Thursday, June 1, 2017

1978 Ford Fairmont Futura aka Gila Monster: Dreamcar build with a junkyard heart

Before and after photos comparing Mike Matkosky’s custom Cyclone build.

Thinking outside the box. An unusual orange car was drawing a crowd at a Birmingham, Alabama cruise night gathering. When I walked up, the owner, Mike Matkosky was fielding questions from a steady stream of people, both fascinated and confused by his 1978 Ford Futura. It was a U.F.O. – an unidentified Ford object. I had to take a closer look at this one-of-a-kind custom.
Once an unassuming econo-box from 1978, now a beast with a junkyard drivetrain and an Australia head.

History of the Gila Monster
  Matkosky found his build-worthy Futura on Craigslist. It was your typical “little old lady’s car” from Gila River, Arizona. Price for the rust free, pale yellow Ford with a baked interior: $1500. Transportation to Alabama: $600.
  The “Gila Monster” Futura was born. Fate named the car for the large, poisonous, orange and black lizard. Matkosky brought it to life.
  “He’s an ugly, little dude from Arizona that’s slow moving,” Matkosky said. “My Fairmont is considered ugly. Various shades of yellow, black, and orange and it’s from Arizona. I’d say I’ve got a bona fide Gila Monster.”  

The hand-built intake manifold resembles a BMW factory piece.
What is it? The engine is a 250-cubic inch I-6 with an aluminum Australian head and 66mm turbo. The hand-built intake manifold resembles a BMW factory piece. A lot going on under the skin.

Engine question answered, again and again
  The gathering masses were perplexed and didn’t know what to make of the custom monster in orange with the bizarre turbo inline-six cylinder engine. This was no ordinary paint and insert your belly button engine — i.e., small block Ford/Chevy, Coyote, or LS engine swap. When the hood lifted, a never-before-seen (to this crowd anyway), Australian crossflow head crowned the 250-cu. inch Maverick block that was hauled out of a junkyard in Bessemer. The handmade intake manifold stirred talk that a BMW M3 engine was the source of power. Well, it was either visually similar to an M3 engine or because the owner was wearing a BMW brand on his shirt.
  Matkosky, a product specialist for BMW, (ah-ha!) answered the engine question repeatedly. Another person would ask him, “what is it?” as soon as he finished telling another person details on the engine. It was fun to watch.

Necessity is the mother of...
  Determined to build the ultimate "Gila Monster," Matkosky drilled out the side of the inline-six block and creating a removable cover plate for the link bar roller lifters and mechanical roller cam. All necessary to use a small-block Ford bellhousing and 4R70W manual shift automatic transmission with the Aussie head. The Australian head, known for higher horsepower and big torque numbers, is crazy talk, unless you’re the guy who has it bad for his Fairmont.   

Dozens of people asked him the origin of the weird engine with the turbo.
Mike Matkosky holds court answering questions about the engine in his "Gila Monster" Ford Fairmont Futura.

Cyclone of ideas, surgery
 Matkosky’s goal was to make this Futura the only one of its kind on the planet. Every panel, inside and out, wears Matkosky’s custom signature – flawless planning, detailed execution, and a penchant for swimming upstream. The car has been cut and reshaped with major reconstructive surgery throughout. 
  The full custom interior is a weathered leather wonderland, with metal-finish elements that would seem at home in a Matrix movie. A digital dash signals critical info to the driver in glowing red lights. Performance-issue bucket seats serve only two occupants at a time in the Gila Monster. The rear seating area is used for audio stimulation only. The backseat space was needed for duct work for the twin, rear-mounted, air-to-water intercoolers. Fans suck air through the radiators via gills located in front of the rear tires. The forced air exits through vents in top of trunk.

Door panels worthy of a six-figure show car.  

Say my name
  Eight months into the 3.5 year build, which is still not complete per Matkosky, he decided to brand the car a “Cyclone” borrowing the name from Mercury. 
  “How many Fairmont purists are in the world that I gotta worry about offending by changing my Ford over to a Mercury?” said Matkosky. “And how many are gonna picket me for taking a long dead namesake and slapping it on my car?” 
  Cyclone lettering and decals add a provenance that the “Gila Monster” name couldn’t offer. 

A mahogany Grant steering wheel is one of the many budget-friendly pieces on the Gila Monster.
Driving designs
  Outside the Futura’s cocoon, scoops on the hood and vents for the intercooler on the decklid amplify the one-off mystic. Gills were added behind the doors above the rocker panels to feed/suck air to the heat exchangers. Out back, vintage-looking Mustang Cobra tail lights burn with bright, LED, sequential turn signals. The original aluminum bumpers have been massaged to integrate with the body better. The rear wing looks right at home out back and the black finish compliments the splitter ends under the front bumper. The black winged splitters were built to complete the visual by extending the twin, external oil cooler design up front. Almost forgetting, Matkosky’s drag racing roots required him to mini-tub the thing to get fatter tires out back.

