Chuck & Patty Bonasera’s 65 Malibu SS
Orchards are not just for growing fruit
When I was young, growing up in the little village of Willow Glen in San Jose, nearly half of the land was still orchards. That was before San Jose became the largest city in the Bay area. I have many fond memories of my youth, much of it spent in those orchards. Back then, I had no thoughts about restoring and driving Chevelles and El Caminos. One of my early cars was a silver 65 Malibu, but it had no value to me at the time. Little did I know at the time it would be the first of five Chevelles I would restore and enjoy with some of my closest friends. Beyond that memory of my childhood, I never dreamed that one of those northern California orchards would hold an amazing treasure that would change the way I think about my past collection of "A" body cars. I had just sold my pride and joy, a black on black 67 Super Sport. It was the biggest part of my Chevelle history which included the first 65, , the black 67SS427, a '70 SS396 and a 70 El Camino. CLICK HERE to see three of my Chevelles. This time I decided to restore one last car. This would be the "cruise off into the sunset" car. I wanted a small block this time, something I could cruise around town and go on trips with. I loved the big blocks but it was time to turn down the noise and turn on the air conditioning.
My friend and former Chevelle Club member Rob Martinez called me one day. It seems he was moving to San Diego and could only take a couple of his Chevelles with him and he had an all original '65 Malibu SS that would have to be left behind. I had driven, but never built a first generation Chevelle so his offer was quite tempting, especially in light of the fact that I wanted a small block Chevelle and 327s had tons of history and appeal dating back to my youth when we all "hung out" at Fremont Drag Strip.
My friends and I looked over the car and after three visits the deal was done. Rob was the car's second owner but almost all of its time with Rob was spent in restoration of the things no one sees. Rob restored the suspension, replaced the gas tank, cleaned and restored (but did not rebuild) the original numbers matching 327 and he did so much more. He made my life easy. He did all the tough stuff. Now all it needed was paint and some TLC so we immediately called for the tow truck and starting taking it apart in preparation for a trip to the body shop.
This is one of the benefits of being a Chevelle club member. Many of my friends came up to the house and spent the day taking everything off the 65. We were amazed at what we found. I was amazed at what great friends I have.
As we stripped the interior we found pieces of almond shells and sand under the throttle pedal. When we first saw the carpet at Rob's home we thought it had been replaced because it was in such great shape. In fact, the almond pieces from the orchard proved that the car still had the original carpet and the floors were like new underneath. I later peeled off the old tar paper insulation and Dynamatted the entire car in just over a half day. The clock even worked! The seats are still original although the driver's seat is a little worn. We sent the seats out for new factory stock bucket seat covers but I decided to keep the original carpet in the car.
Rob gave us the car's history but we never imagined it would be in such good shape. The Super Sport started life in the GM Fremont, California plant, (138365Z), a sure sign that the body would be in great shape. The car had 58,000 original miles on it and was used as his orchard car while the original owner supervised work in his orchards in Tracy, California. In fact the car was purchased at the Chevy dealer in Tracy and all the original documents came with the car including the all important protecto plate. In 1972 the car went into storage in the orchard's barn and stayed there until Rob purchased it in 2006. I purchased the car in 2008 and worked on completing what Rob started.
The engine is a numbers matching 327 with camel hump heads, dual two chamber FlowMasters and now sports a Crane Blue Racer L79 cam. While the car is certainly not an L79, a little more horsepower never hurt anyone so I carefully removed the original manifold and carb and stored it in the rafters for possible future use. I found an original L79 manifold in Sacramento and added a Holley 600 carb from the same time period and a Pertronix solid state ignition to the inside of the original Delco distributor. OK, so maybe I AM having a little trouble letting go of my big block addiction. The 327 appears to have gotten new rings and still runs like a dream. Like all Malibu SS cars it has boxed control arms, sway bars and a 12 bolt rear end driven by the original Powerglide transmission. We decided to stay true to the car's heritage and repaint it Regal Red, the original factory color.
The original owner is in his eighties and still lives in Saratoga, California, a suburb of San Jose. He had no interest in seeing the car once it was finished.
One man's treasure is another man's orchard car, I suppose.
We tore the car down to the core and sent it off to paint. After blocking and some minor "ding" repair it was ready for seal and paint and then re-assembly. We used 5 coats of Regal Red and seven coats of clear.
Assembly included replacement of all weather stripping and seals. We reused the original factory carpet which was in great shape and repainted the dash which was nicked up a bit. I tried to stay true to the car's original form, with the exception of the intake manifold, but the original intake is safely tucked away, just in case. We recently added a rebuilt 700r4 overdrive but kept the original numbers matching Powerglide which still works great.
I am excited about having a 1st gen Chevelle. In fact I remember my brother having a silver 65 Malibu with bucket seats when I was starting college. This was way before I even cared about Chevelles. I called my brother and told him I was building one just like his. I guess I was in overload in school because he told me it was "your car" and now that I think back on it, he was right. So that would make this Chevelle number five. Be still my heart!
Special thanks to Rich Cummings, one of my co-moderators on Team Chevelle ( http://www.chevelles.com ) who's counsel and support on this project was far above expectations and to Kevin Corrigan, Willie Allen, Mike Crusco, George Mosqueda, Greg and Larry Leonard, Tom Leopold and especially my Grandson Andrew Figueroa who worked with me on much of this project and made me very proud .
Below is a four minute video of the initial startup of the 327 for the "motor heads" among us.