Movie Car Monday: Ryan Gosling’s Chevelle Malibu from ‘Drive’

Article Highlights:

  • Ryan Gosling rebuilt the junkyard 1973 Chevrolet Malibu that his character drove in the 2011 film Drive.
  • The 1973 Malibu wasn’t much to look at with its primer-gray exterior. However, the car’s rough and subtle presence and powerful capability are an automotive mirror of Gosling’s character. 
  • Drive Director Nicholas Winding Refn gave Gosling artistic license to choose his character’s car. Gosling handpicked the project car from a Los Angeles junkyard.

Nicholas Winding Refn’s 2011 movie Drive is a story of a conflicted, strong-silent-type car guy played by Ryan Gosling. Gosling’s character, simply referred to as “Driver,” works as a mechanic during the day, and a stunt driver thereafter. If that wasn’t enough, Driver is a calm, calculated getaway driver at night. Viewers get the feeling that Driver’s stunts are where he wants to be, namely in LA’s entertainment scene. However, his activities and interests get him caught up in the affairs of LA gangsters, and trouble ensues.  

The Malibu isn’t just a good choice for Drive, it is the personal selection of Ryan Gosling

In the movie, Ryan Gosling’s character drove many cars, including an S197 Ford Mustang and a modified Chevrolet Impala. When Gosling’s character isn’t wheelman to heists, he is behind the wheel of a charming 1973 Chevrolet Malibu in primer-gray. The car has pretty lines and classic styling, lending itself well to the often dialogue-free driving shots of LA. 

Movie Car Monday Ryan Goslings Chevelle Malibu from drive
Ryan Gosling surveys LA streets in his 1973 Malibu in Drive | Universal Pictures

Inside the cabin of the Chevelle, viewers may notice the aftermarket gauge cluster, suggesting that Driver modified the car beyond the anemic performance figures of a stock 1973 Chevrolet Malibu. Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the film is the connection between Ryan Gosling and the Chevrolet. Given the opportunity by Refn, Gosling chose the car himself after surveying junkyards. 

Not only did Gosling choose the car, but he also rebuilt it himself. According to Street Muscle Magazine, professionals towed the car to a LA warehouse, where Gosling reduced the Malibu to just a frame. From there, he rebuilt the car in its entirety, except for the transmission, which other mechanics rebuilt. Gosling said that the labor of working on the car gave him valuable insight into the automotive mind and patience of his character, Driver. This is pleasing to hear, especially for those of us who shout at screens when we see the most heinous of vehicular faux pas.  

The 1973 Chevrolet Malibu is a cool little muscle car plagued by hard times

 Movie Car Monday Ryan Goslings Chevelle Malibu from drive
Ryan Gosling and Nicholas Winding Refn at the Cannes Film Festival | George Pimentel, Getty Images

The 1973 Chevrolet Malibu had to ride in on the heels of the oil crisis, which is popularly held to be the first extinction of the muscle car. Fuel prices were out of control, and big, lumpy V8s were simply untenable. According to Hagerty, Malibu owners could option the car with a 250 cubic inch six-cylinder engine or a healthier small block 350 cubic inch V8. Some Chevelles of the day packed a mightier 454 cubic inch big block. It wasn’t powerful by today’s standards, but it was a start.

If you watch Drive, though, Gosling’s little Malibu doesn’t appear to be stock. Besides the appearance of being a project car with primer, the car sounds like it has a happy V8. Street Muscle Magazine thinks that given the mechanical aptitude of Driver, the car probably packs a streetable V8 with more power than the original car. Scroll to the following article to read more about modern muscle cars.

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