bushings would wear out and need replacing about every second year.

    • 0 avatar
      crash sled

      Yeah, the Monte Carlo of this era was one of the few outgrowths of style that managed to pop out of the bumperized desert. Chevy was forced to knock it down in size in 1978, and did a credible job with that as well.

      I’d say GM was the exterior design “winner” in this era. Hank the Duece seemed to always just pour himself another scotch or three, and sign off on another square sh!tbox. Chrysler? Poor Chrysler. But GM wrestled with the beast, and came off the least worst of the Detroit 3 here.

  • avatar

    Everything bad about the Malibu went double for the Impala. That “fullest-size” car’s performance was inverse to its thirst for gas. The coupe’s back seat was a wretched place to sit for two reasons. First, it was too small, especially considering the brontosaurus-like outside dimensions. What a barge! Second, the non-opening rear windows made back seat occupants cruelly dependent on the empathy and good will of the driver, who controlled the air conditioning (which, to make matters worse, had dashboard outlets only).

    I think the real fans of those cars were the steel and plastic suppliers. They cleaned up.

  • avatar

    I remember when these came out. Even as a pre-teen I could not believe how bad these were. The previous generation of the Chevy midsize were classics. Looks sell cars! I’m sure one could make a list of losy cars that sold good because they looked good.

  • avatar

    When I was in my early teens back in the late 1970s, I envied the families that owned a Malibu or any other Collonade GM car. Why? Because our familiy owned a ’76 Volare wagon, purchased brand new. Relative to the Ford and Chrysler products of the time, the midsized GM cars were superior in every way. They started every morning, something that the Volare didn’t learn to do until we started to fiddle with the carb settings. The ’76-77 Regals and Cutlasses actually were decent looking cars, with relatively clean lines for the era. As for the exaggerated C-pillars, these were designed in anticipation of tougher roll-over regulations that never materialized. Other manufacturer’s designs were afflicted with strange proportions for the same reason.

  • avatar

    Plug ugly.

    I remain mystified as to how a company that produced such beautiful cars in the mid-60s could have taken styling down so badly. Must have been a whole different set of stylists, or else some horribly misguided meddling from management. That’s a story I’d like to read.

  • avatar
    Amendment X

    I have respect for some of the cars from this era, mostly big Cadillacs and Lincolns, but I must say that this car is a complete turd on wheels.

    Look at a GM car from ’66, then look at this thing. My, what a difference only 10 years makes.

    Was it arrogance or complacency that doomed them? This car seems to reek of both…

  • avatar

    I owned a 1980 Accord, one of my all time favorite cars. First non-muscle car in my life. How can you go from 300+ hp V8’s into 72 hp and love it? Going to one of those first gen Accords.

    Good call on the suspension. Once took a long trip driving a 1976 Laguna S3 version of this Malibu. The Nascar version. With those underpinnings the car was surprisingly good. Still not much power, but a good suspension, the little aero tricks made it a quiet high speed cruiser. It was taut yet comfortable. Yes, no more interior room than the Accord (other than width), but that width got you away from the edges where wind noise was. It also did have a big trunk. Raising the hood and seeing the 2 foot long fan shroud with fully 3 feet of sheet metal out there for no purpose or benefit was sobering to a person with an engineer’s turn of mind. But was a good long distance GT car if you could afford the gas at like 12 mpg highway. Yuck, even in those days.

    On the other hand, a relative had the 4 door basic small V8 version of this Malibu in 1977. What a horrid car. Hard to believe it shared most of the parts in the Laguna S3. It rusted, it quit running, it was wallowing in every sense. And it got even worse mileage sometimes getting 8 mpg and couldn’t be counted on for more than 11 mpg at any time. That relative next got a full size 1977 Buick. Now those redesigned down sized full size cars were one of GM’s and American auto industry high points. You really should do a curbside classic on those cars. That car was tight, reliable, surprisingly good suspension considering, and in several cases known to me lasted way past 250,000 relatively trouble free. Sort of showed what GM engineering could do given the chance. A shame everything after that once again was sabotaged by GM management and marketing. It was smaller and lighter than this 76 Malibu, yet truly full sized inside, huge trunk and got pretty decent mileage with any of GM’s small to medium V8 engines.

  • avatar

    I never thought these cars were that bad-looking, but the fit, finish, and quality were terrible.

    The example in the pics really hasn’t aged much since it was new.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    As a child of the ’70s, I loved the style and shape of all the coupes, especially the Grand Am, Regal and (gulp) Ford Elite. But yeah, the Accord changed the face of what was attractive to drive and look at.

  • avatar

    I have always hated EVERYTHING about these cars (and all related GM models.) I agree that the front end is an abomination. That swoopy roof and horrendous C-Pillar are horrible. Worse were the 4-door sedans with the limo B-Pillar that was inexplicably matched to rear door windows that were extended into the rear quarter windows. The thick rubber seals that were intended to seal the frameless glass screamed CHEAP!! Also so horrid were the plastic pieces that covered the gaps between the sheet metal and the bumpers. None of the surfaces or edges matched anything around them. But by far the worst element in this morass of disjointed stylistic disasters were the fender caps. Detroit had determined that it was advantageous to stop the sheet metal short of the head lights and tail lights and to then fill the gap with fender “caps.” Please note that the Accord did not incorporate this fantastic Detroit feature. Fender caps were another way that Detroit told car buyers: “We build crap and you buy it.”

    • 0 avatar

      Fender-cap concept made it possible to have annual styling changes to the front and rear without having to change the tooling for the major stampings (fender and rr qtr), as well as made it possible to have cheaper stamping processes by a) shortening the overall size of the stampings, and b) not having to incorporate all the contours necessary to reach the lights in the major stampings, but instead, to cast these into either Zinc (later plastic) bolt-on end-caps.

      That said, it could have been better executed by all that used the technique.

  • avatar

    When I was a kid in the 1970’s, I thought the Cutlass Supreme was a good looking car and the Regal was allright. The Malibus and Monte Carlos were always the ugly ducklings comparatively.

    However, I agree on fit and finish. The 1970s were obviously the UAWs worst days. My brother had a 1973 Ford Mustang Convertible. Now this was probably Ford’s premiere car in that year and it have very very few miles. You should see how bad the fit and finish was. If they did that old Lexus commercial with the ball bearing that goes along the lines – you would have lost alot of ball bearings.

    • 0 avatar

      And think about it … by 1973, that body had been in production for 3-years already! (And for the cars of that period, all the rust perforation was always blamed on “Japanese Steel” (and I always wondered how that could be when Ford operated its own integrated steel mill down at the Rouge.)

  • avatar

    Mungooz wrote above, “Please note that the Accord did not incorporate this fantastic Detroit feature” (fender caps). However, some later Accords (1984-85) also had front end caps, as did the third-generation 1984-88 Civics.

  • avatar

    My drivers-ed car was a 1976 Malibu (4-door). I don’t remember too much except that loaded with three driving students and an instructor, learning to merge on the Interstate was traumatic. Parallel parking? I must have done it. It’s was the kind of new car that makes you wonder if it’s worth going to college to get a good job to afford a new car.

  • avatar

    I’m not overly fond of the styling of these cars, but I’ve certainly seen much worse from this era (AMC Matador coupe and 1972-76 Ford Torino come to mind). And as far as Colonnade coupes go, the ’76-’77 Cutlass and Regal were actually decent looking. Now about that bumper…yes, it’s big, but it was unfortunately necessary in that era, and let’s be fair: It actually looks slightly less out of proportion with the rest of the car compared with the Accord’s bumper. I mean, the bumper on the Accord is positively huge for that size car, though not bad looking.

