Enough with all the doom and gloom, please. We've been through this drill before, so put a sock in it, preferably one that reeks of stinky and politically incorrect hydrocarbons that will drift all the way to Kyoto. Sure, history has proven that overzealous regulation--courtesy of Feds who roll in SUVs with lobbyist checks spilling out the back--can castrate our beloved performance cars in no time flat. With rumors that a car czar, presumably imported from 16th century Russia, may soon be crowned to oversee the Big Three, it's certainly understandable why some hot rodders are worried. While we can't predict the future, we can look to the past for glimmers of hope.
Standing before us are three such glimmers, each from different points in that emissions-choked era known as the `70s. One's a corner-burning original '70 Challenger T/A that will handily embarrass a new '09 Challenger SRT-8 around a road course. Another's a 625hp '73 Mach 1 that runs deep 11s, and is surprisingly easy on the eyes. And perhaps the most outrageous of all is a daily driven '78 Trans Am powered by a blown, sprayed, and methanol-injected 498ci big-block Olds that belches out 847 rear-wheel hp. From the darkest hours in performance car history, one that supposedly produced very few viable hot rodding platforms, has emerged three kick-ass street machines each built for distinctly different purposes.
The recent reengagement of the ponycar war is still raging furiously, with the General, Ford, and Chrysler each dispatching brigades of retro warriors to the frontlines. Even if some brilliant lawmakers enact 50 mpg CAFE standards or mandatory hamster-powered hybrid assist motors, this trio of machines from the '70s proves that hot rodders won't go down without a fight. No matter what the circumstances, we will go fast and we're going to look damn good doing it, too.
The Trans AM
Even the Governator--with his advanced hyper-alloy endoskeleton and acute cyborg reflexes--isn't man enough to hang with Tony Panterra. A stuntman by trade, Tony's the guy behind the wheel in epic high-speed chases in films like Terminator 2, True Lies, and Heat. He does the powerslides, jumps, and J-turns through plumes of incendiary devices while chumps like Arnold and Al Pacino get all the credit. That's not a knock on either of those Hollywood legends, because very few people can hang with Tony, especially when he's stalking the streets in his '78 Trans Am.
To experience this car is to instantaneously forget every wisecrack you've ever heard associating second-gen Trans Ams with trailer parks. Tony's F-body packs a Vortech-blown, 116-octane burning, nitrous- and methanol-injected 498ci Oldsmobile big-block that lays down 847 hp and 760 lb-ft at the rear wheels. That's without the nitrous hooked up. Considering that he gets paid to pound on cars for a living, it's only natural that he drives his Trans Am often, and drives it hard. "After a night of partying on the Sunset strip, I love beating up on yuppies on the freeway," he quips. "These rich guys in Italian suits driving Ferraris, turbo Porsches, and Aston Martins try to mess with me all the time. All I have to do is hit the gas for a couple of seconds, and it's over. They see how violently the car jumps, and just give up."
Trans Ams of this vintage are typically owned by die-hard Pontiac buffs or fans of that Burt Reynolds flick, but neither applies to Tony. He's actually an Oldmobile guy who still owns his first car--a '69 Cutlass--to this day. "When I found out these Trans Ams had 403 Olds motors in them from the factory, they started growing on me. Then I came up with the idea to put a 455 big-block Olds in one, and the love affair started," he recollects. He purchased the car in 1993 for $800, and although it was straight and rust free, Tony says that it was a complete pile of junk. To get the car running, he dropped in a 350 Olds small-block and a 700R4 trans. Unfortunately, he gave the car to his then-girlfriend, and when they split he thought he'd never see it again. "After seven years, I somehow managed to get the car back. From that point on, it was my goal in life to finish it. I had to put some bad memories behind me and make some new ones."
As someone who works in the movie-making business, it's hardly surprising that his inspiration for the buildup was another car guy cult-classic film. "I wanted to build a Cannonball car that could run long distances at extremely high speeds, and do it comfortably and reliably without overheating," he explains. Tony went through a 455 and a 468 before settling on the current 498. Built by the Olds experts at Mondello Performance, the combo puts out 650 hp in naturally aspirated trim, thanks to a set of Batten cylinder heads and a behemoth 292/292-at-0.050 solid-roller cam. Stout, yes, but that was just the beginning. "Even though I was running 12.5:1 compression, my friends talked me into putting a blower on it. That switch now requires running 116-octane race gas, and I also had to rig up a boost-referenced methanol injection system. It may be expensive, but I still drive it in bumper-to-bumper traffic almost every day, and the car never overheats. Just the other day, I got an $1,800 shipment of race gas drums delivered to my house."
Tony hates garage queens with a passion, so he has big plans for the Trans Am. "I'm so sick of people bragging Yenko this and matching-numbers that; SS this and all-original that. So you're matching-numbers 427 big-block makes 425 hp and has a four-speed? Oooh, I'm scared," he opines. "As soon as I work out the bugs, I going to run the car at the dragstrip and go open-road racing. I think it will easily go high 9s in the quarter, and run well over 200 mph at Silver State." For someone as passionate over the matter and as skilled behind the wheel as Tony, we don't doubt him for a second.
With two nitrous bottles, a six-gallon methanol cell, and an intercooler water tank, the T
The suspension has been fully modernized with tubular Global West control arms, Koni coilo
|BY THE NUMBERS |
|'78 PONTIAC TRANS AM |
Tony Panterra, 42 * Encino, CA
|Type: ||Oldsmobile 498ci big-block |
|Block: ||factory Olds, bored to 4.200 inches |
|Rotating assembly: ||Eagle steel crank |
offset-ground to 4.500 inches,
Mondello aluminum rods,
Speed-Pro 12.5:1 pistons
|Cylinder heads: ||ported Batten aluminum castings |
|Camshaft: ||custom Mondello |
292/292-at-0.050 solid roller,
0.778/0.776-inch lift, 108-degree LSA
|Induction: ||Batten single-plane intake manifold, |
Carb Shop 950-cfm blow-through carb
|Power adder: ||Vortech YSi-trim centrifugal |
supercharger, NOS nitrous system jetted at 175 hp
|Exhaust: ||custom 2¼-inch long-tube headers, |
dual 3-inch Flowmaster mufflers
|Transmission: ||FB Performance Ford AOD auto and |
3,500-stall converter; B&M shifter
|Rear axle: ||Chassisworks 9-inch rearend, 35-spline axles, |
3.00:1 gears, limited-slip differential
|WHEELS & TIRES |
|Wheels: ||custom one-off Centerline 18x8, front; 18x9, rear |
|Tires: ||BFGoodrich 255/40R18, front; 285/40R18, rear |