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Flashback: Blown 427ci big-block 2003 Pontiac GTO - FATGTO

By Glenn Torrens | Photos: Peter Bateman, 27 Apr 2018 Features

pontiac gto 1896

Left hook GTO pimped to perfection

Pontiac’s GTO is a left-hook Monaro. Perfect for an Aussie who loves modifying Yank iron

This article on Mark's Pontiac GTO was originally published in the January 2005 issue of Street Machine

MARK Jones. He’s the bloke who built, and built, and built again the FAT 57 Chev. You might know the one — it was at first tropical sea green, then purple, then orange. Or was that the other way round? It’s been on more covers of Street Machine, including bathed in glory as Street Machine of the Year, than just about any other car in history.

Flashback: Street Machine August 2002 cover car, FAT57 Chev

Pontiac GTOMark is a big fan of US car-building legend Troy Trepanier — he happily admits Troy has always inspired him.

“Troy once said something like: ‘You can build one good car, build two good cars, build three good cars. After the third, you know you’re going somewhere’,” Mark says.

This isn’t the third car Mark has built — he’s probably played with three dozen over the years — but he considers it the third good one, after the second and third incarnations of the Chev. Is this Sydney-based show-car builder going somewhere?

Read more: FATGTO sold at Barrett-Jackson's Scottsdale auction, Jan 2017 

Pontiac GTO“I’ve always really been into American cars but this time I wanted to build something with broader appeal than a ’55-or-something Chev,” explains Mark. “I wanted something that the younger, up-and-coming blokes could look at and appreciate,” he adds.

And Pontiac’s Australian styled and manufactured GTO — a Holden Monaro to you and me — fitted that US-but-younger mindset brilliantly.

Holden’s Australian marketing department put Mark in touch with Pontiac in the US. After a time-consuming paperchase across the planet, Mark got hold of a prototype GTO body shell which had been used as a development hack for the big Aussie coupe’s switch to left-hand drive. The shell was delivered in July 2003 with doors and guards. Although Mark picked it up from Holden in Melbourne, officially it’s from AC Delco, GM/Pontiac’s US spare parts division, who came on board as sponsor. AC Delco also provided all the unique Pontiac components such as nose cone and dash.

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Pontiac GTOIt didn’t stay as a standard shell for long. Craig Burns at Streetcar Fabrications in Narellan, NSW was presented with the shell and a plan: “I wanted elements of road and race,” says Mark. “That’s why I kept some of the chassis bits in place, and the firewall. It would have been easier to get rid of the lot, actually, but I didn’t want it to be a pure drag car.”

Mark was on hand most of the time to help get the job done. Always hands-on, he helped by cutting out the floor from the firewall to the boot. The skinned shell was placed on Craig’s alignment bed and the spaceframe-style chassis and rollcage constructed between the sills from chrome-moly tube. The front chassis rails, most of the firewall and front floor remains, but little else. The firewall appears flat — it’s a panel installed over the original. Time taken? Two weeks.

“Then it went straight back to my place,” says Mark. There, he mocked up the car’s stance and mechanicals. But most of the car’s assembly occurred in Adelaide. Why so far from his Sydney home? Strangely, it was for convenience.

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FAT GTO boot“Through a mate, Trent, I found out about a fully-furnished panel shop that was in-between owners,” reveals Mark. “The old owner had gone but the new owner was yet to move in so it was perfect for me.” Adding to the appeal of Adelaide was the fact that Carofano Motor Trimmers, responsible for most of Marks’ interior and trim work for the past decade, is also based in Adelaide.

“We only had six weeks, so we had to push as hard as we could,” recalls Mark. “The new owner was moving in then, but it was only seven weeks to the Sydney unveiling at Show Car Superstars. We had 10 blokes on it, almost 24 hours a day, seven days a week. People were working while other people were sleeping!”

Ten blokes? That’s not a bad little army. “Carmine [Carofano] was the biggest help, plus his brother David,” Mark says, counting on his fingers. “They did the trim. There was their fibreglasser, Miro Celigoj. Paul Walkom assisted. Angelo Caravaggio dragged the wiring through the car, a mixture of original equipment and custom stuff, and Dean Tassione on machine work and alloy work. Ashley Prosser helped out with rubbing down and general stuff.”

FAT GTO engineOne of the biggest crowd-pulling characteristics of a car like this is the finish of the paint.

“Ben Reid painted it,” explains Mark. “Matt Egan helped; he flew up from Victoria. Ben and Matt do similar stuff. They don’t paint cars, they put the graphics on.” Ben said he’d like to have a go at painting it, with Mark’s help. “He’d never used House of Kolor but I’ve been using it for 13 years, even before it was distributed here,” Mark adds.

