By Brian Earnest
Jason Stritesky knew things were going to go well with his 1965 Chevelle Malibu custom project from the moment he laid eyes on the car. The Oak Creek, Wis., resident had grand designs on turning an old 1960s “Plain Jane” car into a modern stealth fighter, and although the Malibu didn’t look like much at first glance, he knew right away he had found the perfect candidate.
“Normally you want to start projects with something virgin, rust-free and not messed with,” Stritesky noted. “I had a few pictures of the car and the [previous owner in Colorado] cooperated with me, but I hadn’t seen it in person… I definitely wasn’t disappointed, because the undercarriage was initially 100 percent rust-free. It was probably the nicest car I’ve ever started with underneath, and I’ve bought a lot of cars out West.
“It looked bad. It was all burned up like a desert car. It was splitting open like a baked potato. It needed everything from a headliner to carpet and interior — it’s all been redone… But it didn’t take a lot of effort to clean up. The underside was almost cleaner than the top side. It was painted once. It just had some side swipes and dents that had been poorly repaired — probably about 25 years ago.”
Once he got the car home, Stritesky started his own timer on the project, and roughly 550 man hours later, in May 2010, he had finished up work on his gorgeous pro-touring machine. Where there once was a 283-cid two-barrel and Powerglide, there is now a 385 crate motor and Chevy 700R4 with overdrive. Underneath is a Hotchkiss TVS (Total Vehicle System) with tubular upper-lower arms, new upper and lower trailing arms, beefy sway bars and Bilstein shocks. New 13-inch front discs do the stopping with help from 11-inchers on the rear.
On the outside, the car’s original beige paint has been swapped for a classy “Stealth Gray.” It’s all topped off with custom Budnik black-spoke wheels, which leave no doubt there is a lot more going on inside the car than meets the eye.
Stritesky figured he had a blank canvas in the tired ’65 Malibu, and he was able to create the exact beast he was after — even if he insists he wasn’t looking for a car in the first place. “Ah, in my spare time I cruise the Internet sites constantly, just looking around to see what’s out there,” he says with a chuckle. “I wasn’t on the hunt for a car at the time.”
Once he spotted the ’65 Chevy, however, the wheels started turning for Stritesky and he began to hatch a plan for his big custom effort. Previously, most of his restoration efforts had been on stock machines, including a 1967 Camaro, 1970 Chevelle SS and 1971 Olds 4-4-2 convertible. Stritesky didn’t think it would be a good investment in time or money to return the Malibu to original condition, however, and he didn’t figure anybody else was going to come along and do it, either. “All the work to get it back as a 283 two-barrel car wouldn’t have been worth it,” he said. “That’s why I went the way I did instead of a bone stock restoration. I thought it would be a good candidate for this type of build — a pro-touring car.”
Stritesky did the vast majority of the work himself, from the drive train and suspension transplant to the paint and bodywork. The heart of the project, of course, was the new Fast Burn 385-hp, 350-cid short-block crate engine from GM Performance Parts. “I wanted to keep it carbureted and keep it somewhat simple and functional,” he said. “This has a little bit of an old school feel.”
The original 3.08:1 Positraction rear end was traded for a 3.73 set-up that Stritesky stumbled on while perusing Craigslist. “The rear end I actually found in a town 10 minutes from my house,” he said. “The guy had a 12-bolt rear end for a GTO listed, but when I went to look at it I wanted to check the numbers and it was actually for a ’65 Chevelle, which worked out kind of good for me. It originally had the 3.08 Posi, and I put 373s in the back and disc brakes on it right away. I bought a four-wheel disc brake kit from CPP. I got headers with Magnaflow 2½- inch exhaust all the way back. The rims I ordered special [from Budnik]. I think they’re 18 x 8 in front 18 x 9 in the rear …
“In front I fabricated some little [intake] scoops above the bumper and headlights. They’ve got little screens in there, kind of stealthily, and you don’t even notice them… And I moved the battery to the trunk.”
Inside, the Malibu retains its original look, although all the cloth and upholstery have been re-done. “I left it, literally, 100 percent stock,” Stritesky noted. “I just bought all-new upholstery with a vinyl and cloth mix. The seats I do myself, the headliner I usually farm out. There are a few things I admit are best to leave to people that do it every day.”
Stritesky had countless options when it came to a paint color. Almost anything would have worked, but he went with the understated deep blue/gray. “I’m happy with the way it turned out,” he said. “I used Sherwin Williams paint with a base coat/clear coat system. It really has a nice sparkle in the sun.”
The Malibu had about 86,000 miles on it when it began its second life in Stritesky’s garage. The car was one of more than 152,000 Malibus built by Chevrolet in the model’s second year as a top-line offering in the Chevelle lineup. Buyers could get their mid-size Malibus with either six- or eight-cylinder power plants. Folks who wanted a little more fun and good looks in their Chevy could pop a couple extra $100 bills and get the Malibu SS, and if you wanted to go a lot faster, you could burn out of the dealership in an SS 396, although then you were spending well over $4,000 — far steeper than the $2,431 for a base 283-cid sport coupe. The Malibus were also available as four-door sedans, two-door convertibles and station wagons. The SS and SS-396 lines only offered coupes and ragtops.
Factory goodies, in addition to the 283-cid, 195-hp V-8 or 194-cid inline six, included a special grille, brightwork around the wheel openings, fender scripts, color-accented side moldings, back-up lights, cloth-and-vinyl upholstery, dual-spoke steering wheel with horn ring, electric clock and glove box light.
While Stritesky’s car might feel like a typical ’65 Malibu when you slide into one of its bench seats, he says it drives and handles more like a new car, which is exactly what he was planning. “Normally, when people build a car when you lower it or change the suspension around, you’re going to notice a difference, but I was very, very pleasantly surprised how nice it rode down the road, even with the low profile [Nitto Invo] tires,” he said. “It doesn’t rock side to side with that old ‘boat feel.’ It’s very tight. I’d definitely buy that Hotchkiss system again.
“The car handles and drives better than I thought it would. It rides as smooth as my other stock GM muscle cars, but when punishing it through the turns, it just plain sticks and doesn't sway. I'd recommend it to anyone who is looking to improve handling. I tried autocross for the first time last year and hope to get more use out of it that way [in the future].”
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