It was late summer in 1978 and I had just graduated from university with an engineering degree and was starting my career with a company as a field engineer. As field engineers we were given a new company car for 65-70 K miles (in those days, 100 K miles was a lot to expect of an American car) and the selection included models from GM, Ford and Chrysler. We could order the car with whatever options we wanted after we met the company minimum (305 V-8 and automatic transmission for the 4 Door Malibu), but we had to pay for additional options.
Road & Track had run an article earlier that year about a Malibu that they had tested with the F41 sport suspension and were raving about the handling capabilities of the car. So in addition to the 305 V-8 engine and automatic transmission I checked the F41 box, which also meant that I had to order the wider wheel/tire package that was a little sportier. I also checked the boxes for the limited slip differential and cruise control (I couldn't afford much more as a recent engineering grad.).
I had that car for a year and a half (that's all that it took to get to 65 K miles) and competed in 4-5 autocrosses during that time. What fun, as I won my class in each autocross that I entered. That car was a real sleeper in the autocross world. The 305 V-8 was no fire breather, but the F41 suspension and Goodyear tires were exceptional. I had a friend in the company that also ordered the same package on his company Malibu, but his came on Uniroyal tires that were nowhere near as good as the Goodyear tires that mine came with.
General handling on the street and highway was the best that I had experienced up to that time. I enjoyed a lot of driving on the twisting roads of the Colorado Rockies as that was one area where I was working.
If you are following that vintage of Malibu and you look at the rear axle (live axle) and see a sway bar, there is a good chance that the Malibu was ordered with the F41 handling package and the wider wheel/tire requirement. Standard Malibu sedans did not come with a rear sway bar. If I remember correctly, the heavy duty suspension did not include the rear sway bar either.
When it came time to replace the Goodyear tires at 35-40 K miles, the company bean counters balked at the small cost differential for the wider tires, but I was able to persuade them that the Goodyear tires came on the car from the factory.
The only issue that I had with that car during the time that I had it was that the transmission failed at 30 K miles while I was cruising on an interstate highway. All of a sudden the engine started to rev and the car started to slow down. I had the transmission repaired, but I heard about the repair cost from the company bean counters for the next year.
If I had been buying the '79 Malibu for myself, I would have probably gone for the 4 speed manual transmission instead of the automatic, but since this was a company car, I didn't have that option.
Good memories of a really fun car that in some ways reminds me of the SS.
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