    My wife’s first car was a 1976 Malibu sedan. It had the standard 250 straight six (which, by the way, was quite rare in these cars) and she said it was agonizingly slow. Little wonder that the vast majority of these cars were equipped with V8 engines.

    Come to think of it, I had a red Malibu sedan back in the day…it was 7 inches long and made of plastic with Fire Chief decals on it. Got it for my fifth birthday in 1979! It joined the little blue Gremlin (my favorite), faded red Vega wagon and blue VW Thing in my collection. I put many miles on it on my hands and knees and best of all, it never used gas and never rusted like the real thing!

  • avatar

    Ah, my first car, a 1974 model.

    Possibly the longest name in the history of the automobile. To wit:

    Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu Classic Landau Colonnade Coupe.

    Mine was the 145hp 2-barrel 350, with a THM 350. 2.73 “highway” gears in the rear end.

    One thing nobody ever mentions about these smog-laden small-blocks… Getting 145hp out of 350 cubic inches leads to a very under-stressed engine. At 200k, I replaced the timing chain. At 401,000, the frame rusted out as the replacement chain started making noise. That’s it – the engine was never otherwise opened.

    With those highway gears, I could eke out 17mpg, albeit slowly. My worst recollection was the front end; it just ate up parts, over and over again. I think it was under-built for the car’s mass.

  • avatar

    Just noticed something else on the front bumper of that Malibu: those slots for the bumper jack. Those wretched things were dangerous as hell! I speak from experience. My ’73 Caprice came off from it’s bumper jack while I had a rear wheel off. They were so unstable that if you even touched the top of the jack, it-and the car-would rock back and forth. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if they were dumped in favor of under-frame scissors jacks for liability reasons.

  • avatar

    Yup, the Accord was the future of the industry but c’mon guys-the Honda has new paint and the Chev looks like it was dragged out of a 30 year nap in a sand pit after a long career in the exciting world of the demo derby.
    You can make the same point (Honda was on the money in design and quality in the 70s) without the flagrant pictorial bias.Grab two 34 years old cars from the snow belt-yes even an Accord, and do the grille shots.
    That grille might be all that’s left to photograph-Honda or no Honda.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Not that it makes any difference, but that Honda is not likely to have new paint. It was probably garaged for much of its life, but this car is pretty typical of quite a few older original cars I see hereabouts: probably a hand-me-down from granny or uncle, but for the kids who own it now its just a car to keep, but not to spend money on.

  • avatar

    You didn’t get around to saying what specifically is so awful about the front of the car, only that it’s ugly, unreal, like something cobbled up by a high school shop class, uninteresting and pathetic. I could just as easily say its styling was restrained in an era where many cars had pseudo 30’s shmaltz larded on seemingly by the ton. This Malibu looks from the front rather like the ’77-’78 Fury, a car with a handsome enough mug.

  • avatar

    This car looks as if the styling had been farmed out to JC Whitney.

    The poor space utilization was of course due, in large part, to the FR layout – they layout that “enthusiasts” seem to prefer. In reality of course FWD is no problem in the real world, especially with a 4 cyl. Accord – not enough torque steer to worry about. Packaging efficiency is vastly superior with FWD.

  • avatar
    also Tom

    All of the nostalgia postings in the world cannot change the visual fact of this ugly, bloated POS which was GM at its excessive worst. Enough!!!

  • avatar

    Sure the cars from the 70’s were by today’s standards not as reliable, durable nor as efficient. Remember that in the 70’s car design was still on a 7 year cycle, so these cars were actually designed and engineered in the late 60’s early 70’s prior to the oil embargo and resulting fuel crisis. Also the Japanese imports were then very small cars with air conditioning that was barely adequate, automatic transmissions that were not very good and a sparse dealer network. The European imports were more expensive, underpowered and lacked decent air conditioning. Even the Mercedes and Volvos had smaller engines with piss poor air conditioning and were priced at a premium.
    The 70’s were also a time when consumers expected to own a car for 6-7 years with many trading every 2-3 years. Car financing was mostly on a 36month basis and leasing was rarely done by the consumer. Given these considerations the Malibu and other American cars of this era were more than competitive with the imports. Just to be fair here with the “truth about cars.”

    Recall also that as has been pointed out in many of the articles about the woes of GM, Ford and Chrsyler that it was in the 70’s that the UAW obtained many of their contract provisions that later proved to hamper the American manufacturers ability to compete in the 80’s and 90’s with the imports. In fact by all standards of good business Chrysler should have been left to liquidate which would have changed many things about how the American manufactures played their hands.
    I owned two 74 Malibu’s, one a sedan and the other a station wagon. Both were purchased used and other than oil changes and a tune up every 30,000 miles they were pretty good cars. I could never have fit my family into Honda or Toyota of the day and certainly didn’t want to make a long trip in the summer with the air conditioning that was used in either of the imports. Yes I would have liked to been able to buy a Mercedes but since they cost almost $10,000 new and were double what a Chevrolet or Ford cost used they weren’t realistic options. Besides the 220 MB, 280MB or 240 Volvo were all underpowered more so than the Chevrolet. Just wanted to balance out the equation here to be fair.

    • 0 avatar
      fred schumacher

      I agree. Back in those days you traded in every three years, and you could afford to pay for a new car and buy a home on one income. There were still union manufacturing jobs that paid good wages and benefits. Today we have better cars and worse jobs, and now you keep a car nine years because you can’t afford to trade.

      In a way, these exercises in putting down so-called classics from the past, are attacks on straw men. What I drove in those days was 1966 Plymouth Valiants with the slant-six. They were fantastic: small for their day, roomy, reliable and economical. The imports were little tin boxes. My Datsun 510 had seats that would kill you after 100 miles because they were designed for 2/3 size people (and we weren’t obese back then). Don’t even talk about trying to sit in the back seat of a Corolla. My VW bus couldn’t pull 4th gear into a headwind. And those imports were total rust buckets, worse than the domestics.

      My Volvo had a great heater but only managed 20 mpg. My Saab 99 EMS was one of the first cars with electronic fuel injection, but it only got 23 mpg. The best car I had in the mid-70s was the Simca 1204 GLS. Although it was underpowered (it only had a 1.2 liter), it was rock stable on gravel roads, plowed through snow drifts without a wiggle, had a fantastic amount of room, was extremely comfortable to drive and got 38 mpg. Chrysler developed its much maligned K-cars from the Simcas, which predate the Accord by several years, and they formed the basis for the best idea Detroit ever had, the, again, much maligned minivan.

  • avatar

    Wretched indeed.

    What a design choice: low-profile rectangular headlamps, but *stacked vertically* in an obloid housing. Madness.

    My dad owned a Buick Century of this same era, what a pile. He fought HVAC issues with it for three years, then gave up and paid the “market adjusted” price for a Toyota that he kept 15 more years.

    I’d agree this was an era when imports made hay, definitely.

    • 0 avatar
      A is A

      “The best car I had in the mid-70s was the Simca 1204 GLS. Although it was underpowered (it only had a 1.2 liter), it was rock stable on gravel roads, plowed through snow drifts without a wiggle, had a fantastic amount of room, was extremely comfortable to drive and got 38 mpg.”

      And do not forget it had also a fantastically practical hatch.

