The small town of House Springs, Missouri, may be little more than a smudge on the map, but it probably has more car crafters and car guys per capita than any city in America. We spent a day last fall with some of those guys, including Jim Williams, who wheels this radical '78 Malibu. When we met Jim, we expected to hear the usual story that this alcohol-fed, Rat-powered machine was the pinnacle achievement amid a long string of fast street cars that probably stretched back to high school. Instead, his story is much quicker. Just a few years ago, he bought a '94 Z28 Camaro for $3,000, ran the snot out of it, and was hooked. That led to the purchase of this project Malibu.
"It was nasty, really nasty. It was bright yellow and had already been back-halved, but it still had drum brakes on the 12-bolt that were all locked up. It was a mess," Jim says. He wanted a cruiser, but he also wanted something fast--really fast. So the plan from the start was to do a high-compression motor and put it on alcohol. The techsheet reads more like a race car spec than a street car with its 13.5:1 compression ratio, big Dart Pro 1 cylinder heads, and Holley Dominator carburetor, but there was method in Jim's excess. "It's really still a street car," he says. "It's just that I never planned on driving this thing more than 25 miles at a time. At 2 to 2 1/2 mpg, I can go 25 miles on a 12-gallon fuel cell until it's empty."
That may sound impractical to some, but to Jim, it's just right. Summers in Missouri can get toasty, but on methanol, overheating is something Jim just doesn't worry about. The other major pluses are the octane rating and the increased power he gets from that coal-based fuel. And it's the Malibu's performance on the local eighth- and quarter-mile tracks near his hometown that makes this beast impressive. Jim's first squirt with the finished Malibu on an eighth-mile track was a smokin' 6.30 that is equivalent to a 9.80s or so. Since then, he's replaced the ailing 12-bolt with a full-on Strange 9-inch, and the Malibu now runs consistent 9.40s with his best a 9.34 at 143 mph. It helps when the car only weighs 2,780 without the driver.
"Every winter, I try to do one thing on the car," Jim says. Between last fall's photo shoot and this summer, Jim yanked the 454 after its sixth season of abuse and added four-bolt main caps to the stock iron block, just for durability. "I shift this thing at 7,200, and it's lasted this long with no problem." His engine builder has been nothing less than shocked at how the Rat has held up under such an rpm barrage. That's inspired Jim to go big. Last year's package ran a single shot of nitrous, so this year's version will sport more squeeze. "I'm going to go to a 200 shot on the first stage and 350 on the second," he says. "The motor will run on alcohol, and I'll chase it with C-16 for the nitrous." It's an interesting combination of fuel and nitrous, but Jim will still have to work his way up to his ultimate goal of pushing the Malibu right up against its 8.50 chassis certification. When we asked about his driving credits, Jim said, "I'm good to 7.50, but the car is only good to 8.50s." His biggest worry is hitting the nitrous too soon and standing the car up on its tail, so he'll start with a little more timing out of the programmable MSD 7 ignition box and work his way up to whatever the Malibu is capable of delivering. "These Malibus are pretty bad about standing up. I don't need that."
The Malibu is actually the classic formula for going fast: a big motor with a little shot of nitrous and a chassis and tires that can put the power to the pavement. With it all dialed in, Jim just sits back, plants the pedal, and enjoys.