Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. A well-worn cliche’, and an apt phrase describing my aborted 1972 Pontiac Ventura street/strip project that you see here.
I’ve had the racing bug for as long as I’ve been into cars. As a kid, I would watch classic racing movies like “LeMans” and “Hot Rod” over and over again, daydreaming of the day that it would be me behind the wheel of some insanely powerful machine, pushing it and myself to the limit.
In the early 90s I finally got my first taste of real side-by-side competition when I resurrected my 1968 Mercury Cougar XR-7. It was a rough, rusty $300 beater with no drivetrain that I purchased from a fellow student at El Camino College, where I was taking auto shop classes at the time. Within a year I had it running and driving with a warmed-over 302 and beefed C4 trans.
Around this time I became friends with a fellow named Timothy Iskenderian, who happens to be the youngest son of legendary cam grinder Ed Iskenderian. He introduced me to Brotherhood Raceway Park, the now-defunct Terminal Island drag strip established by legendary street racer the late “Big Willie” Robinson.
I had an absolute blast and was hooked. I raced off and on for several more years on the weekends until 1999 when Cougie’s tired engine finally gave up the ghost. I wanted desperately to bring the car back to life- this time as a dedicated drag racing machine. Sadly, that never happened due to a combination of budget and schedule. Being both a reliable friend and a dutiful son also sharply reduced my wrenching time. In the summer of 2012 I reluctantly sold it to a young man who was eager for a Cougar project.
As I watched it roll away on the back of a tow dolly, a realized that a big piece of my youthful dreams was rolling away with it. My regret was short-lived, however, as I already had this ’72 Ventura waiting in the wings.
During the summer of 2009, I spotted this ’72 Ventura in the “CARS FOR SALE” section of Ecology Auto Wrecking. Its price had already been marked down to $875, and I knew what that meant. If it didn’t sell at that price, the next step was being placed out in the yard where it would be parted out and its gutted shell crushed.
Although the GM X-body is not my first choice for a muscle machine, they’re still somewhat cheap to buy, replacement parts are cheap and plentiful, they’re fairly lightweight, and they swallow a big-block with ease. All those factors make these cars excellent dual-purpose machines for the track on Saturday night, and church on Sunday morning. There were a bunch of guys swarming around it like vultures on a zebra carcass, but I was the only one with the cash. Not missing a beat, I paid the $100 deposit and paid the balance a week later. I had it towed to my apartment garage, where it stayed for a year as I tinkered with it.
Due to my plans for it, I made all the alterations necessary for turning it into a proper street/strip car. I completely redid the brake system with all new hydraulic and hard parts. I installed new Auto Meter gauges, and started running wires and relays for all the stuff a car of this type typically has- electric fuel pump, electric cooling fan, aftermarket gauges, nitrous system, exhaust cutouts, high-energy ignition, vacuum pump ( for proper power brake and auto trans operation with a lumpy cam ), and a separate vacuum pump for the crankcase evacuation system.
Using a nylon dead-blow hammer, I carefully flattened the rear inner fender lips to provide clearance for wide tires without rubbing. Inside, I partially refurbished the interior, installing new dash pad, a billet steering wheel mount kit, and refurbishing the factory plastic dash bezel. I also ditched the factory sheetmetal screws and reassembled the dash with stainless machine screws and lock nuts to prevent anything from getting jarred loose during those hard wheels-up launches I planned to do.
I also installed these snazzy Weld Draglite wheels that I had originally purchased for the Cougar, and shod them with brand new Kelly HP4000 radials, 205/65R15 in the front and 245/60R15 in the rear. Alternately, I planned on buying a second pair of Welds shod with Mickey Thompson Front Runners and either BFG Drag Radials or Hoosier Quick Time drag slicks at the rear for track days, but that never happened. The Welds and Kellys have since been sold and I have a complete set of fat n’ skinny steelies with generic dog dish hubcaps to take their place.
You can tell a lot about a person by what’s in their vehicle. When my prize was carted home, I immediately started rummaging through it and found some interesting things. Among the stuff I found in the trunk included numerous beer bottles ( some full, some empty ), an old wooden skateboard, a backpack containing an empty 1-liter bottle of tequila and a large candle, countless empty guitar string packages, an old, dirty “STUSSY” baseball cap, and a piece of plywood with carpet glued to it. Inside, there were several beer bottle caps decoratively glued to the underside of the roof, and the ashtrays were crammed with cigarette butts and even an empty condom wrapper (!) .
