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.”
Gleaming from the plating tanks at Paul’s Chrome, a ’53 Pontiac mascot adorns the hood of
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.
Underhood is pure art melding the highly detailed ’06 GTO LS2 V-8 in place complemented by
Seeing the cutting-edge ’06 GTO interior reworked to fit the Chieftain truly melds the ’50
The custom dash top pad works flawlessly with the dramatic GTO instrumentation, console, a
Custom-machined ’50 Pontiac taillights fit perfectly to the stock bezels of the ’54 while
To get the car rolling, the stock GTO IRS and rearend packed with 3.46:1 cogs were detailed and reinstalled along with a set of Megan Racing coilover shocks for crisper handling. Up front, the stock GTO IFS MacPherson strut suspension was detailed and tweaked by a pair of Megan Racing coilover shocks linked to factory spindles and rack-and-pinion steering. Taming the beast is easy with fluid pushed through steel lines to factory four-wheel disc brakes. Adding plenty of dazzle to the mix, a set of 18-inch front and 19-inch rear Rushforth Rated-X series wheels shod with Michelin rubber sets a killer stance. When it comes to power, Pontiac gave the GTO plenty of hustle by bolting in an injected LS2 V-8 generating 400 hp linked to a Tremec T56 six-speed manual transmission. To add even more punch to the party, ATI ProCharger stepped up and provided one of their twin-intercooled ProCharger systems. Installed by Derek White at Street Visions in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, the engine was then dialed in by Dale Cherry at the Injection Connection in Horsham, Pennsylvania, who dynoed it to a very respectable 600 hp screaming through a custom exhaust system by Back Bay and complemented by mufflers from Pypes of Hatfield, Pennsylvania. Everyone knows if you’re building a custom, you had better get your proportions perfect. The team of Clayman and Berry from Back Bay injected plenty of visual impact into the coupe by first chopping the top 3 inches followed by extending the forward section of the rear tailfins by 7 inches. They continued by pie-cutting the hood 1-3/4 inches, shaving the body side trim, adding a ’53 Pontiac grille, shaving and reshaping the bumpers, and reworking the taillights to accept ’50 Pontiac units. Finally, the sheetmetal was massaged by Clayman then handed over to team member Rick Flynn who prepped the body to perfection before laying down a lustrous coating of DuPont black cherry pearl vibe.
Talk about comfort, the rear seating area was treated to a pair of matching custom bucket
With the car entering the final assembly stages it was time to focus on creating an interior to match the car’s newfound personality. To bring cutting-edge technology into the interior, the Back Bay team created a fresh upper dash from sheetmetal and incorporated the GTO’s mid and lower dash in place with all of the factory instrumentation as well as utilizing the floor shift and console. The car was then delivered to GilliN Custom Design in Middletown, New York, for an amazing transformation in just nine short days. Yards of butter-soft cream leather wrapped modified GTO front buckets and custom rear bucket seats in a classic design. Door panels, seat backs, and the headliner were then treated to complementing cream suede along with just enough black cherry carpet to accent the color scheme. The final icing came from the team at Serious about Sound in Coopersburg, Pennsylvania, who deftly matched the factory Bose head unit with amps, speakers, and trunk-mounted subwoofers from Massive Audio. The completed car is breathtaking and a true testament to the hard work of dedicated individuals who rallied together for a great cause.
Flawless bodywork is accented by mile-deep DuPont black cherry pearl gloss, bringing life
You still have a chance to buy a raffle ticket at www.northeastcustomcarshow.com to try and win the car till Mar. 15, 2012, or you can buy a ticket the weekend of the drawing at the North East Rod & Custom Car Show, in Philadelphia Mar. 23-25, 2012. With 100 percent of the proceeds going to Operation Homefront, it’s a great opportunity to help our troops.