- Written by webmin
The automotive performance world was dealt a sudden blow on Wednesday when word of Joe Mondello‘s passing began to circulate. Mondello had undergone surgery to treat an intestinal blockage, leading to complications that claimed his life. He was 74.
Most car enthusiasts today associate Mondello with Oldsmobiles and drag racing, as this was where he’d focused much of his efforts in recent decades, though in actuality, Mondello had involvement with numerous other types of engines, and in a variety of motorsports.
Mondello was born in Southern California and got his first automotive job before he could legally drive, at age 14. This position provided lots of automotive engine education, and led to doing valve jobs for his boss, who was impressed enough by the young apprentice’s drive and enthusiasm to allow Mondello to work on the shop’s flathead-powered circle track racer.
This in turn led to his next job, porting and relieving Ford flathead engine blocks for increased performance; it was this work that would form the foundation of Mondello’s vast contributions to automotive performance and racing.
Building a hot rod Ford was a natural, and Mondello’s 1940 coupe saw action at airports and dragstrips across Southern California. His ability to make power was recognized early on, and he soon became known for his prowess at reworking cylinder heads to optimize airflow and combustion efficiency. In fact, Mondello had gone so far as to design his own combustion chamber, dubbed the Posi-Flow, which was first applied to Chevrolet racing engines in the early ’60s with great success; it’s a design that would later be used by multiple auto manufacturers and makers of performance aftermarket cylinder heads alike.
Further recognition of Mondello’s abilities led to numerous notable collaborations, including a part-time stint for Carroll Shelby that yielded the engines for the Shelby Cobras that swept the first four places of Le Mans in 1964. Famed race-engine shop, Traco, then known for winning Indy and sprint car engines, began using Mondello-built cylinder heads exclusively. Mondello was also involved in his own racing effort, as part of the Mondello-Matsubara team, competing with a Fuel Altered. The effort produced the fastest wedge-headed Chevrolet at the time, and Mondello heads were soon found on virtually all of the top competitors’ engines; the first 7-, 6- and 5-second passes in Top Fuel would all be made using Mondello heads, among numerous other drag racing records.
There would be plenty of other records and victories, at venues that included Pikes Peak, Bonneville, and even on the water with various racing boats. Research and development work from manufacturers included cylinder-head programs for Oldsmobile, Ford, AMC, Harley-Davidson, Polaris and others; his work with the aftermarket was simply too vast to detail in this space.
Along the way, Mondello started Mondello Performance Products, providing an array of engines and components to performance and racing enthusiasts, and also founded the Mondello Technical School to teach others the engine-building and head-porting skills he’d accrued over his career. Though Mondello Performance Products had been run by his business partner in recent years, Mondello had continued to educate others at his school up until his passing.