Home Car Stories One Family 1974 CHEVROLET Chevelle Malibu 454- Keith Seymore
1974 CHEVROLET Chevelle Malibu 454- Keith Seymore PDF Print E-mail
Written by Double Dragon
Wednesday, 14 May 2014 12:31

1974 CHEVROLET Chevelle Malibu 454- Keith Seymore

oneownercollectorcar.com

Writing copyright D. S. Brown. Photography courtesy and copyright Keith Seymore

74 chevelle 454 keith

If you think about it, the Chevelle owes its existence to the Corvair. Chevrolet went after the compact car market with the revolutionary for the time air cooled rear engine sporty Corvair. Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick followed Chevrolet's lead with their own versions of this 'A' body platform which were named Tempest, F-85 and Special. Before long the high end trim options on these cars named LeMans, Cutlass and Skylark were attracting attention.

Like the Corvair each division tried innovative approaches with their version of the unibody compact. Over at Pontiac a 389 was sliced in half to create a 4 cylinder that used a rope drive and rear transaxle in the Tempest. The F-85 turbo aluminum V8 named Jetfire made a splash for Olds in 1962 and a V6 from Buick was cutting edge at a time when everyone else used an inline 6. Ford won the compact sales race with old school conventional engineering in the Falcon. At the same time the National economy was surging and GM dropped compacts to cater to cash flush customers with intermediate sized cars. All the futuristic ideas and the compact unibody was dumped in favor of a conventional body on frame intermediate platform.

Thus the Tempest, F-85 and Special wound up on 115 inch wheelbases using long established drive line layouts. Chevrolet didn't want to let go of the Corvair, but that car wouldn't make sense on a bigger platform. The Chevelle was created for the intermediate platform to allow Chevrolet to retain the Corvair.

The Chevelle did well and many magazines noted that it was just about the same size as a full sized Chevrolet from the mid 1950s. It was large enough for a family and easier to park than an Impala. When Pontiac made a breakthrough with the 1964 Tempest option named GTO the musclecar market it created left the other GM divisions flat footed. The Chevelle SS didn't stack up. It wasn't as easy to stuff a big block into a Chevelle as it was to put a bigger displacement engine in a Pontiac. All Pontiac V8s shared the same external dimensions which made the switch from 326 to 389 a matter of a few bolts.

74 chevelle 454 keith church show

While the best you could do in a Chevelle SS was a 327, Chevrolet tested the waters with a limited run 1965 Z16 option special 396 Chevelle packing all the right stuff. After this preview Chevrolet released an everyman's version of the Chevelle 396 for 1966 which gave you the basics. The option list was needed to create a balanced car but a bare bones 396 was a good starting point.

Chevrolet was doing catch-up with Pontiac, but they did such a good job in establishing an identity for the SS 396 that they kept the name in later years even after the physical displacement was increased to 402. 1968 saw a redesign of General Motors' 'A' body platform to 'ponycar' proportions of short deck, long hood and fastback rear window. The Pontiac GTO was miles ahead of everyone else with a fully integrated Endura front end and flowing rounded cohesive merger of roofline and rear fender. The Chevelle for 1968 relied on conventional chrome bumpers while the fastback roofline was less integrated than that of the GTO.

Despite a body design that was far ahead of anything else offered in 1968 and the famed Pontiac 'mystique' the fact is that both Chevelle SS 396 and Plymouth Roadrunner seriously threatened the GTO sales supremacy. Guys could save a few bucks on initial cost and plow that money into speed equipment if they bought a bare bones Roadrunner or Chevelle SS 396 instead of a GTO.

In 1969 the Chevelle SS 396 outsold the GTO for the first time. One way of looking at what came next is to assume that Chevrolet was running upwards with yearly linear improvement that culminated with a highwater mark in 1970. Another way to view it is to see former Pontiac division manager John DeLorean's arrival at the exact moment that Chevrolet had the highest factory horsepower rating in 1970 as more than a coincidence. Either way, the Chevelle SS 454 LS6 was a legend the instant it was released and retains this status to this day.

