1968 Chevelle Malibu Sold for $500 Now Does Wheelies

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1968 Chevelle Malibu Sold for $500 Now Does Wheelies

Once upon a time, dragstrips and car shows across the nation were packed to the rafters with GM intermediates, and Chevy's Chevelle Malibu and SS were two models that were at the top of the pecking order. You couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting one, and Tripoli Turquois was one of those ubiquitous colors found on many a midsize Chevy. It was the 5.0L-liter Mustang and Dodge Hellcat of its day in the sense that most of the time you looked through them, not at them.

Boy, those days have changed. We live in an age where objects that used to be ordinary—a desktop phone set or a VCR, for instance—have become museum pieces. That said, we also live in an era where stock cars from the factory do wheelies, so it's not all bad. If you long for earlier days, then this story is right up your alley. While attending a closed dragstrip test session earlier this year, we discovered John Steinhoff and his 1968 Chevelle Malibu making lap after lap in the 10s with just a 427ci small-block Chevy—no power adders like nitrous, turbos, or blowers. Got your attention now?
You Didn't Know? We Like Chevelles
Personal revelation: Steinhoff's Chevelle hit your author with pangs of regret over selling a very similar-looking 1968 Malibu the same color as Steinhoff's. Mine, however, had a 496ci big-block that eventually managed 11.30s in the quarter and got definitively zero air under the front tires at launch. (Chevelle cognoscenti might remember Popular Hot Rodding magazine's Project Street Sweeper 1968 Malibu that ran between 2007 and 2010.) Like a ghost from the past, Steinhoff's Tripoli Turquois unit haunted at me from the burnout box, then exploded skyward from the starting line of Irwindale's eighth-mile. The resulting mid-six-second et's (comparable to mid 10s in the quarter) felt like a dagger to the heart, reminding me of the unfinished business I'd started over a decade ago.
John Steinhoff, 50, of Lake Forest, California, is currently employed as an auto mechanic at CAARS Automotive in San Juan Capistrano, California.
John Steinhoff has finished that business, and then some. His story begins in 1990, when he bought this Chevelle for $500 from a tow truck driver. "It was left by the side of the road in San Clemente, and I always wanted a Chevelle because my buddy in high school had one. I sold my perfectly good-running '77 Celica to buy that." The occasion had a huge bonus besides a $500 Chevelle: Steinhoff met his lifelong pal, Roy Greenawalt. "I met him through the purchase of my car," says Steinhoff. "A tow truck driver I know said, 'I got too many cars, I gotta get rid of some of these cars because my yard is full of lien-sale cars.' We hit it off, and we've been hanging out ever since."
Inauspicious Beginnings
The 307ci, Powerglide-equipped Malibu was running on just five cylinders, so Steinhoff had D&H Automotive in San Juan Capistrano build him a 350, while simultaneously harboring drag-racing visions of grandeur. "I put that in there, and he told me not to rev it over 5,500. Well, apparently, I revved that to over 7 when I recammed it. I went to Carlsbad in 1991, thinking it was a 13.50 car and went 15.40. I put my tail between my legs, and I've been chasing that number ever since."
That first 350 proved to be just another stepping stone on the Malibu's journey. More important, it proved strong enough to allow John to focus on other parts of the car. At the time, he worked at a gas station as a mechanic, which afforded him the opportunity to take care of the myriad of issues it had developed over the years. "I put a fuel cell in it and used it as my daily driver. Back then, making $5.50 an hour at the Shell gas station, I couldn't afford the extra $30 for the sending unit, so I just used a broom handle all these years to check my fuel level and never ran out once."

