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A hard-boiled detective's car upgrade

Stop drooling, friends. I’m a writer with a series of detective stories, so the vintage Malibu is fictional (albeit based on a real car which I almost owned).

The stories are more or less set in the modern day, so that '64 Chevy Malibu’s going to need some work. Let’s say the upgrades were done in 2010. What would need to be done to make such a beast drivable and legal?

I’m assuming engine and transmission would be replaced. What would be your pick for the parts?

I vaguely remember that the gearshift was on the steering column. Would this change?

Any info would be greatly appreciated!

You are writer and don’t know how to do research ?

isn’t asking on a car forum research?

@snide.clem_166582 '64 malibu is completely street legal, as long as it passes emissions. Fictional repairs and upgrades depend on fictional issues and desires (as well as fictional depth of wallet.)

What kind of car is fictional detective looking for? Fast? good cornering? reliable? incognito?


I have a '62 Cadillac as my daily driver. The only changes on this car from stock are radial tires, and a Pertronix electronic ignition kit to eliminate the lousy points and condenser ignition. I would recommend those two upgrades for your fictional detective’s fictional Malibu. While you’re at it, why not give the poor guy something nicer than a Chevy? Perhaps a Buick Special or an Olds F-85.

a 60s era car would likely be exempt from emissions


That car could have come from the factory as a tame 4 door sedan with a 6 and an auto tranny, or a very powerful 2 door hardtop with a high compression V8 and a four on the floor, or anything in between. It could have had hop up options common in the '60s or later, it could have been ‘resto-modded’ with a 2010 drivetrain and suspension, or it could be bone stock.

What do you want it to be?

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Look to the Travis McGee series of novels… He drove a 34 Rolls Royce that had been converted to a pickup truck and painted and ugly blue. Doc Ford novels… a very old Chevy pickup.

How about an unrestored 327 SS '64 Malibu with 4 on the floor. Maybe make it a convertible if the detective lives in a warm sunny place… many of these cars did not have AC. Quite a few had it added aftermarket.

Folks, this is stellar information. I knew the Car Talk community would be the place to turn.

The model is kind of frozen as a '64 Malibu; that was the car from Repo Man that had dead aliens in the trunk. The detective’s uncle won it on Let’s Make A Deal so it’s a family heirloom. Money is as tight on the printed page as in the real, so buying a more kick-ass ride isn’t in the cards. However, I’ll take the counsel of texases and Mustangman and call it a throaty V8 stick. old_mopar_guy’s upgrades make sense too.

Many of you mentioned emissions, which seems like the big concern. Since I’m blind mow I haven’t kept up with such things but I remember keeping a case of lead additive for our fleet of aging cars. I guess that’d be part of the program too. I do recall my dad saying that President Jackson helped him pass inspection. If you know what I mean.

If I was still driving I’d go for a Firebird. It was good enough for Jim Rockford. Thanks, everybody!


It all depends on the character I would say… Who is this guy? Does he know about cars or is he the usual rube who thinks that driving such model will make people think he is a car guy.

The modifications will vary depending upon the guys background.

What would a mechanic drive? If it was his car and he knows his trade? Again its a character thing… Some would drive something bone stock as it rolled off the Chevy assembly line…every nut and bolt zinc plated with the right color…the factory mufflers, hubcaps etc… Others wouldn’t… again…depends.

Is he the type where everything must be as it should be? Or is he a bit more devious where looks arent always what they seem. You have an open canvas here…use it.

Or is this guy the dark mysterious type with a complicated former life that people are trying to figure out…the car is a great vehicle for piquing peoples interest in who this guy is or was in years past if he had an LS7 under the hood…a manual transmission…maybe even a blower or turbo in the mix…with an overdrive on the trans (tho not needed if a 6sp trans is used)… the overdrive unit would be another interesting add on, to older transmissions that only had 4 gears (it shows the car knowledge again…and also marks in time when he acquired the vehicle because he needed to add an overdrive when 6sp manuals were not available it marks a time period of when he built this vehicle so to speak) Or is he techno savvy…with a stout automatic with 8 gears and paddle shift buttons hidden in the wheel? Sooo many options… ones that could turn what looks like an old relic…into a Mad Max road burner capable of 200mph…

Bigger brakes, Modern tires…wheels that look stock but arent… especially “Steelies” wheels that look like crappy stamped steel assys…but are actually widened wheels meant for more serious modern rubber (and he better have some rubber with a blown LS7)… a modest 1.5 inch suspension drop with firmer rate springs… or even air bags… oh boy… I need another classic car to play with I think…

Also…for those clandestine nights when he actually may need to evade someone? A brake light shutoff switch…which allows the headlights to operate normally but blacks out the rear of the car to obfuscate which way Mr Dectecto went… that sort of thing? If you wanted to go James Bond…an Oil sprayer under the rear bumper to send people off the road behind him… LOL… Im getting carried away.

A modern GPS tracking system would also be nice… a hidden camera in the dash… Kind of like a “Bait Car” so he can see which A hole tried to steal his car or record conversations in the front seat for future review and case solving details that he stumbles upon during said review…the Ah hah moment in some case perhaps…courtesy of his car…

An alarm system with a smartphone link…for remote start, door unlock…etc…shaved door handles and door poppers that only work with his Fob or remote… To thwart those same A holes that tried to steal his bait car prior.

I could go on and on… The mods depend on who is behind the wheel…and what you want those mods to say about him.

You are now getting into the moonshiner’s territory just add a few mountain road’s in to the mix.


Boy Howdy… @Renegade Oh I have mods a plenty. All depends on who this dude is…and or what the author wants to say about him…without saying it.

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IIRC.the biggest engine available in the 64 was a either a 283 or 327. GM was pretty conservative that year, only the Pontiac Tempest got a big engine, that was the first year for the GTO. The Malibu didn’t get a big block until 66 when it got a 396 as an option. I also don’t believe that 4 on the floor was an option either. The transmission choices were three on the tree or a slip and slide powerglide (2 speed auto).

A sensible upgrade would be to a later model 350 4 barrel with a floor shifter for the three speed manual or a Muncie 220 4 speed manual. A really modern but maybe a little expensive would be a 5.3 LS engine with a 4L60 automatic transmission. That would probably require modification of the floor pan, some frame upgrades and upgraded control arms, brakes and shock absorbers. Last option would probably cost $12k minimum.

Vehicles must meet the emissions standards of the year they were built. Since there were no emission standards back in 64…then there is no emissions test for a 64 Malibu.

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At one time, I knew a private detective who had installed switches enabling him to turn-off either parking light and/or either headlight. He would vary the settings while tailing someone, so that it looked like different cars in back of the subject who was being tailed.

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Depends on the state. An example given when I moved to California was if it came from the factory with a road draft tube (pre-Pcv) the draft tube has to be there,

If anyone is interested, the original specifications and options for the '64 Chevelle can be found at the link below.

Available engines were the 194 or 230 L-6, two versions of the 283, or three versions of the 327 V-8, with max. 365hp. Transmission options were the powerglide, 3-speed manual, or M20/M21 4-speeds.

You’re not allowed to modify any emissions. But there were no such emissions equipment in 1964

Actually, PCV valves were introduced for the 1963 model year.

How about color changing car paint?

I would think a detective would not want a 64 Malibu as it would stand out in a sea of drab, modern cars. Think Magnum P.I. sticking out like a sore thumb in a red Ferrari…
Even a beige 4 door Grannymobile would stand out.

It seems to me the watchword should be “unobtrusive”. JMHO anyhow… ;:slight_smile: