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My Favorite free-time project - 1980 Iraqibu... A WHAT?
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1981 Chevrolet Malibu built specifically for Saddam Hussein's officer corps and for national taxi cabs

1980 Iraqibu

1981 Malibu, metric, 6 cylinder, 3 speed on the floor, heavy duty cooling and heavy duty undercoating. Built specifically for Saddam Hussein

In 1980, at a time when the United States was on good terms with Saddam Hussein in Iraq, he ordered from General Motors, 25,000 Malibu's with unique specifications, a bit different than the Malibu's sold in the United States. The vehicles were manufactured in Canada (only), metric (speedometer in Kilometers), 6 cylinder, 3 speed stick shift (on the floor) and a heavy duty undercoating and cooling system as the cars were untented for use in the Iraqi desert, and heavy duty cloth interiors. To make a long story short, 20,000 were shipped to Iraq before Saddam Hussein canceled the remaining 5,000 due to a border conflict with Iran and he was running short on funds. The last 5,000 had already been put on-board a ship, ready to sail, in Oshawa, Canada. The vehicles were then off-loaded from the ship and literally sat on the dock warehouse for nearly a year until GM decided what to do with the Malibu's.

Because the vehicles were not originally intended for the North American market, it was decided by GM to sell the remaining 5,000 only in Canada for $6,500 a piece. Before they could be sold, they had to meet current standard. Seat belts were added, an adapter was added to the gas tank funnel to restrict on unleaded gas pump nozzles and a clear plastic label was added to the surface of the gages to should "Unleaded Only". The $6500 price was a tremendous bargain for families wanting a solid inexpensive sedan. Needless to say, it was one of the best sales jobs GM has done, as all 5,000 were sold within the first month.

Over the years, the cars lived out a good life and most seemed to vanish from the Canadian landscape. You can occasionally find one but they are few and far between. Nothing fancy (it did have a AM/FM radio and cassette deck, although the rear seat windows were set in place, with only a small air vent for circulation in the rear.

In researching the vehicle, I found multiple stories on the Internet of how many GM made and how many were shipped and number sold in Canada. Many were copies of somebody's blog, verbatim, which showed 35,000 originally ordered with 5,000 finally sold to Canadians. The figures were off. However, one of the articles I found among the documents which came with the car, is an article written by noted Canadian car columnist, Len Coates, for the Toronto Star. Since his was a review of the vehicle shortly after they became available, I tend to believe his figures more so than others. A reprint of his article is shown below. Further searches of earlier postings show only 25,000 were ordered with 5,000 sold in Canada.

Where did I get mine?

In 2015, one of my fellow workers in Bloomington, Illinois, was being transferred to a new position in Atlanta. I was helping him pack for the move and hauling off some items he didn't want to take with him. When it came to the garage, I noticed he had an older car which seemed to do nothing but collect dust. I asked it he was taking that with him too, at which point, he said no and asked if I wanted it. Apparently, his parents, in Toronto, had originally purchased the vehicle, but used it little. It sat in their garage for many years. He had brought it with him to Bloomington with the idea of fixing it up but never got around to it.

It wasn't until I drove it home and started going through all the documentation that came with it (original sales invoices, etc.), that I first discovered the true history of the Malibu, affectionately known as an "Iraqibu" or "Iraqi Taxi". The body had minimal rust, the engine ran, though a bit rough, and there were only 46,400 KM on the car. Convert that to mile and it amounts to approximately 27,000 miles! I've never really been a car nut in the past, but I figured it would be a good time to take up a new hobby.

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Original Condition - as received

The vehicle was in relatively good shape,but in need of some TLC. The original paint was cracked and faded in places; there were rust spots at the bottom of two doors; the bumper guards (uprights) were missing chrome and several rusted through. The interior was very clean and original but some of the plastic molding was faded along one side from sitting in a sunny side of a garage for too long. The engine was functioning, however, there was a radiator leak, many of the vacuum hoses were cracked or brittle. There was a slight crack on the front window. The ceiling liner was detached. Dashboard was clean, no cracks, radio and cassette deck were functioning. One seatbelt was non functional. It appeared that the rear seat had very little, to any use. No sign of any wear or tear. Upholstery on front and rear seats was in excellent condition, not bleached out, nor worn. Glove box was missing the retaining wire. Miscellaneous wiring at engine was cracked/aged in places. The valve cover paint was faded and the screws holding them on were only mildly tight. Oil leaks at valve covers. Brakes and wheels were in good condition. Air conditioning was very limited and barely blowing any cold air. All medallions, logos, trims were complete and in excellent condition. The trunk area was very clean, no wear shown. All lights were functioning.

