Home » For Just A Single Year You Could Buy A Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu SS Wagon With A Giant 7.4L V8: Holy Grails

For Just A Single Year You Could Buy A Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu SS Wagon With A Giant 7.4L V8: Holy Grails

1973 Chevrolet Chevelle Ss Wagon Ts2
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If you’re a fan of classic American muscle, you’ve almost certainly heard of the Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 or even seen one at a show or a few. Maybe you even know of the 1973 Chevelle SS model. That year, there was another Chevelle SS out there that you may not know about; the first and last time Chevrolet bestowed a Chevelle wagon with the coveted Super Sport badge. The 1973 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu SS is a single-year model blending V8 power with sporty styling. Just 71 of them came equipped with a 454 cubic inch V8, making for a muscle wagon perfect for emptying your wallet thanks to high fuel prices.

Today is a wonderful time to love horsepower. Automakers are packing their cars with mountains of power and you don’t need to pay an absurd amount of money to get it. Handing $72,130 over to Stellantis used to net you a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat with over 700 horsepower. Too much money? Slide Ford $50,275 and you can experience the fury of 700 HP in a stripper-spec F-150. If you already have a recent F-150 with a 5.0-liter V8, the cost drops to just $12,350. Supercar levels of power are now accessible to blue-collar tradespeople. Today, even a minivan will destroy the fast cars of old. You could even buy a 632 cubic inch V8 crate engine!

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I can only imagine how it felt in the 1960s when automakers took family cars and shoehorned in ever larger engines outputting higher and higher horsepower numbers. The 1960s saw the birth of the legendary Pontiac GTO, the record-breaking AMC AMX, the bulky Ford Boss 429 Mustang, the fabled Ford Shelby GT500, the iconic Dodge Hemi Daytona, and so many more. If you wanted a large engine in a relatively small package, America was more than happy to deliver.

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The star of the show for Chevrolet was the Chevelle SS, above. At its peak, you could buy the 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454. Check equipment group RPO Z15 and your Chevelle SS was locked and loaded with a 454 cubic inch big block V8. The base 454 had an LS5 V8 rated for 360 HP but you were able to opt for the solid lifter and high-compression LS6, which laid down a tire-shredding 450 HP. Of course, we’re talking about sneaky SAE Gross HP there, but the Chevelle SS 454 was the most powerful production Chevelle ever and the only GM vehicle with more power than the same year’s Corvette. Back in 2011, the Chevelle SS took second in a contest to crown the best Chevy vehicle of all time.

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By 1973, the Chevelle was no longer the darling of muscle car fans and found itself caught in the crossfire of changing federal standards. That didn’t stop Chevrolet from sending the SS out with a bang. A 454 cubic inch V8 stayed around, as did the SS trim level.

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GR Auto Gallery

And for just a single year, you could have that SS as a wagon.

Chevrolet’s Mid-Size Hero

Photos Chevrolet Chevelle 1964 1

As the book Chevrolet SS by Robert Genat notes, the 1960s was an era where domestic automakers competed to build the best smaller car, and Chevrolet was losing with the Chevy II giving up ground to the Ford Falcon. By 1962, the Ford Fairlane became a mid-size car, squeezing in between the smaller Falcon and the larger Galaxie. Ford was going up against the downsized Plymouth Belvedere and later, the AMC Rambler.

Chevrolet didn’t really have a good match for this expanding intermediate market and cooked up the Chevelle to toss into the ring. It rode on the body-on-frame, rear-wheel-drive A-platform, which slotted in above the Chevy II but under the year’s full-size Impala. Chevy launched the Chevelle in 1963 and in its early days, a Chevelle 300 represented the frugal end of the spectrum while a Malibu was the cushy high-end model. In addition to having both lower and higher-end options, the Chevelle was also available in a wide variety of body styles. You could order your Chevelle as a two-door hardtop, a four-door hardtop, a two-door coupe, a two-door convertible, a two-door sedan, a four-door sedan, a two-door wagon, a four-door wagon, and a coupe utility based on the two-door wagon.

