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 

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