Gills were added to the Gila Monster, as functional design elements for the rear mounted intercoolers, via skillful TIG welding.

Cyclone centerpiece is made of steel and flanked by Shelby tail lights.

Everything about Gila Monster
  Matkosky tolerated a half dozen of my questions before he told me that everything I’d want to know about the car was on forum. 
  “The thread has 285-pages, plenty to read,” said Matkosky. 
  I soon dove into the details on the forum, but I’m far from finishing. There is so much that I didn’t cover, you owe it to him to read it. Really! The build is indexed and provides humor and insight for anyone willing to tackle a similar project. The quality of the work, ingenuity, and creativity is outstanding. A showstopper worthy of magazine, and feature car show accolades.
  It’s amazing what you can do with an old 1978 Fairmont with an engine block and transmission from a junkyard.

Jody Potter
— Junkyard Life

Mike Matkosky, the creator of the Gila Monster Futura.

A 1969 Mercury Cyclone emblem accents the grill.

Distressed leather is wrapped throughout the interior.

Cool lines baby! The reshaped Fairmont looks mean after extensive surgery.

Matkosky estimates that the boosted 250-cubic inch engine makes 350-400 horsepower. No dyno time yet, only 300 miles since streetable.

Air dam, splitter, whatever you call it, it keeps the design of twin, external oil coolers fluid. Looks aerodynamically sound to me.

Heat escapes through the rear mounted heat exchangers and up and out of the decklid.

Bumper ends were reworked all around. The 1970s were known for their bombastic battering ram bumpers. Not here.

Quarter panel skins have been smoothed. One of the body lines no longer extend from doors back. Gives the body a chunkier feel.

Property seating for track duty. Monster speaker setup in rear as well.

Rear wing looks functional and reinforced with industrial strength steel.

Beware the Shelby lights, if you see them on a Futura, it’s the one and only Gila Monster Cyclone.

Unmistakable quarter windows on Fairmont Futuras.

Matkosky’s creation recently made its  debut on the cruise night scene in Birmingham, Alabama.


Junkyard donor engine (250-Inline six) from a Ford Maverick prior to removal.

Tail light lenses blew off during transport from Arizona to Alabama.

Grandma-fresh 1978 Ford Futura interior.

Big bumper before the surgery.

Original Ford Fairmont Futura drivetrain was not the key selling point for Matkosky.

Headliner sag... sweet memories.

Check out Matkosky’s YouTube channel (below) for more build progress moments. And if you want more custom madness from Mike Matkosky see his Resto Mod 1989 Mustang.

Dyou have a custom creation built with junkyard parts? Classic or muscle car barn find? Send us details and we’re on the way!  Send emails to 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Cars in Yards: 1967 Mercury Cougar

Green without envy. Jack stands held the 1967 Cougar’s nose high and prevented its wheels from sinking into the earth. That was my first clue that somebody still cared for the car. I saw the Mercury in John Thomas’ yard. His home, located down a seldom traveled road in north Alabama is one that passersby rarely make a habit of stopping at to inquire about old vehicles. But, I’m not one to pass up an old car in the weeds. I needed a closer look.

Distinctive tail lights on the classy 1967 Mercury Cougar.
  John Thomas knew that the time to find the Cougar a new home had long since passed. I met Thomas, a certified country gentleman, after making friends with his two large hunting dogs. The dogs slowed my approach to the front porch and made a lot of noise. Thomas hollered at the dogs as he peered through the screen door. We talked cars, family, and gardening. He gave me permission to look at the Mercury. Yes, the car was for sale.

The Cougar retains all the interior parts along with a few piles of trash.
Cougar interior complete and loaded with options. 

Walk around 
  Raising the Cougar off the ground is a common tool used in outdoor automotive preservation. Moving the steel belly of a car as far away from the moisture in the dirt is always a good idea. It’s said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Bricks on the other hand, found scattered across the car, failed as adequate support for the withering tarp used to shield the ’67 Mercury Cougar. 
  The fender, and cowl area were damaged when a tree limb sledge-hammered the bricks into the Inverness Green Mercury. The busted-up windshield adding insult to injury. Keeping water out and away from a classic car is mandatory when it lives under the stars.

Tires all flat.
A good looking color combo with the green and white.

