I'm one of those guys who has built plenty of ponchos back in the day- I popped for the TRW's and ARP rod bolts, but everything else (rods, crank) was stock. Back then Crower and Carillo were the only guys who made forged rods for Ponchos and they wanted like $1200/set for them- crazy. It cost around $2k in parts and machine work to do a whole engine back then, so we just made do with the stock rods, ground down the cast parting line, shot peened them, resized them, stuck the ARPs on them and hoped they wouldn't let go. We also stuck all kinds of solid and hydraulic cams in these engines, and learned how to port Pontiac heads too- not the same as doing a Chevy head, learned that by trial and error.
It's true that you could go fast with the stock stuff, but we also lost alot of good engines because we just revved them to high and the rods let go. It really hurt when you put all of that hard work into a motor, were buzzing it hard and the engine was making nice power, and then KA- BOOOM!!!!! You'd see all of the smoke pouring out from under the hood, coast to the side of the road, pop the hood and survey the wreckage. After the second time I decided it wasn't worth loosing another engine and I stopped racing stock rod Ponchos. It's true stock rod engines can live a long life w/ ARP rod bolts (the 406 in my 72 Bird was built 15 years ago), but if you think they're indestructible think again- it's luck and how hard you rev the engine that determine when those rods will let go. This is why I preach about using forged rods- a grenaded engine is something you don't want to experience personally.