At this point, the Laguna was fully restored and running strong, however, the aftermarket arms race was in full swing, and bottom 13s were no longer adequate. In 1998-after a full 10 years of abuse-Steve decided that it was time to freshen up the big-block and take a few seconds off of the car's e.t. Following his tradition of keeping things cheap and simple, he bored the block 0.030-over, installed a set of SRP 13.0:1 pistons, and reused the same crank and rods. The factory rectangle-port iron cylinder heads were ported and fitted with larger 2.25/1.88-inch Manley valves. An Edelbrock Victor intake manifold and a Holley 1,050-cfm carburetor were selected to feed the hungry short-block. For a potent yet streetable powerband, Steve opted for a COMP 260/266-at-.050 solid roller cam. Matched with a Coan 4,500-stall converter, the Laguna's best pass to date is a 10.96 at 122 mph. Steve reports that the motor will run fine on pump gas if the timing advance is dialed back accordingly, but he prefers running a 50/50 mix of pump gas and 100-octane race fuel for track duty.

Getting all that power to hook is a suspension that's far more pragmatic than exotic. The only aftermarket pieces are Competition Engineering 90/10 front shocks and rear lowering springs. Everything else is stock. Gargantuan Hoosier 28x13.5x15 Quick Time Pro tires are largely responsible for making such a rudimentary setup work so well. Surprisingly, thanks to the unbelievably commodious factory wheelwells, the only tweak necessary to fit the huge meats is cutting the quarter-panel lips. On a typical day at the track, the Laguna has no problem laying down consistent 1.62-second 60-foot times.

Considering Steve has obsessed over the Laguna for the last 23 years, it's hardly shocking that he's already mapped out its next wave of mods. After enduring 11 years of street driving and over 100 passes at the track, Steve plans on freshening up the big-block in the near future. For added hook, the stock rear control arms will be replaced with aftermarket units. Moreover, Steve has been reluctant to test out the recently installed transbrake out of fear of breaking the factory 12-bolt, so a fabricated Moser 9-inch is in the pipeline.

Much like an arranged marriage, Steve has fallen in love with a partner he wasn't necessarily crazy about at first. In this case, however, the relationship has morphed into full-blown polygamy. "Ever since I bought this car, I always find myself having to explain what it is, and this only fuels my passion for Lagunas. Over the years, I have owned 12 different Lagunas, and still have four of them today," Steve says. "In addition to the '76, I have an all-original '74 S-3 with a 454 and just 37,000 miles, another big-block '74 S-3 with a four-speed that needs some restoration work, and a '73 S-3 that's been my daily driver for several years. Consequently, I find myself constantly looking for parts for these cars. I had an entire building full of Laguna parts at one point, and even have a stash of "S-3" emblems at my house. They're not the prettiest cars out there, but they've never failed me."

With all the receipts tallied up, Steve estimates that he has less than $25,000 invested into the entire project. Granted, much of the cost cutting comes from buying the Laguna in 1986, before musclecar values went gangbusters, but '73-77 A-bodies are still very reasonably priced today. As Steve's car illustrates, thinking outside the '64-72 foxhole opens the doors to a world of alternative muscle with loads of potential. So what if the front end of Steve's Laguna isn't for everyone? Unless your car runs quicker than 10s, you'll never see it in your rearview mirror.