      And it was introduced in…1967!. It was an 8 years old model in 1975.

  • avatar

    These cars are a good deal wider inside than the accord, so a 4 door would be better as a family car for travleing much of a distance with 3 children in the back.
    Also, thse cars could be true 6 passenger vehicles with a child as the center passenger in front, as long as the driver and outboard passenger were not too wide.
    You could also tow something with these cars, another important consideration for many vacationers. The V8 engines also had a decent amount of torque, essential for travleing in hilly areas with a carload of people and luggage.
    The accord’s mileage wouldn’t be outstanding with 4 people and luggage, traveling in hilly counrty with the ac on because you would have your foot to the floor half the time.

    • 0 avatar
      Gardiner Westbound

      The Chevrolet’s doors were at least six inches thick, which really cut into usable interior width. Honda doors had a much slimmer cross section.

  • avatar

    For the ’73-’77 GM Collonades, appearance-wise, the Chevy was the worst. You not only got a poorly-built, ungainly piece o’crap, but an ugly one, too. If there was a comparison that highlights what went wrong with the American auto industry, the 1976 Accord versus Malibu is one of the most appropriate. At least the BOP versions looked better.

    Ironically, the next generation ‘formal roof’ models were even worse (until the freshened, quad-headlight versions showed up).

    And speaking of rarities, I’d love to see a pristine ’77 Malibu with the base six-cylinder, 3-speed manual combination. Imagine trying to muscle one of those 105hp behemoths around. It’s worth noting mainly because it was the last ‘big’ stick-shift Chevy.

    Frankly, I find those base-line vehicles more interesting than the tarted-up, big-engine models that proliferate at car shows.

    • 0 avatar

      Hi rudiger I just bought a ’76 malibu “Barn Find” for $1,500. 4 door, 250 3 on the tree 43,000 miles–looks brand new. It was stored for almost 25 years and with a new master cylinder and carbureter it purrs like a kitten at 70 mph Last weekend I loaded 3 friends–all well-fed–and all complimented the legroom it has. I especially like the double-takes I get when shifting…all I could find out so far is in ’76 @ 10,000 ‘Bu’s were sold with the 250 and this is the only one I’ve ever seen with a manual. I’ve yet to put a 2nd tank of gas in it but the gauge only moves in stop and go traffic…on the open road I’m estimating 20 mpg or better

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    The Japanese cars in general were better as ‘commuter scooters’. If you stayed away from long interstate driving, didn’t carry a lot of people, and were more focused on the economics of ownership… they were the better buy.

    If you had a family with at least two kids, traveled a bit, and cared about safety over fuel economy, the American cars were by far the better vehicles.

    One of the critical weaknesses of Toyota and Honda at this time was that they had no real grasp of the American midsized market. They were focused on adapting Japanese vehicles to American tastes rather than designing cars that were catered exclusively to the North American customer. Until that changed in the mid-1980’s their cars were generally not competitive in anything other than the smaller vehicle segments.

    Funny thing for me personally is that I always considered the 1st generation Toyota Celica to be a far better representation of a ‘pivotal car’ from Japan. Exceptional handling, solid power to weight ratio, a very fluid design that would be considered conventional today (given the use of different materials).

    As a daily driver it was probably the one Japanese car that could compete well in the ‘American’ criteria described above. The rear was tight for kids but other than that, it had everything needed to make the driving experience far better than the Accord.

  • avatar

    Appropriately—this was my last ‘Big 3’ vehicle ever—had the sedan version complete with 305 cid V8, auto, ‘light buckskin vinyl’ interior, and a ‘firethorne red’ exterior. It and the Olds Cutlass appeared to be the best of a ‘sorry lot’ at the time—following our first-ever Japanese car; 1971 Mazda 1800 that was starting to have a serious case of the tin worm—plus we needed more interior space. This car was quiet, had a very compliant ride, steered, handled, and tracked well, and had very good brakes. On the other hand—the heating and ventilation was poor (for our climate here in Eastern Ontario), the trunk was only useful if you needed to pack a load of shoe boxes, the interior seal around the frameless windows was merely foam. Significant, however, was the design of the bench seats—having lots of ‘sag’ so when you sat down—you were accorded enough headroom in both the front and back seats. The headlights were downright poor! Despite all the negatives—we had the vehicle for 10 years, not so much by choice, but rather for necessity—and sold it to a young lad for $500.00.
    Oh yes—I was really seduced in anticipating the much-heralded and anticipated front-wheel X-body Citation in ’79, test-drove one of the first in town—but that is another story!

  • avatar

    My parents bought a new ’76 Olds Vista Cruiser – the Cutlass station wagon. I was 10, my sister 12, and we thought the rear facing third row seat was the best novelty. Other than that, the car turned out to be a POS after (of course) the warranty expired. It had the Olds 350-4V and TH350 and a tall rear end (I forget the gear ratio). It couldn’t accelerate worth a crap and got maybe low teens for fuel mileage, but considering that it was heavy, had the first generation cat, and the tall rear end, it did OK – for a little while. We kept that car until 1986, 10 years. The first 2-3 years it held together. After that, forget it – the transmission went first in ’78, and after that it was all downhill. Ah, memories.

  • avatar

    The one fact that nobody mentioned is that for the most part the Accord and Malibu (and all the rest of the domestic mid size models) were bought by two entirely different groups of buyers. It’s not at all like people were cross shopping the two. They each had their own market.

    • 0 avatar

      if thought about from a venn-diagram perspective, the funny thing is those markets, far as cross-shopping goes, eventually converged (but never quite merged) with the transplants walking away with a goodly portion of the D3’s bread & butter.

  • avatar

    So now my story… My father had company cars, and about that time, he had a Ford LTD II 4-dr … my parents had a vacation home in Traverse City, and we lived in Farmington Hills (by Detroit) … and one weekend, we needed to take something northward, so he pulled one of these, in sta-wagon form from the fleet-pool … this car was some kind of shit-cream-yellow color … and me, being a new driver’s permit driver was tasked with driving the car on I-75N …

    I didn’t then know the terms “Torsional Compliance”, “Overboosted Assistance”, “Lack of On Center Feel” and “Steering Torque Variation” but this car wins the dubious honor of being the only car I ever drove which had all of these (lousy) characteristics in abundance …

    It was so terrible, that I thought that I didn’t really want to get my license because driving was such work (car wandered and without center-feel and so much overboost it was impossible to keep the car pointed (on an Interstate!).

    By the time we reached Flint, I was exhausted and asked my dad to take over … rest of the trip, he needled me about my complaining about the steering wheel not seemingly being connected with the tires … but I noticed that he too was doing a lot of minor corrections I hadn’t seen him have to do since I was a small boy in the late 1960’s.

    I can’t remember anymore, but I think these were also the cars, in wagon version, that grotesquely mounted the rear brake and back-up lights in the bumper (which only looked worse in the square-body succeding generation.)

    p.s. How come my use of the word “shit” caused my posts to be marked for moderation? Do posters who simply write $hit suffer this ignominity too?

    EDIT: One last thing … I always wondered why, when the vinyl roof gets to this point, that the owners just don’t scrape the remainder away … always reminded me of the automotive equivalent of a poor comb-over.

  • avatar

    I’m no fan of this body style. Nor the year. From these cars I only like the 1973 model with the quad round tail lamps.

    However, they’re not as crap as said: the body shape seems to be very well designed.

    We only got the Malibu here in Venezuela sedan, coupe and wagon (rare). Some of them are still on the road.

