31 years in the making, this 1978 Malibu has had been down a long road filled with hardship. Andy Iames, from Fort Smith, Arkansas, got this particular car at the age of 14, from a field, for $100. Hot rodding was in his blood. His dad had a lot of older hot rods and his uncle and father built and raced dirt track cars.
Over the next year, Andy, his brothers, and his dad, built the car to be road worthy with a 406 stroker small block and turbo 350 transmission. Within 10 minutes of wrapping it up and firing it for the first time, it had to come back apart. “We completed this when I was 15 and as soon as we got the car wired and fired I’ll never forget my dad jumping in it and driving it like he stole it. He pulled out of the driveway, started to turn the corner and hammered down!!! The car went sideways and the back of it went off in the ditch and then back out and over revved the engine and hurt it. He limped it back in the driveway making noise and smoking and we popped the hood and started pulling it back out.” Recalls Andy. In went a 383 stroker that they had been building, this one with a little more care and a proper break in.
At 16, he drove this car to high school on and off until he saved enough money to buy the Harwood hood scoop he always wanted and to get his first paint job done. Taking auto mechanics all through high school gave Andy access to everything he needed to build a wicked set of double hump heads for it. Andy’s friend, also named Andy, had a 1972 Chevy truck with built heads as well and they both got into street racing and racing at an old local airport on the weekends. “I was at the airport 1 weekend and ended up racing my brother in his square body big block Chevy truck and that was the first time I tore my car up pretty good. In high gear almost to the finish line the driveshaft broke and each rotation was hitting the ground and trying to catapult the car in the air which caused me to lose control and start spinning out of control. Luckily the car finally came to a stop.” Says Andy. “My new flowmaster exhaust (that was installed that day) was destroyed, drive shaft and transmission were broke in pieces and several holes were beat through the floor boards. A guy volunteers to bring his truck and trailer down to haul me off the track so a group of people pushed me up on the trailer and I ask where the straps are to hold the car. He states just to hold the brake and it will be fine, so he hauls me down the track and gets to where he needs to turn off the track (which is in front of the crowd) and hits his brakes and mine don’t hold! My car rolls off the front of the trailer and hits the back of his new dodge truck. Now the car is hanging off the front of the trailer and several people from the crowd come over and literally pick the front of the car up and roll it back on the trailer.” He remembers.
Andy takes the car back to shop class and fixes it up just in time to graduate High School and leave his mark on the pavement out front. The experience paid off and Andy went on to OSU to become an automotive technician. Iames worked at his local Ford dealership, and spent all the time and money he had building the car into a beautifully straight, burgundy, big block 427, caged, race car. After running 9.70 seconds in 1000 feet, him and his old friend Andy decided to put a 250 shot nitrous plate on the car just before he raced his other friend Justin Martin, aka Red, who was running a big block Nova on nitrous. Andy won with an 8.61 versus Red’s 8.62.
As luck would have it, while racing at Centerville Dragway some time later, Andy would go to launch the car and shoot the drivers side axle out the side of the car, the axle and wheel spun so fast that they swung around and caved in the driver’s side door.
After College, Andy met his bride to be, Heather, and bought a lake house so the money just wasn’t there to work on the Malibu. In 2011, Andy and Red opened up their own shop called Professional Auto Care where he got back to working on the Malibu including a 477 big block with aluminum heads with which he set the Pro Street track record at Centerville Dragway in 2012 with a 5.87 at 118mph. In 2013, Andy sold the 477 to his brother and bought a 565 that he took to Gaines Grinding to build up with nice internals, Dart heads, and an induction solution fogger put on. At this point the Malibu was blowing through the torque converter and still running 5.50s. Nostalgia hit and he realizes that his was his first car, still all metal, with a full interior and Iames starts to hunt for another Malibu to build a proper drag car and save this one.
“As all this is taking place a couple of months later I take my car to a small tire shoot out and that’s where, for me tragedy strikes. The guy I was racing had a freeze plug come out of his motor and started pouring water out which made him loose control and come over in my lane. I hit the brakes and swerved to miss him and then that’s when I went through the water and lost control and hit the wall. I was rattled but ok and as for the Malibu it was not looking so good cause the whole front of the car and drivers side was damaged. I got the car home and, in the garage, and spent a week staring at it sick to my stomach.” Says Andy.
