Depending upon the age of the individual in question, the phrase “Chevrolet Malibu” can conjure up vastly divergent images. For anyone born of the Baby Boom generation, the phrase incites memories of fire-breathing Malibu Super Sport muscle cars with SS 396 or SS 454 badging, referring to the hugely powerful big block V8 engines installed in the cars back in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.
For Millennials however, the phrase “Chevrolet Malibu” generates the visage of a front-drive mid-size family car designed to compete with Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry. In between the two extremes resides a steadily diminishing series of automobiles, vividly depicting all of the factors leading to the decline and near death of the American auto industry.
Indifferent styling, poor attention to detail, low quality interiors, gutless engines, floppy handling...
In many ways, researching the history of Chevrolet’s most popular mid-size car is like taking a core sample of Arctic ice. Each successive iteration of the car reveals much about the time is was designed, constructed, marketed, and sold. And while the days of extreme high performance are behind the Malibu for the foreseeable future, the current generation of the car is easily the best Malibu model proffered in recent history.
With a legacy going all the way back to 1964, there have been eight generations of the Malibu sold in the United States. Originally sold as an upper trim line of the Chevrolet Chevelle model line, Malibu has run nearly continuously through that entire period, save a fourteen-year hiatus between the rear-drive early models of 1964 to 1983, and the dawn of the front-drive Malibu in 1997. Production of the model has run uninterrupted since that time, which is where this Malibu retrospective will pick up, with the fifth generation of the Chevrolet, built between 1997 and 2003.