Tuesday, February 27, 2024
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GREEN ENVY – GREG BALLARD 1960 PONTIAC LAURENTIAN

“I’ve always been into cars, speedboats, and motor bikes,” Greg Ballard tells me as we scout for location sites to shoot his super clean 1960 Pontiac Laurentian. “My first car was a Holden HQ One Tonner with a little 4.2 and four speed manual, then I had a HQ Statesman Deville with a 350 Chev, American stuff came next in the form of a ‘86 Trans Am…. nightrider style,” he grins. “I sold it to buy the Pontiac,” he concludes as we round a bend and pause to take in the sights. 

Like many interviews that I conduct on a regular basis, Greg’s just a regular car guy. What makes this story special though is not the well-executed paintwork, slick interior or stunning location. No, it’s the journey. The journey that becomes a physical and emotional roller coaster, that we take for granted at the time, placing one foot in front of the other, acutely focussed on reaching a self-set destination. But every now and then, pause and enjoy the moment, for that’s exactly what they are; fragments of time never repeated. 

Add an old car into the voyage, along with the people that mean the most, and it’s a trip worth taking, full of surprises with lifelong memories to be made. Let’s rejoin Greg’s journey of how this 1960 Pontiac became part of the Ballard family. 

As a member of the Pontiac Car Club, Greg found inspiration to own a full sized 60s Poncho from admiring other member’s cars, like Mark Goff’s similar styled gunmetal grey version of the same model. Lance Isedale’s 572-powered tubbed two-door example also left a hell of an impression, motivating Greg to initiate a search and retrieve mission for the desired marque. At first he fell in love with the shape of the body, plus it would have more than enough room for kids after it was completed. The fact that he could install a big block into the engine bay with little modification also didn’t go unnoticed. After almost 18 months of searching, with a few red herrings tossed out along the way, he located a suitable contender in Queensland’s rum capital.   

“I bought it from Bundaberg as a stocker in a very neglected state,” Greg explains. “It was unregistered, but I managed to get the small block Chevy started to coax it onto the trailer. Nipple pink with a white roof and red interior with cheese cutter tyres… it was just horrible,” he recalls vividly. 

Battling a barrage of man eating, Bundy-fuelled midgees as he inspected the underside, he was surprised that it wasn’t too bad, considering its age. Back home, the huge hulk was stripped bare by sandblasters, revealing the ugly truth that was previously undetected while swatting ferocious insects.

“A few of the boys came over and we were discussing how far we could take the build when we discovered just how bad the rear quarters were. After they were blasted, we could see all the lower rear was eaten out, along with the bottom three inches of the boot lid, and that it had more hits then Michael Jackson. I didn’t quite realise what I was in for, but all was rectified by Alex Vaarga at A.V. Smash Repairs at Albion Park.”

With the car resembling its factory fresh Fisher bodylines, Alex prepped the acres of sheet metal for its final finish. “I thought of painting it silver or even one of the blues around today, but it’s such a big car I wanted something different that would stand out and make the stainless trim pop.”

Not wanting to relive the horror paint palate of 1960, Greg chose Holden’s Hot House Green to grace the lower exterior while Suburu White Pearl was applied to the rooftop. Looking at the photos of it basking in mid afternoon sun, it certainly ‘pops’!

Other than welding up some unwanted holes and removal of the original antenna, the dominating lines of the factory design have been retained unmolested. Highlighting the hot new hue are miles of original stainless steel body moulds. Although the Pontiac came with all of the hard-to-find Laurentian trim, most of it was in rough condition. Allan McCoy was enlisted to work his magic on the soft brightwork which he massaged back to near perfect condition. A close inspection of the finished exterior will disclose to Pontiac aficionados that not all of the available trimwork found its way back onto the panels, with obvious deletion of the Laurentian name. I guess you could call it a mild custom shave for a cleaner appearance! New chrome also adds to the overall sparkle and was no walk in the park for All Metal Bumpers when you consider the size of the front and rear bars and factor in the die cast lighting surrounds and handles. Expensive? Yes. Worth it? Hell yes!

Thankfully for Greg the chassis was in really good order and with his intention to just build a good cruiser, he didn’t feel the need to separate it from the body to complete the job. “It’s such a heavy car that it was never going to be a drag car. I wanted to build a cruiser with gusto.”

