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