What makes a project car so special? Is it the ownership of a unique build that has never been replicated? Is it the development of skills and learning experiences along the way? Or, is it the satisfaction and sense of achievement you feel once you’ve finished pouring all of your blood, sweat, and tears into your ride? Truth be told, it’s all of the above, and Iain Kelly explains his story of how this pristine LS-swapped Pontiac Bonneville came to be.
Iain ‘Marv’ Kelly grew up in Australia surrounded by a burning passion for cars, thanks to his father, who maintained a particular fondness for European vehicles. Owing to this passion for the automotive industry, Kelly pursued motoring journalism from a young age, writing for local Australian publications and for 20 years, consistently perfected his skill. Although Kelly obtained his fair share of European, and even Japanese cars, he always had a soft spot for the American and Australian muscle scene, with a particular fascination with large US vehicles from the 1950s and 1960s.
Generally, project car owners aspire to work on a vehicle that is particularly special to them, and even though he loved American cars, this wasn’t explicitly the case for Kelly. Being a fan of BMW E30s and hoping to get his hands on either a Chevrolet ‘Bubbletop’ Impala or Buick Invicta Coupe, Pontiac was never his first choice. But thanks to a friend who had a ’62 Pontiac Bonneville laying around in several pieces, Kelly decided to bestow the challenge upon himself to get this machine back on the street, and in the process, became a Pontiac lover ‘by accident.’ For Kelly, this Pontiac became a safe space to escape the worries of the world, he’d come home every day and get to work on his new love, but it soon became a worry itself…
Unfortunately, after hours of dedication and commitment to get this Pontiac back on the road and getting three-quarters of the way there, Kelly lost it in a freak fire blazed by a burnt-out refrigerator motor. However, he chose not to give up, and after finding a ’64 Bonneville for sale at the right price point, he didn’t hesitate to finish what he had started. After the devastation that Kelly endured, the help of some good friends found Kelly obtaining the tools he needed to work on his ‘new’ Bonneville. The final product was not as initially planned – but ended up being even better; the car transformed from becoming a showboat roller into an inherently fun and usable car, comfortable and practical enough for long trips and built with more reliability in mind.
As any project car owner can attest, it certainly wasn’t all smooth sailing. Kelly encountered numerous issues. Aside from several areas of rust, an abundance of body filler on both sides was discovered from the doors down to the taillights, making a notable amount of body paint stripping necessary. Kelly also suffered a loss of funds and time wastage thanks to a particular paint shop. Nevertheless, he persevered.
Right Tools For The Job
Thankfully, after finding Cool-Az Hot Rods in Tuggerah, New South Wales, who could smooth out the body and apply the awe-inspiring Commodore Holden Poison Ivy Green paint, the build officially started to gain momentum. So, Kelly began his journey to achieve 1,000 horsepower at the crank while retaining the car’s ability to be a long-distance, comfortable cruiser.
First order of duty: What engine would the green ’64 Bonneville become home to? Kelly had initially decided on an aluminum-headed dual-quad EFI Pontiac V8 he had built. Interestingly, he traveled with the heads and intake manifold in his luggage after attending SEMA in 2017 to save a few bucks on shipping costs. However, Kelly was met with an opportunity to throw a 6.0-liter LQ4 into the Bonneville and didn’t hesitate to make it a reality. The engine was recovered from a flood car and was intended for an entirely different build. Still, Kelly believed it’d make the perfect companion for the large Bonneville, so he got to work stripping the engine and removing any gunk left over from the river it had rested in.
From there, Kelly enlisted help from a name he trusted, Troy Worsley from Warspeed Industries in Sydney. The LS was built using a Texas Speed crank and connecting rods, custom forged Wiseco pistons. The mill boasts a compression ratio of 10.67:1. The engine has a displacement of 403 cubic inches, but the real star of the show is a Harrop 2650 supercharger pumping 19 pounds of boost for all that extra horsepower! Unfortunately, due to belt slippage above 5,000 rpm, the big Bonneville is not at the goal of 1,000 horsepower. But that is being remedied with quickness.
“Cruisin’ Down The Street In My ’64… – Easy E”
What’s the point of having a rumbling V8 without being able to put the power down? Thankfully, the Bonneville sits on wide Toyo 275-section-width tires in the rear. Meanwhile, 235 Michelin PS4s are on the front. Even the wheels are custom, taking inspiration from Mawer, they feature a stunning three-piece design measuring 17×8 inches in the front and 17×9 inches at the rear. The power is transferred through a Hughes Performance 4L80E transmission, an automatic transmission durable enough to handle the extra horses and remains true to the heritage of the Pontiac by containing a modest four gears. The Bonneville rides on air suspension from Accuair with E-level height management, twin Viair 485 compressors, and Accuair ENDO-VT tank/valves, all coming together to compliment that sleek, lowrider visage perfectly.
The relatively large Pontiac isn’t just for show, however. Kelly plans to race it in the Optima Challenge Australia 2023, and we certainly can’t wait to see how seven years of hard work and commitment operate on track. If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that Kelly’s Bonneville will turn heads as it flies down the track! Speaking of racing, a car must stop well before corners. Thus Kelly has opted for Hopper Stoppers two-piston disc brakes, including a custom booster and master cylinder on the front, with Wilwood two-piston discs at the rear.
We’ve already spoken about the Bonneville’s show-stopping green paint, but there’s more to style than just a car’s color. Kelly has shaved trim and added custom door handles, which are used to enter the crisp white reupholstered interior. In addition, he has opted for a Mooneyes flake steering wheel, a fun Mooneyes foot-shaped gas pedal, and a Retrosound Bluetooth unit blasting guitars through the Alpine speakers and JBL subwoofer. Keeping to the race car spirit, the Bonneville saw the installation of a Haltech IC-7 dash displaying necessary information to the driver and a Haltech CAN-keypad to operate the numerous functions within the vehicle.
At the journey’s end, it doesn’t matter if you have the most horsepower. Likewise, it’s irrelevant whether the car gains the most attention from others or whether or not the car makes sense to everyone in the world. What does matter, however, is that you’re proud of your car. As Iain Kelly explained to us, he finds the car absolutely silly, there is no reason for a car to be as large as it is, and he loves the fact that America had the ‘audacity’ to make such large and powerful vehicles. Ultimately, Kelly has successfully created the perfect LS-swapped 1964 Pontiac Bonneville, and we’re all for incredible builds just like this one!