Story: Kaleb Kelly
Photography: Jeremy Cliff
The relationship between a man and his car is something akin to a love story. The young man sets his eyes on a certain car, his heart skips a beat and he’s head over heels. This perfectly describes Don’s relationship with the legendary Pontiac GTO. In 1974 Don purchased a 1969 Pontiac GTO Ram Air IV and fell in love twice — first with his GTO and soon after with his high school sweetheart and future wife, Denise. Eventually, practicality set in and Don and Denise sold their beloved muscle car, and they’ve regretted it ever since. Don and his younger brother, Darren, grew up wrenching on old cars because they couldn’t afford to buy a new car. Their love for cars brought these brothers together and created a bond that stands strong today. “Donnie helped me mix my first batch of bondo,” Darren says. “We’ve been fixing up cars since we were kids. I got started with bodywork when I was 13 and haven’t stopped yet.”
In 2012 Darren decided to showcase the capabilities of his shop, Indy Street Rods & Classics, by building a car. Darren began the search for a rust-free ’69 GTO. “I found what I thought I was looking for in Arizona,” says Darren. “But it turns out that rust-free does not mean dent-free.” Due to the body damage, the brothers ended up replacing or fabricating every panel on this car, minus the front floor pans and deck lid. Instead of starting with a blueprint, Don let Darren showcase his shop’s skills and take full creative control of the build — with a few stipulations. Don’s only requirements were that the GTO would be Carousel Red, would drive like a dream and would look similar to the muscle car of his youth.
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Once in pristine form, Darren set the beautifully modified body on top of a custom chassis from Street Rod Garage. Unlike the factory frame, the new chassis could fit the massive 12-inch-wide wheels in the rear. The brothers turned to Budnik for wheels and picked out the Revolver design from the Surfaced series. The stunning wheels are finished in Charcoal Gray Ceramic and measure 19 inches in the front and 20 inches in the rear. Behind the rollers are Wilwood disc brakes with six-piston calipers that bring the car to a halt whether it’s on the autocross track or the highway. For the suspension, Darren initially incorporated QA1 coilovers, but after a few recommendations, he converted over to RideTech’s Shockwave air springs because he wanted the ride-height adjustability of air suspension.
Don was adamant about keeping the car original and staying true to its Pontiac roots when deciding on a motor. Under the hood, he chose a monstrous 505ci Butler Performance Pontiac motor that puts out approximately 665 horsepower and 640 lb.-ft. of torque on the dyno. The monstrous Poncho motor utilizes F.A.S.T.’s EZ-EFI fuel-injection system and a custom breather similar to the legendary Ram Air. And all of that power is transferred through a T-56 Magnum six-speed transmission to a Currie nine-inch rear end.
Everything about this GTO screams muscle, but it also has the functionality and sophistication of a pro-touring car. The style and vibe of the GTO flow seamlessly, which ultimately helps to negate the pieced-together aesthetic that some custom rides have. Don has finally realized his dream in this completely insane, one-of-a-kind car accurately named “JudgeMENTAL.”