Up until 1969 GM firmly held its ground in limiting cubic inch capacity to 400 cubic inches for intermediates. Finally in 1970 GM responded to the reality of a musclecar market dominated by Ford Cobra Jet 428s and Chrysler Magnum 440s and Hemi 426 engines. GM lifted the 400 limit and strangely only Pontiac dropped the ball. John DeLorean had been promoted to Chevrolet which explain why Pontiac made a 455 available without hopping it up. In 1971 they rectified the mistake by creating a round port version of the 455 but by then compression was down.

Chevrolet and Buick were the two divisions that made waves this year. The 1970 Oldsmobile 455 was super potent but for some reason Olds was overshadowed by the Chevy and Buick bombshells. Perhaps because of the Hurst Old 455s of prior years it wasn't such a shocker to see a 455 in an Olds intermediate.

It was a true shock to everyone to discover that Buick had one of the baddest engines of 1970. It wasn't such a surprise coming from Chevrolet but it was a wonder. Even as it was released car testers were lamenting the demise of the 450 HP 454 LS6. They knew they were standing on the pinnacle and savored it while it was still possible to get one.

In 1971 the top Chevelle SS option was the 454 LS5 which is still quite a handful and actually increased its rating from the 1970 rating of 360 HP to 365 HP for 1971. The SS option had become somewhat muddied now and it was possible to order any engine above the base 307 for an SS which meant a 2 barrel 350 was a possibility under the hood of an SS. Because of insurance rates, Chevrolet also created the "Heavy Chevy' package which bears some similarity to the Duster 'Twister' option or the Maverick 'Grabber'. In each case the 'tape stripe' musclecars gave you the looks and some hardware but not the top engines which invoked insurance madness. Everything stayed the same for 1972 aside from only net HP ratings of engines being released.

74 chevelle 454 keith and his pickup

The 1973 GM 'A' bodies were redesigned. The cars looked larger and wider and have been the 'underdog' in the eyes of fans of the 'A' bodies ever since they were released. The Pontiac seemed to suffer most in the transition to the new style and is still controversial today. The Buick appearance was so radically different the Skylark name was dropped and it was renamed the Century. The Olds Cutlass and Chevrolet Chevelle seemed to survive the transition best and retained more of the styling cues from the earlier A body versions.

On the plus side the 1973 cars were better to live with on a daily basis due to wider interior space and better visibility combined with the newly available swivel bucket seat option. DeLorean ensured that the new Chevelle was miles ahead of the old model in ride smoothness and handling prowess. It is interesting to note the parallel with the Cougar. Both the 1971 Cougar and 1973 Chevelle appear large and ungainly in comparison to the svelte 1970 Cougar and 1972 Chevelle but they can run rings around the earlier cars due to engineering advances throughout all aspects of the suspension and steering.

The new 1973 Chevelles also had larger gas tanks, more trunk space and they were safer. Better side impact beams in doors coupled with fixed rear windows in stronger roofs for anticipated roll over standards made the 1973 'A' body a superior daily driver from the perspective of someone inside the car. Standing outside the car there is no way to avoid seeing the new 5 MPH bumpers. The Corvette and the Firebird were pretty much the only cars that successfully disguised the presence of the 'log bumpers'.

The 1973 Chevelle kept the SS option alive as well as the 454. However, just as Pontiac seemed to have let the 1973 GTO drift while it lavished attention on the Grand Am the same syndrome appeared over at Chevrolet. Chevy left the SS to its own devices while excitement was being built into the Laguna model which used urethane body colored covers to disguise those 5 MPH bumpers.

