Games of chance have had a foothold in society dating as far back as we can remember. From simple street corner shell games to statewide lotteries, and even the exotic glitz and glamour of gambling parlors in Vegas, there’s just something about the excitement and entertainment they offer. Sometimes for the cost of a ticket, you can dream of what it might be like to hit it big.
Now for every large lottery there are countless smaller games of chance called raffles whose proceeds often benefit a particular cause to help those less fortunate. Brian Lutz and his team at Full House Motorsports (who also produce the North East Rod & Custom Car Show) wanted to do something to assist our military veterans who sometimes suffer debilitating injuries while serving. The team wanted to work with well-known builders and parts manufacturers to produce a car that could be raffled off to benefit those in need. After reviewing a number of causes, they chose to work with Operation Homefront whose mission is to provide emergency assistance to our service members and wounded warriors. Since its inception, Operation Homefront has provided over $92 million in funding to benefit military families. Putting the gears in motion to build a one-off custom car is no small feat, especially in a six-month time frame. In fact getting the job done in time could be a gamble, hence the name of the project . . . “The Gambler.”
Wanting the raffle car to be something special, Lutz scoured For Sale ads till he came across a rarely seen ’53 Pontiac Chieftain. Within it he saw the opportunity to create a memorable build that would infuse plenty of visual excitement once it was completed. Having seen many of the countless design innovations emerging from Back Bay Customs in Portland, Maine, he set up a meeting with owners Paul White Sr. and Jonathan White to discuss potential ideas. Long known for building customs with an edge, the pair embraced the idea of supporting the cause and immediately began discussing build concepts with Lutz. A number of their latest efforts have included morphing ’50s-era cars with modern driveline platforms to create a new generation of car that is equal parts custom and pro touring known at Back Bay as custom touring. True to Back Bay’s philosophy, their cars not only look wicked being chopped and slammed to the ground, they also handle like race cars laden with big-inch horsepower. Embracing the concept ideas for the Pontiac, Lutz had it shipped to Back Bay to get the project started. Once the car arrived however, it was found to be far too rusty to proceed with. A search turned up a clean ’54 Pontiac Chieftain in nearby Maryland, which fit the bill and a deal was made for it. Wanting to keep the build all Pontiac, an ’06 Pontiac GTO was located as a perfect donor car for its platform and driveline. Melding the two cars together is no small task, especially when on a deadline. Back Bay team members Adam Clayman and Alan Berry got busy by first commencing surgery on the GTO by stripping the car of its engine, transmission, suspension, wiring, and interior. Being a unibody structure, the body was then separated from its platform and reviewed for necessary wheelbase adjustments to fit the ’54. The ’54 was then stripped, separated from its chassis, and had its floors removed to await the fitment of the GTO platform. To enable the GTO to work with the Chieftain, its wheelbase was stretched 7-3/4 inches from the rear floor at the B-pillar to mirror the wheelbase of the ’54. From there the body was lowered onto the platform where structural members were fabricated and added to tie the body and the platform together with square steel tubing from all sides.