Home » See The USA In Your Five-Grand Chevrolet: 1973 Chevy Malibu vs 1994 Chevy Lumina

See The USA In Your Five-Grand Chevrolet: 1973 Chevy Malibu vs 1994 Chevy Lumina

Sbsd 1 12 2024
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Happy Friday, Autopians! It has been one hell of a week here at Shitbox Showdown International Headquarters, and I’m happy the weekend is finally upon us. I’m less happy about the one to eight inches of snow we’re supposed to get, but we’ll deal with that as it comes. To finish off our week of reader suggestions, we’re looking at a pair of Chevys from opposite sides of the country, both available for the same price.

Sometimes when I pit two cars against each other, I have no idea which one is going to win. Other times, I have a pretty good idea, and I’m not often wrong. But the degree to which one car gets beaten sometimes comes as a shock, and such is the case with yesterday’s fake Lamborghini. I knew that little sheep-in-ill-fitting-wolf’s-clothing was going to lose. But by twenty to one? Damn.

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I have no choice, therefore, but to offer my salute to the 34 brave souls who did choose the rebodied Fiero. A second-rate ripoff of an ’80s icon deserves a second-rate ripoff of an ’80s hair band, so please enjoy the musical stylings of Roxy Blue. (Hey, that’s what you get.) On a happier musical note, there were some excellent playlist suggestions for the Rolls, by the way. Bravo.

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Today’s cars come with their own playlist, whether you want them or not. They’ve been driven to the levee. Night moves have been practiced in them. They’ve been traded in for a Cadillac (ac-ac-ac-ac-ac-ac-ac). They’ve been customized. They’ve been raced. You get the idea. Chevrolet is America’s car brand – love ’em or hate ’em or don’t think much about ’em at all, you can’t escape ’em. So here is a pair of them, from different times in the company’s history, at opposite ends of the country, for five grand each. Let’s take a look.

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1973 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu – $5,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 307 cubic inch overhead valve V8, three-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Monroe, NY

Odometer reading: 87,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives, but that’s all we know

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The Chevy Malibu we know today is a bland rental-car special, sort of like a Camry with what little personality it has sucked out. It’s the official car of “that’ll do, I guess.” But it wasn’t always that way; once upon a time the Malibu was cool. Introduced in 1964 as the fancy version of Chevy’s new intermediate A-body Chevelle and named after a fancy part of the California coast, the Malibu lasted four generations as a rear-drive, mostly-V8-powered car of the people.

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This third-generation Malibu still bore the Chevelle name; later it was dropped like the “Cougar” in John Mellencamp. This generation of GM’s A-body is sometimes known as the “Colonnade” style, but really, that only applies to the coupes, which lost their wide-open hardtop architecture to proposed rollover standards. The coupes overshadowed sedans like this, and the wagons (which you almost never see anymore), but I think this is a handsome car. It’s a fairly plain-Jane car, with a ho-hum 307 cubic inch version of Chevy’s small-block V8 and dog-dish hubcaps, which it wears well, I think.

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1973 was the first year for five mile per hour bumper mandates, but only in the front. That’s why the ’73 Chevelles have this square-jawed look, with that huge front bumper. It’s probably the car’s least attractive feature, but this particular one is impressive; I don’t think I’ve seen one of these without rusted-out bumpers in about twenty years. The whole car is impressively rust-free, actually. This was almost certianly someone’s parents’ or grandparents’ car, garaged and hardly used.

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The odometer, below that magnificent wide speedometer, shows only 87,000 miles, and I can’t imagine it has rolled over. The rest of the car looks too nice. There is a rip in the driver’s seat and some wear here and there, but overall it’s a very well preserved car. We don’t get much information about its mechanical condition, except that it does run and drive, but this is a simple car. Whatever it needs, some basic simple mechanical know-how can provide.

1994 Chevrolet Lumina Z34 – $4,999

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.4 liter dual overhead cam V6, four-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Sunnyvale, CA

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Odometer reading: 106,000 miles

Operational status: “Drive good”

The rear-wheel-drive A-body Malibu was replaced by the front-wheel-drive A-body Celebrity, which in turn was replaced by this car, the W-body Lumina. But this is not your grandma’s Lumina; this is the high-performance Z34 coupe, equipped with a special 3.4 liter “Twin Dual Cam” 24 valve V6. This was Chevy’s answer to the Ford Taurus SHO, along with a four-door version called the Lumina Euro 3.4. A Getrag five-speed manual was available, but this car makes do with a 4T60E four-speed automatic – and ten fewer horsepower.

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The 3.4 DOHC V6 doesn’t have a great reputation; it’s high-maintenance, leak-prone, and jammed in there so tight that it’s hard to work on. This one doesn’t have many miles on it, and the seller says it runs well, but it’s for sale at a dealership, so there probably isn’t a lot of service history available. At the very least, you should probably change the timing belt – which, by the way, is a weird design. There’s a chain-driven intermediate shaft in the center valley where the camshaft goes in the pushrod versions of this engine, and that shaft drives a belt that drives all four camshafts.

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The rest of the car is in decent condition, but I do see a few worrying signs. I don’t like seeing seat or dash covers; I can’t help wondering what’s under them. The covers may be protecting those surfaces, or hiding their condition. More troubling than that, there is tape residue on the roof around the sunroof, indicating that someone had taped something over the sunroof to prevent a leak. This makes me wonder where the water went when it was leaking, and what damage it did there.

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It’s nice and shiny anyway, and there are no signs of damage. I like the styling of all the W-body coupes, with the door handle up in the B-pillar. It’s a good-looking car. Too bad it’s red, though.

So, thank you all for the suggestions this week! Keep ’em coming, and I’ll keep using them here and there. I’m always happy to have help looking for cars. For now, you’ve got a choice to make between two Chevys. What’ll it be?

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(Image credits: Malibu – Facebook Marketplace seller; Lumina – Craigslist seller)

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Dr. Asteroid
Dr. Asteroid
4 months ago

I used to be a Wbody nerd and the Z34 is still my dream car. I used to own a regular 1st gen Lumina. The door handles on this platform come apart all the time. The interior is somewhat drab but I loved the simplicity and the tactile feel of the big buttons. Having driven a few Wbodies with the LQ1 engine, they do wind out to a healthy 7100 RPM and have a nice top-end howl to them. Where Ford sent their Vulcan V6 to Yamaha to do all the engine re-engineering and modifying, Chevy did this job in-house, hence it’s cruder design. The engine had vestigial elements of the pushrod it was designed off driving the new DOHC setup. Quite frankly, a very clunky design and yes, maintenance pigs. The LQ1 was exclusive to the Wbody platform and ceased being offered after 7 years (1991 – 1997).

Forbestheweirdo
Forbestheweirdo
4 months ago

Really want the lumina, but not with that engine and then the sunroof tape killed it completely for me.

100percentjake
100percentjake
4 months ago

I love the styling and interior of those Luminas so, so much. All of the switchgear has an obscenely clunky satisfying feel to it, and the dashboard feels like a Star Trek shuttlecraft.

Matthew C
Matthew C
4 months ago

I’ll take the Lumina despite all its maintenance foibles. I started driving with a 1977 Malibu ( darker shade of blue than this example) and it was a terrible car in every metric.

Greensoul
Greensoul
4 months ago

I will admit, the Lumina coupe was a looker. I always liked the B-pillar door handles. Berretta had them, too. So sad the cheap pot metal made them break off after one freeze in the real world. So typical GM quality, then and now They did look cool, though. Easier to use than a Tesla handle

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