We don't want to give Jerod Kirk a big head, or give his buddies too many reasons to chide him. But when we met him and learned about how he built his '71 Pontiac Ventura, there was only one way to describe him: the everyman. Not Everyman, the 15th-century English play about Christian salvation, but about all of us in this sport. His is the classic tale of how younger people get started tinkering with engines, transmissions, and suspension systems, then pursuing better cars. And his story could be yours, ours, or belong to thousands of burgeoning hot rodders.
See if this sounds like you in high school. You need a car. You want one that you can work on. It has to be a two-door, have a V-8, and be rear-wheel drive. Oh yeah, it's got to be cheap, too. Everything else is negotiable. Being one color is nice, but not required. Functional air conditioning is completely overrated. Items such as turn signals and windshield wipers are luxury elements. Heck, we've bought cars like this because they were cheaper and quicker than rebuilding the engine in the daily driver.
Jerod was shopping for a car that met the above criteria when he came across this '71 Ventura. The owner really wanted to sell it to someone who was going to build the car, not destroy it. That's a pretty interesting selling point considering it seemed he was well on his way to destroying the car himself. It had the imprint of a light pole on one quarter-panel and was actually painted with a brush! The Ventura drove and met the basic requirements that Jerod was looking for, so he shelled out $1,100 and piloted the Pontiac home. As we heard the full story behind Jerod's car, we enjoyed the irony that ventura is Spanish for "good fortune." Which, of course, is better than the Spanish translation for the Chevy version of this body style-"no go."
Throughout the car's life with Jerod, most of the modifications were driven by the following guiding rules: They had to be inexpensive, parts had to be available, and they had to make the car go faster. If you're looking for a show winner, you should keep looking. If you want to be inspired by what's possible on a budget by being determined and doing most everything yourself to build a street/strip car, keep reading.
Over the next 10 years, the car would be used for daily transportation to school and work, cruising, drag racing, and an occasional road trip. During that time, the car evolved, being built in various stages. Jerod did a couple different engine swaps, blew through multiple transmissions, and swapped in and out interior components. There were a lot of late nights working on it until 5 a.m. just to get it running so he could drive it to school that day. Oh, that brings back fond memories of a misspent youth! There were also plenty of trials along the way. For example, he ripped the factory spring perches off the original axle during a 1-2 shift on his way to work one morning.
When Jerod purchased the car, it had power steering and air conditioning, as well as a few other options. These went away when he put headers on the car, as the brackets added complexity. The side benefit is that the car got a bit lighter and he reduced the power losses of running these accessories off the engine. He was also battling some overheating problems in the Arizona desert that he calls home, so he ditched the inner fenderwells to free up airflow through the engine compartment. He also removed the windshield wipers and related hardware-additional weight-savings bonuses.
The car had a nitrous 355 in it before the current engine. When he started building the 383, he knew that it would be a turbo motor, so he stuffed it with a good crank and rods, 8.5:1 pistons, and a mild camshaft. He had a set of high-end cylinder heads with titanium valves, but opted to go with the Vortec heads with stainless steel valves. He thought the stainless steel valves would better tolerate the heat that the turbo could build, and they would be a lot less expensive to replace if they do get overworked.