1965 Chevelle Malibu show car – Malibu Magic: The true story

After a long slumber, one of Australia’s most iconic show-and-go cars is back

Photographers: Peter Bateman

IF YOU are wondering what we are doing featuring a four-door ’65 Chevelle Malibu with a jacked up stance and a towbar, don’t fear – we’re not saying this is the future of street machining, but it is a miraculously well-preserved time capsule of where we have come from.

Built by the late Australian National Street Machine Association founder Graham Stubbs in 1979, and continuously refined through the 80s, the car known as Malibu Magic won more than 400 awards between 1979 and 1993, including Top Street Machine four times in a row at the NSW State Titles – the forerunner of today’s MotorEx.

With its custom bodywork, pinstriping and dazzling array of electronic gizmos, the Malibu has as many elements of a traditional custom or a high-end panel van build than what we today think of as a street machine, but that is precisely because Graham built the car at a time when the scene was just getting off the ground and finding its identity.

Despite all the tinware, the Malibu was no trailer sailor and was stubbornly driven to each and every event. It also earned its keep as a rolling business card for Graham’s advocacy of street machining and his innovative work in providing insurance for countless clubs and events – work that the ANSMA continues to this day.

Malibu Magic’s show career came to a halt in the early 90s, when Graham received a double lung transplant as a result of emphysema. The car was parked for nearly two decades, until Graham passed away in 2013 (see Geoff Paradise’s tribute to Graham, in SM, June ’13).

Graham’s work as a show judge, organiser and campaigner for street machining meant he helped shape the sport itself, as well as directly influencing many of its high-profile proponents, from elder statesman like Greg ‘Ziggy’ Sadler, to younger blokes like Damien ‘Chubby’ Lowe.

Once the shock of Graham’s passing started to ease, talk amongst his friends and fans turned to the car itself. What condition was it in after sitting idle for so long? Could it be restored and if so, should it?

These questions were answered when life-long Chev fan, Radio Revhead DJ and Stubbs fan John McCoy-Lancaster triumphantly drove – yes, drove – Malibu Magic from his Sydney home to Canberra for Street Machine Summernats 27. He then had the honour of leading off the Shannons City Cruise in the car, before sticking it in the Elite Hall to take pride of place with a handful of other iconic cars of the past.

The condition of the car was, frankly, stunning. Unlike most customs, vans, drag cars and streeters from that era that have sat untouched for decades, the Malibu thankfully had not fallen victim to rust, neglect or abuse, and all the many signature mods remained intact. That is not to say that John, his wife Donna and their mates didn’t put a massive amount of work into getting the car back up to scratch – about 400 hours’ worth! “We don’t call it a restoration, we call it a clean-up,” says John. As one side of the car had been exposed to the elements, the paint needed some love, which was handled by Andrew Ash at AA Panelcraft. The car also needed some engine work, new tyres and exhaust, and a whole lot of detailing. “We were committed to presenting it exactly as Graham last had it. We photographed every step so we could put it back the way it was.”

For John, the journey of bringing the car back into the limelight was deeply personal and gratifying. “I first saw Malibu Magic when I was 11,” says John. “Graham and I struck up a conversation and he remembered me each year after that.

“When you look at the scene in the 70s, hot rods and vans were big. The early street machine guys like Graham would turn up at rod or van shows and were shunned; they had no place there. Graham said, ‘Hey, we can build these cars to the same degree as those rods and vans. And he proved it by building Malibu Magic. Then he helped establish the judging rules and guidelines for street machines and provided the insurance for the shows.”

The stories of Graham’s dedication to refining Malibu Magic and preparing it for shows are the stuff of legend. “He went to big lengths to show the car at its best,” says John. “It wasn’t unusual for him to drive the car to a show a few days in advance, then spend the time detailing it ready for the Sunday.

“Malibu Magic was the first show car I had any involvement with,” says Ziggy. “It was nothing for Graham to pull out, say, the rear shocks on a Wednesday night, bare-metal them, paint them, reinstall them, drive the car to Taree or wherever, stick it up on four stands and then clean and polish the hell out of it.”

“Stubbsy never rested on his laurels,” says Summernats judge Owen Webb. “He was always improving the car. Every time I went to a show, he’d pull me aside to show me the latest mod, be it the perspex in the bonnet or a new custom piece he’d cast.”

Graham used the same energy to fight for the sport itself. “He went in to bat for street machiners and spent a lot of time banging his head against the wall with rego authorities,” says Ziggy. “He got them to sit down and talk about modified cars and that laid the foundation for what is happening in NSW now. He was a true pioneer for street machining in Australia.”