This ’81 Malibu escaped fate as an “Iraqi Taxi”

Benny Tan

Back in 1981, if you’d asked Saddam Hussein if he had weapons of mass destruction, he would have told you “yes” and pointed at the stockpile of 12,500 desert-spec’d G-body Malibus just in from Canada.

The government of Iraq ordered 25,000 Malibus in total, which were officially invoiced as taxis. After the first shipment, however, Iraq backed out of the $100 million deal. The government cited massive reliability problems as the reason for canceling the order.

The build sheet was basic but intriguing: Four-door sedan; 3.8-liter V-6; three-speed manual 200-km/h speedometer; cloth bench seats; steel wheels with polished center caps; uprated four-core radiator; heavy-duty suspension; AM/FM radio with cassette; air conditioning (because it’s hot in Iraq); and rear defrost delete (because it’s not cold in Iraq).

Instead of soaking up the sun and sand, however, the remaining Malibus sat for months at the snowy docks in Halifax, Nova Scotia, as General Motors was left pondering what to do with them. Eventually, they were distributed to Canadian Chevrolet dealers and sold off. Cheap.

Despite the criticisms doled out by Saddam’s government, GM workers insisted that the Malibus were well made. In fact, many of those workers tried to purchase the cars. There was such a high demand from GM employees that their union threatened to launch a class action lawsuit against the company for not ensuring a fair allotment of Iraqi Malibus to workers who had already submitted deposits.

Ultimately, the $6500 price point made these desert Chevys appealing workhorses, which, like most cars of that era, were all but run into the ground. The surviving Iraqi-spec Malibus have gained a reputation in Canada and today are affectionately known as “Iraqi Taxis.”

1981 Chevy Malibu-top down
Benny Tan

This one belongs to my dad.

His Iraqi Taxi has been souped up, but aside from the lumpy V-8, it still retains the unmistakable feature set of the Iraqi Taxis. At just over 30,000 original kilometers (18,640 miles), it may be one of the cleanest examples out there.

The previous owner and backyard hot-rod mechanic, known locally in southern Ontario as “Malibu Mike,” meticulously restored the car. It had sat for a number of years in storage before Mike got into it and replaced the tired and lethargic V-6 with a 350-cubic-inch V-8 that he modified with a high-lift cam, roller rockers, a 4.56:1 Posi rear end, and a 3000-rpm torque converter. Then, reluctantly, he sold the Malibu to my dad in order focus on other projects.

At every car show Dad and I attend in Ontario, at least one person knows something about these Malibus and their contribution to Canadian automotive history—the car that wasn’t good enough for Saddam. But were these cheap, barebones taxis really that bad?

The short answer is “yes.” It was the Malaise Era and most cars sucked. The Iraqi Taxis came with a 110-horsepower V-6 and a bargain basement three-on-the-floor manual.

The long answer is more complicated, because Saddam Hussein was in the middle of a costly war with Iran, and I’ve got to imagine that fighting the Ayatollah was probably more important than adding another 13,000 taxis to the fleet.

After an Instagram reel of my dad’s Iraqi Taxi went viral, I got connected to a man named Soran Ako—an Iraqi who had previously owned a Malibu taxi in Iraq. Although he now lives in Sweden, Ako was able to provide me with unique Iraqi intel on these “taxis,” which, as it turns out, weren’t actually taxis at all.

During his time as a student in the autonomous Kurdish region of Northern Iraq, Ako acquired his lightly used 1981 Malibu, not from a taxi driver, but from a retired Iraqi sergeant from Saddam’s regime. Despite the invoice submitted to GM Canada listing “Taxi” as the official vehicle classification, it seems these cars were in fact personal gifts for Saddam’s most loyal sergeants.

Although the spec sheet screams “base model,” according to Ako, they were considered Cadillacs compared to the other vehicles patrolling Iraqi streets at the time—mostly worn out military trucks and Soviet-export Ladas. The 3.8-liter V-6 “roared,” Ako said, churning out more than double the torque of anything comparable, and he described the stereo system as “top-notch.” Cranking tunes through the standard four-speaker system was a rare luxury considering most other vehicles in the desert nation had no stereo at all.

1981 Chevy Malibu-profile
Benny Tan

In Iraq, these cars were a symbol of the elite. Once sold on from the original sergeants who owned them, they were usually found in the hands of rich kids and local authority figures—and apparently one lucky student. Ako owned his light-blue Malibu for three trouble-free years before fleeing abroad as tensions in Kurdistan escalated to violence. Unfortunately, exporting the Malibu was not an option at the time, and ever since, Ako has been chasing the high that only these utilitarian land yachts could provide. He told me his goal one day would be to get his hands on another Iraqi Malibu—a light blue ’79.