A month later, he found a green Malibu for his drag car build. The drag car got a full fiberglass front end and was able to donate the front body panels to this Malibu.
So begins the build for the version of the Malibu you see today. The build is plagued with setbacks like a severe back injury that puts Iames in the hospital and needing back surgery, a “high end” shop that takes Andy for $30k before he takes it back from them, parts, money, and progress completely lost due to the closure of Accuair in 2020, completely rebuilding the LS twice due to metal in the motor, transmission overheating issues, and at the end of 2020, Andy came close to losing his life to Covid. Luckily he made a full recovery and finished the car just recently in March of 2023.
The build process wasn’t all bad though, Andy reunites with friends in the automotive industry and makes sure that everything is done right, undeniable experiences and memories, and even the adoption of his second daughter.
The motor was pulled from a 2002 Tahoe and completely built by Gaines Grinding with a stage 4 BTR cam and valve train, new crank, rods, pistons and everything else to support twin turbos. Kevin Strobel’s shop built a stainless steel fuel tank, headers, and all the plumbing for the hot and cold sides of the 67mm Precision turbos. To power everything, Andy wired in a Holley Dominator EFI system with Holley Dash, and then the system was tuned by Jim Pete with Tuned by JP. The exhaust and tubing for the turbos has all been ceramic jet hot coated. All in all, the car makes over 1000hp on 8-10lbs of boost on 91 Octane fuel and is a daily cruiser. The transmission, also from the Tahoe, is a 4L60 rebuilt will billet components for strength and a TCI shifter.
Ron Lewis from Lewis Body Shop in Greenwood, Arkansas, took over the body work and paint, and nicknamed the car FDT Malibu (Fun Damn Times). Ron redid the floor pans and supports, the firewall, narrowed the front fame, and cut and narrowed the bumpers. Ron also hand built inner fenders and painted the car with Dupont Chromomax Tri-coat Ruby Red. All the Chrome work was done by Paul’s Chrome, and the glass was installed by Mark Oliver with Professional Auto Glass. The glass itself had to be sourced from all over by a hired company, it is said to be the last of all the new and new old stock glass for a 1978 Malibu in existence. Ed Bass, from Arizona, where he worked for Barrett Jackson, spent over 100 hours cutting the car starting with 1500 grit, and working his way up to 5000 grit. He put the car through several different stages of buffing and even did the door jams. His hard work shows.
The interior dash, center console, rear structure with built in speaker boxes, hide away for the air tank, amps, and compressors, were built by Ron. Then, long time friends, Delbert and Donna Hicks with D&D Upholstery took on wrapping and stitching all the upholstery for this beautiful interior. The car comes with some insane features like AC, cup holders, heated and cooled seats, air ride, power windows and locks, and a custom stereo including two 10 inch subs.
The Malibu rides on Airlift air ride and Ridetech Schockwaves. The cooling consists of a custom radiator with twin Spal pulse width modulated fans. Andy and his family enjoy cruising the car regularly, doing awesome burnouts, going to car shows, and even driving to church on Sundays.
“The car is literally a dream come true after an 8 year build and being in a magazine is also a big dream come true. In the end after so many days away from my family busting my ass on this car and my friends helping me out for pennies on the dollar it came out better then I dreamed.” Says Andy.
“I would like to thank Ron Lewis from Lewis body shop, Kevin Strobel from Strobel Race Cars, Ed Bass the buff master, Delbert and Donna Hicks from D&D upholstery, Mark Oliver from Professional Auto Glass, Jim Pete from Tuned by JP, Perry Standridge from Johnny’s Transmission, Brian Gaines from Gaines Grinding, my shop Professional Auto Care, my wife Heather Iames and my daughters Abby Iames and September Joyce. I am sorry if I left anyone out.”
Thank you for allowing us to feature your beautiful Malibu in the magazine and I’m sorry we had to condense your story so much but I wanted to be able to show the car too!
Article by Brian Holzli
Photos by Sharla Derry (Sharla Derry Art & Photography)