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.
Who: Jim Williams
What: '78 Chevrolet Malibu
Where: House Springs, Missouri, a few short miles from St. Louis and the mighty Mississippi River.
Engine: Jim started with a two-bolt main iron 454 block and had his engine builder, Jim Evans, stuff in a 4.250-inch stroke Eagle steel crank, along with Eagle steel rods and a set of JE pistons that punch up the squeeze to 13.5:1. Total Seal fills the gaps between the pistons and cylinder wall, which is a good thing, because when you're running methanol, it does the nasty to engine oil. Comp Cams got the nod for a mechanical roller that Jim admits to having around 0.714/0.678 inch of lift with the requisite valvesprings and good pushrods to make it live. Of course, if you're going to really squeeze a motor (in more ways than one), then you need a good set of heads. Jim went with a pair of Dart Pro 1 325cc heads that fit on the engine with 2.25/1.88-inch stainless valves, and these aren't even the biggest. Dart also offers a Pro 1 in a 345cc size. His most recent update was a complete CNC machining of the ports and chambers in addition to fitting the iron block with four-bolt main caps, just as a precaution.
Induction: In keeping with the Malibu's low-key nature, there's little more than an Edelbrock Super Victor single-plane with a Holley 1050 Dominator carburetor to mix the fuel and a Magnafuel 500 pump to make sure all that alcohol arrives on time. That small fuel tank up front in the engine compartment is for the C-16 race gasoline that is fed to the NOS 125-shot nitrous system. If you see the car this summer, it will have a two-stage nitrous system with 200 in the first stage and 350 on the second. Jim says he could add the two kits together for a third stage, but that might be getting greedy. The rest of the engine uses an MSD 7 programmable box with slewed timing control.
Exhaust: Jim didn't scrimp on the headers, having a set of custom 2 1/8- to 2 1/4-inch stepped headers built by Dan Shell Race Cars and fitted to a 4-inch exhaust with Dynomax mufflers.
Transmission: The Turbo 400 has been fitted with a reverse manual valvebody and sports an ATI 5,000-stall speed converter, which is probably one reason the car has run as quick as a 1.26 60-foot time. Of course, the transbrake doesn't hurt.
Rearend: When the 12-bolt proved it wasn't going to be durable enough, Jim headed straight for a Strange 9-inch with 35-spline axles and a 4.88 screw.
Suspension: In front, it's pretty much stock with Moroso front springs, Competition Engineering shocks, and no antiroll bar. The rear is a little more updated with a set of ladder bars and Aldan coilover shocks. Add in Strange brakes front and rear, and this is a simple car that works very well. Jim gives all the credit for making it hook to Dan Schell Race Cars in High Ridge, Missouri, which also did the chrome-moly 'cage work.
Wheels/Tires: The fronts are 15-inch Weld Racing Aluma-Stars mounting a pair of Moroso 26x4.5-15-inch tires. On the rear are Goodyear 33x10.5W-15-inch slicks mounted on double-beadlock 15x12-inch Weld Aluma-Stars.
Crew: A car like this requires a big commitment from lots of people, and Jim acknowledges his wife, Tiffany, and their two kids, Brandon and Madison, along with help from Dan Schell, Ben Stumb, and Jeremy Lohman.
Performance: The Malibu's best pass is a 9.34 at 143 mph at the cost of in-town mileage, Jim says, of roughly "2 miles per gallon."