    One of my father’s friend had one sedan like the pictured above, yellow, sans the rally wheel (it had hubcaps).

    But that car in the picture seems solid and restorable. I’d may hit it and put a LSX inside.

  • avatar

    With the benefit of hindsight I’ll agree the 73-77 Malibu’s have aged badly,drank gas, were poorly built and handled like a barge etc, but when I was a kid they seemed pretty cool.
    But the 76 Accord – a vintage of which I have not seen in years – still looks great,especially the hatchback, it must have been quite a leap forward.
    Full disclosure; while I usually enjoy the pile on the domestics my mom had a 74 Malibu (not Classic) 4 door with a 350 2bbl purchased around 1980, and it was a genuinely great car. She drove it trouble free for a few years then gave it to my 16 year old brother who thrashed it all about and drove it all over western Canada and it was the picture of reliable transport. The fact it was purchased from a mechanic and my brother was training to be one probably helped it’s longevity, but I cannot recall anything major breaking down. It was passed along to various family members and last time I saw it was about 1989 looking pretty rough, but still going.

  • avatar

    Seems like, if you were alive in the 70’s, you have a memory of this car and its cousins. My first car was a butter yellow 1976 Cutlass S — had the 260 V8 that put out 90, maybe 100 hp, if it was lucky. By the time I got the car in 1988, it had been handed down several times. I was thrilled to have anything to drive and, in NYC traffic, it was the perfect beater. I almost dared drivers of Volvos and BMWs to hit me. Parking, on the hand, was a challenge.

    The rust on it was terrible — the sides of the trunk over the wheel wells were so bad I needed garbage bags stuffed in there to keep water from the road from drowning anything inside (and keep anything inside from falling out). Yes, it got crummy mileage and had horrible space efficiency. It also had terrible door locks — my car was broken into weekly in the dicey Brooklyn neighborhood I lived in.

    Yes, the car was kind of a pig, but I will always look back fondly at my “Yellow Submarine”, as my friends called it. Even fit 9 people one time on the way to Rockaway Beach — try that in a Honda Accord. Nothing fancy, not all that reliable, probably a good example of 70’s Detroit at its low point, but it was my baby back when I had no money.

  • avatar

    I have no inclination to defend the Colonnade cars, which I think are hideous, but when evaluating GM’s decision-making process on the styling, it’s important to realize that they were designed earlier than you might think. When they debuted for 1973, they were about a year behind schedule, a result of the UAW strike. The basic design work had been done in the latter half of 1969, and the production designs were pretty much locked by August 1970. When the UAW struck, I think the A-bodies were just about to start production tooling. The strike lasted more than two months, which meant they could no longer make the deadlines for the 1972 model year. So, the Colonnades were ‘locked’ before the Vega and Pinto ever went on sale.

    As GM saw it, they had no incentive to downsize the A-bodies. They anticipated that intermediates would become the major growth area of the seventies (which was largely correct), and they were positioning the A-bodies to become the bread-and-butter line. (It’s also worth noting that the ’73-’77 A-bodies are nearly as big and almost as heavy as the full-size B-bodies of the early sixties.) GM made a bigger profit on bigger cars — Chevy made about $600 per car on the Impala, $400 per car on the Chevelle, $200 per car on the Nova, and less than that on the Vega — and the intermediates sold very well. Sales of the A-body in 1973 totaled something like 1.4 million units, while the Vega sold around 400,000. From the perspective of the finance people, the Colonnades were a huge success, and there was no particular corporate feeling that they were flawed or out of touch with public tastes. (I’m not saying they weren’t crummy cars, just that by all the metrics GM cared about, nobody at the corporation thought they were.)

    The awful quality control was, I think, a side effect of two things. First, the popularity of these cars when they were new meant that they were selling every car they could build, and there was a lot of pressure on the production end to get things done quickly, even if it meant cutting corners. Second, the corporation had been pushing for greater commonality between all the lines, in order to save money. In practice, that tended to give the higher-priced line an advantage at the expense of the lower-priced lines (principally Chevy and Pontiac). The production cost of an Olds Cutlass was only a little higher than a Malibu, but it sold for a higher price. The corporation had been breathing down Chevy’s neck about poor ROI and low profit margins, so Chevy (and also Pontiac in the seventies) resorted to penny-pinching in materials and content.

    As a result, a Colonnade Chevelle or Le Mans was both cheaply made and badly built. This is why the Olds Cutlass was such a big hit. It wasn’t that much more expensive, and if it wasn’t really any better built, it didn’t feel quite so down-market. (The Cutlass actually outsold the Chevelle throughout that generation, which was a reversal of the usual order of things.)

    This is where cars like the Accord really struck a nerve. In GM’s mindset, nobody buying an A-body was likely to look too hard at a dinky little import, but if you realized the dinky little import had perceptibly better quality and materials than even an Oldsmobile — and a lot more content for the price — it tended to leave an impression.

  • avatar

    I’m not going to jump on the hatewagon here. It may have been a deadly sin, but GM sure made a lot of Colonnades, which they wouldn’t have done if they weren’t selling. You have to look at these as the Civic hatchbacks of their time–every driveway in my circa 1975 upper-middle-class midwestern neighborhood had a Cadillac, a Corvette, or a Colonnade in it. Styling was very current, very modern. My neighbors across the street gave each of their kids a Cutlass when they reached driving age, as did a number of the families on our street. Olds and Cadillac were the most popular makes, followed by Buick and Chevrolet. Way fewer Chryslers and Fords.

    My older cousins both received 1976 Malibus for their birthdays. I remember them as quiet, smooth, relatively quick, and comfortable. Cramped? Not at all. No one ever used the backseats while the car was in motion. If you needed backseats, you bought a four-door. My older cousin took very good care of his car; his younger brother beat on his mercilessly. Both cars went well over 300,000 miles before they joined the remains of the Valiant and the Duster behind the spruce hedge.

  • avatar

    While these things were butt ugly they were everywhere back in the day. I knew a lady who bought a 42k mile 77 4 door in 82. It was a stripped down model, didn’t even have A/C. It had the 305 with automatic, was one of the ugliest cars I ever saw, dark blue with a light blue top.
    She drove it until 89 or 90, with about 112k on it. The only things I remember replacing on it for her were the starter and fuel pump. She finally junked it when it started falling apart. The 305 still ran well, but was starting to burn some oil and smoked a little bit, like most 305’s.

  • avatar

    kudos to ateupwithmotor….

    I was also about to chime in regarding the fact that these Colonnades would have initially appeared as 72’s, if not for that UAW strike. That would have meant that, for one year at least, they would not have been burdened (visually and otherwise) by the 5-mph bumpers.

    Picture Gardiner Westbound’s ’75 Monte link, except with that front bumper pulled in tight to the grille… The Colonnades had a certain flamboyance of style not seen since. If the purity of the original designs had been allowed to reach production, I think the criticisms would be somewhat muted.

    Unfortunately, the restyles over the 5-year model run largely denigrated that purity (the stacked rectangular headlights have certainly not aged well, and some of the taillight treatments were less than memorable). By the time GM’s downsized full-sizers appeared for 1977, these mid-sizers just looked old.

    That said, the ’76-’77 Cutlass and Regal two-doors were cleaned up quite nicely.

    However, the flamboyance of the Colonnades is not something that translated successfully to many of the downsized 1978 intermediates. The Monte Carlo, in particular, looked like a caricature of its former self with out the grand scale it had formerly enjoyed.