Too good to be true
  A dynamic visual combination of white top, green paint, white interior, and 5-spoke Cragar mags. Most of the paint looked shiny and still clung to the body. I could easily imagine how good this car looked a few decades ago. The tag above the rear bumper dated 1991. A time when Thomas’ daughter drove the car to high school. 
  The years since those high school glory years had not been kind to the metal on the flanks and belly of the Mercury. Rust and varmints had set-up shop in the trunk.  

1991 is the year on the license plate.

Was it worth buying?
It’s been five years since I took these photos and balked at Thomas’ modest asking price. Too much work for a run-of-the-mill Cougar, I thought. I dug the photos up last week and gave him a call. Thomas didn’t remember me
  “I sold the car to a neighbor,” Thomas said. “He’s gonna restore it. What is it you want?” 
  I ended the out-of-the-blue phone call after a few of my follow-up questions were brushed off. I guess I just wanted to know that somebody saved the car. Whether it was to be restored or harvested for parts. 
  I dropped the ball but I can sleep a little easier now.

Jody Potter
— Junkyard Life

2-barrell carburetor and stock everything under the hood.
A 289-V8 engine with 2-barrel carburetor under the hood of the ’67 Cougar.
1967 Cougar showing 37,699 miles, but probably rolled over once.

Source: Cougar Club of America, Marti Auto Works

Not a good idea when storing outside where tree limbs can damage the car.
Bricks were used to hold tarp on top of the Cougar.
Can you spot the hidden Cougar? Mercury built more than 150,00 in 1967.

Style in spades - hideaway headlights on the first gen Cougar.

Old cars in yards tend to gather debris inside over time.

White interior still looks complete.
Back seat is full of the same – trash and various junk.

Protecting the vinyl top, notorious for trapping moisture, was a top priority.

A cement mixer and various equipment surround the one-time family car.

How the ’67 Cougar looked when I first saw it.

Mustang genetics are evident but Cougars were sold as an upscale man’s car. This one wears aftermarket Cragar 5-spoke wheels.

Paint looked good from 50-feet away, but rust visible on hood where green peeled off. Pans, cancer under the vinyl and quarter panel and trunk issues scared me away.

Cougar emblem hiding atop the hideaway headlight cover.
Look close at any possible project car you find. You may discover a diamond in the rough.

Dyou have a classic or muscle car barn find? Send us details and we’re on the way!  Send emails to 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

1970 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser in the Georgia woods really stinks

The weathered wagon has all it roof glass intact, not so much on the tail gate.
Cruising the woods for a Vista. Finding a 1970 Vista Cruiser in the woods is unlikely. Our dream wagon viewed in the wild. Would you brave nature for a rare Oldsmobile wagon? We would! We did! It was indeed a Vista Cruiser that I dubbed “The Green Wagon of Green Envy and Green Ivy” during our deep woods exploration in Georgia. One glance, and the unmistakable mirrored-glass roof, had us charging through the trees for a closer look.

  It has been noted that, apparently, Junkyard Life spends a lot of time in the woods. Our adventure-prone staff of car dorks really pay our dues to do what we love. I (Ron) don’t mind the potential snake sighting, but hate the heat. Anthony hates snakes, but does not mind the heat. Jody tolerates the heat, but seems to attract ticks and mosquitoes. Keith isn’t thrilled about either extreme temperature and has a talent for finding sticker bushes and briers. We would endure all of that and more for a chance to crawl around a cool Vista Wagon like this one. 

Even covered in years pine straw the shiny roof rack gleams.
Covered in mounds of pine straw the shiny roof rack gleams like a crown atop the 1970 Olds Vista Cruiser.

Vista wagon at a glance 
  There is a lot to notice on this 1970 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser. First up, this weathered wagon is in the woods. Here we are again! After applying a large amount of insect repellent we begin to dive into the details that once made this wagon a little special. Our Vista radars picked up on the famous roof glass from a distance. We absolutely love these roof lines and everything about them (see fun facts). 
Something stinks
  The seeing part only got better from there. That is the seeing and not the smelling. Something died under, or very near, this awesome wagon (what a way to go!) and it let us know with quite a stench. Shoo-wee.

Ron Kidd surveys his dream ’70 Vista Cruiser wagon in the woods.  A quick way to tell this is a 1970 model is the tail lights. The “tell tail” sign is the tiny silver trim on the ridges. A classy touch indeed, and highly sought after by us Vista guys.

