Leo Mortakis’s big-block Valiant VF coupe

Leo Mortakis combines modern styling with old-school muscle to create his ideal Valiant coupe


YOU may not have heard of Leonidas Mortakis, but if you’re a Sydneysider, you’ve probably seen some of the cars that have come out of his one-man shop, Muscle Car Restorations. And if you’re a regular SM reader, you’ve definitely seen his work, as Leo applied the lush custom green paint to the two-door WILDFB Holden (SM, Jun ’18). A scroll through MCR’s Facebook page shows just how prolific he is, with everything from Fiat Bambinos to Falcon coupes receiving his flawless paintjobs. One has to wonder: where did he find the time to build this stunning VF Valiant hardtop?

First published in the September 2021 issue of Street Machine

It was Leo’s long-held dream to build a Val coupe. “Ever since I was a kid and I watched The Wog Boy, I always said to myself I would own one,” he says. “My papppou [grandfather], Leonidas Mortakis Sr, has a ’68 VE Valiant sedan, which also had a part in me falling in love with The Wog Boy VF coupe.”

This is actually the second one Leo has owned, having purchased a VG coupe almost 10 years ago, when he was an apprentice spray painter. “The first one was pretty standard: just a few holes welded up in the engine bay; not mini-tubbed; just had a nice paintjob on it and that was it,” he says.

He ended up selling it as a painted rolling shell, but always knew he’d get another one when the time was right. That time turned out to be 2017, when he found this VF and paid just $4500 for it. As you can imagine, it wasn’t exactly a peach. “People don’t spend money on Valiants; they’re always tired and rundown,” Leo reckons. But this isn’t a huge problem when you’re a talented body and paint man.

Now with a few more years’ experience under his belt, and with his own business up and running, Leo knew he could go a lot crazier with the car and build something that stood out in a crowd.

“Being the iconic car that it is, especially for Greeks, I wanted to do something that was different to what a normal Valiant was,” he says. “I would have liked to have done a lot more modifications to the car, but I was limited to what I could do because I don’t have a team behind me. If I had another couple of guys in the shop, I would have taken it to that next level.”

While it turned into a highly detailed build, that wasn’t always the plan. “It kind of evolved slowly,” explains Leo. “I modified the engine bay a little bit, then I wasn’t happy with it, so I ended up cutting the whole lot out and making a custom bay. It was going to be stoneguard underneath, but then I ended up painting it all.”

Paint also covers the engine, trans, diff and four-link. They’ve been done in a contrasting gold pearl, with just a smattering of shiny stuff thrown in for good measure.

From the start, Leo wanted to mix the old with the new, and you can see that throughout the car. He didn’t want to lose sight of the fact that this is a 60s car, and even though you can buy all sorts of cool stuff to make it drive like a late-model, that was never the aim. “I stuck with the original front end because it suited the era of the car,” he offers. “I was going to put power steering in it but I thought: ‘I don’t want that; I want it to feel like an old car’. I didn’t want power windows, cruise control and all that shit.”

The same can be said about the engine choice. A Gen III Hemi wouldn’t have looked out of place – especially considering all of the nods to the modern Dodge Demon – and turbo LS is always an option, but Leo wanted to keep it all Mopar. He went full old-school and got drag racing legend Ben Gatt to screw together a 440 big-block punched out to 460 cubes. With alloy Aeroflow heads, 10:1 compression and a Crane solid-roller cam, it wears a Weiand Hi-Ram intake with a couple of 650 Holleys perched on top, and pumps out 450hp.

Punchy enough for the street, and a Chrysler A833 manual ’box makes it even more fun. “I wanted it to sound good and look good; that’s what I was going for the whole time,” Leo says. “You can’t beat a four-speed big-block.” He won’t get any argument here.

Where Leo departed from that classic 60s and 70s muscle car era was in the choice of paint colour. While there were some amazing options available from that era, there’s not much that hasn’t been done before, so Leo got creative with his own custom candy that he’s dubbed Caramilk. “It’s like when you look at Coca-Cola in the sun and it gets that yellow tinge to it,” he says. “It’s a black base with a yellow pearl, a bit of red and a bit of black mixed up and thinned
out, so it’s a little bit transparent.” Topped with a whole heap of clear and blocked back to perfection, it sure gets people’s attention.

The wheels are another ingredient that falls into the new section of the recipe, with a set of 20×9 and 20×11.5 Ferrada FR4 rims wrapped in 245/35 and 315/35 Federal rubber.

Surprisingly, they weren’t too hard to squeeze into the confines of the small-bodied Valiant. “It was mini-tubbed to the rail at the rear, which gives you about 14 inches – plenty of room,” Leo says. “Believe it or not, at the front I can get full lock and nothing rubs. I winged the offset. I bought zero-offset wheels and had the diff made to suit, so the rear wasn’t an issue, but it was completely by luck that the front worked out.”

The old and new mix continues into the interior, with the stock dash filled with white-faced electronic gauges, while the front seat was tossed and race-inspired buckets went in. Tying it all together is a classy two-tone trim job by Just Upholstery. “I was going to go red or a real dark chocolate to match the outside, but I thought it might be a bit too harsh, so the burnt orange and tan just settles it all down and makes it a bit more elegant,” Leo says. A Hurst shifter and SAAS Classic Woodgrain steering wheel bring it back to the swinging 60s.

While Leo estimates he did 90 per cent of the work himself, family always plays an important part. “I have to thank my wife for standing by me and giving me the time I needed to get the car finished. My brother Paul was a big help, too. He finished high school in November, so he’s been with me since then, but he’s actually starting uni soon. I tried to get him to come over and work with me, but I think he’s just too smart to do what I do, which is a bit disappointing because we’ve had a lot of fun the last year and it’s been really good.”

Since its show debut at the Sydney Hot Rod & Custom Auto Expo, Leo has taken the hardtop out for a few spins, but he wants to hit a few more shows, and who knows, maybe even take it to SEMA.


Paint: Caramilk custom candy 
Type: 440 big-block Chrysler
Inlet: Weiand Hi-Ram tunnel ram
Carb: Twin Holley 650cfm vac-sec
Heads: Aeroflow aluminium 
Valves: 2.14in (in), 1.81in (ex) 
Cam: Crane solid-roller 
Pistons: 10:1 compression 
Crank: Standard 
Conrods: Standard 
Radiator: Aluminium 
Exhaust: Custom headers, twin 3in system 
Ignition: MSD 
’Box: Chrysler A833 four-speed 
Clutch: Exedy 
Diff: 9in, 3.50:1 gears 
Front: Standard torsion bar, KYB shocks 
Rear: Triangulated four-bar, Monroe Sensa-Trac coil-overs
Steering: Standard 
Brakes: Wilwood discs; 320mm (f), 300mm (r) 
Rims: Ferrada FR4; 20×9 (f), 20×11.5 (r) 
Rubber: Federal; 245/35/20 (f), 315/35/20 (r) 

Muscle Car Restorations; Ben Gatt for the motor; Baslac and Mothers for their support; most importantly, my wife and family for helping me achieve my goals, and my friends that helped along the way