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Chevrolet Chevelle 1964 Pictures

Whew! And yes, the coupe utility in question is none other than the El Camino. For those who wanted a bit more spice in their Chevelles, Chevy offered the Malibu SS. Base Malibu SS models had a 283 cubic inch V8 rated for 195 HP while the top optional V8 was a 327 with 300 HP. In 1965, power rose even further to 350 HP thanks to the 327 cubic inch L79 small-block V8. Chevrolet offered a Chevelle for just about everyone and it’s no surprise that Chevy moved 338,286 units that first year alone. The Chevelle would go on to get a new body in 1966 and a new generation in 1968.

The second-generation Chevelle was another hit out of the park. Chevy shortened the wheelbase and formed the body into the classic long hood, short deck configuration so many love today. That alone would be enticing, but then Chevrolet capped off the vehicle’s now legendary design with voluptuous curves. Couple the design with the firepower under the hood, and you get what many people picture when you say “classic muscle.”

Images Chevrolet Chevelle 1968 1

The Chevelle would go on to become one of America’s best-selling cars, and as I said before, eventually spawned one of Chevy’s most beloved cars of all time. How well did the Chevelle sell? In 1968, 464,669 of them found new owners. The Super Sport wasn’t rare either, with 62,785 Chevelle SS 396s going home that year. At the second-generation’s peak, 1970, 489,582 examples went home to customers in the United States.

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As stated earlier, 1970 also spawned the holy grail of the 1960s and 1970s horsepower wars with the Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454. These brutes were so overkill that their spec sheets still hold up today. A 6-second beatdown to 60 mph is good enough to pass some modern cars, at least in a straight line, anyway.

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After a spectacular 1970, the Chevelle saw declining sales and power for 1971 and 1972. Chevrolet was now embracing SAE Net numbers for horsepower and reducing compression. A LS5 454 V8 was rated at 365 HP gross, but 285 HP net. The LS6 454 V8 was downrated to 425 HP gross for 1971, but nobody seems to know if any of them were lowered into the engine bay of a production Chevelle.

Malaise Time

1973 Chevrolet Chevelle Brochure 10

The Chevelle and its platform mates would transform as the 1970s rolled on. As Curbside Classic writes, the development of what would become the GM Colonnade cars began in the late 1960s. Before I continue, I should note what GM was on about with the name Colonnade. In architecture, a colonnade is a row of columns that are connected with horizontal supports. Put differently, a covered walkway can be a colonnade. Britannica says colonnades were popular in the Baroque and Neoclassical periods.

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For General Motors, Colonnade was a fancy way to spell the end of four-door hardtops and convertibles. In their place, the Colonnade cars had large and prominent B-pillars that were there to keep occupants alive in rollover crashes. These cars would also bear the ungainly 5 mph bumpers that are so often associated with the Malaise Era. It was a reportedly controversial departure from what buyers and the auto media were used to. As Curbside Classic notes, the Colonnade cars were developed jointly by multiple GM divisions. Chevrolet’s team, led by John Z. DeLorean, designed the front suspension. Pontiac handled the suspension business in the rear, Oldsmobile engineered the steering, and Buick spec’d the stopping power. The frame came from GM research, and the advancements were numerous.

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According to an engineering report for 1973, the new A-body Colonnade cars got a stronger perimeter frame, new body mounts, 6-inch wide wheels, a larger 8.5-inch rear axle, and a refined suspension both front and rear. Coupes rode on 112-inch wheelbases while four-doors and wagons rode on 116-inch wheelbases. Reportedly, the front suspension was based on the F-body suspension designed by engineer Herb Adams.

The new front suspension improved geometry while the rear suspension improved cornering stability. Stiff springs and large front anti-roll bars also helped keep a Colonnade in the driver’s intended path of travel. The engineers even thought of the daily driver with front camber. The left wheel has a slightly more positive camber than the right wheel, which aids in driving feel on a crowned road surface. As a result of these changes and more, GM’s Colonnades were known for good handling for the day, albeit with a rougher ride.

