Wednesday, June 28, 2017

1980 Camaro that followed us home

Our Camaro demand. We didn’t actually demand this 1980 Camaro Sport Coupe. It demanded us. It did and it followed us home too. The truth is, we are the worst car negotiators in the world. We told the seller in no uncertain terms he would be better off NOT selling us the car. It would be worth something to someone, just not us. It still wasn’t worth the fraction of the asking price that we paid ten minutes later.

Road trip
   Junkyard Life has a lot of eyes working in our favor. A friend in south Alabama somehow found what he thought was a 1980 Camaro Z28 when he was looking specifically for a 1980 Camaro Z28. Only this one was located in extreme north Alabama. So, to save nine hours of driving the length of the state, he called on us (Ron Kidd, Keith Lively) to go check it out for him. We took a truck and a trailer just in case this was one that he shouldn’t pass up. 
  No worry there, friend. Pass.

T-tops that rattle, busted tail lights and bad paint. What’s not to love?

Identity crisis
  First of all, it wasn’t a Z28. It was a Sport Coupe that had seen better days. The day the world ended would be a better day than the day this car was having. We knew right away our friend did not want this car. This Z wannabe was having an identity crisis to be sure. It was a victim of a butcher who wanted a street racer, despite being a T-Top roof that would twist itself into a pretzel. It also would have a weight disadvantage.

Spare parts
   At some point a 1979 Z28 was involved in the assembled shell of parts that sat before us, seeing as it had a “tear drop” Z28 hood. It also employed a 1979 “130 mph” speedometer. The 1980 model Camaros (even the Z28) had a mandated “85 MPH” speedometer. We can imagine how well that went over with high performance consumers. This street warrior had something we have not seen in a while... traction bars! For our younger readers who don’t know what those are, you didn’t miss a thing. Big and gaudy bars hanging awkwardly from the rear wheels to eliminate wheel hop and give you better traction. In reality, another thing to worry about seeing as the car could get caught on a speed bump, get stuck or rip out the rear axle.

The bronze paint on the 1980 Camaro nose is original issue according to the "80" paint code.

In rust we trust
  We love T-Tops, but these were in terrible shape and made the way for moisture to find its way to eat on those floor pans. Floor pans? They were there. Kind of. So... no. Pass. Thank you for letting us look at it. We don’t want it. 

Looked beyond the grunge. See the sweet, cherry Camaro.

You did what?
  We bought it anyway. To our credit, they were really persuasive salesman and we totally believed the “little old lady/church/grocery store” story. Why? Why would we do that? We really didn’t want it. Well, it so happens Junkyard Life staffer Keith Lively’s dad needs a front subframe for his 1957 Chevy truck project and it did have that. It also had three circa-1982 Z28 wheels. The fourth wheel? It was a 14-inch Oldsmobile Rally wheel. I (Ron) may be able to use a piece of it on our 15-inch SS3 wheels that we love. Also, attached to the aforementioned traction bars was a corporate 10-bolt rear with a chrome cover. Well, it used to be chrome.  “Maybe it has a posi unit!” we said. It wasn’t.
  “Maybe it has a set of desirable gears in it!” we said. It didn’t. 

  My, we Junkyard Life guys are optimistic. Is that why we bought it? Yes, optimism and the rear window with a defroster we may use on a future Pontiac project. Really. more the glass thing. Big sigh.

Ron Kidd

— Junkyard Life

Towing the Camaro back to Keith Lively’s home base. The Money Burner Jeep looks on disapprovingly.

Ron and Keith’s 1980 Camaro Fun Facts:
  • We didn’t want this car. That is a fact.
  • In 1980 over half of all Camaros had the rear window defroster that Ron wanted. 51.3%, thus making it not so rare after all.
  • The 1980 Camaro was only a little more than half as popular as the 1979 model. According to John Gunnell’s Standard Catalog of Camaro book. In 1979 there were 203,904 new Camaros registered in the United States and only 117,164 in 1980.
  • This car was born with a unique color only offered in 1980. Paint code 80: Bronze. A beautiful one year only color that makes it even more of a crime that the car fell into the wrong hands with a renegade paint gun.
  • By 1980, the second generation Camaro had been in production for 10 years and still had another year to go. 1982 marked the beginning of the next generation that would sell on for another ten years.
  • The 1980 Camaro Z28 was offered with a real Cowl Induction hood! This cool hood opened the rear of the hood scoop when the throttle was mashed. I would have done that everywhere I went. How cool!
  • 1980 was the first year the Camaro received the government mandated “85 MPH” speedometer. It was not unusual for people to swap out the new one for any of the older units, like someone did on our car. It has a 1979 “130 MPH” face on it. It made people feel better.
  • We picked up Ron’s daughter from Huntsville’s very classy and affluent Bridge Street mall area with the Camaro in tow. She was less than impressed. That is a fact. We are rather sure she ducked down in her seat before we got out of there.
  • 1980 Camaros that were not lucky enough to get an anemic 305 V8 or a slightly less anemic 350, could have had a new economical V8-the 267. Rated at 120HP – it does not bother us that we have never seen one in a Camaro.
  • 1980 Camaros have more of a following then we thought. We are following the restoration of an 1980 Z28 and our friend in south Alabama was looking specifically for a 1980.

The ’79 Z28 hood vanished before we could load up the ’80 Camaro!

A blue 14-inch Olds wheel could not make the Camaro look worse.

Chrome rear diff cover, well, it’s rust and chrome.

Loaded up an ready to be stripped. All in the name of love. One Camaro gives, so another Camaro lives.

Notice that the fender almost matched the paint on rest of the car? We didn’t either.
    Do you have a classic or muscle car barn find? Got a cool car story about buying a car you didn’t want? Send us details and we’re on the way!  Send emails to Ron Kidd at & Jody Potter at

    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