King of kings. That was the headline for our October-November 1987 feature story on Mark Grimes’s Chevy Malibu, PRO ONE – and with good reason. At the time, the blown, 427ci big-block Chev-powered ’65 had just won Best of Show at the 1987 Street Machine Nationals in Du Quoin, Illinois, which in many people’s eyes made it the best street machine on the planet.
First published in the March 2023 issue of Street Machine
The good news is that the Malibu still looks killer today, just as it did when snapper Warwick Kent took those photos some 36 years ago. No wonder it made such a splash at the 2022 edition of the Street Machine Nationals! We caught up with Mark Grimes, along with the Malibu’s current owner, Rob Bennett, for the inside story on this legendary pro streeter.
Mark, has PRO ONE’s enduring popularity surprised you?
Very much so! Especially because of how it came about. Having built a pro street Chevette, followed by a 1980 Malibu and a wild Vega with a blown 454, my name had really blown up.
I’d sold the Vega and wanted to go again, but this time to the same calibre as Rick Dobbertin’s ’65 Nova and Scott Sullivan’s car. My wife, Diana, and I were going through all possible candidates, and she remarked, “Why don’t you do the Malibu SS that’s at home in the shed?”
Why didn’t you initially consider the SS?
Back then, nobody was taking Malibus to this level – and it was a mint SS. But hey, it made the cover of all the big magazines and is the only one to ever win the triple crown of pro street:
Hot Rod Super Nationals, Car Craft Du Quoin Street Machine Nationals and the Street Machine Nationals East in Englishtown. These were the three biggest shows, and the Malibu won Best Pro Street at all of them. So it was the right call.
For a 36-year-old build, it’s held up remarkably well.
It has. John Jacobsen did the tube chassis and Terry Anderson did the body and paint; I built a lot of cars with these guys.
But I have to admit that [current owners] Rob and Lisa have taken better care of it than anybody else could have. I’ve also done quite a bit to it over the years.
Where did you get your inspiration for the build?
I went to lots of big hot rod shows like the Oklahoma Street Rod Nationals. I liked a lot of the stuff they were doing. Things like suicide doors, digital gauges – before Dakota existed – as well as hand-made suspension and Boyd Coddington’s custom wheels.
I wanted it all, and we finished it in just one year. It was a record build; we pretty much didn’t sleep.
Have you and Rob been the Malibu’s only owners over the years?
Yeah. I bought it in ’82. When I needed money to finish my Eurosport [SM, Oct-Nov ’87], I sold the Malibu to Rob. He picked it up from me at Du Quoin in June of ’87. In 1999, Rob called me up and offered the car back to me.
I changed it up a bit, but after a while it basically sat. Then, a couple of years ago, a drag racing buddy of mine called me up out of the blue wanting to buy it. I wasn’t actually looking to sell, but his offer got me thinking.
While deliberating, Diana casually mentioned that I’d promised Rob that if I ever sold it, he’d get first option. A week later, it was back in his shed!
The car still looks the same externally; what are some of the changes underneath?
The combination of a manual gearbox and mechanical injection was a nightmare. You could hardly let the clutch out without frying the tyres – forget touching the throttle.
I could get it to 80mph just changing up through the gears on the idle circuit! About 15 years ago, I swapped to an EFI hat and Accel ECU, and [ditched the] Muncie for a TH700-R4 auto.
The Malibu also has a proper interior these days, including a back seat. It goes down the highway at 70mph all day long, no problem!
Rob, you’ve owned the car twice now; how did you come to buy it the first time?
I’d helped a few guys on their builds and had just finished helping on Randy Turco’s ’69 Camaro. Car Craft photographed it with Rod Saboury’s Camaro – it even beat Rick Dobbertin’s Nova at one show!
All of which made me determined to own a pro streeter, but I didn’t really want to build one from scratch.
I met Mark at a show, and he mentioned the Malibu was for sale; however, it was out of my price range. We kept in touch, and I was eventually able to raise the money. I still remember trailering it home – I had to pinch myself; I couldn’t believe I owned PRO ONE!
Why did you sell it back to Mark?
I was lucky to own it during its most popular years, which gave me a lot of notoriety. Loads of people would come up and tell me they’ve still got the poster of it up on their wall. But I had a young, expanding family and needed the money to step up to a better house. We were sad to let it go, but Diana and Mark are like family, so seeing it go back to them made letting it go a bit easier. How much of a shock was it to get the call from Mark in 2021?
Big! But there was absolutely no hesitation. Lisa and I briefly talked it over – and I mean briefly. For both of us, it was a case of, “We have to.” You know you’ve got the right car when every time you walk into the garage and see it, it puts a smile on your face. So many memories.
What’s been the reaction from people seeing it now?
It’s two reactions, actually. It’s like they’ve seen a spaceship or Elvis when it first rolls in, but that switches to utter disbelief when Lisa climbs out from behind the wheel!
She loves it; she drives it more than I do! Especially when we’re taking both cars to an event [Rob also owns a 1954 Chevy pick-up].
So, Lisa is a bit of a gearhead?
It’s how we met! She was racing and blowing up a Camaro – and buying a lot of parts from me through the speed shop I worked at.
She used to joke, “If I’m going to keep blowing stuff up, it’s probably better if I dated the guy at the speed shop.” We’ve been together 34 years and have two fantastic daughters.
Despite a number of changes, it’s still basically the same car externally, yeah?
Other than a couple of touch-ups here and there, it’s never been resprayed. Yes, it’s been upgraded quite a bit; it’s a lot better car to drive than it was in the 80s.
However, Mark and I have tried to keep it as original-looking as possible. It means a lot to me – it has a lot of sentimental value. So, it’s only proper we’ve kept it as a time capsule, so to speak.
What are you plans for the car now?
With the mechanical injection, it was very temperamental to drive. I recently upgraded the EFI to an Aussie Joe Blo Speed Shop hat and Haltech ECU.
Thanks to this set-up, I’ve driven it more since 2021 than in the 12 years from ’87 to ’99 – I’m keen to continue with that.
One of the biggest questions I get asked is, “Are you going to race it?” Never! I drive it hard on the street, but I’ll never race it.
On the street, it snaps people’s necks – it’s amazing how many thumbs-up you get. That’s why I’m happy to just cruise.
1965 CHEVROLET MALIBU SS
|House of Kolor Ice Blue Candy Pearl
|427ci big-block Chev
|Enderle mechanical (then), Joe Blo EFI (now)
|Muncie four-speed (then), TH700-R4 auto (now)
|Ford 9in; 4.56:1 gears (then), 3.73:1 gears (now)
|Mark Grimes specials; 16×5 (f), 16×15 (r)
|Grooved Top Fuel slicks
|Mark Grimes specials; 16×5 (f), 15×15 (r)
|Mickey Thompson Sportsman (f & r)
|Corbeau racing seats, digital gauges, Hurst shifter
|Low-riding buckets, Mercedes carpet, Dakota Digital gauges, B&M shifter