    • 0 avatar

      I disagree on the last line about the Monte Carlo. I admit that I am not unbiased in this, my father owned a 1978 Monte Carlo in deep maroon with a matching interior, 305V8. Quiet, smooth riding, and for him (owning it till 1985 and 100,000 miles) reliable. I know you were attacking the styling and my father loved it and it’s smaller exterior dimensions even having grown up in the 60s and having owned a 1962 Impala Convertible and a 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme coupe.

    • 0 avatar

      As a side note, the Monte Carlo actually outsold the Chevelle/Malibu coupes during much of this period — buyers loved the styling, and they had a nicer interior than the regular A-body. The downsized car wasn’t nearly as popular.

      More on the Monte:

  • avatar

    OH, what memories.

    After being married a year, we needed a bigger car for hauling our newborn son,and in 1982 I found this 1973 LeMans wagon on tier-3 lot in San Jose. 400 CID V-8, TH400, tow package, dual exhausts, Rochester 4-barrel,and it was the only Poncho offered that year that had no smog pump (go look it up, it’s true) and it went like stink! $1728 later it was ours.
    It passed everything but a gas station, the plastic began turning to dust on the inside, the vinyl seats split right after purchase, so I found a guy who did all 3 seats in MB-tex.
    It served us well. One night we took home 12 sheets of drywall on the roof rack, and after the ’89 quake, we were repouring the foundation under our son’s room and my wife came back from OSH where the doof who worked there put 27 bags of readymix concrete in the well where the rear seat folded from. She got the front end airborne a couple of times on the way home.
    Tough? Absolutely.
    Poor build quality? You bet.
    One day when we were still living in SJ, the float stuck in Santa Cruz and it sucked 3/4 tank of gas on the way home, and sputtered to a stop right in our driveway.
    I was always resetting the points and timing every 3K miles, but in good tune it was a hoot to drive in a straight line, though we never could make it to Woodland Hills on a tank. Always had to refuel in Santa Barbara.
    The TH400 finally gave out at 170K, the doors had rust holes the size of quarters in them,but I actually hated to see it go. I can’t say that for the ’96 Crown Vic i clunkered last year.

    Thanks for the memories–the only car I would own today from that series would be the ’77 Grand Am. Please find a nice one and do a Curbside Classic on it- it was so out there stylewise, ahd the dash / console was a gaudy work of art.

  • avatar


    I agree it was considered successful in its day. I’m just saying that, in hindsight, on the Monte Carlo in particular, those flowing fender lines somehow overwhelm the smaller car in a way that they did not during the Colonnade years. By the way, what did you think of the 1981 restyle(s)?

    I had a friend’s father who rejected buying the 1979 Monte Carlo with the 305 because it was “too peppy”!! He shortly thereafter came home with a brand-new Cutlass Salon 4-door (fastback) with the 260 V8. I can still remember his astonishment when, after he had already paid for it, I pointed out to him that the rear-door windows did not go down..!! He still kept it for 5 more years, though….

    • 0 avatar

      The 1981 restyle was a bit more pedestrian but likely easier to build and assemble without so many compound curves. My dad talked about buying a Monte Carlo SS model in the early 90s after the RWD coupes were canceled. The only thing that stopped him was having 2 teenage kids and not thinking that there would be enough rear seat room. Years later when I found out I told him, “You wouldn’t have heard any complaints from me if I had a Monte SS to borrow for the prom.”

      Incredibly even the 260V8 has guys trying to hot rod it: 260CIDEngineDetail

  • avatar


    Unfortunately, there was no 1977 Grand Am…Pontiac gave up on it for a few years after ’73-’75. It only returned with the downsized ’78’s. And then disappeared again for awhile after 1980…

    However, 1977 did see the short-lived introduction of the Pontiac Can Am (a cross between a LeMans and a T/A). Perhaps that is what you meant?!

    That would be a rare CC feature, indeed…..!!

  • avatar

    I remember the can am. Didn’t they all come in white?

    • 0 avatar

      I believe that they were all white.

      Interestingly, one reason that Pontiac rather quickly discontinued Can Am production was because it was selling every Grand Prix it could build, and the Can Am shared the Grand Prix dashboard. Pontiac didn’t want to do anything that would hinder Grand Prix production.

  • avatar

    A friend has a 1976 Pontiac LeMans coupe that he bought via Ebay. The space utilization is shocking – even the front seat is cramped. The back seat is VERY cramped, and when my friend comes to the All-GM Nationals at Carlisle every year, the beer cooler and two folding chairs take up a surprising amount of trunk space.

    And most of them do look slammed together. The Olds and Buick versions come off the best.

    Still, I can’t agree that people didn’t like these the GM Colonnade intermediates. The simple fact is that they were a HUGE sales success when they debuted in 1973. They played a large part in pushing industry sales to record levels for that year.

    The Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Olds Cutlass Supreme sold as fast as GM could make them, while the Grand Prix kept Pontiac in business for a few years, at least until Firebird/Trans Am sales revived around 1976.

    The 1977 models were the final versions of this body cycle. Despite this fact, and all-new downsized big cars that offered more space and better handling with the same footprint, sales were still strong. If I recall correctly, the Cutlass, Monte Carlo and Grand Prix all set sales records in 1977 – quite impressive for models in their fifth and final year on the market.

    One reason was that people knew that the 1978 versions would be downsized, and they wanted one of the last of the “big” ones. They were also popular as used cars – particularly the Cutlass Supreme, Pontiac Grand Prix and Buick Regal.

    And I would disagree that people were cross-shopping the Accord with these cars. I didn’t know of anyone who would have considered dumping their Cutlass Supreme for an Accord in those years. These buyers didn’t go to the imports. They went to light trucks. A survey a few years ago showed that the demographics of people who buy pickups for personal use is almost exactly the same as those who bought personal luxury coupes and intermediates in the 1970s.

    The descendants of those Malibu and Chevelle buyers aren’t buying Accords and Camrys…they are now buying Silverados and Sierras.

  • avatar

    (not sure, I may be posting this twice…)


    Unfortunately, there was no 1977 Grand Am…Pontiac gave up on it for a few years after ‘73-’75. It only returned with the downsized ’78’s. And then disappeared again for awhile after 1980…

    However, 1977 did see the short-lived introduction of the Pontiac Can Am (a cross between a LeMans and a T/A). Perhaps that is what you meant?!

    That would be a rare CC feature, indeed…..!!

  • avatar

    You brought up an interesting point, geeber. My dad drove ford station wagons during the 60’s and 70’s. We had no other choice, with 4 children in our family.
    We made several trips a year from ohio to tenn. We had to bring a week’s worth of luggage, as well as my dad’s hunting/fishing supplies.
    By the time the 80’s came around and we were all grown my dad switched to F150’s and rove them until 03 when he passed away.
    What you said was similar to what I was thinking earlier. It seems like when the domestic automakers started making cars similar in size and layout to the accord and camry was about the same time of the truck/suv boom, something to think about.

