It is hard to believe that Chris Williams' 1975 Trans Am is more than thirty years old now-an automotive antique with rubber bumpers. I remember well the abuse we heaped on those forlorn press fleet creatures, but I confess that '75 was a complete blur. Detroit had taken away the crank and had slipped us Valium instead. After that was gone, we got placebos, and our musclecars became castratos overnight. All the fun rolled into damp grayness, like a dead mackerel, as most of the world fooled itself with disco. In those days Detroit seemed just as distracted by style as the masses, but better to dance on the sidelines than not at all.
And so the Trans Am continued to hobble lamely along, if in name alone. Down on oats, it still carried a hefty insurance vig, and the most reproachful thing of all was that it had become a caricature of itself. However unpalatable it might sound to some, the T/A is still a piece of history, and therefore must be preserved. So thank the gods for souls like Chris Williams!
Chris thought he saw his future on a movie screen, when Burt Reynolds got tight with his '77 T/A. That's what did it. Says Chris, "... I finally have the car I wanted since I saw Burt Reynolds smoking the tires in a black '77 T/A in the summer of '78." Movie magic aside, Chris' ride has far surpassed Burt's hokey sled, and the 13-year project is slowly coming to a close. As a part-time toolmaker, his major daily responsibilities concern the well-being of his three children and management of the home, while his wife Ruth works full-time. Ruth has graciously funded the rebuilding of Chris' car, but notes that he has some competition now, as she recently began work on her own road machine (a body-off resto on a '54 Ford Ranch Wagon).
Chris' hot rod icon commenced with a rust-free Cali car, which only needed a quarter-panel replaced and the faded paint scuffed up with a wet block before he dragged it over to a Maaco store. Prior to the stock paint color and several clear coat applications, however, he had become quite busy with the chassis prep. On the support he has had throughout rebuilding, Chris says, "My brother Robert, best friend Bob Falningam (this car wouldn't be what it is without his help), his bro Mike (who welded, painted, and straightened what I broke), and most of all Ruth, kept me and my spirit intact."
The Falningams and Chris installed custom-made framerail connectors and an 8-point rollcage, without having to compromise the dashboard. Even though the T/A was a Disco Era party favor, the original owner thankfully opted not to include the T-tops with his ten gold chains, so the 'cage and connectors represent an abundance of structural stability. The particulars of Chris' suspension are in the By the Numbers chart, and the Motive Motion (Itasca, Illinois) custom-built frame connectors were installed without cutting through the floor. "It handles like a fourth-Gen T/A," says Chris, and when he goes drag racing, he disables the front antisway bar and screws on the slicks.
"In the winter of '04, I was told by then Tech Editor of PHR, Scott Parkhurst, that my car sat like a 4x4 and would never be in his magazine," says Chris. "That got me motivated. I knew my T/A sat high in front, but a drop suspension wouldn't make it go any faster, would it? I was wrong there. I purchased a Hotchkiss Total Vehicle System that included 2-inch front, 1.5-inch rear drop springs, front and rear antisway bars, and polyurethane spring pads. I also installed new Moog HD front suspension pieces and Energy Suspension bushings. My T/A handles like it's on ... yes, rails." Additionally, the traction ancillaries include Southside Machine lift bars.
Although Chris removed the factory air conditioning to save a few pounds, he might have just offset the weight he already brought in. He likes high-grade audio, and so he included an Eclipse CD player, Carver amp, and Fosgate speakers. Chris also shucked the original threads in favor of white vinyl, and did all of the installation work himself. One of the best parts of any Trans Am is the factory instrument panel and gauge pack, which, in this case, is augmented by an Auto Meter shift light. Chris modified stock seats to accept the 5-point harness, and posted a Lecarra wheel that looks suspiciously like the original hardware.
For the go-fast segment, a Jim Butler-designed stroker kit kicked displacement from 400 to 460 ci. Meanwhile, Chris spent some quality time with the Edelbrock castings, back-cutting the valves and opening up the runners with a port and polish job. He yielded 314cfm at .650-inch lift on the exhaust, and 220cfm on the intake runners (as cast, the production Edelbrock head flows 286/199cfm). For security's sake, he infused the block with 12-point ARP head and main studs. Output is 578 lb-ft at 4,500 rpm and 562 hp at 6,000 rpm. In a ready-to-race 3,820-pounder, these numbers equate to 11.52/117 performance.
What is the price of glory? Not all that much it seems. Chris nailed the basic car for $1,500, got his engine through divine providence (won one of the four dream engines that Hot Rod built in '03), received a few gifts and free labor, waited for Summit and Jeg's sales, and bargained for the rest of it. If he had bought everything at list, the tally would have been more than $22,000. His total price? Less than half of that.
Hot-rodding used to be about function; the question of form came later, if at all. Now there is too much emphasis on style, and too much worrying about trends. As it is with our hobby, most people want what they cannot afford, so they drop out with a wish and sigh, never to return. But take a lesson from Chris Williams: You needn't pin all your hopes on a first-gen Camaro, or something with a similar price, when you can find an alternative that will set you just as free-and leave a lot more loot in your pocket. It's up to you.
The story behind Chris' 460-inch Poncho is an interesting one. Back in 2003, Hot Rod magaz
The fuel system on Chris' T/A is a great lesson in public relations, mostly because he got