Ask our Experts, we're here to help!
“My dad has always been into cars – low riders, especially,” explains Jose Aguilar, an electrician systems specialist from Richmond, California. “He also owns a body shop, so I was always around cars growing up.”
As a teenager Aguilar gravitated toward the drift scene, and early on, side shows were one of the few outlets that allowed him to pursue his passion. “It was a thing back in high school,” he says. “Fortunately, later on Sonoma Raceway opened up a drifting program that gave us a place to do this off of the street. Pretty soon I was building a drift car and going to the track every Wednesday to develop it and work on my technique.”
Aguilar got his start with a couple of fourth generation Camaro builds before the fifth generation Pontiac GTO – the North American version of the Australian-built Holden Monaro – caught his eye. While he’s had dozens of cars come into and out of his garage over the years, he’s always chosen GM hardware for his drift projects.
“I noticed early on that a lot of people were really focused on stuff like the Nissan 240SX and 350Z – all the Japanese cars that you typically associate with drifting. I wanted to do something a bit different. One day I found out that people were using the GTO/Monaro platform for Australian drift events, so I knew there was aftermarket support for the car. And that really got my attention because, at that time, you didn’t see very many people doing this with GTOs out here.”
Although the fifth-gen Pontiac GTO existed for a mere three model years in the mid-2000s and was largely overshadowed by other enthusiast mainstays in its time, the platform came packing key muscle car ingredients that included factory LS power, a Tremec six-speed manual gearbox, and a limited slip differential to help harness the torque being sent to the rear wheels. Over the years it’s made the GTO an increasingly attractive budget-friendly option for modern performance builds, but Aguilar’s particular application still required some out-of-the-box thinking.
“I’ve always thought it was kind of an ugly car,” he quips. “But once I discovered that they were drifting them over in Australia, I realized I probably wouldn’t have to hunt too much to get the parts I would need in order to set up the car correctly – I just had to figure out how to get those parts out here.”
It also didn’t hurt that a friend of his already had a 2004 GTO project and was willing to trade him for a set of wheels. Aguilar quickly struck a deal, brought the car home, and spent the next few months getting it back in working order. Then, in 2017, an unexpected opportunity popped up.
“One day I went to go buy some parts for the GTO from a friend of mine and I ended up coming home with another GTO,” he says with a laugh. “It was a bare shell with a cage – someone else’s unfinished drift project that he was parting out.”
Aguilar soon got to work swapping everything from the 2004 GTO into the new car. “After I got it running I just drove it around for a little while to get a feel for the car. Then, little by little, I started doing more fab work on it and upgrading everything to get it to the point it’s at today.”
These days his 2006 GTO is motivated by a LS3 built by LS Geordie that’s outfitted with ported and polished LS3 heads, a custom camshaft from GP Tuning, and a Vortech V-7 YSi blower that makes about 15 pounds of boost, while a Holley Terminator X Max EFI system manages the proceedings.
“The stock wiring harness had been damaged previously and the Terminator X had some cool features that I wanted to try,” he tells us. “I also really liked the digital dash that it came with – nothing worked on the stock dash anyway, and the Holley system allowed me to ditch the five aftermarket gauges I was running. So that really cleaned things up.” Channeled through a built Tremec T-56 six-speed gearbox with a Mantic clutch, the combination puts 830 horsepower to the ground through an RTS Quick Change rear end.
On the chassis front, the car rides on a custom subframe that’s designed to support the GTO’s radiator and fans, which were relocated to the rear of the car in order to make room for the intercooler up front. Maverick Man Carbon coilovers are installed at all four corners and an angle kit from Showtime Customs & Fabrication in Heathcote, Australia is also on hand to get the front suspension dialed in for drifting. Battle Aero’s fiberglass widebody kit provides the car a more aggressive look and additional clearance for the Kansei wheels, which measure 18x9 inches up front and 18x10 in the back, as well as the aftermarket suspension hardware.
Aguilar has been a regular at LS Fest events over the years and took top honors at Cleetus McFarland’s Cleetus and Cars Sideshow takeover at LS Fest West back in 2019. “That was the year that I blew the head gasket and the quarter panels basically exploded off of the car,” he explains. “The crowd gets to decide who wins at these events and they, you know, really love destruction.”
After giving the car a Nardo Gray paint job at J&M Auto Customs, Aguilar brought the GTO to this year’s LS Fest West, where the Pontiac kicked back at the Hoonigan booth before rolling out on course for Cleetus & Cars burnout contest. “There was a little donut exhibition put on by Sac Speed Shop, and we did that as well,” he adds. “This year was really fun. The car held up well, no issues.”
Aguilar’s now gunning for a Pro Am license so he can work his way up the ranks to compete in the Formula Drift series. In the meantime, he’s also got another project from Down Under that’s currently coming together. “I’m in process of building the Holden Ute that used to belong to the Hoonigan guys,” he notes. “It’s been converted to left-hand drive, and I’ve got a spare LSA engine and T-56 that I’m going to throw in there. It’ll be more of a fun cruiser than a drift car, though – something my girlfriend and kid can use to get around in while we’re at the track.”