The move away from the 1960s crude 'in your face' drive-in hot rods was part of GM's attempt to grab some of the market being lost to foreign import performance. The BMW was the opposite of ostentatious US cars with its utilitarian design offering surprisingly potent sophisticated performance in a 4 door sedan. Pontiac chased the BMW with the 4 door Grand Am (thankfully they kept a 2 door version, too). Frankly, the Pontiac was too big to be considered as an alternate BMW but it sure looked aesthetically nice with integrated bumpers and svelte design. The BMW looked awkward with disproportionately large windows, gigantic ugly protruding bumpers and a square design. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder but the BMW really was not about looks. American cars are about image often at the expense of utility and GM's attempt to get into the foreign performance market with some European flavored names and styling didn't cut it.

In 1974 the Laguna S-3 filled the void left by the cancelled Chevelle SS option. The Laguna's attempt to follow a 'European' distinction approach much like the Pontiac Grand Am didn't sit well with hard core purists from the musclecar days. The Laguna was not as hard edged as the old SS in image but it was available with a top option 230 net HP 454. The musclecar faithful didn't latch onto the Laguna S-3. Significantly, Keith Seymore doesn't mention the Laguna S-3 when discussing potential cars available in 1974. Keith comes from a musclecar family. He is also a second generation GM employee. See the story on his father Van Seymore's 1965 Pontiac GTO in the ONE OWNER section of this website.

Although the musclecars went away in the early 1970s the musclecar drivers didn't just vanish overnight. It is true that a lot of the performance fans were aging and getting married. Those particular guys found it easier to buckle under to the reality of insanely expensive insurance for musclecars and gave up the fight.

But not all the musclecar fans were done with excitement yet. Those who were unwilling to give up on speed turned their backs on low compression 'tape package' smog cars and sourced their rides from used car lots. Then the fuel crisis pushed even the true believers into alternate types of vehicles. It is commonly stated that the musclecar went away after 1971 or 1972. The parting shot is usually credited to Pontiac with the 1973- 4 Firebirds packing Super Duty 455s.

Very few of those spectacular Super Duty 455s were built. Even if a guy could get hold of one the vast majority of musclecar guys out there still needed to use their cars as daily drivers. With the GTO and other intermediate musclecars squeezed out and the Firebird having no usable trunk or rear seat what were they to do? Some of them got creative like Keith's dad, Van Seymore.

In the Midwest back in the 1960s and 1970s it only took about 4 or 5 years before it was 'new car time' again. Living in Davison, Michigan is tough on cars. By fall of 1973 the Seymore family 1968 Pontiac GTO was showing the effects of winter salt and snow. Van Seymore was shopping around for a new Pontiac but on impulse he stopped at his local dealership Robert Uptegraff Chevrolet. See a story on this dealer in the DEALERSHIP section of this website.

Van was smitten by a 1973 Monte Carlo with Maroon paint, no vinyl top, Corvette rally wheels and white walls. Van's normal procedure when buying a car was to research and then to special order a car to his specifications. Completely out of character he bought the Monte Carlo spontaneously right off the lot. Keith theorizes that if his dad had followed his usual car buying process the car in the driveway would have been a 1973 Chevelle SS with the 454 and the steepest rear axle that could be ordered.

Breaking with his usual process had consequences aside from missing out on a Chevelle SS. First, because he didn't order the car with the right performance parts the Monte Carlo 350 had no guts. As Keith says,

"It was a total dog. It would barely accelerate up the driveway."

The second consequence of monkeying with standard procedure was that the Monte Carlo seemed to be cursed. Almost immediately Keith's Mother, Pat tore one side of the garage door opening down with the long nose and 5 MPH bumper. Once the garage and front fender were fixed Pat hit the other side of the garage door opening and destroyed the other fender. The Monte Carlo ended its short life with the family when Pat was T- boned going through an intersection.

As the Monte Carlo ended its stint with the Seymores the new 1974 models were being introduced. Van reverted to form and began doing research. He found out that the police package was available on a base Malibu and not just on the typical police 4 doors. The police package could be loaded onto a 2 door. This would create a musclecar just about as close to the essence of the departed 1973 SS option could offer. Van placed the order intending it for his wife Pat to drive.
Chevrolet Central Office rejected the order stating that a two door police car could not be built. Van pointed to Chevrolet literature which clearly showed its availability. Chevrolet agreed to build the car as a two door Malibu. Everything was fine until Chevrolet insisted that a police spec car had to have a bench seat and base interior. Van wanted the same interior that everyone liked so much in the doomed Seymore family 1973 Monte Carlo. Van specified swivel buckets with herringbone weave insets, console shift and the tachometer cluster.

