"My goal was to achieve performance at least as good as the '01 Camaro SS I owned, but keep the car looking as stock as possible, with the exception of the stance and wheels," says Brian English, owner of the '69 Chevelle Malibu seen here. English, who is an ardent supporter of the Team Chevelle Web site (www.chevelles.com), initially came to our attention when we called out for a feature car on the Team Chevelle message board. Our initial reaction? It looked too plain.
As we dug deeper, however, we discovered that "plain" couldn't be further from the truth. Like many young hot rodders, English had been spoiled by the performance of late-model factory muscle, and needed his classic to meet, and in some areas, exceed the modern envelope. Impossible as it seems, he achieved this for much less than the cost of a new Mustang GT.
The canvas on which this homebrewed hot rod was painted began as a typical little-old-lady car, which then 15-year-old Brian and his dad discovered on a used car lot back in 1990. The unmolested plain Jane Malibu was a 307 2-bbl, non-A/C car with a Powerglide, and cost a hefty $4,000. For the next 12 years, Brian kept it stock and maintained it in top mechanical shape. Then in 2002, while driving his 2001 Camaro SS, he got T-boned at an intersection. Call it happenstance, but something clicked in his head, and English decided to go "grassroots" with the Malibu.
"I was on a fairly tight budget, so I knew I needed to do as much of the work myself as I could," says English. "After much discussion with Steve at Hotrods To Hell, I decided to go with their truckarm setup." The rear truckarm layout, originally found on Ford trucks of the '60s, is most well known as the suspension type found on NASCAR racers. English cites simplicity, ride quality, and strength for choosing the truckarm. Plus, it was easy enough to tackle the install job in his garage on jackstands. "I don't think I'd try that again without a hydraulic lift," says English, "Doing all that work under jackstands was difficult."
Simultaneous to the truckarm installation, English upgraded the front control arms and springs with pieces from Hotrods To Hell, and built from scratch one of the most unique and effective braking systems we've ever seen. With help from Team Chevelle members (most notably Joe Whiles) and Hydratech Braking Systems, English coupled some modified Second Generation Camaro spindles with Third Gen Camaro hubs, and C5 Corvette calipers and 13-inch rotors to create a cost-effective front disc setup. The donor '91 Camaro hubs were obtained by machining off the integral rotor, and the remaining hub was ground down, smoothed, painted, and assembled with new bearings. "Joe Whiles designed the brake brackets, and after running a set of steel prototypes for a while, he machined a second set out of aluminum, which are still on the car," says English.
Hydratech came into play with a Hydroboost brake booster, which supplies the power assist not from engine vacuum, but from power steering pump pressure. The Hydroboost provides ample brake boost with none of the ill-effects found in big-cam, low-vacuum situations on vacuum boost systems. Interestingly, the whole system works best with the Malibu's stock drum brake metering block, even though English has since converted the rear brakes to disc units salvaged from a '95 Camaro Z28. "I took it to an autocross, a first for myself and the car," says English. "It drew a lot of attention. My times weren't so good because I didn't know what I was doing, but I didn't hit a single cone, and the car performed well."
Long before trying his hand at autocrossing, English was eager to give his creation a test run. English told PHR: "On the day I first drove it after the suspension and brake mods, I had no seats installed, so I sat on couch cushions. The exhaust system wasn't installed yet and the old 307 was dumping out of two feet of pipe with no mufflers. I drove about a mile to the gas station, where I proceeded to set off alarms in every car parked there. I drove it home with a big grin on my face, bobbling around in the car on couch cushions." A Turbo 350 trans was then acquired in partial trade for the old Powerglide, and equipped with a Coan 11-inch 2,800-stall converter, which flashes, according to English, at more like 3,500 rpm. With a B&M shift-improvement kit and Hurst V-Matic shifter, the three-speed was eventually mated to a fresh 350 small-block. A dislodged wristpin and piston soon destroyed the number-five cylinder, which prompted a major rethinking. "I parked the car in frustration and let it sit for a couple of weeks before I even wanted to touch it again," says English. When he finally got his mojo back, the vision crystallized: keep it affordable, keep it stock looking, and make the most power from pocket change.