1973 Chevrolet Chevelle Brochure 9

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The Colonnade cars were originally slated for a 1972 release, but a UAW strike pushed that to 1973. GM finally released the Colonnade cars into a different kind of world in 1973. The Chevelles now had vastly different bodies and while they didn’t quite spark the same sort of excitement as their predecessors, Chevy continued selling tons of them. The new cars didn’t just introduce new bodies, either, as General Motors made small improvements that you might not even notice. Chevy advertised the fact that the Chevelle’s side marker lights illuminated with the headlights. Engineers also redesigned the vehicle’s HVAC to pull outside air better without having the windows open. Other goodies came in the form of flush door handles, an optional power sunroof, front disc brakes, and swivel bucket seats.

The Super Sport also stuck around just for 1973.

The Grail

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Mecum Auctions

By 1973, the Chevelle SS was largely a cosmetics package. The base engine offered on the Chevelle was the Turbo-Thrift 250 six, which was good for 100 HP. The smallest V8 was the Turbo-Fire 307 V8, good for 115 HP. There was also the Turbo-Fire 350-2 V8 rated at 145 HP. If you wanted more power, there were two optional V8s. The Turbo-Fire 350-4 V8 got you to 175 HP while the big boy Turbo-Jet 454-4 V8 netted you 245 HP. Most of these engines were available with your choice of manual or automatic transmission. If you specced your Chevelle as a wagon, the six wasn’t even available.

According to the brochure, you were able to order these larger engines for a regular Chevelle. So, you could have a Chevelle Deluxe 454 without the SS. Instead, optioning your Chevelle 350 or 454 with the SS package really just gave you some neat SS aesthetics. Applying the package netted you a black grille with the SS emblem. More SS emblems flanked your fenders, door trim, steering wheel, and rear end. The black accents continued in the taillight surrounds and you also got neat stripes on the bottom of the body. The SS package is capped off with a special instrument cluster, rally wheels, and special front and rear stabilizer bars. So, it’s not entirely just cosmetics, just mostly.

1973 Chevrolet Chevelle Ss Wagon
Orlando Classic Cars

The SS package was applied to 1973 Chevelle Malibu models or the mid-range trim under the Laguna and above the Deluxe. Most of the SS packages were found on Chevelle Malibu Hardtops, but, as the brochure notes, you could have slapped some SS badges on the Malibu Wagon, too.

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This is the one Jason L says is a Grail:

I’m not sure if you accept multiple “Holy Grail” submissions by the same person (I suggested the Nissan Sentra SE-R a while back), but the recent article on the first sport wagon made me think of a really rare and cool automotive oddball: the 1973 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu SS wagon, which could be factory-ordered with a 454 V8.

I’ve never seen one in person—few probably have—but it’s a real car. For some unknown reason, Chevrolet decided to add the SS trim level to the new-for-’73 Malibu wagon, and sold less than 1,500 of them. Most of them had a 350 V8, but the 454 was also available, and only 71 of them were made. Definitely a holy grail, to be sure. If I were the kind of guy with the money for a proper musclecar collection, I would love to have one of these just for the pure weirdness of it all.

1973 Chevrolet Chevelle Ss Wagon (1)
Orlando Classic Cars

As Jason notes up there, the 1973 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu SS wagon is so rare that, if you owned one, someone will probably accuse you of making a tribute car. But some people really did equip their Malibu wagons with the SS package. As Hagerty writes, in 1973, Chevrolet built 28,647 Chevelle Malibu SS models. Of those, just 2,500 were equipped with the 454. Remember, this was 1973, so you had to have a fat wallet to feed the 454 beast. After 1973, the SS was discontinued, leaving the Laguna to be your best choice in the Chevelle lineup.