“So together we got it all done and then Matt came up and helped Ben with the airbrush work.”

FAT GTOBen and Matt’s graphics — including details applied by masking with fishnet stockings — separate the House of Kolor Violet over Sunset Pearl. The two hues are the colours applied to Mark’s FAT 57 Chev in its last two rebuilds. “Not many people notice that,” says Mark. “But they ‘get it’ when I explain it to them.” So now you know.

Meanwhile, Carmine was in his factory, working on the trim. To keep something of a street theme, the front section of the cabin is fundamentally standard. The car has almost a full complement of electrics, so the dash (with the exception of the heater, which was deleted), headlights, boot release and remote locking all work from the factory body control module.

FAT GTO decalsBehind the front seats it’s a different story. The rear seat and boot areas are an Aladdin’s cave of Pioneer gear. The seats are highly modified stockers – bet you haven’t seen a B&M shifter poking from a seat before. They’re covered in a glorious hue of leather highlighted with snake and crocodile-skin sections.

Carmine was working on the interior while the exterior was being painted. The dash and door trims have been re-coloured in biscuit, with some black highlights added by retaining the original Pontiac black on the door pockets and lock buttons. Shining down on everything are four downlights built into a trimmed fibreglass headlining.

After a whirlwind six-week assembly in Adelaide, the car returned to Sydney almost ready for its Meguiar’s Show Car Superstars debut.

Pontiac GTO interiorAlthough the front chassis rails remain, the inner skirts and strut towers have been removed and the original front suspension binned. In its place is a Pro Street-style upper and lower wishbone system with Shockwave airbags, requiring the chassis rails be notched for airbag clearance. The crossmember is also a custom-built item, by Zagari Engineering in Adelaide. It’s a relatively new company, according to Mark, which specialises in race and rod components. The spindles are Castlemaine Rod Shop items, controlled by rack and pinion steering from the standard Pontiac/Holden column.

The engine is the old one out of Mark’s FAT 57 Chev. It’s a 427ci big-block with Venolia pistons, a steel crank, LS7 rods, Crow valvegear and a Weiand manifold under a BDS-supplied 6/71 blower and Enderle Birdcatcher intake. It’s 15 per cent overdriven for boost somewhere around 15psi.

Pontiac GTO“I couldn’t give a rat’s what it produces,” exclaims Mark of the engine. “We weren’t going to take it out and race it. It’s built to be nice around the streets and look good at shows.”

Many people do give a rat’s about the exhaust — built by Adelaide’s D&T Performance to exit forward of the front tyres, it makes people stop and look.

Behind the engine is a TH400 three-speed auto ’box built by Ross Burgess and it, too, is straight from FAT 57. In case you’re wondering, Mark’s Chev now has a 502 Ram Jet with a 4L80E electronic four-speed auto.

Pontiac GTOThe diff is a sheet-metal unit from Thunder Road diff in Qld, supplied by Sydney Competition Warehouse. It’s running the industry standard kit of 35-spline axles, spool, Strange alloy centre and Romac floating hubs. The brakes front and rear are Wilwood and the whole lot was set up by Craig at Streetcar Fabrications.

Ahh, those wheels. They’re one-offs made by Intro Wheels in California. At first, Intro wouldn’t make the wheels, citing concerns about legal streetability, but after a bit of ‘it’s for show only’ convincing by local distributors Show Wheels, Intro Wheels agreed to spin up a set. Down the back they’re 22 inches; up front are 18s. They’re wrapped in Kumho and Marshall rubber and almost disappear when the air sighs out of the bags.

“It’s definitely in yer face!” reckons Mark.

FAT GTO interiorWall of sound

The biggest task in building the car was designing and installing the sound system. Pioneer weighed in with all the gear. “I went to them with a list of gear and the marketing bloke said: ‘No way! You can’t get that much stuff into the car!’” Mark chuckles. “But we did!” The in-car entertainment gear includes six 12-inch subs, two six-inch splits, three amps, 6x9s in the front footwells and 6-inch splits in the doors, tweeters in the dash, two 10s in the boot, along with another three amps and two 6-inch splits plus a couple of screens, including a 12-inch LCD screen in the bootlid.

MARK JONES
2003 PONTIAC GTO

Featured: January 2005

Cool info: Mark Jones, well known for his FAT 57 Chev sedan and loving American cars, figured Pontiac’s Aussie-built left-hooker would be a perfect inspirational project
Paint: House of Kolor Violet over Sunset Pearl
Engine: 427ci big-block Chev
Gearbox: TH400 auto
Diff: Sheet-metal 9-inch
Wheels: Custom-made 22x12 &18x8-inch Intros
Interior: Mildly modified standard dash, radical everything else!