  • avatar

    The problem with this article is that it is a 2010 article that exists only to criticize automotive history. History of any sort is an easy target from a more recent perspective. The most important part of this Malibu is its place as an example of a well-defined 70s look from an American manufacturer point of view. Many consumers bought this style of car and I am sure that they were very proud of their new car. They probably didn’t feel any sense of shame for their purchase at the time and probably wouldn’t have cared what most of these posters thought about their car.It was a time and a place and many of the posters are old enough to recognize this fact from an “I was there” perspective.Too bad this is basically forgotten in this piece.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      I write not primarily from the perspective of today, but from my experiences and feelings of the time when these cars were new. I can’t deny that additional history has undoubtedly added to my perspective, but I really did think these cars were mighty pathetic in their day; mostly, anyway.
      I could see, on some level, what GM and their stylists were trying to do, and it worked on me to some extent. But that was almost totally on an abstract level. In terms of everyday transportation, it was painfully clear to me in 1971 and 1973 that GM was heading down a road that I could not relate to, and was likely to be a dead end. The fact that it obviously turned out that way doesn’t really make me feel vindictive.
      I really would have preferred that Detroit would have taken a different turn, so obviously predicted by the Europeans first and then the Japanese.
      I also understand totally the love and affection folks had for their cars. Lets face it, there isn’t a car ever made that doesn’t have its fan club, even if its a membership of one. I respect that, and it’s one of the challenges I grapple with every time I write a CC. But in the end, I can’t just write either a puff/fan boy piece, or a completely dry historical piece. I write from my honest experience and feelings about every car, and I fully expect (and enjoy) different perspectives.
      I’m not trying to ramrod my POV; I’m just sharing it and I love hearing the others. But the one thing I’m not doing is re-writing history because it’s convenient for me now to do so with hindsight. If you go back over my CCs, you’ll find plenty of love spread around, including American cars.

  • avatar

    I agree 100 percent, Jim. It’s easy to look back on pretty much anything 30 plus years later and bash it. I, myself always thought these cars were ugly, but obviously many others did not, as they sold many thousands of them.
    There is still a large number of them around. They may not have been the best built cars, but they were not as bad as people are saying, just look at the numer of surviving cars compared to the number of surviving hondas and toyotas from the same period.

  • avatar

    Let me expand on my own experiences during this period a bit Paul.I had been driving for five years by 1976 and I had only owned Austins, VWs, Volvos, and Datsuns to that point.I bought a 1971 Duster in 1977 and thought I’d won the lottery with this Slant six wonder. I still own it. I was a high school and then a university student, so I deferred to economical choices.But I was always happy to drive something like a Malibu of that era because I liked the way they went down the road. They just felt like they belonged on a freeway,and I really didn’t care whether they handled like my Volvo.I liked the long hood and the floaty ride. It was a car made for the era, and I obviously had a completely different set of expectations than you did from 70s Detroit.Neither one of us are wrong or right, but I definitely look back on the era with a little more fondness for the cars.

  • avatar

    Wow, blast from the past. After a REALLY disasterous and short life with a 1975 Austin Marina (if you can even find one alive it would be a great CC), my parents bought the 6-cyl automatic 4-door version of this car in 1976. I know it was used, but nearly new. It had a burgendy cloth interior as it’s only option, and the red exterior just like the one in the pictures. The 6-cyl was gutless but very robust, unlike the rest of the car. It lived a typical family life (3-kids!) and once it started getting rusty my dad bought another car for my mom and used the Malibu as his “work car”. One day my dad picked my sister and myself up from elementary school and when my sister stepped into the back seat her leg went right through the floor of the back seat… it had rusted THAT bad. Needless to say, my mom forced the sale of the Malibu. I think that the engine and transmission in that car would probably have lived forever. Once gone, my dad replaced it with another “work car” which was in better shape and really hard to find… a 1977 Buick “Special” which was kind of a stripper Regal. It had the 3.8 V-6 and was forever unreliable.

  • avatar

    The stacked headlights were a weird one for me when this car came out.
    I disagree that the Accord took the country by storm in 76 when it was introduced. It was more in 82 when the 2nd gen body style came out.
    Now I think the 73-77 A-Body 2 doors are some of the best looking cars made by GM ever.

  • avatar

    Front clip looks like one off of a Ford, especially that of a 1977 LTD II (minus the side headlights).

  • avatar

    One other point about these cars – The 1968-72 GM intermediates were very popular, and had always sold well. The Chevrolet Chevelle/Malibu and Pontiac Tempest/LeMans had been the top two sellers in that class for several years.

    But, in 1972, Ford came out with a much larger, body-on-frame Torino, and promptly outsold the Chevrolet Chevelle/Malibu for the first time since the GM intermediates debuted in 1964. The Torino was larger, with more flamboyant styling than the 1970-71 generation, and emphasized plush ride, lavish interiors and silence over performance. Judging by the sales figures, the public loved it.

    In 1973, the Empire Struck Back.

    The 1973 GM intermediates were very popular and, with the exception of the Pontiac LeMans, sold like hotcakes.

    As for their structural rigidity (or lack thereof) – a very large percentage of GM’s 1968-72 intermediates were sold as two-door hardtops, and were anything but tight. I know, because I used to own a 1972 Cutlass Supreme Holiday coupe. The 1968-72 cars were even available as four-door hardtops.

    The Colonnade intermediates, with their thick roof pillars, lack of a true hardtop body style, one-piece dashboards and heavier sound insulation, probably seemed “tighter” (or, at least quieter and smoother) to buyers in the 1970s.

  • avatar

    I had a number of ’73-77 Cutlasses, Montes, Malibus- I liked every one except the ’77 Monte. The Monte had those goofy swivel bucket seats that felt like the pivots were worn out, which gave a rocking-chair effect. Even had a ’76 Malibu Coupe w/6cyl and three-on-the-tree that was a decent car. The best part about these cars- I could shine them up, put on Cragar SS wheels, replace the door hinges (always worn out from the huge doors), drive them for a few months and resell them at a profit. Kids were always drooling over these cars, and they were reliable, affordable transportation.

  • avatar
    ex gm guy

    Man, I had to drive a stripped down, 1975 4-door Malibu. It was a company car, and it was awful. Easily the worst car i have ever driven for any length of time. I remember two things in particular:
    Every time I hit a pothole (often) it excited some kind of harmonic in the front end. The miserable thing seemed to vibrate for seconds.
    The other was my girlfriend’s father’s reaction. He, a GM engineer, was openly disdainful of the car. I thought to myself “Well, I didn’t design this POS, you did”, but I held my tongue. That was when I started to realize just how clueless GM had become.

  • avatar

    There is something wrong with this comments thread…some posts only appear at certain times.

  • avatar

    I currently own a ’77 Classic sedan 305/350 and 2.56 axle ratio. I knock down 14 in town and 20 on the road, not great, but not super terrible. It’s got 140,000 miles on it, still has ALL the original smog controls on it, right down to the super lame factory catalytic converter. I had to replace the nylon timing set, the pickup coil in the distributor, and adjust the carb, but it runs great, for 140 hp. 0-60 comes up in about 10 seconds so it’s not horrifically slow. tops out around 120mph, with actual bushings in the sway bar endlinks it’s not as ponderous as you’d expect though I did add a rear bar from a 9c1 ’96 Caprice to quell some of the massive understeer. Mine’s green/green with A/C and came with an AM radio, that I replaced with an AM/FM Cassette out of an ’84 LeSabre. Mine still has the hood ornament. No rust. I did replace the TH350 trans at 138,000 miles after it lost drive completely with the trans from the ’76.