With that in mind Greg used his common sense and retained most of the drivetrain from the gearbox back, albeit with an overhaul. The original 10 bolt diff was completely reconditioned with a tall 2.9:1 limited slip centre, while the trusty Powerglide was treated to a full manual valve body and 3,000 Dominator stall converter by Craig and the boys at Central Coast Automatics in Gosford. 

For the frame itself, Greg gave the complete underbody a thorough clean and repainted it in gunmetal grey before fitting nolathane suspension bushes all round. Providing new attitude to the old Pontiac was achieved by installing new old stock lowered coil springs and spanky new shocks to each corner. Greg confesses that his dad, Alan Ballard, was a huge help throughout this process and was alongside him in the garage for the majority of the rebuild. 

One mod that Ballard Senior instigated was converting to power steering by using a HQ Holden box. The original column was modified to suit and is now topped with a wood rimmed offering from Grant. While at it, the father-son team attacked the braking system, adding new hard lines front to rear, slotted and drilled front rotors with HQ callipers, with original drums out back. A polished PBR master cylinder is brought into play via a remote PBR44 booster orchestrated by the factory no-go pedal. Greg would love to upgrade this adequate combo sometime in the future, but for now it’s all that is necessary and performs without fuss. “A disc brake nine inch would be nice,” he admits. 

In place of the tired and worn mouse motor a full house Chevy big block takes pride of place. Greg took full advantage of the cavernous engine space, slipping in the healthy rat mill on slightly modified mounts. After it was expertly machined by Easy Motors in Wyong, Alan and Greg screwed the entire package together at home. The cast 454 Gen V block has been stroked to 489 cubic inches and stuffed with a steel crank, forged pistons on H beam rods and a roller Comp cam. Topping off the tough bottom end, they added alloy heads, Edelbrock Victor Jnr intake and a Mighty Demon 850 fuel mixer. An MSD dizzy, Crane Hi 6 igniter box, block hugger headers and a custom 3” diameter twin system do the rest. 

“The first time I started it up, I had the old man at the engine bay and my brother-in-law at the rear. I hit the key and big block roared into life. The boys jumped six feet, scaring both of them almost to death. That moment was priceless,” he says with a massive grin. 

The final piece of the exterior puzzle was the wheel choice. As any car builder will freely admit, it’s a huge commitment and one that can make or break the success of the overall visual accomplishment. With that thought weighing heavy on his mind, Greg sought guidance with the boys at Showwheels who complied with his decision of Intro wheels. Together they agreed on Radicalli 5’s with a polished rim, measuring 18×7” and 18×11” front and rear, with Sportsman Radials from Mickey Thompsons respectively.

With the exterior squared away, Greg assaulted the ratty red interior, gutting the entire worn-out contents to reveal a blank canvas. Both seats were stripped bare to their framework, allowing Greg to replace overused springs and conduct frame repairs where necessary. Once satisfied, they were passed onto upholsterer John Viles for a complete transformation in white vinyl. As a builder by trade, Greg fabricated new door cards all round which received the same attention as the seats. Amazingly the headliner is a NOS piece, now attached to original bows that were the only existing component above the seat height when purchased.

Splashing body colour into the interior highlights the factory right hand drive dash and the super cool gauge pod design native to Chevrolets of the same year. An Autometer tacho keeps tabs on the rev count while a B&M Mega Shifter swaps the manualised gears.

Greg’s “hands-on” approach toward the entire project extends to the complete rewire aided by a kit from Painless Wiring. With guidance from good mate Scott of Central Coast Auto Electrical, he concealed the new wiring from sight wherever possible. Greg re-installed all of the original glass except for a new front windscreen supplied by Ralph Moore Auto Glass.

Three years after his initial purchase, Greg had his Pontiac road-ready and keen to cruise, and he and wife Tiffany have done just that. Greg notes that his best accolade to date would be taking home ‘Car of the Show’ at the American Car Nationals at Queanbeyan in 2008, awarded by Chic Henry. 

Sadly Greg lost his dad, Alan, to skin cancer just over three years ago. He states that the Pontiac’s build simply would not have been done without his efforts, guidance and help. “To see it featured,” he says, “man, he would be stoked!”

BY DALE HABERFIELD, PHOTOS MILLBROOK, FULL FEATURE CRUZIN #173
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