Johnny Ielati’s passion for his 1970 XW Fairmont has never faded and with that, his devotion to creating the ultimate example has to be applauded – even when life was well and truly against him. “The XW is my very first car and I bought it about a month after I got my license in 1996. I think I was always destined to have an XY or an XW, as my dad always talked about an XW that he had when he was young, and he still has an XY that he bought in 1988. I guess you could say that my blood runs blue,” laughed Johnny.
The Starlight Blue 6-banger didn’t stay standard for too long with Johnny changing the original wheels for a set of Bathurst Globes and swapping the 221ci motor for a 250ci six-pot with a 2V head. Nothing too over the top but it was a start. A few years later, the XW underwent its first major transformation, with most of the work taking place in Johnny’s dad’s garage. His Uncle Tony took care of the panel work before it was resprayed in the Ford hue Acid Rush – the same colour remains today.
The 250 donk then made way for a 351 Windsor, backed up by a top loader and a 9-inch. The interior was re-trimmed in white vinyl, and then decked out with a booming audio system and a heap of Autometer gauges. A set of 18-inch Intro V-Rod wheels were the jewel in the crown for an excited Johnny.
During the final stages of the build though, Johnny was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer: “I wasn’t able to work on the car or at my job for a while. I went through a really tough mental battle during the recovery process. I was lucky with my experience though, as two years earlier, there was no such operation for the cancer that I had, so things could have turned out very differently indeed. I count myself very lucky.”
As he worked through his recovery phase, his old man bought him his own shed, so he could move everything back home and continue where he left off with the rest of the build. With all the major hurdles taken care of before the cancer struck, all that was left to do was the final assembly, and by the end of 2007 the XW was back on the road again and Johnny was back smiling.
It was around 5 years after that build that Johnny sat down and decided to try again with the car: “To be honest, I kind of just did ‘whatever’ when I built it the first time. I was never really happy with the way it ran either. The motor was a bit of a mystery and the manual ’box gave me the shits. I didn’t enjoy driving the car at all and at the end of the day, it was built to drive, not just sit in a shed.” As far as Johnny was concerned, it was time for a revamp.
The first port of call was Ierace Automotive who were enlisted to get the old Windsor doing what it was supposed to do in the first place – start, idle and drive nicely – with reliability being the core focus. After discovering some issues with the block, a virgin bore 351 Windsor block was sourced and machined to accept a SCAT 393ci stroker crank, SCAT rods and SRP Forged pistons. A Crow hydraulic cam was purchased and a set of 195cc Dart alloy heads were bolted up and matched to an Edelbrock manifold with a 750 Holley carby. An MSD ignition system sets up the spark and a set of Hurricane 1-7/8in headers expel the spent gases through a twin 2.5in stainless steel system dumped at the diff.
After ditching the top loader, a TCI Streetfighter C4 was shipped over from the ’States and matched to a 3000rpm Dominator convertor. Phil Purser from Final Drive gave the 9-inch a freshen up and a street friendly set of 3.5 ratio gears were slotted in.
Kings leaf springs are fitted in the rear along with Koni adjustable shocks, XYZ Coilovers are found up front and a set of 280mm Wilwood rotors with matching Wilwood calipers provide ample stopping power. The Intro wheels from the first build have been replaced with a more up-to-date set of Billet Specialties Street Lites, with 17×7 fronts, and, interestingly, 15×10 rears shod in 275/50 Mickey T rubber for a tough, staggered stance that is all the rage these days.
Clint DiGiovanni at SRM handcrafted the steel reverse cowl bonnet scoop, raising the original bonnet skin to keep the lines intact and then adding additional sheet metal to fill the sides. The bonnet was then delivered, along with the rest of the car; to Kustom Panel & Paint to give the old girl a decent freshen up. With one week left before the XW’s show debut, Johnny decided that it was time to change the look of the car a little more: “The first time I saw the XW in the sun with all the bright work fitted, I decided the colour just wasn’t working for me anymore. All of a sudden it seemed so overpowering and I decided it needed something to break it up. I chose a satin white vinyl wrap and applied that to the roof the very night before the WA Hot Rod and Street Machine Spectacular. Thankfully, it was just what the doctor ordered and everyone was in agreeance, the car looked better.”
Johnny’s sterling efforts didn’t go unnoticed at the show either, with the XW scoring Top Street Machine and impressing people all weekend. “It was a really special way to mark the 10 years since I was first diagnosed with cancer. I have gone from strength to strength and so has the car.”
Johnny is the main man behind Benzene’s Detailing in Wangara. He takes care of the country’s top show cars, so it’s no wonder that the XW always looks on point