Wednesday, June 19, 2024
FEATURES

WICKED WAGON – BELINDA & MARTIN TWAITES 1966 CHEVELLE MALIBU WAGON

When most couples step over the line of two adults and three kids, the first thing that enters their minds is getting from A to B in the one vehicle. When Belinda and Martin Twaites rounded out their family unit to a perfect half dozen, with four growing boys in tow, they too found the need for and extra seat in the family vehicle. In this scenario both parents hail to the throne of the almighty bowtie and no soccer mum runabout was going to cut the mustard. So the search was on to unearth Belinda’s preferred choice of new transport, a cool red wagon that seats six. 

After looking at several qualifiers Martin dug up this pretty unusual 1966 Chevelle Malibu wagon. In the beginning ticked all the right boxes; it was a Chevy – tick, V8 power – tick, burgundy red paint – tick, and seated six – big tick. It was also right hand drive, which would make hauling the boys around in traffic that little bit easier for a busy mum.

“I think it came out to Australia in the late 70s or early 80s and was converted to RHD,” Martin explains. “The car was sound but a bit rough around the edges and it drove more like a steel capped boot; clumsy and heavy in the front end.”

To use the car as a true daily driver Belinda put up her hand for power steering. Not an unreasonable request in today’s power everything world and something that Martin could easily rectify with his mechanical skills. Unfortunately the more he dug into the existing mechanical woes, the uglier the RHD conversion appeared. “It was a terrible job, the chassis was cracked, the firewall was pop riveted and bogged over and it was just plain rough!” he vented. “We had to make the decision to either put it back the way it was and offload it or do it properly!” 

Martin is a self-employed earthmover, so getting his hands dirty is nothing new and with the help of the entire family they stripped the big wagon down to the bare bones. “Every nut and bolt came off this car and everything I could do myself I did. It was a complete chassis off rebuild!” Martin says.

As six year members of the car club ‘Lets Go Cruzin’ the Twaites did enjoy the wagon ‘as bought’ for a while and even slipped in a stout 400 Chevy mill and a new set of Weld wheels to make it their own, but it was the elbows out driving style that really kicked off the total rebuild. 

“Belinda wanted power steering…she got it! I wanted a big block… I got it!”

Although he literally moves mountains during his day job, Martin started his tax paying future as a motor mechanic and has always been a keen muscle car enthusiast. While the Malibu was out of action there were several sets of wheels to fall back on to keep cruzin, just not altogether as a family. 

“I’ve always had Chevys,” Martin declares, “even from my early days when my mate Pat (Larizza) and I bought our first ones together. That was 30 years ago and we have been good friends ever since.”

Keeping the wagon in good garage company is an original factory 350 HQ GTS four-door Monaro and a ‘66 pillarless Impala. Throw In a Chevy Suburban and a Silverado, you can clearly see the pattern. 

When the wagon was totally blown apart Martin was adamant that a big block would be included in the rebuild and found a 454 resting in Pat’s factory Extreme Driveline. “When I decided to go all the way with the wagon, I knew that I was going to use one of Pat’s ‘Extreme’ diffs, purchasing the big block from him was just a bonus.” With two bullet proof components book ending the Malibu a tough Turbo 350 auto was sourced from Driveline Industries to complete the awesome arrangement. 

While Martin’s wish list was fulfilled the real reason for the tear down needed to be addressed, an Aussie classic would provide the solution. “It was great to have the HQ Monaro there so I could go and measure, remeasure, and work out what I could use and what would work. In the end I used the HQ power box, pump, drag link, tie rods and other stuff, and it works great.” Other than the sliced and diced dash and steering position the only modification Martin felt necessary to complete the package was stepping the chassis in the rear to accommodate the huge Mickey Thompson wrapped 15”x10” Centrelines. The impressive rear footprint is offset with front 15”x5.5” rims creating that old school muscular stance. 

One thing that Belinda didn’t get was her red wagon. When it came time to repaint the big Mal, voting was 5 -1 in favour of returning to its factory hue.

 “She wanted a red wagon so I painted it white! She was not amused.”

Martin says that it was originally a white car and that he was never really happy with the old colour and the goofy bonnet scoop, his choice made just that bit easier with all four boys in his corner. “Everyone helped to get the car back on the road and I can still picture the boys rubbing down the old paintwork,” reflects Martin.

Thankfully body rust was very minimal with repairs only required to the doors and front guard but the less than average firewall received all fresh steel along with the front part of the floor well. Attention was also directed to alter the rear wheel tubs for tyre clearance before the entire inside was painted and coated in Dynamat. Also helping out with the bodywork was mate Pat, who worked alongside Martin to prep the huge hulk for a fresh new look with two-pack Pepper White. All the steel elements of the interior were repainted in matching exterior colour creating a new lease on life for the original blood red seats, door cards and cargo area. Chuffed that the existing trim material was in such good nick Martin added a fresh headliner, new carpet and repro dash pad to complete the ensemble. 

“When we bought the car one of the big rear side windows was Perspex,” he reveals, “It was one of the first things on the car that I replaced and it had to be second hand as they just don’t make anything for the wagons,” he concludes. 

When the Malibu rolled into the Twaites life, the Sydney based seller provided a snapshot into the cars history declaring its claim to fame was starring in a Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial promoting their (then) new ‘Wicked Wings’. Star status aside, Martin knew his wagon was special as every USA based parts supplier he dealt with during the rebuild commented on how rare they are over there, let alone in the land downunder. 

Now warmed to the white hot exterior Belinda considers the wagon as a beloved member of the family. It’s driven regularly and cherish by all, especially Jackson, Jordan, Brenton and Braydon… and Martin, when he’s allowed the keys.

BY DALE HABERFIELD, PHOTOS MILLBROOK STUDIO, FULL FEATURE CRUZIN #167.

It's only fair to share…