    I also owned a ’76 Classic sedan that my parents bought brand new, we kept it for 24 years and 200,000 miles. the 305 needed an overhaul by 90,000 miles since it was using oil at a good clip, but it took us all over the east coast and Canada and back to Texas. I got it with 120,000 miles on it when it and I were 16. Dad taught me how to really work on cars with it, as it was easy to fix it I really did something to it. In the end, rust and metal fatigue finally did it in, I shredded a steel wheel coming back to college from at trip home, and you couldn’t put anything small in the trunk without it sliding out through the gaping holes in the floors. It was equpped pretty much like the ’77 is. The ’77 has a few parts from it as well so it’s legacy still goes on. It got 14 and 19 with a 3.08 axle ratio.

    For some reason these things eat hood ornaments, if you aren’t careful when you close the hood, you’ll snap that thing right off.

    They are also not as heavy as you think, the ’77 comes in around 3800 pounds and the ’76 was 3900, the ’73s were lighter still at 3600, when a comparable ’72 model was about 200 pounds lighter. Most of the weight gains was in the structure, which is stiffer than you think with a double roof, stronger pillars and a decent frame under it. Unlike my porky 95 Explorer which is smaller, but weighs more, has more power from the OHV V6, but is slower, suffers from a ton of chassis flex and overly stiff suspension.

    Styling? well lets just say its subjective, and my girlfriend calls it ‘The Whale’ and she thinks it’s uglier than sin, though she voluntarily gets in it.

    To me the styling is what I grew up with. Dated? oh heck yes, the best of the ’70s? probably. better than anything on the road now? no way, a comfy highway cruiser? oh yes, I drove the ’77 on a 300 mile road trip and the only thing I wished for was cruise control.

    I still think it’s a better built car than the 78-88 A/G bodies. a friend of mine had serveral El Caminos of that vintage and now has an ’84 Monte Carlo SS. those cars have always felt cheap to me.

  • avatar

    Thank you for helping balance this posting.

    The Accord was new. The Malibu was not. So you are basing your comparison on the year they were made? That isn’t a fair comparison. This Malibu design was old in 1976. It looked old. The front end you say looked like a high school shop class designed it – looked like that to most buyers the year it came out too. This car, in this year, was not intended to reflect the latest or newest. Buyers of this car, did so, to maintain fleets with a stable of cars familiar with the mechanics keeping those cars running. These Malibus were generic cars with a little styling flourish. They were not intended to be company-defining autos. They were built to be sold, and to make huge profits.

    The Accord was intended to be a statement. The Malibus were not.

    GM raked in billions with these cars. By the end of the decade, GM had 60% of the US Auto Market. Folks driving these cars were satisfied with Schlitz Beer, Hamburger Helper, Nylon down-filled parkas, a high school education, three television networks, and Sears or KMart. This was NOT the Honda Accord market, but it was the largest auto market at that time.

    If you want to make a fair comparison with the 1976 Accord, then compare it to the new 1976 Corolla, or Subaru, or the 1975 Pacer.

  • avatar

    I knew a lot of people who owned GM A-bodies back in the day. (who didn’t know someone that owned one?)
    And I cannot recall anyone ever complaining about the handling, no one bought these types of cars for that purpose. In those days when someone stepped up from a car with manual steering to one with power steering they considered it a great driving car. Who never heard someone from the 70’s say something along the lines of “that things drives great, I can turn the wheel with one finger!”
    That was what most people thought of as a good handling car.
    But as for now, the way an A body handled from the factory is pretty much irrelevant.
    There is a plethora of suspension kits for them, stiffer control and sway bar bushings, different sway bars, and even solid aluminum body mounts to go between the body and frame. Add some good tires and you have a car that handles like you never dreamed possible.

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly! These cars were the Camry/Accords of their day. Nothing really remarkable about them, but they did what they were supposed to without much drama.

      When my Explorer was down with bad head gaskets, I drove my ’77 (which is identical save for the grill and taillights) for two weeks, and it was a pleasant commuter. My only real gripe with it as a commuter is the typical cold start problem endemic with all carbureted cars.

  • avatar

    While much fun can be poked at those aweful 70’s cars, I say that GM’s 73-77 Collonade coupes and sedans were the better cars of there era compared to AMC’s terrible coffin nosed Mattador coupe and sedan, most any 73 on up Mopar sedan or Fords odd looking Torino. Compared to Chryslers truly bottom of the barrel Volare/Aspen these were regarded much more highly and were a darn heck of a lot more reliable too. My dad bought a used 1974 brown sedan with the 145 Hp 350 2BBL V8 that ran surprisingly well and outlasted any shitbox Accord from the 70’s in the salt region we lived in. I remember those Accords with rusty rear fenders that were but 2 years old. The Collonades usually were still on the road during the 80’s with 100’s of thousand miles even despite less than steller quality control. Strangely I never remember seeing a 454 in any of these mid size cars at the time as being a car loving kid would pop the hood on every single one I came across in the lots. The 73 and 74’s mostly seemed to have the 350 2BBL engines, 4 BBL in 75. Many 76 and 77 versions had 305 2BBL V8’s with nearly the same HP as the 2BBL 350 and much better mileage. I did run across the occasional 250 straight 6 on the 76-77 versions and that engine seemed to run forever. The 350 THM tranny in these cars were virtually bulletproof too. A neighbor had a last year 77 dark blue one of these with a 350 4BBL V8, white bucket seat interior, guages, A/C and rear sway bar suspension and had that car for what seemed like forver. In fact the car passed from parents to older brother to younger brother and was as reliable as the sun. Even when the body was rusting out during the later 80’s that damn car would start right up in sub zero temps and never broke down. They nick named it the blue terror because at the time it was a relatively quick car and we won many races against 318 Mopars, 360 AMC’s and 351 Fords of the same era.

  • avatar

    Well even after 90-some-odd comments I’m going to leave my own.

    I was a senior in high school when the folks got a 1977 Malibu Classic coupe. Silver, red vinyl interior, 350, automatic, AM-FM, air, Rally Wheels and that’s it.

    I, personally, loved it. True, the styling wasn’t the cleanest (and the ’77 had an even more tarted up grill and taillights). But to me, that thing was FAST. Maybe it was the low-end torque. We must have gotten a good one, assembly-wise, as it lasted for 10 years without rust or other calamity. Never needed major work. I truly believe the Arlington, TX plant (where that car came from, and where we lived) was/is one of GM’s best. Kinda wish I still had the car today.

  • avatar

    My mom and sister both had 73 Culasses, my sister’s was a dog from day one, seemed to eat starters for some reason. Not the gear issue some cars had, they just burnt up. It didn’t run right, and the dealer never did figure out why. The bronze paint with a crap brown vinyl top made it’s ugliness even worse. I remember the “Cutlass Supreme” on it was crooked.

    Mom’s car, sky blue with a white top, built about 1000 cars after my sister’s, and identically equipped, to the penny, was like it was made on another planet. It never had a problem, the panels all lined up correctly, it got 4 MPG better than my sister’s car, and just plain felt better. We had it until 75, when we moved out to Las Vegas. A relative bought it, and he had it until about 1990 when she fell asleep and wrecked it. It had almost 400,000 miles on it. It was severly rusted, but mechanically, all it had done was a tranny rebuild at 250K, a front end rebuild, a radiator about the same time as the trans, and several water pumps. The heads were never off it! She went and bought a Caravan to replace the Cutlass, and had it until she died in 2007. It had close to 400,000 on it too. That thing was amazingly good. Another relative has the Caravan now, and it’s still driven once in a while, but it’s looking very bad at this point, leaking water in from someplace in back. The speedo died last year, and it had 500K on it then.

