A Pair of Pontiacs | Frank Falzon's 1966 GTO & 1974 Formula Firebird
Words Karlee Sangster Photography Luke Ray
This article first appeared in Fuel Magazine issue 22.
Frank Falzon has American gasoline running through his veins. His love for US muscle has seen him own some wild machines over the years, culminating in the two beauties that we have here. He’s also the president of the Camaro Firebird Owners Club of Australia Inc. and a busy family man. His current rides are a 1966 Pontiac GTO and a 1974 Pontiac Formula Firebird.
To fully understand Frank’s passion and history with US muscle cars, we need to go back to the beginning. Frank tells the story:
“My first car was a 1969 Mazda 1500 with a four-speed shifter on the column, like my dad’s, which he still owns today. I loved anything with two doors, going from a Gemini Coupe with Webers and a cam, to two hot Datsun 1600s (four doors but fun cars), an RX 4 coupe, an LC GTR Torana, a 1975 HJ GTS coupe that had twin fours through the hood on a quick 327 Chev and four-speed. Then a red 1968 convertible Camaro which led to my Current 1974 Pontiac Formula Firebird. I was driving a 1965 Chev Belair as my daily driver for seven years, but we sold that to start our family in something more comfortable (a Commodore) and finally when we could we purchased the GTO. It took us eleven years to do a full body-off restoration.”
A long-standing member of the Camaro Firebird Owners Club of Australia (and two-time president), Frank certainly isn’t short on knowledge, experience and skills. He and his family (wife Danielle, twins Brittany and Jade and son Karl) have all put the time into bringing each car up to standard. The GTO however, is in a class of its own. “It was converted to right-hand drive in the mid-‘60s when it first arrived in Australia. The car resided in Wollongong for quite a while. I found it there, towed it home and started the restoration,” says Frank. “It started as a two and a half year project but ended up being eleven years! Once we got in there we decided to do a full body off restoration. It was rough but still salvageable. All the panels on the car except for the bonnet are still the originals. I did all the welding and bodywork. I’m a metalworker by trade, so that helped.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. Finding the right engine for the GTO proved a challenge that Frank creatively overcame. “It should have had a 389 in it, but it didn’t have one when I bought it. It had a 350 Buick motor in it which wasn’t even running. We pulled that out and put in a reconditioned 400. Finding pistons and other parts for a 400 was hard but there were stroker kits. We bought a 461 Butler stroker kit. Butler is a Pontiac specialist in the States, he’s the expert. We had the kit shipped over with a cam and a few other bits and pieces and I assembled everything. Tri-Power Carburetors and an aluminium manifold instead of cast iron for a little weight saving. It runs standard heads, Keith Black pistons, forged and balanced, and a Doug Nash 4+1 5 speed gearbox, factory Hurst shifter and a 9” rear end with discs.” A 2 ½ Magnaflow exhaust system helps it all breathe and the wheels are Rally 2s from a ‘67 model. “I like the look of these better than the ‘66 wheels,” says Frank. “The fronts are 7x15, the rears are 8x15 and there are 295/50 15 tyres on the back.” He’s certainly got an eye for detail.
With the mechanics sorted, Frank and the family turned their attention to the aesthetics. “The front seats were reupholstered, the backs were still in good condition so they’re still original. We re-did the headlining and bought the manual console from Melbourne at the same time that we bought the bonnet. We reconditioned the dash as the wood grain wasn’t doing so well when we bought the car. Then we made a whole new dash panel and had it covered and lacquered.”
The GTO certainly turns heads with its distinctive paint job. “It’s a custom mix red that our twin girls designed. The girls have been really good, they helped out quite a lot with this car,” he says proudly. “Autolac helped us find the colour, mixing different combinations, the paint brand is DeBeers and the car was painted by the Fuda Bros.”
It’s been a mammoth job and Frank’s quick to highlight the important role his family members played. “Danielle helped me with many decisions and actual labour on the car, and her father Dennis gave me his MIG Welder and always wanted to help. Brittany and Jade were there every step of the way doing everything they could and my son Karl started me on my way on the bodywork. He’s also a car guy, and a panel beater by trade. Karl owns a 1982 ten-second Mazda RX-7, so his loyalty lies there! But he loves driving the Firebird and is a very good driver, he had a Skyline that he circuit raced then drifted it and now has set up his RX-7 for drifting.”
While Frank is adamant that the GTO was a restoration project, experts will notice some unorthodox details. “I kept some of the body chrome off the car during the restoration,” admits Frank. “The ‘66 should have thick chrome strips running along the lower body of the car from front to back on both sides. I still have them, in perfect condition, but I thought this car looked better without them.
There are also some chrome details around the rear lights that I kept off for the same reason. The power window switches are all in the console, hidden away instead of on the doors. The stereo and air-con controls are in the glovebox to be out of sight too.” It’s this eye for detail, combined with Frank’s knowledge and confidence that have created a truly impressive car.
But wait, there’s more. Sharing garage space with the GTO is Frank’s second pride and joy – his Firebird. One of only 14,000 made, the Firebird was released in four different models. The basic issue was a six-cylinder or 350 Pontiac, the Esprit was the luxury variant, the Formula was stripped out with a big motor and the Trans Am was the circuit racer. Frank’s had his Formula since 1987. “I had a ‘68 Camaro convertible before that. I traded it in on the Firebird as I was about to go travelling in Europe and the States. I bought a lot of parts for it whilst I was there and brought them back and started assembling the car,” he recalls.
“It’s got real Simmons wheels. I tracked them down and found them. The engine is a 455 bored to make it a 462. It’s got a Turbo 350, a standard diff, a 2 ¼” exhaust system and an automatic transmission,” Frank says. “The bonnet is factory fibreglass.”
The black beauty certainly doesn’t just sit pretty in the shed either. “We raced it at Motorkhana, took it drag racing and it clocked in at 12 seconds,” Frank beams. “Motorkhana was lots of fun. We weren’t there to compete, just to have a good time. This car’s very responsive… It doesn’t take much to get some noise out of the tyres.” Although the Firebird wasn’t a ground up restoration, Frank says it’s almost become one over the years. “I have been through the whole car area by area instead of all at once. She’s been around a long time, I’ll never sell this car. In fact I’ll never sell either of them.”
The cars are driven regularly and there’s no shortage of club events to attend. “The club has been going for twenty nine years and we average around a hundred members,” says Frank. “We have a monthly Cruise Night where we invite all American cars. We attend car shows, go for weekends away like the Chev Nationals and we’ve got a Muscle Car event this Easter in Tumut, NSW. There are drive-in nights and cruises to different places like Kangaroo Valley or up to the Blue Mountains.”
With two projects now complete, Frank can sit back and revel in the fact that he owns two significant pieces of automotive history. Two cars, three decades and some major blood, sweat and tears have clearly paid off. One can only wonder what’s next.