The thing about Gordon McGilton’s cars is that they don’t just pop out of the toaster all crisp and buttery. He’s had scores of them that were built years ago, and it seems that there’s always another one being crafted in the meanwhile. Though he lives in North Carolina now, all of his cars are not stored there and may be rotated in or out for a fresh approach in a new location. Though he’ll tell you he’s retired, Gordon travels a lot under the aegis of his company Jet-Hot Coatings and likes nothing better than reevaluating his own iron from time to time than to rent a stocker. For obvious reasons, California is a constant destination.
He is forever stuck on upgrading and improving performance. Indeed, the function-before-forms metal babies are not necessarily meant to be rowing in the mainstream. This ’79 Malibu is typical of the rudimentary but cogent modifications that are Gordon’s passion. He always tweaks the basics (strong but sensible drivetrain, the largest brakes available, compliant suspension) and always infuses the appropriate creature comforts (rollcage, five-point belts, no; power-assisted steering, supple but supportive seats and a stout HVAC system, yes) that make those long sojourns much more palatable. That same rapt attention comes in handy when he, son Tim or daughter Cheryl Herrick wheels it on the next outing (Goodguys, Through the Hills, To the Coast, To the Moon, Open Road Challenge, you get the idea). For the patient folks, the mighty Malibu it is also an instrument of education—and maybe even torture.
Although the Malibu is registered in Washington State, Gordon originally found it in the keep of Michael Bridgeman who hails from California, in high-desert Hesperia. Bridgeman had begun his upgrades with an LT1 and a 700-R4 overdrive. Gordon’s theme, of course, was to step up the technology but maintain the production “look” of the car. Upon purchase, Gordon asked that Bridgeman extract the small-block and install an LS1/4L60E combo from Gordon’s pipeline.
“Mike did a superb job of upgrading the drivetrain and warming it up a little with the addition of the supercharger,” Gordon says. “We then upgraded the wheels and brakes and used it for a daily driver in SoCal for the next few years. It was often used to provide ‘ego management’ services to Porsche drivers who thought they owned the 405 Freeway.” You gotta love it. Our protagonist is a huge fan of engineered systems simply because each part is designed to work with the next in harmony and because all the stuff is in one box.
A few years after the initial charge, Gordon moved his operation to South Carolina, prompting enhanced cosmetics and a fresh interior. Another move to North Carolina led to his participation in autocross events at Goodguys shows and a perfect opportunity to build the killer suspension system. The Malibu was completed in 2009. Aside from its physical prowess, it’s been on TV shows and has sat pretty at several trade shows as a prime example of what can be accomplished without blowing the doors off Fort Knox.
As per Gordon’s creed, pure and simple gets it done. No need for an all-out forged-internals motor when the stock GM stuff will support you with nary a whimper. Gordon sourced a ’98 LS1 (350 hp) and 4L60 overdrive. Bridgeman and Tim Gordon installed it and continued the power upgrade with an 8-psi Magnuson supercharger. Advanced Auto in Hesperia whipped up the 1.75-inch primary pipe headers that were given the Jet-Hot process and mated to full-length 2.5-inch exhaust system. Though it’s not been proofed, the combination should extrude at least 450 hp and at least as much grunt. The vital link 4L60 was installed as received, though gear selection is via the modified OEM column shifter. Torque ropes down a modified prop shaft and then to the stock-width ’87 Buick Grand National axle that carries an Eaton differential and 3.70:1 gears.
The G-body possesses a full perimeter frame that was deemed rigid enough for the Malibu’s over-the-road missions. Detroit Speed supplied everything for the upgrade: ’87 G-body steering box, drop spindles, upper and lower control arms with negative-roll geometry, matched antisway bars, and coilover dampers. This final phase in the Malibu’s build sequence is a strong indicator that it will find more track time than ever before.
With the attitude that you can never have too much brake, Gordon flipped for Baer’s 6S ensemble with 14-inch rotors and six-piston clampers that work like crazy on the Malibu’s 3,325-pound curb weight. Mini-tubs were not part of the plan, so Gordon sourced 18x8 and 18x9.5 Budnik Famosa forgings and the largest tires that would fit—BFG T/A KDWs. What was in his mind’s eye is a perfect fit that looks like it’s been on the car since forever.
The Malibu’s qualities number clean lines, sharp silhouette, and business-like demeanor. The body was already in excellent shape, so Car Guys in Lake City, South Carolina, one of Gordon’s satellite shops, simply tidied up its face with a billet grille and hung a composite-material spoke beneath it. They tucked and narrowed the bumpers and fitted a steel 3-inch cowl hood. Car Guys wrapped up the exterior with a dramatic, custom-mix Dark Blue Pearl.
As the most overlooked part of the car, Gordon decided to rip it up completely and lay in some fine hides. A bone-colored interior doesn’t sound all that sexy, but look how well it pops in that sea of dark blue. Scrumptious. Tommy’s Top & Upholstery in Raleigh, North Carolina, did it to the door panels, the rear panels and the seats (Recaros in front). Before they quit, Car Guys built a custom center console, and screwed a LeCarra steering wheel on the tilt column.