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The Malibu | muscle car heritage

1970 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu SS 454.

Back in the day, that's the 1950s and 1960s to anyone born since 1980, the American car makers spent a significant amount of money researching names that would appeal to the subliminal desires of consumers.

And so the cars came out of the factories with names like La Sabre, Riviera, New Yorker, Newport, Imperial, Bel Air, Delray, Le Mans, Bonneville, Ventura, Electra ,Jetstar, Skylark, Catalina, Biscayne, Impala, Wildcat, Tempest, Mustang, Cougar, Sprint, Dart, Firedome, Thunderbird, Falcon, Marauder, 'Cuda, Challenger, Corvette, Cobra, Firebird , Fury, Monaco, Javelin, Rebel, Pheonix, Grand Prix and Toronado.

Whatever your yearnings and needs, Detroit had the car for you! In Australia things were a little more conservative. We had Special, Premier, Royal, Regal, Kingswood, Belmont, Statesman, Brougham and Freeway. Ford pushed the envelope a little with Futura. Chrysler gave us Charger and Hustler, while Holden created the iconic Torana and Monaro names.

These days so many cars are defined by a jumble of letters and numbers. I mean, does anyone really understand it all anymore, honestly? Well, Holden have reached back into the good old days in an effort to create a point of difference. Enter one of most evocative names ever to be affixed to the fenders of any car: The Malibu.

While GMH (don't call them that, I've been told!) fills its showrooms with the new  Holden Malibu (don't called it a Chevy , I've been told!), the Chevrolet diehards will remind us that it is 50 years since the storied nameplate first appeared in the "bowtie" line up. In those five decades, General Motors (GM) has sold 8 million Malibus.

Chevy introduced the Malibu in the northern autumn of 1963 as the top-of-the-line model for the new mid-sized Chevelle. Similar sized cars were fielded by GM's other divisions, including Pontiac who christened theirs "Tempest", and offered a performance option they cheekily called the GTO.

Initially , the Malibu could be optioned with an  SS package, which meant a four speed transmission, bucket seats, some sporty wheel trims and a dual exhaust for the 4.7 litre (283 cubic inch) V8. As sales of the GTO took off, Chevrolet got to work on the SS, inserting a 5.2 litre (the fabled 327) V8 into the front end. The muscle car era was officially green flagged!

From there on the Malibu became the base car for all manner of muscle bound machines, culminating in the outrageous SS of 1970 with a 454 cubic inch V8 upfront boasting upwards of 450 BHP and good for a 12 second pass down the  mile in stock form.Those days are long gone. Only the name remains now.

David Burrell is the editor of retroautos.com.au