Repair work completed as of July 1, 2016

A complete assessment of the car was done and the following was completed to return the car to original condition.

  • Thorough cleaning throughout
  • Both doors on drivers side removed. Rusted areas at bottom of doors was removed, re-welded as needed, body filler and sanded as needed.
  • Bumper guards removed, sanded down to metal, repaired sheet-metal, welded new retaining bolts in place, refinished (painted with chrome paint). Temporary fix. Would like to replace completely if I can find replacements.
  • Decals removed, body sanded and filled as necessary. Entire body was repainted. Reset all decals.
  • Minimal faded interior plastic molding around rear window and rear passenger side door removed and re-stained/repainted/reset.
  • Valve covers and air intake manifold, removed, sanded and repainted. Air filter replaced. Gaskets replaced.
  • Carburetor pulled, cleaned, replaced rusted springs.
  • Vacuum hoses replaced as necessary.
  • Points, plugs, plug wires distributor cap replaced.
  • Some of the miscellaneous bracing which was rusted was removed, sanded, repainted and reset.
  • Air conditioner was flushed of all R-13 refrigerant, replaced to current standard fluids.
  • Replaced door lock plastic pulls as they were faded.
  • Original hubcaps cleaned and minor dings removed. Valve caps replaced.
  • Radiator leak repaired.
  • Gas cap, oil cap replaced.

Before

  • Frayed and brittle hoses
  • Paint chiped and faded
  • Paint faded and cracked
  • Refrigerant changed out
  • 3.8 Liter, 2 barrel carb, V-6  229 cu in
  • Bottom drivers side door
  • Bottom rear door
  • Bumper guards
  • Front Bumper
  • Rear Bumper
  • Heavy Duty Cooling System
  • Oil leaking at valve covers/rusted
  • Minor detail - hoses split or missing
  • Valve covers rusted
Frayed and brittle hoses1 Paint chiped and faded2 Paint faded and cracked3 Refrigerant changed out4 3.8 Liter, 2 barrel carb, V-6  229 cu in5 Bottom drivers side door6 Bottom rear door7 Bumper guards8 Front Bumper9 Rear Bumper10 Heavy Duty Cooling System11 Oil leaking at valve covers/rusted12 Minor detail - hoses split or missing13 Valve covers rusted14

Work In Progress

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Restored to original glory
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Reprinted from the Toronto Star

We test an Iraqi Malibu, and it's not bad

I just tested the most maligned, controversial car ever produced in this country, the infamous Iraqi Malibu.

And it's not bad.

Certainly, it is not the piece of junk the Iraqis would have us believe. After driving it, I'd have to conclude that the Iraqi, who have not been the honorable trading partners the world has ever known, back out of the deal for some reason other than the quality and performance of the cars.

General Motors, still red-faced at the Iraqi's handling of the whole affair and the media flap, will have no trouble selling 5,000 of the cars to bargain-hungry Canadians for the asking price of $6,500 (FOB Oshawa, which means freight charges will be extra.) In Oshawa on Friday, GM of Canada head office employees were talking about the local dealer who had sold 150 cars by mid-afternoon and a Toronto dealer had written 80 orders for the Malibu's.

What's a fair price?

It is very difficult to put a fair price on the Iraqi Malibu. First of all, it is a 19891 car that GM is not selling this year in Canada. The closest thing to it would be the 1982 Malibu Classic Sport Sedan, which is basically the same car, has the same engine and lists3 at $9,742.

But the Classic has a much higher level of interior and exterior trim than the plain Jan Malibu, and the Classic has an automatic transmission while the Iraqi Malibu has a manual.

The Iraqis were going to pay $8,300 each for the Malibu, specially built to their specifications.

If GM wanted $10,000 for the car, about the average price of new cars in Canada today, I wouldn't touch it.

But for the price Chevrolet dealers are charging, it is probably a good buy, especially for someone looking for solid, basic, 4-door transportation without the frills.

It comes with cloth-covered bench seats front and back, cop-car hubcaps, black-wall tires and a body adorned only with a single chrome strip down the side.

The interior trim is fairly standard vinyl, nothing fancy but certainly serviceable and, I suspect, long wearing. The carpet is a step up from indoor-outdoor but not the sort of thing you'd expect in the foyer of a fancy hotel or restaurant.

The transmissions are all 3-speed manuals with the shifter mounted on the floor, an item that hasn't sold in North American cars for years. They are the only possible answer though, in countries such as Iraq, where it is impossible to find a mechanic who understands the complexities of an automatic transmission.