Put all that stuff together, and a pretty clear profile of this car’s previous owner emerges. He was most likely young ( 18-30 ), liked to party, liked to skate and surf, had some musical talent, was most likely unemployed or underemployed, didn’t have much money, and may have had problems with alcohol and / or drugs. For his former ride to end up at the scrappers’ with his personal property still inside, and with the general state that the car was in, it doesn’t paint a very pretty picture of the past owner’s eventual fate.
This guy apparently wasn’t much of a mechanic either. This car suffered some of the worst neglect, abuse, and mechanical kludgery that I’ve ever seen in my life. At some time the original steel fuel line must have cracked or rusted through, because the previous owner fabbed a new one from copper. Problem is, he did it half-ass. I guess he couldn’t get it bent quite right and became frustrated, because he cut the line in two places and spliced it back together with rubber hose. It wasn’t even proper fuel hose- it was the cheap thinwall stuff used for aquarium pumps. Making matters worse, he had one of those cheap clear plastic fuel filters dangling dangerously close to the exhaust manifold. Pontiac flambe’, anyone?
The fun doesn’t end there. The exhaust downpipe is artfully tied to the manifold using wire hanger on both sides, apparently after the factory studs either broke or pulled out. Unbelievable. When the rubber front subframe bushings began to disintegrate from age, wear, and tear, he wrapped SPEAKER WIRE around them in a valiant but futile effort to hold the hard, brittle chunks together. I wish I were making this up.
The final coup de grace came courtesy of the poor tire selection and the damage that resulted. This car was shod with dinky little 185/70R14 radials. Say… let’s put severely undersized tires on a 3400 lb. car with sagging springs, pile 2-3 people in the back seat, load all our stuff in the trunk, and go for a ride. What could go wrong??? A lot could go wrong, and it did. This guy must have had a bad habit of jumping curbs or going off-road, because the gas tank is thoroughly bashed in, along with the trunk floor being pushed up a couple of inches.
This guy isn’t just a hack, he’s a menace.
Despite those problems, the car really isn’t in bad shape. The exterior sheetmetal is all original, mostly straight, and almost completely rust free except for a tiny bit of rot at the bottom rear of the wheel arches where dirt gets slung up by the rear tires and trapped in the little pockets there. The heater / defroster switch is broken, but I’m not worried about that. The interior panels and back seat are in good shape. The front bench is trashed, but if the car doesn’t sell I’m putting buckets in it anyway. The car’s biggest fault bodywise is the slightly munched front bumper. So far, no one makes reproduction bumpers for Venturas, so having the original straightened and rechromed is my only option unless I find a clean, straight used one somewhere.
With visions of an appearance on the TV shows Pass Time and Pinks all Out dancing in my head, my next planned step was yanking the tired 250 I6 and dead Powerglide out and shoving a really nasty big-block in between the front fenders once I completely rebuilt the front suspension and replaced the rotten subframe bushings. I had even bought a slightly used, recently rebuilt Turbo 400 trans to go behind this mythical monster engine. That’s right about when my quest for quarter-mile glory hit the wall.
For a couple of years, I had been keeping the Poncho in my parents’ garage. It was a perfect arrangement. My dad parks his car in the driveway since maneuvering in and out of the garage is a bit awkward due to the way the property is laid out. Whenever I was over there visiting or fixing something for them, I could just stroll out to the garage and mess with the car a bit.
That all changed due to my dad’s mail-order shopping habit. Within a few years, my dad’s numerous purchases began to overwhelm the house, to the point of being a safety hazard. Eventually all his boxes and boxes of stuff were banished to the garage, where they fought for space with the car. My mom became increasingly concerned that my 85 year-old father would trip, fall, and hurt himself while trying to squeeze between the car and all his bounty, so the car got evicted. It went to my friend’s outdoor storage facility in Gardena, Ca., where it remains to this day, sitting next to my ’71 GMC Sprint.
This car’s future is rather uncertain. Every time I’ve tried to work on it, fate has always conspired against me in one way or another. Whether it’s rescuing a stranded friend, getting caught up in another one of my parents’ home/garden projects, or fighting some sort of illness, something would always happen to stop me from going near it. The last time that I planned to do a marathon wrenching session on it, I got nailed with an especially nasty stomach flu that left me bedridden and bathroom-bound for five days, including all Presidents’ Day weekend.
Right now I have this car listed on Craigslist and have gotten a few inquiries, but no serious offers. In any case, this car will not be scrapped or parted out. If it doesn’t sell as is, expect to see it at Bob’s Big Boy or Irwindale Raceway sometime in the future. Hopefully.