Once Van won the last battle in the war over the build, Chevrolet seemed poised to thwart Van with a new development. The build week selected for the car was during a week that was building only the small opera window cars. Van didn't want opera windows, he wanted the big window. Chevrolet was done with the back and forth and told him,

“Here’s the guy’s name in Oshawa.  You call him and tell him what you want!"

Van proceeded to do just that. GM finally built exactly what Van originally envisioned. The car was rare at the time and is probably a one of one. It seems unlikely that very many people were aware of the possibility of loading a Malibu 2 door with the police package. Of those people who realized the potential how many would be as persistent and persuasive as Van was about getting the car built? Even if someone else had the same vision and gumption its very doubtful they would have proceeded to overthrow Chevrolet policy regarding the mandated bench seat base interior. The car as it was built is a rare bird.

The list of goodies is impressive:

· LS4 235 HP 454 with aluminum intake and Rochester Quadrajet

· Turbo 400 trans with reworked valve body from factory

· 3.42:1 Posi Traction rear axle

· 8” Corvette Rally wheels with HR60-15 Goodyear “Blue dot” police pursuit tires

· Heavy Duty Alternator, radiator and front/rear sway bars

· Auxiliary chassis skid plates

· Swivel bucket seats

· Tachometer cluster and gauges

· Ratcheting console shift

The Chevelle Malibu was built on September 25, 1973 in the Oshawa, Ontario, Canada final assembly plant. It was shipped the next day to Robert Uptegraff Chevrolet in Davison, Michigan where the Seymore family bought all of their cars.

Unknown at the time the car carried forth the 1973 Monte Carlo 'curse'. Years later when Keith stripped the fenders down for a repaint he found bondo behind one of the wheels. Apparently it had been hit and repaired in the assembly plant before it was shipped. Thankfully this 'inauguration incident' was the last remnant of the 1973 Monte Carlo curse. Nothing has happened to the car while it has been in the Seymore family.

This super heavy duty Chevellle Malibu 454 was immediately pressed into duty as a “mom car”. Pat drove the car for 4 years as the family car. Keith wishes now he had been more careful about not kicking the back of the front seats! Four years of Michigan weather rusted out the doors along the belt line. They were replaced with new southern doors.  The area in front of the rear wheels also rusted and was repaired.  The top of the car and “b” and “c” pillars are still original paint 40 years later.

When Pat received a new car the 1974 Chevelle Malibu 454 went to her son Keith with approximately 60,000 miles on it. The Chevelle 454 was not only Keith's daily driver but also served time at the drag strip on weekends. Keith started racing it immediately after he got his driver’s license in 1978. Keith's first pass down the quarter mile took 15.10 seconds at Lapeer International Dragway. Lapeer was a little track north of Detroit and east of Flint with a dirt pit area and no running water. Keith had to bring his own water in jugs for the burnout.

Despite the less than stellar characteristics of the track by the end of the day Keith had the Chevelle in the 14.90’s. That is pretty impressive for a 4,100 lb curb weight hauled by a factory stock 1974 car that had just slogged through 4 years of stop and go grind. The fastest the car has gone with the original 454 engine is 12.25 seconds.

Keith recalls the driving experience very positively:

"Power is smooth and linear, like a rocket, even with the original 454. Handling was always good with those big radial tires and heavy duty sway bars."

The Police Package was so good that Keith actually did well in auto cross competition during his college years. He laughs as he recalls how discordant his giant tank looked racing against minuscule Triumph TR7s. Soon afterwards it was converted to purely straight line performance.

