This story starts back in 2008 – times were dark then – the Auto Industry was in crisis. A market crash hit many manufacturers hard, and things got especially tight at The General. Though Pontiac had been making a hard charge the past few years delivering enthusiast-hits like the Pontiac GTO (Holden Monaro) that tugged at the heartstrings of gearheads everywhere, the General finally pulled the plug on the people’s performance brand. Pontiac was closing its doors – for good.
The tombstone was on the front page of every Industry magazine: Pontiac is Dead. Ken had been a hot-rodder in the ’70s and had snatched up his ’01 Trans Am WS6 before the Firebird, Trans-Am and Camaro were killed off the last time (though the Camaro would come back to life in ’10, the Ponchos were not so lucky) Already a Pontiac owner, this caught Ken L’s attention – and spurred him to take action. The Pontiac G8 was still on sale and available, and with the gas crisis in full swing, not that many people were snatching up the high performance sedan (It’s worth noting the G8 is back from the dead as the USDM “Caprice PPV” and “Chevrolet SS”, though they’re $14k more than the G8 was. -Ed.). That week, Ken traded in his stock ’01 Pontiac Trans-Am WS6 (itself something of a unicorn, being the highest-performance trim of the last generation of the Trans-Am/Firebird) for a Pacific Slate Metallic Pontiac G8 GT with the Premium option group.
Unlike the WS6 that preceded it, Ken’s new G8 did not stay stock for long – upon discovering the G8 Board forum, Ken caught the mod bug and all of a sudden, the old school street machine racer from the 1970s was back like he’d never been gone. Ken’s son was 17 at the time, and so he reckoned it would make the perfect father-son project – he and his son could hot-rod the LSx under the hood and Ken could still daily-drive it.
The first year, Ken and his son started small, opting for aesthetics like painting the engine cover and painting the brake calipers (which complimented the Gold accent theme), but quickly progressed into the usual suite of mods most of us perform – a Cold Air Intake, a set of factory “Sport” pedals, a Sharkfin antenna and a few billet covers for things like the oil cap and power steering reservoir. The real surprise came that Christmas, when Ken’s son surprised him with a color matched rear diffuser that his son had been working on in secret. (If only we all had loved ones so in touch with what we want for our cars at Christmas! -Ed.)
The next year, Ken bought an HP Tuner – a true hot-rodder with experience in the old school voodoo of carburetors, familiar with tuning by changing jets, weights and distributor springs – it was a whole other animal trying his hand at today’s form of “tuning”.
Keeping with the Christmas theme here, the next year came a set of Kooks Long Tube headers and full exhaust system (one of the best ways to go for an LSx), though Ken waited until May when his son returned from school (and the weather improved) to fit the car with the exhaust as well as a Gauge-Pod mounted Air/Fuel gauge and wideband O2 sensor to aid in tuning. Of course, a few more cosmetic changes were made, like blackout tape for the chrome moldings and color-matched lower grilles.
The next year in (2012), Ken & Son decided to give their Poncho more punch by fitting the intake-side with high-lift rockers, valve springs and pushrods over the summer, and fitted a high-flow Intake Manifold and ported throttle body over Thanksgiving Break – which brings us to this past year. That spring, this Poncho pulled a 12.67 second time on the old 1320. It was then that Ken got in touch with Modification Expert Elliott through the G8 Board – Ken and Elliott mulled over the options for wheel and tire packages, before settling on VMR Wheels V701s in “Solar Rain”. Ken placed the order for his wheels and fitted some brake upgrades, since the new wheels would show off more of the stoppers.
Once his VMR V701s in Solar Rain showed up, Ken fitted the wheels and promptly took the car to the G8 Owners National Event (GONE) – Ken’s G8 was voted Best in Class for “Fully Modified G8″… and the wins kept coming. Ken was voted November Car-of-The-Month for the Chicago Holden Connection website and finished off the year for being voted one of 12 other cars to appear in the 2014 CHC Calendar (Miss May ’14) – quite the achievement for just a few months of shows! Ken credits the Solar Rain VMR V701s with his many show wins in 2013 – we are sure he has big plans for 2014.
Story by Nicholas Gregson in collaboration with Elliott Goodman
Photos Courtesy Ken Lesko