Sadly, General Motors has never released exact numbers for these cars, but enthusiasts estimate that there are about 1,432 Chevelle Malibu SS wagons out there. Of that number, 1,361 of them are believed to have the 350 while another 71 have a 450. Again, these aren’t confirmed numbers, but given the total lack of these for sale out there, I believe it. Sadly, I couldn’t tell you how much the cool wheels and special anti-roll bars actually made a difference. So far as I can tell, Chevelle Malibu SS wagons are so rare that nobody has reviewed one. What I can tell you is that these wagons did have jump seats, so your whole family could enjoy lumpy 454 V8 twist.

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Mecum Auctions
1973 Chevrolet Chevelle Ss Wagon (2)
Orlando Classic Cars

One David Tracy special Chevelle Malibu SS 454 wagon is showing as Pending on Facebook for $7,000. Another, much cleaner example sold in a Mecum auction for just $23,100. So these cars do have collectors, but they aren’t going to ask you for six figures of your hard-earned cash.

While the 1973 Chevelle Malibu SS wagon may not have the beauty, the popularity, the significance, or the power of its forebearers, it’s certainly something different. This was the first and the last time you were able to buy a Chevelle SS in wagon form. The 1973 Chevelle Malibu SS was the Malaise Era muscle car for the person with a family. Today, it can be an affordable way into a vintage and rare Chevelle Super Sport badge, if you can find one.

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Do you know of or own a car, bus, motorcycle, or something else worthy of being called a ‘holy grail’? Send me an email at mercedes@theautopian.com or drop it down in the comments!

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(Images: GM, unless otherwise noted. Topshot: Orlando Classic Cars)

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Greensoul
Greensoul
3 months ago

Wow, does this bring back memories. My Aunt Lorraine got one left on the lot in ’75. It was an SS, dark blue outside and white/black on the inside. I remember the moldings on the roof where the door windows met failed and leaked. It had a sunroof, not sure if it was factory, was a pop up, and it leaked. She nick named it the water car and traded it in on a 76 Cutlass Supreme. She was mad the Cutlass had the same crappy window seal moldings. In 78, she bought one of the first Accords sold in Kansas and never looked back. God rest her soul. She drove Hondas until she left us. Every time I would go to visit her, we would visit all of the local car sales rooms, sit in the cars, and wipe out their brochure section. On some days, we would be brave and do a test drive. I got my DL at 14. I’ll never forget her letting me take a test drive in a brand new car in 77 with my newly minted license. She started the ‘test’ drive. As soon as we were out of view, I got to drive. I don’t care what anyone says, a 77 Chevette was a fast car

Loren
Loren
3 months ago

A good choice for Holy Grail, and a pretty car in its way. Those wheels were 14×7 “Poly-cast”, a plain steel wheel inserted into a mold with urethane injected to make the outer shape, as though GM was doing everything it could to avoid sourcing aluminum ones. MIL had the ’73 SS-350 El Camino version, nice-riding but what we’d call a “boat” back when.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
3 months ago

Really neat, love a sports or muscle wagon! What many don’t know is that the SS package was often only a dress up option than a performance one back in the day. That’s because back then the options for ordering a car were much more open. My first car was a 67 Impala SS, it had a small block 327. But it could have had a straight 6. Or a big block. Or you could order a 427 in a stripped out Biscayne base model.Or you could get an SS 427, which is not the same thing as an Impala SS with a 427 optioned. Strange times to us now when you have to go to an higher trim just to get ann interior color other than black. But most often dealers ordered the cars and logically paired performance visual packages with some level of performance engine.

Ricki
Ricki
3 months ago

The string of awe-struck expletives that just came from my mouth…

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
3 months ago

When I was a toddler, my parents had a 1970 (I think) Buick Sport Wagon with the 455ci V8 in it. My parents bought it second-hand, so it was likely originally a 350ci car, but had the engine and some body hardware from a GS. That 455ci V8 threw a rod when I was four and my parents replaced it with a mid-70s Dodge Swinger, but I have memories of riding in the rear jump seat while listening to that 455 rumble. Of all the cars my folks regretted selling, that was my dad’s #1.