  • avatar

    Back in the day, my girlfriend’s dad bought a 197X Malibu sedan with a six. Performance was snail like. He had a thing about power assisted steering and so he demanded manual steering. I swear the dealer just pulled the belt off the PS pump. You had to stand on the steering wheel spoke to parallel park the beast.

    The Monte Carlo of the same era was a bigger achievement in wasted space, luggzury ugliness and non-performance. The doors were so huge on the MC that they sagged within months, even before the car started to rust. Any more than a year old and you had to lift the doors to get them to close.

  • avatar

    Wow, memories. My first car was a ’74 Mailbu Classic. Sea Mist Green with matching landau roof & vinyl interior. It was 2 years old when I bought it and already had 100k miles on it. Seriously worn out, but it was the perfect car for a crazy 17 year-old.

    I installed dual exhaust with glass packs. The timing chain was stretched so the engine couldn’t stay in proper tune. What that meant to me was that at night when decelerating all of that unburned gas in the exhaust would shoot flames from the pipes. I loved it!

    When we look back from today we all can realize what terrible cars these were, but I loved my Chevy. It was my freedom, and the place where a couple of important “firsts” took place.

    I got rid of it when I graduated from high school because I needed a more reliable car. So I bought a new, 1980 Chevy Monza (yea, oops).

  • avatar

    Ah, my first company car.
    In 1977 I accepted a job in the magazine business that came with a company car.

    When I asked what kind of car it was, my new boss said, “We get four-door Ugly cars.” and handed me the keys and told me that it was in the garage.

    He was right. It was ugly. It was a 1976 Malibu Classic sedan in dark blue with a light blue vinyl interior and 305 V8. It could have been worse. I actually though the grille looked kind of classy at first. I got over that pretty quickly.

    I have to admit though, despite being quite ugly, it wasn’t such a bad car for the 2 years I had it except for some problems with the parking lights.

    I liked the 1979 Malibu Classic that replaced it a lot better but, I can’t really say that it was a POS. There were better and worse cars in 1976.

  • avatar

    The endura bumpered Laguna was a significant improvement in the looks dept. If I was going to get a car of this ilk, I’d try to find a Grand Am which, if I remember correctly, could be had with a 455SD for a couple of years.

    I think the killer on these cars, appearance-wise, was those double stacked headlights. They were awful.

  • avatar

    I wouldn’t imclude the Malibu as deadly sin but they did have there issues as did many of the 70’s cars, interior space utilization being number one. The Grand Ams, Cutlass Supremes and lagunas were the best at representing this series.

  • avatar

    I always thought these ’73-77 Chevelle/Malibus were good looking cars for the time but, like others have mentioned, the fit and finish was pretty bad.  Probably par for the course in that era though.  I always thought the interior of the Chevy looked pretty cheap though…too much hard plastic on the dash.  The LeMans, Grand Prix, Century/Regal, and Cutlass all had much nicer interiors, although there was still too much plastic compared to the 1968-72 models.
    And, like it or not, overwhelmingly, cars like this are what the people wanted.  It took skyrocketing gas prices and fuel shortages to get people to give these things up.
    Also, while they weren’t the most space-efficient things in the world, I still found these bloated A-bodies to be pretty comfortable, at least in the nicer trim levels.  I have a 1976 Pontiac Grand LeMans coupe, and I swear that thing fits my 6’3″ frame better than most modern cars!  The main advantage is that it has a power seat, which has a really wide range of motion and can get into some almost obscene angles.  The back seat is horrible, to be sure, but I’ve seen worse.  Basically, it’s a car with a full-sized front seat, a compact back seat, and a midsized trunk.
    Handling is fairly decent in my opinion.  And GM did a pretty good job with making these cars feel smaller and less bulky than they really were.  It’s not a HUGE car, but not exactly tiny, either, but manageable.  That’s an art GM has lost…nowadays, many of their cars just feel bigger and bulkier and more cumbersome than they really are.

  • avatar

    Cars in the 70s absolutely sucked

  • avatar

    The Malibu and it’s corporate cousins of this era were amongst the best selling cars of the decade. While these models may not have utilized space as efficiently as the downsized models that followed the coupes body style was symmetrical. The front end styling was better suited for dual headlamps versus the quads however. While the detuned engines were definitely lacking in the horsepower department the handling of these cars especially when equipped with the F41 suspension was very competent. The landau coupes were particularly attractive and the “Classics” upgraded interior rivaled that of it’s higher priced GM siblings with the exception of the Cutlass Supreme Brougham and Salon. I agree a base Malibu sedan with it’s more austere interior is not an attractive model but the coupe is poorly represented here. These are pictures of a badly neglected car and truly do not do this model any justice inside or out.

    My first car was a ’74 Malibu Classic which I owned in the mid 80’s. I purchased it with 74k on the odometer and can still remember the car riding tight. I’m not going to deny the fact that these cars could have stood improvement but to me they don’t qualify as one of GM’s deadly sins. They were cars that had appeal for a wide range of buyers in those days and the colonade styling was popular enough to continue well into the 1980’s on GM’s hot sellers like the Monte Carlo SS and Buick GN. 

    What I lament is the styling of many autos of the last twenty years. With the exception of sports cars, coupes have become almost non existent and left this generation of auto buyer (who doesn’t want a sports car) with the option of either a sedan or and SUV.  I find my options when possibly buying a new car in 2011 extremely unapealing and would be reluctant to plunk down 30 grand on something that does not suit my tastes. If I had my choice….it would be a car (coupe of course) with the styling from this generation with the technological advancements of today.  

    But that is just  my humble opinion.

  • avatar


    your car should get (1976 EPA esimates- keep that in mind) 18 and 26. the V8 cars get (reality) 13 and 18. The automatic Six gets about the same as the 305 V8 gets.

    I’ve got a 4 door 77 Malibu Classic that I’m slowly but surely fixing up. Drove it to Shreveport LA from Dallas TX, and got 18mpg on all interstate. Nothing spectacular but the looks on peoples faces as it was tooling down I-20 at 75-80mph was well worth it.

  • avatar

    Check out

    on my 76 it was on top of the gas tank, I’m guessing its there on the 77 as it was not under the back seat, nor the front seat. Might be under the carpet, could be anywhere really.

  • avatar

    Wow this car is from my town. I drove by it for years and wanted it. I watched it sit and rot to this condition. When it was first parked there it looked pretty good. The owners recently moved and the car disappeared. I would have loved to have gotten it and restored it. My cousin had one that was beefed up a little bit under the hood. The ultimate sleeper that would haul ass!

  • avatar

    I have a 1976 Chevelle 4-d sedan . Its silver with blue top and blue interior. I bought it from an old man who’s sister bought it new . he said the back seat had never been sat in . Its a 305 auto.It had sat in his garage since his sister passed. I bought it with 40,000 original miles ,has almost 43 k now. So far not any real problems ,radio or air does not work I put a set of GM rally wheels on it which did makes it look some better but the more I look at this car the uglier it gets . I have thought about changing the front clip to a 73 with single headlights and changing the rear to the round lights I do know of where a 2 dr blue coupe is in a junk yard rusting away . Some days I look at that front and see overtones of a Matador or something in that era . I think sometimes when they designed this thing they may have set back and said ,lets see just how ugly we can make this one. . I use it for a daily driver and I have a Lincoln town car . If just something would happen to it I could send it packin but it starts and runs daily `I feel Im cursed owning it.

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