Whether you happen to be in Scandinavia, out on the mean streets of Ontario, or points between, if you encounter a Canadian-made 1981 Malibu with a 200 km/h speedometer, three-speed manual, and no rear defrost, you’ve found a custom Chevrolet built for the henchmen of one of the world’s most notorious dictators. Despite the Iraqi government’s official stance on these cars, the actual owners—Canadians and Iraqis alike—treasure these basic, beefed-up ’Bus.




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    My recollection is that most of these ended up back in Oshawa and were purchased by GM employees and that very few made it to dealers for retail sale. The $6,500 price was about half that of a typical Malibu in Canada at the time, which would generally have had automatic but not air conditioning.

    My shop converted quite a few of these to auto trans. We sourced a column from the wreckers or used chevette floor shifters

    I’ve seen some people claiming that their column shift auto Malibus were actually Iraqi Taxis, so I guess it adds up!

    HAHAHA!!! I drove one of these for about six months in High School. , This was the mid 90’s and it was the cheapest car I could buy and pass a safety.

    Thanks for the unique article.

    My Dad bought two of these. for each of my sisters and they came with a driven defroster installed for the rear window. I bought one of them from one of my sisters and it was one of the funnest car I had driven. I never had to make any repairs to the vehicle other than brakes. I wish I had never sold it back in ’99’. There was no rust on the body anywhere and very little surface rust on the undercarrigde due to being oiled every other year.

    I bought two from the sales agent charged with unloading these GM vehicles. One was gold coloured and ended up in Ottawa, got traded for an even worse GM Astrovan.
    The second was beige (seafoam green?) and we kept this for a family car for 12 years. Two people learned to drive standard on this car and the clutch was never replaced. It died a rust bucket with 468000 km on it, not engine or transmission failures, only brakes were changed. The air conditioner crapped out so we replaced it with a sun roof.
    It was the best car deal I ever made.

    I went on a waiting list for one from the Chevy dealer in Fredericton NB , and after two months bought a dark blue one . Had it eight years and the only problem encountered was a leak from external rust on oilpan . The cars had sat in a dockside compound in Dartmouth NS and the salt air most likely caused the rusty pan . I have a friend who still his the Bu he bought from the same dealership and it is in barn storage in NB .

    That’s wild. My daily is an MG, so the idea of having any engine parts rust is unfathomable due to the constant oil supply haha

    I remember kids in high school had these. They had some difference with the back window too that made them different than the typical Malibu. Either they went 1/2 way down where regular ones didn’t or vice versa. Cheap high school beater. I occasionally see them for sale on Kijiji.

    That’s what I remember too. The chrome button on the vent window was the stop gap fix, as it let the passenger get a little bit of air. It used to be that you could tell the GM A-bodies with power vs. crank windows easily, the crank models had that chrome button!

    Interesting car. Didn’t know about this car. Looks like a great sleeper with that V8 under the hood.

    Our neighbors in Calgary had one. This was back in the early 80’s so I imagine he bought it new. I thought it was a strangely optioned car until I found out the story. At the time I had a 1979 Pontiac Grand Lemans ex company car of mine. Mine had the same 3.8 litre 6 but with auto trans. I could go faster in second gear than in drive if I was going for top speed!

    My late father-in-law tried to order his own version of the Iraqi Taxi. 1981 2-door V6 Malibu post coupe with standard trans. He wanted three-on-the-tree but it wasn’t available so he got the Saginaw 3 on the floor, like the Taxis. The Z-bar clutch linkage broke a few times, but car was good otherwise. It also had a Radio Delete plate and cranking windows. Wishin I still had it!

    Many a two door got the small block TH350 treatment. The rear axle had issues with the brake backing plates rusting. Repair would require pulling the axle shafts until a two piece plate was made by the aftermarket suppliers. If an eight was going in the gears weren’t strong enough so the replacement of the entire rear end was the ultimate solution.
    The major issue was the frame. Never designed for power or longevity they needed to be re-enforced. Kits are available now.
    The Cutlass version was offer with the diesel mistake. 350 Oldsmobile dropped right in, 455 if you didn’t mind massaging the A/C in the engine bay. Buick started putting turbo V6 engines in them. The frame was sturdier by then

    Great article! These sound like they were much better made than the Chevy Citations of the same era, which my parents had.

    These are actually very nice looking cars–unusual for the malaise era! I could imagine putting one in my driveway.

    In 1986 Saddam pulled a similar stunt with Volkswagen in Brazil. In 1986 the market was suddenly flooded with 4 door Dashers (Passats in Brazil) that VW had stopped selling in Brazil. They were all in non metallic colors with a more powerful 1.8 (Vs 1.6) engine and AC. They too were supposed to be Taxis but the order was cancelled shortly after some were delivered. When the US invaded Iraq I did see some with Taxi signs on the tv footage. Google them!

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