Engine builder, hot rodder Joe Mondello dies

He was particularly well-known to Oldsmobile collectors.
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Joe Mondello with the “project car” Olds station wagon he owned.

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By John Gunnell

Legendary engine builder Joe Mondello passed away Wednesday, April 6, 2011. Mondello, 74, had undergone surgery to treat an intestinal blockage, leading to complications that claimed his life. He had been involved with high-performance cars since the 1950s. He was particularly well-known to Oldsmobile collectors.

Mondello set benchmarks in the performance industry in every decade since the '50s. In the 1960s, Mondello developed the Posi-Flow Combustion Chamber design. He was responsible for many GM head designs. Mondello cylinder heads were used by Dean Moon, AK Miller, Craig Breedlove, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and legendary Mickey Thompson. Early drag racing records, including the first 5-, 6- and 7-second runs, were set with Mondello heads.

When Oldsmobile won the Pike's Peak hillclimb in 1966, it set records with a Toronado, and then took the Mexican Road Race three years in a row. During that time, all the winning cars had Mondello heads. Mondello also assisted in the design, testing and troubleshooting of many Olds racing engines.

In 1969, Mondello won Car Craft magazine's “Engine Builder of The Year” award. He also drove as a factory-backed racer for Olds, setting two NHRA records. In recent years, Mondello built racing engines and cylinder heads. His company did blueprinting and design, as well as head porting.

Mondello also taught engine building techniques at his Mondello Technical School, in Crossville, Tenn. The school is dedicated to auto manufacturing, engine building and education. Mondello also owned two collector cars thart he brought to classic car auctions and car shows — Mondello owned a 1970 Oldsmobile W30 station wagon and a 1971 Olds 4-4-2 Holiday coupe.

One was a very special 1970 Oldsmobile — one of two W30 seven-passenger station wagons built. Both were taken off the assembly line by Oldsmobile Engineering and turned into W30s with all of the special 442 parts.

Mondello’s car was originally a project car for Popular Hot Rodding magaine. Another wagon went to Car Life magazine and is believed to have been sold to someone in Japan. Mondello’s second car was a Jade Green ‘71 Olds 4-4-2 Holiday Sport Coupe with 497 hp and 530 lbs.-ft. of torque.

Mondello had a deal with Spike TV to film a full, complete half-hour feature on the Mondello Tech Center do a step-by-step rebuild of a 455-cid Olds engine. They approached the build as something that a guy could do, at home, in his own garage, but the result was a high-performance engine that produced 456 hp and 537 lbs.-ft. of torque on 92-octane gas.

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