Creatures from the Black Laguna – Bowtie Boneyard

A Trio of Chevelle Malibu Type S-3s at Hidden Valley Auto Parts

By Steve Magnante – Photography by the Author

When they first appeared with their squared-off lines and chunky energy-absorbing bumpers, the 1973 Chevelle line was a radical departure from the more rounded 1968-1972s. Built to appease federal safety zealots, GM designed the all-new midsize A-body platform with an eye toward accident protection. As such, all roof pillars grew in thickness, fabric-topped convertibles were eliminated, and hydraulic rams allowed the aforementioned energy-absorbing bumpers to slowly return to pre-impact condition within 24 hours (as long as the impact was 5 mph or less).

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At the top in 1973 was the so-called Laguna, which showcased GM’s growing interest in molded urethane endcaps for the front end of the body. While lesser Deluxe and Malibu models got massive chrome front bumpers and somewhat conventional metal grille openings, the Laguna (which was offered on all body styles, including station wagons in 1973) came with one-piece, body-colored fascias that integrated the bumper and shrunk the grille into a pouting orifice containing the turn signals. The effect was slick and looked like it was pulled from a mold—which it was.

While the SS option (RPO Z15, $242.75) could be had one last time in 1973 (including station wagons!) with any V-8 engine, 1974 brought something familiar, yet new; the Laguna Type S-3. Offered only on two-door Laguna coupes, the Type S-3’s metal identification emblems used fonts and colors that emulated the classic SS badges of previous years. In fact, from a distance, the S-3 and SS emblems look nearly identical. Chevrolet never revealed what exactly “Type S-3” meant, but no doubt took inspiration from Jaguar’s “E-Type” nomenclature to capture a European flair.

In this story, let’s examine a trio of sadly abandoned Laguna Type S-3s discovered in Maricopa, Arizona, at Hidden Valley Auto Parts (602-252-2122).

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1975 and 1976 S-3s were slope nose. 1974 was vertical.

