Once the responsibilities of raising a family relented just enough to get the GTO project back on track, Russell attacked the project full steam. The first order of business was fixing up the shoddy bodywork, and he dropped the car off at Vintage Restoration (The Woodlands, Texas) to set the body straight. "We probably removed 200 pounds worth of body filler," Russell jokes. After performing the appropriate sheetmetal repairs, the GTO was sprayed in a fresh coat of PPG orange paint. Next on the agenda was replacing the floppy stock underpinnings with some modern Pro Touring hardware. To do so, Russell fully revamped the stock suspension up front with SPC adjustable control arms, ATS spindles, VariShock shocks, and Global West springs and sway bars. The rear suspension makeover consists of Global West springs, VariShock shocks, and a Chassisworks sway bar and control arms. Braking performance got a huge boost as well with Kore3 twin-piston calipers squeezing 13-inch rotors up front, and single-piston clamps and 12-inch rotors getting the job done out back. Sticking it all to the pavement are BFGoodrich meats wrapped around 18-inch Bonspeed GTB wheels. Needless to say, Russell is thrilled with the results. "The GTO actually handles and stops better than my G35. There is less body roll, and the brakes are more responsive. The suspension is firm, but doesn't beat you to death. With the stock suspension, the car would float down the road, but now it's much more connected to the road."

With the new g-Machine suspension begging for abuse, it just didn't seem right to leave the engine untouched. As such, Russell yanked it out once again for an extra dose of cubic inches and power. The block was bored to 4.155 inches, then fitted with an Eagle forged steel 4.250-inch crankshaft to bring the displacement total to 461 ci. The crank swings a set of Eagle steel rods and Ross 10.0:1 pistons, while a Canton road race oil pan and a Melling pump provide an uninterrupted supply of oil under cornering loads. Airflow comes courtesy of ported factory iron cylinder heads fitted with 2.11/1.77-inch stainless steel valves, an Edelbrock intake manifold, and a Rochester Quadrajet carb modified to flow 850 cfm. Managing the valve events is a Crane 230/238-at-.050 hydraulic roller cam that provides a good balance of performance and streetability, but Russell credits the Q-jet for the engine's pleasant street demeanor. "People give Quadrajets a bad rap, but once you learn how to tune them they drive great. Their small primaries give you great gas mileage and driveability, and their big secondaries give you a big kick in the pants," Russell opines. Managing the big gobs of Pontiac torque are a Rutland TH400 transmission and an 8.5-inch GM 10-bolt rearend. Although the budget 461 doesn't boast a long list of fancy parts, it flat out gets the job done, pushing the Goat to 12.39-second e.t.'s at 112 mph.

Like all hot rods, the GTO isn't entirely finished just yet, as future plans call for a five-speed overdrive swap, aluminum heads, an EFI upgrade, and a 'cage to stiffen up the chassis. Even so, for Russell the GTO is far more than just another project car. The 11 years it took to finish the GTO represents just a fraction of the 30-plus years it took him to climb back on top of the muscle car totem pole. All the hard work that went into the second go-around merely makes the journey that much sweeter.

By The Numbers

1969 Pontiac GTO
Russell Wells, 50 • Spring, TX


Type: Pontiac 461
Block: factory 400 block bored to 4.155 inches
Oiling: Melling oil pump, Canton pan
Rotating assembly: Eagle 4.250-inch steel crank and rods; forged 10.0:1 Ross pistons
Cylinder heads: ported factory iron castings with 2.11/1.77-inch stainless steel valves
Camshaft: Crane 230/238-at-.050 hydraulic roller, .528/.548-inch lift, 114-degree LSA
Valvetrain: COMP Cams lifters, timing set, and 1.65:1 rocker arms
Induction: Edelbrock Performer RPM intake manifold, Rochester 850 cfm Quadrajet carb
Ignition: MSD billet distributor, coil, and plug wires
Fuel system: Carter pump and pressure regulator
Exhaust: Indian Adventures 1.75-inch long-tube headers, custom X-pipe, dual 2.5-inch Pypes mufflers
Cooling: stock water pump, radiator, and fan
Output: 342 rear-wheel horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 409 rear-wheel lb-ft at 3,900 rpm
Built by: Russell Wells


Transmission: Rutland TH400 three-speed automatic trans, Hughes 2,500-stall converter
Rear axle: GM 8.5-inch 10-bolt rearend, 28-spline axles, 3.42:1 gears, and limited-slip differential


Front suspension: Global West springs and sway bar; SPC adjustable control arms, ATS spindles, VariShock shocks
Rear suspension: Global West springs, VariShock shocks, Chassisworks control arms and sway bar
Brakes: Kore3 13-inch rotors and twin-piston calipers, front; 12-inch rotors and single-piston calipers, rear

Wheels & Tires:

Wheels: Bonspeed GTB 18x8, front; 18x10, rear
Tires: BFGoodrich 245/40R18, front; 295/35R18, rear