HISTORY: Ten Million Chevy Malibus – A Retrospective

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For 51 years, the Malibu has been a mid-sized mainstay in the Chevrolet lineup. Let’s take a look back as Chevy celebrates its 10 millionth Malibu sold.

If you’re a child of the 1970s, then you may remember the Malibu as “a fresh new slice of apple pie.” As marketers had done with Chevrolet and “baseball, hot dogs and apple pie,” they wove the mid-sized Malibu into the American zeitgeist.

So it’s interesting that the celebration of Malibu’s 10 millionth customer took place in one of its strongest markets, Korea. In not much time, the Malibu went from resolute Americana to having global appeal.

Korea, one of Chevrolet Malibu's best-selling markets globally,

Going back through the Malibu’s history, one can see how plugged-in it was to the trends of its time.

The nameplate debuted in 1964 as an upscale variant of the Chevelle.

Introduced as top model of new midsize lineup; sold >200,000 in

Its styling had the relative cleanness Detroit embraced after the florid and finned Fifties. The dense grille still gave onlookers lots of shininess to focus on. Later Malibus in this mid-’60 generation benefited from that golden era of GM design, with flying buttress rear windows and a general look of being fleet of foot.

The more rounded designs of the late-’60s looked like cars that had too logged many nights on the couch with ice cream and Doritos. Wheels were tucked in beneath the bodywork, and long swoops defined the styling.

Significant redesign; smoother, more rounded

That changed with the muscular SS396, where the family sedan’s excess turned into a muscle car’s beefiness. And GM was still doing a superb job with the detailing – the bottom black color running up into the grille on this SS is quite elegant.

Then we hit 1973, when the Malibu grew to previously full-sized dimensions. This generation also had GM’s “Colonnade” roof, which fixed the rear window into the pillar to pass the rollover standards GM was predicting.

All new “Colonnade” hardtop for added safety

The year 1978 brought the downsized “slice of apple pie” noted earlier. Though it was a progressive in size, the smaller Malibu was otherwise of another time, with its full frame construction and un-aerodynamic, forward-tilting front clip.

And in an ever-growing sea of imports, the flossy brightwork dribbled on the Malibu Classics further drove home that the Malibu had been born some time before.

And so the Malibu withered. The front-wheel drive Celebrity took over in 1984.

Smaller, trimmer with significant weight reduction

Then, the Malibu name returned. Celebrity had been killed off by the ’80s GM quality from whence it came, and the ’90s Corsica passed on for similar reasons. So when it was time in the late-’90s to name Chevy’s new mid-size sedan, a look to the past was all that was needed.

Too bad the car was so unremarkable; you probably rented one and then forgot all about it.

Reborn as front-wheel drive; high-quality, safe, good value, nam

It got worse; the 2004 Malibu was shockingly cheap inside, another Hertz-grade disappointment – although the hatchback Malibu Maxx impressed with its uniquely utilitarian talents.

Redesigned on new vehicle platform

Then, finally, Chevy found its mid-sized mojo again with the next generation. At last, the Malibu had the scratch to compete with cars from overseas.

All-new model; widely praised by auto media; North American Car

The generation after that made the mistake of not including as much rear legroom as buyers would like, so it’s selling at about 60% of the Ford Fusion‘s rate.

Chevrolet’s first global midsize model to be sold in 100 marke

The 2016 Malibu has just entered production – Chevy says it’s 300 pounds lighter for nimble performance, and the wheelbase has been stretched nearly four inches, to recover that lost rear legroom. Styling is certainly eye-catching.

This upcoming Malibu appears to fulfill many of the aspirations to which every Malibu has aimed. And now, it’s doing so on the global stage.


Tell us in the comments – what do YOU think of the Malibu through the years?