This is not to say the Iraqi Malibu's don't have some desirable features.

They are all equipped with air-conditioning, power steering, power brakes and an AM/FM stereo with cassette player. They have Chevy's 3.8-liter V-6 engine with heavy duty cooling, which is not a bad feature if you have towing in mind.

Although not top of the line steel belted radials, the tires are perfectly serviceable glass-belted radials.

That's stuff you don't usually find in $6,500 cars these days.

Sweetening the deal

Just to sweeten the deal and allay any fears that these orphan Malibu's will fall apart the day after the regular 12-month/20,000-kilometre warranty expires, the cars also come with General Motors' 3-year Continuous Protection Plan, an extended warranty that offers break-down insurance on major components for 50,000 kilometers. The CPP normally costs $282.

Fuel economy ratings, based on Transport Canada's approved laboratory test methods, are not quite as good as the rating for the Malibu Classic. The Iraqi Malibu scored 10.2 litres per 100 kilometers (28 mpg) in a mix of highway/city driving.

The highway estimate is 8.2L/100 km (34 mpg) and the urban rating is 13.1 (22 mpg).

I tested the car in the cut-and-thrust of rush-hour traffic in Oshawa, found some curvy suburban roads to check it handling and then sought out a lonely stretch of highway to allow the car to stretch its legs.

High top gear

The V6 doesn't breathe well enough to be a threat on a drag strip, but it puts out enough torque to leave 3-foot patches of rubber on the asphalt. It can also chirp the tires in second, a good intermediate gear that can be used for passing or accelerating up to about 120 km/h.

Top gear is very high, which makes for good fuel economy, but hampers the car's ability to accelerate in the 60-120 km/h passing range. But that's normal with just about every top gear on any car these days.

The transmission shifts easily and the throw between gears doesn't have you reaching across the car to find second gear. The lever in this car, which had fewer than 60 kilometers on it, was a bit stiff, but I'd chalk that up to newness.




Len Coates

The Iraqis could hardly have complaints about the interior noise. The transmission growls a bit, but other wise the Malibu is fairly quiet. The body on the car I drove was tight, so there wasn't a squeak out of it even when bouncing the car over some high-riser railroad tracks.

The backrest of the front bench seat is too upright for my taste, but that leaves plenty of knee room in the backseat. The car could carry five adults without any unwanted familiarity.

Seven colors

The ride is soft and comfortable, handling is somewhat marred by too much body roll in corners and the power steering is easy but vague, all of which is about what you'd expect in any North American intermediate. The Iraqis couldn't have been surprised by any of this, and neither will most Canadians.

The paint colors available include two blues, silver, cream, jade green, light maroon and something called champagne. There are only two interior colors, blue and tan.

GM of Canada says dealers will likely offer the customers a few options, such as full wheel discs, white-wall tires, and possibly, a body molding kit to spruce up the appearance of the cars. The car's appearance could be improved considerably by replacing the very plain hubcaps with something a tad richer.

GM is spending about $200 a car to make the Malibu's meet Canadian emission control standards. That involves installing a catalytic converter in the exhaust system, recalibrating the engine and installing a smaller neck on the fuel filler pipe for unleaded gasoline pumps.

The cars for sale at ever dealership in Canada, and there are indications they will be sold out fast.

Ironically, it could turn out that all the publicity about the Iraqi Malibu's and the decision to offer them to the Canadian public, could turn out to be the best sales gimmick GM has come up with lately.

The Malibu may become one of GM's top sellers of 1982.


Here's what you get for $6,500

Warranty: Standard 12 month/20,000 km warranty plus 3-year Continuous Protection Plan

Model: 1981 Chevrolet Malibu 4-door sedan

Price: $6,500 (FOB Oshawa). Does not include transportation, dealer prep, license or sales tax.

Engine: 3.8-litre (229 cu. in.) V6, 2-barrel carb, rated at 110 horsepower.

Final drive ratio: 2.73:1

Transmission: Muncie 3-speed manual syncromesh, floor shifter

Brakes: Front disc, rear drum, power

Steering: Power, 3.3 turns lock-to-lock

Tires: P185/75R14 glass-belted radial black-wall

Seating: front bench, rear bench, capacity 5 passengers

Equipment: air-conditioning, power brakes, power steering; AM/FM stereo radio with cassette player (4 speakers); tinted glass; heavy duty cooling; heavy duty generator; wind-shield antenna; deluxe body side molding; bumper rub strips; bumper guards.

Fuel consumption: Urban 13.1L/100 km (22 mpg); Highway 8.2L/100 km (34 mpg); combined 10.2L/100 km (28 mpg).

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