Glass is busted on the tailgate but the VIsta glass is still intact.
  Next, take note of the way cool rear air deflector. Darn it, another thing we Vista guys want. Stay tuned to Junkyard Life for a future investigation on what these rear spoilers actually did. Were they to fend off toxic exhaust fumes to allow fair weather cruising with the rear window down? Was it a wind noise thing? Was it purely aesthetic?

This had to be a 455-powered beast.
  An odd color combination to be sure. The Vista wears light green paint with dark green interior. Add the wood grain and this combination was a surefire winner when new. Also, 1970 models had a better chance of having a 12-bolt rear with the optional limited-slip differential. I have noticed that most of the 12-bolt Olds units were not posi-traction. Judging from the host of other options, this had to be a 455-powered beast.

Despite the stench, we did get close enough to confirm a couple of things that made us jealous. Power windows! Most Vista Cruisers came with a power rear window. That usually means one power window and four more with manual cranks. Not in this case! Buzz me up-buzz me down. Those rich folks….
  This wagon is packing quite a list of options. Despite the stench, we did get close enough to confirm a couple of things that made us jealous. Power windows! Most Vista Cruisers came with a power rear window. That usually means one power window and four more with manual cranks. Not in this case! Buzz me up-buzz me down. Those rich folks…must have been a hefty price.

Jealous again
  Next on my jealous Vista guy list is the cruise control. The power switch was mounted on the lower dash beside the power rear window switch. We could only take quick oxygen-deprived mini glances at this wagon, but judging from this picture, surprisingly it did not have a tilt column. Cruise control, but no tilt wheel?  Well, ours doesn’t have those either — yet.

Despite the stench, we did get close enough to confirm a couple of things that made us jealous. Power windows! Most Vista Cruisers came with a power rear window. That usually means one power window and four more with manual cranks. Not in this case! Buzz me up-buzz me down. Those rich folks….
See the power window switch? The vent windows were still manual. I am inclined to believe that power vent windows were never a thing on Cutlass or Vista wagons.

I went to the woods...
  So once again, Junkyard Life takes to the woods and returns with a camera full of fruitful bounty. Inspiration to move forth on our own 1972 Vista wagon project was found. We love station wagons and we adore Oldsmobile’s entry into the mid-size wagon market with their almost exclusive window glass. This hefty classic could have been taken over the scales, but has evaded the crusher. Hopefully, someone like us will acquire it. Someone very much like us. Okay, actually us. We can hope.

Ron Kidd
— Junkyard Life

Ron’s Vista Cruiser Fun Facts:
  • The first Olds Vista Cruiser wagon was introduced in 1964. It was a huge hit – adding a sporty feel to a family car.
  • The Vista Cruiser was among the first station wagons to have a forward facing third-row seat. Noted for safety reasons, this was a plus for parents. But more fun for children, as they liked the rear facing third seats to help with shenanigans.  
  • The Vista Cruiser was so named because of the famous roof glass. The word “vista” means view.
  • There was one other wagon GM offered with the Vista Glass – the Buick Sport Wagon. However, the run on Buick was cut short by two year models when they discontinued the Buick Sport Wagon in 1970.
  • Even though the Vista Cruiser was technically still in production after 1972, wagon enthusiast tend to get less excited because 1973 and later Vista Cruisers did not have roof glass.
  • An elusive option, most often found on 1972 wagons, is the mirrored roof glass that deflects heat.
  • Reproduction roof glass for Vista Cruisers at this time is not being reproduced and owners get very nervous in storms.
  • The Vista Cruiser has been a Hollywood favorite. The way cool wagon has made appearances in several TV shows and movies: The Fall Guy, The Richie Rich Movie, That 70’s Show, Swingtown, and Miss March to name a few.
  • Most Vista Cruisers came with the Dual-Action tailgate. This cool option allowed the rear door to swing open like a door, or to fold flat out, like a tailgate. It even had a special section of the bumper that opens to allow the user to have a step to access the optional roof rack.  
  • Sitting in the middle seat of a Vista Cruiser is a treat. The combination of the rear roof glass and the Vista window give you the feeling of having no window at all and a great view of the world on a clear night.

The ’70 Olds Vista Cruiser was among dozens of Oldsmobiles that the owner had collected on his property in Georgia.

This cool option allowed the rear door to swing open like a door, or to fold flat out, like a tailgate. It even had a special section of the bumper that opens to allow the user to have a step to access the optional roof rack.
The rear bumper has a hidden step that opens to allow the user to step up to access the optional roof rack.

Windows abound.
Windows abound from inside the rear of the 1970 Olds Vista Cruiser.

Do you have a classic or muscle car barn find? Got a cool car story? Send us details and we’re on the way!  Send emails to Ron Kidd at & Jody Potter at