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Silver Fox – 1978 Chevrolet Malibu

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GM Scene Magazine®

John Craighead’s 1978 Chevy Malibu

Let’s set the record straight, right out of the gate. John Craighead’s ‘78 Malibu is a bad hog. I don’t care how you look at it, his car was built for a specific purpose and it does it incredibly with the style and grace of a velvet-cloaked platinum sledge hammer. “It was never really my goal for this car to be at quite this level. But it sure was a great feeling to make a 7-second quarter mile pass on a Friday night, then drive the car to and enter a car show on Saturday afternoon.”

You read that last sentence correctly. 7.37 seconds at 185mph in the quarter mile (4.76 @ 151mph in the 1/8-mile) to be exact. If you’re not well-versed in drag racing timeslip speak, that is astonishingly fast for a fully functioning, steel-bodied car that’s driven regularly on the streets of John’s suburban Indianapolis hometown of Greenwood, Indiana.

Aside from the 15×10 Weld Racing beadlock wheels and drag radials out back, this unassuming Malibu could easily be mistaken for a really nice cruiser you might see at your local spot. Upon closer inspection, the details start to hit you in rapid succession. One quick look at the back of the car, and the Stroud parachute and “T T SBC” personalized plate are just a small clue to tip off the wannabe’s.

A glance into the interior provides a glimpse of a pair of lightweight aluminum Kirkey seats and a cage that comes across as, let’s just say, less than subtle. When you make it to the front of the car, and John lifts the hood, it’s like 5lbs of Tannerite exploding in your face.

In all of its small block Chevy splendor, the 410 cubic inch, Mike Duke Racing-built behemoth tucked between those silky smooth Galaxy Silver fenders is nothing less than breathtaking. It’s impossible to figure out where to focus your eyes, but the enormous 76/88mm Bullseye ceramic ball bearing turbos tucked behind each of the headlights provide a good place to start.

Following the beautifully crafted plumbing in any direction leads to wastegates and blowoff valves from Turbosmart, and stainless steel GP Headers with a Holley 102mm throttle body and Edelbrock Super Victor 2 intake manifold thrown in for good measure. All of that boost is pushed through the mammoth runners of a pair of All Pro 245R cylinder heads and crammed into the cylinders of the World Products Motown 2 block. Holley’s venerable Dominator EFI system controls the fuel from the Aeromotive system and spark from the Holley smart coils to help this combination produce somewhere around 1,800 horsepower.

Putting all of that power to the ground is no easy task, though. A Powerglide 2-speed transmission with a JW bellhousing built by RPM Transmissions along with a bolt-together Hughes torque converter sends the steam to a Moser 9” rear end with 40-spline axles and a 3.70 ring & pinion. TRZ rear upper and lower control arms and anti roll bar along with AFCO double adjustable, radially valved coil overs, help this Minuteman missile hook and rocket to 1.19 second 60-foot times.

Inside the captain’s quarters, you’ll find one of the nicest interiors you’d ever want to lay your eyes on. Things are simple, to the point, clean, and oh, so classy. The red tweed upholstery, matching carpet, and custom-dyed interior components bring a modern feel to this ‘Bu’s late-70’s styling. Everything looks right at home in the cozy cockpit and the contrast between the red interior and silver exterior is very reminiscent of my hometown Ohio State Buckeyes’ Scarlet and Gray gameday gear. Between the seats is an electric solenoid-shifted Hurst pistol grip shifter. Directly in front of John is a quick release MPI steering wheel and the stock speedometer and gauges. To his right, a Holley 7” digital dash does an incredibly accurate job of monitoring the vital stats of exactly what’s going on under the hood.

When we sat down and chatted with the infamous Silver Fox, John told us a little insight about his magic G-body. “I built this car because I like the lines of the Malibu. I’d owned one before and really liked it. I’ve always had cars that I tried to make look and run good and I knew this car would be no different. With a plan in my head, I visualized exactly what I wanted to accomplish and with a little persuasion from friends, I took the car’s small block nitrous motor and put twin turbos on it and converted it to run E85 fuel. I knew I had built a really reliable street car that I can drive to the local cruise-in one day and go to the track the next.” Along the way, he would be remiss in not thanking his friends at Two Lane PerformanceAutomotion Race Cars, Mike Duke Racing, and a group of great buddies for their help.

John continued on to vindicate nearly every car lover’s thought process. “Even after completing the car, I still think some of my best memories were made when building it and thinking through the combination. I’m not saying this because it’s my car, but I’m really proud of what I see every time I walk out into my garage and turn the lights on.” As far as we’re concerned, it doesn’t get much more down to earth. That is exactly what it’s all about.

– Scott Mason

GM Scene Magazine®