Keith has good memories with the Chevelle,

"It's been a "good ole' car" and we've been through a lot together. It's taken me to two season "World Champion" runner up positions; I dated my high school sweetheart in this car, and I still have both (my wife, and the car)."

Once he focused exclusively on drag racing, Keith paid a lot of attention to tweaking details. As the years passed Keith modified the Chevelle in response to racing competition results. Now the Chevelle is exclusively a race car. Keith notes that he has been racing the same car now for 36 years.

Currently Keith's Malibu runs a 555 cu inch big block based on a GM Performance parts bowtie block, AFR heads, dart intake with either a 950 Holley or a Dominator depending on the class. The car produces just under 1000 HP naturally aspirated. Other details of the set-up:

· Full manual Turbo 400 trans

· 4.10 rear axle with Mark Williams spool and axles

· US Body Source fiberglass cowl induction hood and glass front bumper

· 3,790 lbs curb weight with full interior and mandated roll bar (note that this is 300 pounds less than the factory stock weight).

Best ET is 9.85 @ 136 mph with Mickey Thompson 10.5 " slicks through 4" Flowmaster mufflers (1.400 60 ft time); Since 1990, Keith has been running select "Super Chevy" magazine events, select BTE/Citgo Series events as well as the full National Street Car Association Series.

This Chevelle has run at the following venues:   Phoenix Firebird Raceway, Phoenix Speedworld, Bakersfield CA, Norwalk OH, West Palm Beach FLA, Atlanta GA, Mobile AL, Joliet IL, St Louis, Indianapolis, Cecil County MD, Petersburg VA, Martin Mi, Milan MI, Grand Bend Canada, Salem OH, Thompson OH, Stanton Mi, Columbus OH, Memphis TN, Union Grove WI, Atco NJ, Bowling Green KY, Ubly MI and Lapeer MI.

The car has stacked up some recognition over the years:

· 2008 NMCA Original Parts Group "Nostalgia Muscle Car" #3

· 2007 NSCA BF Goodrich "American Muscle" World Champion Runner Up

· Winner: National Street Car Association (NSCA) American Muscle class – Thompson OH Aug, 07

· Winner: National Street Car Association (NSCA) Street Eliminator class - Grand Bend CAN, Aug '01

· Runner Up: National Muscle Car Association/National Street Car Association (NMCA/NSCA) "Super Series" Street Eliminator class - Salem OH, Aug 18, 2002.

· Runner Up: National Street Car Association (NSCA) American Muscle - Mobile AL, April 2003; Salem OH, August, 2003; Salem OH, August, 2004; Stanton Michigan, Sept, 2004.

· 2006 NSCA Jeg’s “American Muscle” #10

· 2005 NSCA Jeg’s “American Muscle” #6

· 2004 NSCA American Muscle #4 in series year end points

· 2003 NMCA BF Goodrich "American Muscle" World Champion Runner Up

· 2002 NMCA/NSCA Mickey Thompson "Street Eliminator" #3 in series year end points

· 2001 NMCA/NSCA Mickey Thompson "Street Eliminator" #6 in series year end points.

Keith's Chevelle 454 has been featured in Popular Hot Rodding, Super Chevy Magazine, and Chevelle: GM’s Mid Size Muscle magazines.

The Chevelle 454 is still a great street driver and Keith keeps it still licensed and insured. Keith drives it on errands and to local car shows. The car is reliable and can be used without any preparation as evidenced from this incident lately at a car show. Keith had the Seymore 1965 GTO at a local church show when a young man came rolling in with a newly purchased 1974 Chevelle. As the conversation developed around the similarities between the his new car and Keith's car, Keith decided to bring it to the show. He dashed home on foot and came back in the Chevelle.

The Chevelle 454 has a little more than 90,000 miles on the odometer right now. This figure is a bit lower than reality due to the speedometer not having been hooked up for several years because of the type of transmission installed. However given the fact that most of the miles occur in 1/4 mile increments its safe to assume it is still lower than 100,000 miles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last Updated ( Sunday, 10 August 2014 11:55 )