Just like the previous SS emblems of 1966-’1972, the 1974 S-3 badge is centrally located in the middle of the grille. The sloped fascias used in 1975 and 1976 repositioned the emblem to the lower right corner of the grille. Note how the S-3 portion of the design shares the same font, chromed outline, and white- painted inner surface as previous SS branding. There’s no doubt Chevrolet wanted to retain the association with its venerable SS legacy while adding a new spin.
The ghost mark left by the 400 fender emblem tells us this one was originally powered by the optional R-code (in fifth place of VIN) 400ci small-block V-8, which could be had with a two- barrel, single exhaust, and 150 hp, or with a four- barrel, dual exhaust, and 180 hp. Oddly, both 400’s got the R-code engine designator in the VIN. Other Type S-3 engine offerings included the 145 hp H-code 350 two- barrel, 160 hp, K-code 350 four -barrel, and 235 hp Y-code, 454 big-block.
A key element of the Laguna Type S-3 package, the contrasting wheel lip and lower body stripe was no decal. As the scratches and fading prove, every Type S-3 made a special trip through a masking and painting line to add the unique graphics. A close look at the edge-work reveals minute blotches left behind when the tape mask was removed after paint application. No doubt the quality- control inspectors went a little mad when a Type S-3 came down the assembly line!
Another 1974-only Type S-3 detail was a standard vinyl top and opera windows. With the vinyl removed, here we can see where GM saved some coins by using a metal filler panel— – and the same large glass as the basic Malibu coupe— – to achieve the peek-a-boo effect. In 1975 and ’1976, the vinyl top became an option and Type S-3’s could be had with painted steel roofs. To eliminate the added body work, for 1975-up GM switched to specific small-opening B-pillar panels that took matching glass. The savings in manual labor to blend the patch was worth the cost of the revised stamping.
Inside every 1974 Type S-3, swivel bucket seats (optional on lesser models) rotated ninety90 degrees for easier entry and exit of front and rear seat passengers. When locked in the forward position, the seat tracks also allowed the usual 5-inch fore/aft travel to suit virtually all drivers. For 1975 and 19’76, the swivel bucket seats became extra cost options.
Unlike the stamped metal dashboard assemblies used in earlier 1968-’1972 Chevelles, Chevy switched to injection- molded plastic for 1973-up (as seen here) with the instruments removed. The brackets and cable pass-through hole on the transmission tunnel speak to the Type S-3’s standard-issue, floor-mounted shifter and center console. Though rare, four-speed manual transmissions were available in 1973 and ’1974 Lagunas. For 1975, the addition of mandatory catalytic converters forced changes to the floor pan that precluded the availability of manual transmissions. All 1975- – ’1976 Laguna Type S-3’s were automatic-equipped.
The second Laguna Type S-3 spotted at Hidden Valley Auto Parts, this 19’74 flips the script on the first car’s maroon-on-white script. Again, the painted- on lower body accents are fading and chalking from exposure to the bright TexasArizona sun. Chevy’s practice of tuning model identity via specific fascia treatments was repeated in 1975 when the Monza 2+2 hatchback arrived wearing deep-set rectangular headlamps in a sloped nose. It’s formal roof sibling, the Monza S, was given a different fascia with traditional round headlamps and a chrome grille. Like the Malibu/Laguna Type S-3 twins, the Monza 2+2 and Monza S shared front fender stampings to cut costs.
While the first Type S-3 displayed 400 emblems, the ghost marks on this example show hints of 350 emblems. Note how the 400 and 350 emblem mounting holes share the same mounting stud pattern, as would the 454 emblems in a big-block example. For 1975 and beyond, Chevrolet eliminated these external engine markers as high-performance took a distant back seat to fuel economy.
Inside this 350-powered 1974 Laguna Type S-3, we see the standard-issue console- shifted automatic transmission. When 350 equipped, Chevrolet installed its medium-duty Turbo 350. The more potent 400 and 454 engines got the stronger Turbo 400 automatic transmission. The black vinyl four-spoke sport steering wheel arrived aboard 1973 Monte Carlos, Chevelles, Novas, and Vegas. This last detail irked Corvette buyers in 1976 when Chevrolet added a similar steering wheel to every Corvette.
Though GM put the Laguna’s urethane fascia through every kind of torture test conceivable, nearly five decades of constant exposure inevitably takes a toll. The topmost surfaces of Laguna / Type S-3 fascias are known to degrade to a point where the black underlayment is exposed. Kits do exist to patch this kind of damage.
We can tell the third Laguna Type S-3 we discovered is a 1975 or 19’76 because of its revised body side stripe treatment, painted roof with non-filled B-panels, and lack of fender emblems denoting engine size. And being a 1975 or ’1976, this one was factory-equipped with the aerodynamically enhanced nose cone that helped Laguna S-3’s win the Daytona 500 in 1975 and 1977. Designed specifically to improve aerodynamics, the 1975- – ’1976 “slant nose” S-3 stands as Chevrolet’s belated response to cars like the Dodge Charger Daytona, Plymouth Superbird, Mercury Cyclone Spoiler, and Ford Torino Talladega. Chevy did it again nearly a decade later with the Monte Carlo SS and Monte Carlo SS Aerocoupe.
While 454’s were offered until the middle of 1975, after that the 400ci small-block was the top engine offering for Laguna Type S-3 buyers. Could this be a 400?
Surprise! The flashlight indicates the machined relief on the back of the harmonic damper found specifically on 400ci small-blocks! A true junkyard treasure, we’re betting the fact Chevy eliminated engine displacement badges after 1974 kept junkyard hunters from spotting this one. The 400 is a bit of an oddball with its short 5.565-inch rods and siamesed bores, but with its 50- cube advantage over a 350, any serviceable 400 is a big junkyard score. To learn more about the 1974-19’76 Laguna Type S-3, go to the International Laguna Type S-3 Registry for more facts and figures as well as a roundup of existing Type S-3’s.
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