Home BusinessAutomobile For an unattractive car, the Chevy Malibu left a huge mark on culture

For an unattractive car, the Chevy Malibu left a huge mark on culture

by SuperiorInvest

If you asked a child to draw a car, the result would probably be something like the Chevrolet Malibu.

For decades, this reliable midsize vehicle was a stalwart of American roads. Because that sort of thing is no longer in demand, it wasn't a surprise when General Motors announced Wednesday that it would discontinue the model as it shifts its focus toward sport utility vehicles and electric cars.

The Malibu never had the street glamor of the Chevrolet Camaro or the brute force of the Chevrolet Impala. It was the ultimate regulatory vehicle, created for a time when Americans were content to drive simple, gasoline-powered sedans rather than rugged SUVs, high-riding pickup trucks, or electric vehicles that drove almost silently.

The Malibu originally appeared in the 1960s as part of Chevrolet's Chevelle line. It was a consistent seller during the 1970s. For a time, police departments across the country used it as a patrol car. General Motors took it off the market in 1983 and brought it back in 1997.

Upon his return, the reviews were not exactly kind. “Ah, Malibu,” wrote Car and Driver magazine in a 1997 review. “The word conjures up images of surfers, movie stars and languid seaside decadence. It's not the kind of sight that comes to mind when first seeing this new Chevrolet sedan. Maybe Chevy spelled it wrong. Mallibu sounds more good.”

But the basics of the Malibu were what made it so attractive to the more than 10 million people who bought one. And perhaps surprisingly for such a modest vehicle, it had a huge cultural imprint. Time and time again, filmmakers and composers created Malibu-centric settings that seemed to comment on its simplicity.

A customized version of a gray 1973 Malibu Coupe is the main vehicle of the protagonist of the violent and brooding 2011 action film “Drive,” according to automotive publications SlashGear and Car & Classic. Ryan Gosling, the star of the film, is said to have found the car in a junkyard and worked on it himself.

The Malibu was the right vehicle for a new type of antihero. Mr. Gosling's unnamed character, a movie stunt driver who works as a getaway driver, is mild-mannered and taciturn. Like his prized Chevy, he's no braggart.

Seventeen years before “Drive,” director Quentin Tarantino gave Malibu a key supporting role in “Pulp Fiction.”

Vincent Vega, the kindly hitman played by John Travolta, is behind the wheel of a red 1964 Malibu when he takes his boss's wife, played by Uma Thurman, on a date that goes horribly wrong. Like the '50s-style diner where they form a bond, vintage Malibu harkens back to an idealized America that is only a fantasy for these two characters, given how deeply involved they are in a life of drugs and murder.

A Malibu is the focal point of the 1984 cult film “Repo Man.” Like other filmmakers, writer-director Alex Cox played against the blandness of the car. In the trunk of this ordinary car there is something truly extraordinary: perhaps a nuclear bomb. (Whatever is in the trunk is never explained.)

More recently, Lana Del Rey, who often comments on all-American themes in her modern torch ballads, mentions the name Malibu in “Shades of Cool,” a 2014 song about a woman's love for a tragic guy who seems lost in a haze of substance abuse and self-absorption.

Like Vincent Vega and the anonymous loner in “Drive,” the unattainable guy in his song has only one thing that seems to bind him to the everyday work world: “Drive a Chevy Malibu,” he sings.

But the car was used to better effect in Cameron Crowe's 1989 romantic comedy-drama, “Say Anything.”

The protagonist, Lloyd Dobler, an underachieving everyman played by John Cusack, drives a 1977 Malibu sedan. The car sets him apart from the strutting yuppies of other '80s movies: think of the teenage scoundrel played by James Spader in “ Pretty in Pink,” who has her own Porsche, or the stockbroker played by Charlie Sheen in “Wall Street,” who drives a BMW.

Dobler embodies the lazy spirit that characterizes much of Generation X. When questioned by the father of the girl he loves, he explains that his main goal is to spend as much time as he can with her. When asked how he plans to make a living, he responds, “I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career.”

For this type of man (proudly unambitious, except when it comes to love), the modest Malibu was the perfect car.

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