Those of you reading this piece may see the car in the above picture as the Chevy Malibu, recipient of Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award back in 1997. The Malibu wasn’t a bad car according to reviews across the Internet (read: people complaining about their cars on Edmunds), but very much mediocre. It was something you’d buy new if you a) worked for GM and needed to park closer to the building or b) worked for a firm that needed to buy a fleet of cars for their business.
I, however, see a Chevy Classic, essentially a rebadged version of the 1997-2003 Malibu, made from 2004 to 2005 which very much fulfilled the obligations of the second group I’ve described. This is the nameplate I’m going to discuss today, even though you probably should forget it. In fact, numerous people are trying to forget the Classic that I had trouble finding a high-resolution picture of one.
It was only available with one engine (preferable for its fleet customers), a 2.2-liter Ecotec inline-4, of which the power rating of 144 hp came surprisingly close to the 3.1-liter V-6 that preceded it (which had 170) when it was badged as the Malibu. I don’t have any knowledge of the performance but I imagine it wasn’t stellar judging from those Edmunds reviews. The fit and finish, I’ve been informed by the Internet, was also considered awful, which should perhaps be expected of a GM vehicle engineered during the 1990s.
Classics were basically owned by rental car companies and firms that presumably wanted their traveling salespeople to work hard enough so they could get an Impala as their next company car. They were all over any vacation destination in the United States you could think of, since they were probably the cut-rate rental “special” described in travel magazines. It was the lowest you could go short of getting an Aveo at the Avis counter.
I was first introduced to the Chevrolet Classic back in 2005, when GM embarked on its “Employee Discount for Everyone” promotional campaign to help rid its lots of excess inventory. In those full-page newspaper ads that GM took out, there were always pictures of the numerous models that were being offered with employee discounts as well as other factory incentives.
One car which there was a description of was the Chevrolet Classic, which happened to look like the last-generation Malibu. But I had noticed that the current Malibu, which had debuted for the 2004 model year, was still being advertised on the same page. Apparently, the GM inventory situation had gotten to the point that even the fleet customers weren’t buying all the cars GM could build, even with extremely enticing discounts.
Now, according to Wikipedia, Chevrolet has also used the Classic name on other, non-fleet, cars sold in Brazil. This development could be used to demonstrate that the “Classic” nameplate could actually be a unique product rather than being rebranded. Unfortunately, even that vehicle is essentially an older Chevy model, a somewhat refreshed Opel Corsa sedan, which is available throughout Central and South America to the general public in search of an affordable car.
So what’s the takeaway from all of this? If you find a Chevrolet with the “Classic” badge on it, despite looking like a perfectly good Malibu, for the love of all that is holy, avoid it. You will probably discover sand in the trunk. There might be chewing gum wedged beneath the front passenger seat. A smell might be emanating from a place you don’t want to check. You will know the first owner was a company who didn’t really care as long as the car wasn’t totaled, and who probably cared more about how much of the depreciation they could write off on their tax filings.
In the end, just forget about the Classic, like other things you’ve forgotten about the 2000s like Kelis, chokers, and Undeclared. And buying clothes from Abercrombie and Fitch. I'd have preferred trying to buy a Classic instead. Even Chevy dealers couldn't have been that insufferable.