Nlpnt
Nlpnt
3 months ago

Chevy had a bit of a glut of high-end trim packages for ’73 Chevelle wagons, besides the SS there was also the Laguna wagon, the Laguna Estate wagon, and the Malibu Estate wagon (in both cases “Estate” was Chevese for “with fake-woodgrain side paneling”). All of course along with the woodless Malibu wagon and base Chevelle Deluxe wagon. There was also a Laguna 4-door sedan. Of the first four, fancied-up wagons, the Malibu Estate was far and away the best seller.

The entire Laguna series sold poorly, so for ’74 the lineup was streamlined, the chrome bumper Malibu Classic replacing the Laguna except for the S-3 coupe which was as much for NASCAR homologation as for the market.

Last edited 3 months ago by Nlpnt
Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
3 months ago

Old school trick: you put the fat kid in the way back for better traction when cruising the strip. In case you needed special sauce at the next street light.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
3 months ago

I had a 74 Caprice wagon with this 454. It also had a trailering package with monster-sized leaf springs and diff out back. The transmission cooler was as big as some car’s radiators.
The smogged 454 still made gobs of torque, and even with all the extra beef that Caprice still accelerated like a rocket.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
3 months ago

My first car was a 75 Chevelle Malibu Classic 4 door, 350-2, pea green vital top, matching pea green interior. For a first car it was great, but more Solo cup than grail…

Nlpnt
Nlpnt
3 months ago
Reply to  MATTinMKE

“Vital” rather than “vinyl” top, if that gets COTD does it go to you or to autocomplete?

Dennis Birtcher
Dennis Birtcher
3 months ago

I was under the impression SSs were exclusively two door affairs until the early 2000s. Today I learned.

Dennis Birtcher
Dennis Birtcher
3 months ago

Completely forgot about the mid-90s Impala SS, but the point stands. An SS wagon in 70s is mind-boggling.

JurassicComanche25
JurassicComanche25
3 months ago

Always loved the colonnade cars, especially the S-3.

At the other end of the spectrum, you could get an Impala SS as a 4 door with a I-6 in the earlier 60s. So apparently the 3800SC impalas was more of a callback to the originals than some boomers like to admit.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
3 months ago

“and the only GM vehicle with more power than the same year’s Corvette.”

I’m going to hazard a guess and say GM probably was making some locomotives (which I and Count Homer could also afford) with a wee bit more power.

Mercedes you are my main go to source for locomotive trivia, so I may be wrong. Or you’re letting me down here…

JurassicComanche25
JurassicComanche25
3 months ago

That lines not quite right- you could get the Corvette with the LS-7, although I am not sure how many were built. The LS7 in the corvette was rated at 460 or 465 hp

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
3 months ago

It is posts like this that really make me miss my dad. Growing up his 3 sons liked fancy glue on crap. We never realized what a cool car guy he was, owning several nice rides while raising 5 kids. I think the first car he had I can remember was a Ford Fairlane 500. Then was a Chevrolet Malibu SS, then a Buick Riveria not sure model, then a series of comfortable Cadillacs as he was getting old. I wish we ungrateful sons would have appreciated him and his passion when he was with us. Maybe I would know more about cars. He and my Uncle once rebuilt a muscle car for my uncles kid, a worthless felon in our garage, that would have been a great bonding experience.

James Davidson
James Davidson
3 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

SOTD – Story Of The Day!

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
3 months ago

My dad worked at Chevy dealership that had an 60s version this with a custom manual.

Turns out it was owned by a NASCAR driver that wanted performance for a family hauler.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
3 months ago

That’s a Grail-mobile, all right! Rare engine option in a rare trim package in a not exactly rare but not not exactly common body style.

Eggsalad
Eggsalad
3 months ago

I gotta believe the intended market was the guy who had to give up his 1969 Malibu SS coupe because he started a family. And I guess there weren’t many of those guys.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
3 months ago
Reply to  Eggsalad

Sounds pretty spot-on, I suppose the Celebrity Eurosport VR wagon was also pitched at the same sort of customer a bit over a decade later

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