Good in its day
- Valve cover gaskets needed periodic replacement (every 2-3 years).
- Motor mounts replaced twice.
- Idler arm replaced twice.
- Center link replaced once.
- Water pump replaced at 38,000, again at 98,000 miles.
- Alternator at 51,000 miles.
- Starter at 56,000 miles.
- Carburetor needed rebuild at 59,000 miles, choke pulloff at 68,000 miles.
- Air pump replaced at 74,000 miles.
- Rear wheel cylinders replaced at 82,000 miles.
Car was bought in 1990 - one owner, estate sale with 26,000 miles. The vehicle was in showroom condition - inside and out.
Being a Malibu Classic (vs. Malibu), it had a relatively nice interior, with cloth seats, and decent carpeting and door panels. Unlike other GM cars of this period, the headliner never fell. The exterior had wire wheel covers, and body side moldings, and the paint, like the interior, held up very well.
It was moderately equipped, with A/C, and a rear defogger, power steering, and brakes. The locks, seats (bench front and rear), and windows were manual. All worked flawlessly for the duration of ownership.
The Chevrolet 3.8 (229) V6 engine, while not all that speedy or good on gas (12 MPG city, 20 MPG highway) was reliable. We went 100,000 miles without having to open the engine up. In later years it would emit a puff of blue smoke on a cold start - not sure if it was valve seals or guides, as we never ran a compression check, but it never seemed to lose power or mileage.
The idle was a bit rough, though. The semi-odd fire arrangement of the crankshaft on the 200/229 V6 certainly didn't help matters in that regard - something Chevrolet abandoned when they went to the 4.3/262 version of this engine in 1985 (it was an even-fire engine). Still, this engine was a better choice than version of Buick 231/3.8 that was available at the time, as they tended to have issues with premature timing chain wear and knocking bottom ends - things the Chevy 200/229 is not known for.
Ping was a persistent issue with this engine - primarily at part throttle. Nothing could be found as an obvious problem - we even tried a new EGR valve - no change. Out of curiosity, we fitted a Stewart Warner temperature gauge (the car had the standard instrument cluster, with warning lights for temp, oil, etc.), and it indicated that the coolant temperature was consistently in the 220-230 range - particularly in the summer months. After checking the cooling systems for defects - and finding none - a heavy-duty (3 core) radiator was fitted, and the temperature dropped to the 190-210 range. While this reduced the ping, the final solution was to fit a Crane adjustable vacuum advance unit to the distributor.
Given that the mix of vehicles on the road today are (on average) much better performers than those of almost 30 years ago, the more powerful 267 or 305 V8's that were also available that year would be a smoother and more practical choice than the V6 for current road conditions - with little difference in real-world fuel economy.
The transmission, the much-maligned TurboHydraMatic 200, performed flawlessly.
The suspension was rather soft vertically (it bottomed easily), but it didn't allow much body roll in corners, and tracked reasonably well. The car did not have the F40 (heavy duty) or F41 (sport) suspension packages. Based on experiences with a 1980 Pontiac LeMans (same engine and transmission) that had the optional Radial Tuned Suspension, either package would have been a welcome upgrade. The steering had reasonable levels of feel/feedback for a vehicle of that vintage, and the brakes performed well. The frame rails on some A-body GM cars of this vintage were afflicted by severe rust - to the point where they would not be safe to drive. Thankfully, this one didn't suffer this from malady.
Snow traction was nothing special unless you put some weight in the trunk during the snow/ice season.
All in all, it was a decent vehicle for its time - good space utilization, vs. weight, reasonably attractive styling, and quality, while not as good as its predecessors, was better than the Mailbus that would follow (the Computer Command Control engine management system was not on this vehicle).
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Don't Know
Review Date: 20th November, 2009