For many Poncho purists today, it may be hard to remember what Pontiac Excitement meant 35 years ago. However, Larry Kaufman of Niles, Ill., knows all about what it was-and has brought those memories alive today with his pristine 1961 Super Duty Ventura.

Unlike other original Super Dutys that languish in collections and rarely see the light of day, Larry's Ventura still gives enthusiasts a chance to hear, see and feel what these historic Pontiac racers were all about by campaigning his at an assortment of events each season. His Ventura hooks, goes straight and runs impressive ETs for its size. So, as you might imagine, the hardest thing about the Ventura was finding it, as Larry relates.

"After a long hunt and some whopping long distance bills, my search finally came to an end in 1984," Larry recalls. "It was 11 p.m. when a caller asked if I was the person looking to buy a 1961 Ventura. At first, I thought it was a fellow Pontiac nut playing a joke, but the caller assured me it wasn't. He said there was a Pontiac on a farm in West Virginia and gave me the owner's name. The next day I called and, within five minutes, the black Ventura was mine. I was told the Pontiac had been used strictly as a quarter-mile drag racer until 1965, then saw limited use and was retired to its resting place in a barn in 1969. It had competed at the first running of the U.S. Nationals held at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 1961. The original pit decal is still there on the windshield!

"In 1961, all the Super Dutys had 389 engines," Larry said. "You could order the Super Duty parts from the factory, but you had to install them yourself, as they only came in the trunk. However, there were a handful of cars running in the fall of '61 with the 421 engine option."

Larry's Ventura was delivered with a street version of the 389 engine installed and a group of Super Duty engine parts (not installed), which bumped the horsepower rating to 368 for competition in Super Stock eliminator. Available SD parts were a block with 4-bolt main caps and stiffening ribs in the bottom end, forged steel crank and rods, and 10.75:1 pistons. Updated 540306 casting heads (part No. 540304) with 1.92/1.66 valves and 69cc combustion chambers were complemented by a McKellar No. 8 camshaft and an aluminum 3/2-barrel intake and freer-flowing exhaust manifolds.

Today, Larry's War Chief sports a 421-cubic-inch, 405-hp SD engine that was assembled by Joe Zajac of Crete, Ill. The block was punched out .030-inch to a new displacement of 434 cubic inches and fitted with a modified steel crank, steel rods and 12:1 Arias pistons wrapped with Total Seal rings. Cam Motion supplied a roller cam ground to .690 lift and 275/280┬░duration at .050. Lloyd Cox prepped the casting heads (part No. 9771980) with 2.02/1.76 valves, which are topped by a rare part No. 9772128 ex-Arnie Beswick A/FX intake with dual 750-cfm Carters.

A Titan clutch transfers the twist to a Jerico 4-speed and down the driveshaft to a 9-inch Ford rear outfitted with 4.86 gears and Strange axles. The rolling stock consists of lightweight Monocoque wheels mounting Moroso tires on the front and 31x10.5x15 Mickey Thompson slicks on the rear. A roll bar, racing harness, racing bucket seats, disc brakes and an RCI fuel cell were installed for safety.

What are all of these speed parts worth on the strip? Well, leaving on the Line-Lock at 6000 rpm, Larry snaps the shifter into second, third and then fourth gear each time the tach needle sweeps to 6200 rpm. The big 3680-lb. (race weight) Ventura hits the traps at 7000 rpm and posts 10.69 ETs at 128 mph. But the cool part is how hard it leaves. Just check out the cover photo.

Now that you know the mechanicals, here is a rundown on the pretty parts. Union Ave. Auto Body of Steger, Ill., performed body-off restoration, adding a fiberglass hood and deck lid in the process to cut weight. Once the body panels were block sanded to perfection, the stylish Ventura flanks were sprayed with Dupont Diamond Black. Biel's Upholstery of Chicago handled the interior rejuvenation by reupholstering the driver's compartment in red with white vinyl trim.

Larry Kaufman is active with the MidWest Nostalgia Super Stock Association and competes in drag events and car shows throughout the year. While there are some later-model Super Dutys still seen occasionally, Kaufman's '61 Ventura is one of the few still pounding the drag strip. Although not a concours original, this Ventura is priceless to the fans who have a chance to see a Super Duty up close and in the environment it was built for-the race track!

Who says things weren't exciting back in '61?