1973-1977 Chevrolet Malibu
The mid-1970s Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu lived in a no-man's land for Malibus, coming as it did after the legendary muscle-car Chevelles and Malibus of the late 1960s, and just before the popular ground-breaking Malibus that debuted in 1978. In that context, it's difficult to argue that the mid-1970s Malibus were anything other than gutless, tawdry, disappointing (and, to me, stunningly desirable) dinosaurs so typical of the era. In fact, I made that very point a few months ago in excoriating the Malibu's fancypants sibling, the adorably atrocious Chevelle Laguna Type S-3 454.
It is true that the mid-1970s Malibus were vastly less powerful and purposeful in line than their predecessors, yet bulkier, more wasteful, and more bloated than their successors. Big on the outside, small on the inside, and slow and floaty regardless of trim choice, even a fresh-off-the-showroom-floor 1973 Malibu would be a hopeless anachronism today.
But, as I so often say, cars should be judged within the context of their time. The Malibu was boldly good-looking, with the muscular contours and rounded detailing typical of Chevrolets of the time. While the sedan and wagons were attractive, the look was very potent on the two-door, especially at the rear. The effect was a pleasing (though thoroughly unsubstantiated) 1970s muscle car look that was somewhat reminiscent of the AMC Matador Coupe. That, by the way, was meant as a compliment--I'm probably one of about four people on Earth who would use a Matador as a positive comparison.
It was also comfortable and doggedly reliable. As I pointed out when discussing the Malibu's cousin, the mechanically similar Oldsmobile Cutlass, in the mid-1970s America still knew how to make quality cars that ran forever--so long as they were simple, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive leviathans without any shred of electronic assistance. The Malibu was among the best of those, and for doggedly dependable transportation I'd take a Malibu long before one of the later and more advanced Citations.
And, of course, the Malibu shares the true genius of all large American cars of the time--a wonderful cruising experience. I know I've written about this before, but it bears repeating. There are very, very few things I find more compelling than the idea of cruising along the freeway in a Malibu at night, the V-8 burbling contentedly as it inhales the mileage, the suspension undulating softly, the steering hunting mildly at speed, the instruments glowing in a dim yellow light, and the radio crooning with tinny country songs. I'm probably alone in this, but for me that's a Car Lust moment equal to a rapid blast through the gears in a sports car.