Don't let the cowboy hat and pointy-toe boots fool you. Steve Wayne's John Wayne-meets-Billy Bob attire belies an inner gentleman in tune with far more sophisticated proclivities. Never mind that he kept restocking his left hand with a steady supply of Bud Light in the 20-minute intervals during our photo shoot. Steve's daily driver is an Aston Martin DB9. He's turned hundreds of road course laps in Vipers and Ferraris. Outside his daily duties as a structural engineer, Steve gets his kicks building high-end street rods and Corvettes out of his house, then pawning them off on dudes too rich and sophisticated for their own good at Barrett-Jackson. It seems quite peculiar, then, that someone with such distinguished tastes should lust over a '76 Trans Am, complete with an obligatory screaming chicken emblazoned on the hood. That's because, like its owner, this Poncho packs more grace and elegance than its outward appearance lets on.

OK, maybe using words like grace and elegance to describe a mid-'70s Trans Am pushes the envelope of tasteful hyperbole a bit too far. Nonetheless, the subtle flair and thorough engineering infused into this machine makes the typical Pro Touring '69 Camaro look rather mundane. The scoot comes from a 500hp Pontiac 466 mated to a Tremec five-speed stick. The underpinnings consist of Hotchkis tubular links and QA1 adjustable shocks. Six-piston Baer clamps transform forward progress into thermal energy, and the car rides on 18-inch American Racing Cobra wheels wrapped in R-compound Nitto rubber. So far, there's nothing out of the norm that throws the g-Machine equilibrium off kilter, but all that changes once you dig a little deeper. The spindles have been moved inward 2 inches for increased brake caliper clearance. Brake cooling ducts now reside where the front parking lights used to be. Underhood, a custom linkage connects the carb's primaries to the hoodscoop's butterfly blades to ensure that both open and close in harmony. Inside, sumptuous buck hide leather covers the custom seats, headliner, and door panels. A pair of toggle switches mounted on the dash might look racy, but they actually operate the rear window defroster and stereo. Steve thought that a modern head unit would look too anachronistic and out of place, so it's tucked away in the trunk.

The list of subtleties goes on and on, and understanding Steve's approach to building cars and his fascination with '76 Trans Ams requires taking a trip way back to his formative years. During the pinnacle of the muscle car era, Steve was still in elementary school. By the time he turned 16, the year was 1976, and the days of high compression and steel bumpers were numbered. Steve says to anyone in high school at the time, the '76 Trans Am was the big cheese. "Muscle cars died five years earlier, but people were still clinging to them as best as they could. I wanted to buy a '73 Trans Am at first, but my dad talked me into buying a newer car, and I've never once regretted that decision," he says. "I think the '76 Trans Am was the last real muscle car, and at that time it was the coolest car you could get. It had a big spoiler, crazy graphics, and scoops, and even though it was a low-compression dog, '76 was the last year of the 455. After they started putting Oldsmobile and Chevy motors into Firebirds, the car just wasn't the same."