Holding The Course
When John's closest local track, Carlsbad, shut down in 2002, he had nowhere to go drag racing, so in 2012, John almost sold the Chevelle. "Thank goodness I didn't sell the car. My buddy Vince got me going back to the track in 2015. My car had been sitting in my garage for year upon year, just sitting, and I was really into dirt bike riding. He showed up at my house one day, and says, 'Hey, let's go back to the track.' Times were kind of tough between 2008 and 2009 during the recession, and he encouraged me to get my car back running. He had a 2015 Challenger, and we started going to the track together in 2016."
Doin' Wheelies, Seeing The Light
By that time, Steinhoff had moved up the cube count to 406, using a bored 400 block with a 3.75-inch stroke crankshaft, topping the combo with some Sportsman II iron heads. With the Malibu solidly in the 11s, it was beginning to get noticed. "I was at Fontana Dragway, and a buddy says, 'Hey, I saw your car on the internet, and it looks like you're pulling your front tire off the ground.' So I got all excited about that and my goal then was, how do I get the frontend off the ground?" The answer came in the form of some 25-year-old Competition Engineering 90/10 shocks with a pair of Moroso drag springs. In the rear, John got rid of the no-hop bars and airbags he'd been running and installed a Wild Rides weld-in anti-roll bar to preload the suspension. Says Steinhoff, "After I put that in, the car was going straight, but my 12-bolt wasn't holding up, and after three trips to the track, the posi was just peg-legging on me. So I went to a 9-inch." Additional suspension duties in the rear of the car are handled by UMI Performance control arms and Viking double-adjustable shocks.
The No-Spin Zone
No amount of horsepower is going to get a car down track if both rear wheels can't reliably mete out the torque in equal amounts, so John chose a 9-inch rearend from Quick Time Performance. "The reason I went with Quick Time is because Curry says you have to buy their brakes, but Quick Time Performance back East sells housing ends that can still use stock 12-bolt drum brakes in the back. I wanted to retain my parking brake. I didn't want to spend any more money, so I went the cheap route." The axle has subsequently been fortified with 4:30 gears and 35-spline axles. It's hard to argue with results, given the wheelie show and consistently low et's this combination produces.
Disaster Strikes
By March of 2018, Steinhoff's Chevy Malibu—substantially in its current form—was running smooth. It was time to step up the airflow for more horsepower. "I had bought a set of Pro Max aluminum heads to take some of the weight off the frontend. Torqueing the head bolts down on the passenger side, the one just above the steam hole, I pulled the threads out of the block. I knew I was done. So, I decided I'm not getting any younger, and I might as well lay some dough down." Best of all, John's wife, Patricia Kihano Steinhoff, agreed, and gave him permission to get a loan from the bank.


"I had a dirt bike, and I used to go to the desert and ride it, but I hadn't been out in three years, so I sold my YZ250 for $2,500 and decided to put that as a down payment on my new engine." After pulling the threads out of the block, he sold the old heads on Craigslist, put that money with the dirt bike money, and found an engine on Craigslist. Fortunately, the largely complete 427 small-block Steinhoff scored was from Bryce Mulvey at Airwolf Heads. For his $7,500, it came with almost everything John needed, minus pushrods, a carb, and headers.

Steinhoff says, "I started tearing it down in March because I wanted to get it decked, since the pistons were .0025 down in the hole." Then there was a question surrounding pushrods. "I called up Manton and got a 11/32-inch diameter pushrod, which AFR doesn't recommend going any bigger than 5/16, but I went one size up. I got the measurement within .0050 dead-on. Once I got the motor all together, I took it to Fontana. To my surprise, on the first time out it went 11.78 at 122."

427ci Small-Block Under The Hood
Steinhoff's current engine is based on a Dart Little M block with a 4.125-inch bore, 4-inch Callies crank, 6-inch Callies rods, Ross forged pistons, and competition CNC-ported AFR 220 heads with 65cc chambers that come out to 11.8:1 compression. A Comp Cams solid roller 286XR Street Roller (.618-inch intake, .622-inch exhaust), Edelbrock Super Victor single-plane, and 950cfm Holley Brawler carb make for a combination that wrings every bit of performance out of a dollar. On Holley's Brawler carb, Steinhoff says, "Out of the box, I didn't change anything except the idle and float levels." Power is estimated between 620 and 640 hp and is delivered with a rather modest set of 1 -inch diameter long-tube headers and a pair of Flowmaster FX glasspack mufflers.

Catching Air With A Trans Brake
Underpinning those breathtaking wheelstands is a bulletproof Turbo 400 built by Craig's Performance (Fullerton, California). It uses an Ultrabell, hardened input shaft, Hipster trans brake, and an 8-inch, 5,600-rpm stall converter from Dice Converters, making it capable of withstanding 900 hp. "I don't plan on using nitrous, so I went with the 8-inch converter, even though I did originally gap the rings for nitrous. I was going to do a 150 shot with it, but I'm having such great success with it, I don't wanna mess around with nitrous." Helping John make shifts at redline is a Hurst pistol-grip Quarter Stick shifter.

Trunk-Mounted Fuel Cell
Just a week before we discovered John at Irwindale, he had taken out the 16-gallon fuel cell and put an 8-gallon in it, citing the car's less frequent street use and his desire to shave more weight off the A-body. "I run it on pump gas with an additive from B&D Performance. When I come to the track I run a 50/50 mix of VP 110 with 91 Shell. On the street I can drive it on pump gas, with 36 degrees total timing all day."

Rolling Stock
John Steinhoff's best eighth-mile et to date (at Irwindale) is a 6.32/106, with a 1.39 60-ft time. His best quarter-mile pass stands at 10.27/128, with a 1.41 60-ft time, coming at Fontana Dragway. His tires of choice are Hoosier 28x10.5 slicks, with Hoosier 28x4.5 frontrunners up front.



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