With just 88,000 original miles on the odometer, this Trans Am is a true survivor car. All the body panels, trim, and paint are factory original. The Pontiac has never had so much as a patch panel welded to its skin. It was rarely driven during Steve's college days and didn't see many street miles throughout the '80s and '90s. Through the years that the Trans Am sat idle, Steve kept his hot rodding skills sharp by building everything from Chevy IIs to Corvettes, to VW Beetles and street rods. He made a habit out of churning out a high-dollar street machine every year. Over time, folks around town became aware of Steve's mechanical abilities, and he started building complete cars for other people out of his own garage just for fun. "The more you learn about cars, the more interesting they get," he says. "To me, nothing's more gratifying than building a car at my house with my buddies. I've never been someone who takes a car to a hot rod shop, and that's taught me how to spend money wisely."
When he wasn't engineering buildings or turning wrenches, Steve kept busy road racing Vipers and Ferraris. The experience got him hooked on the fine art of corner burning, but he still felt a sense of emptiness that even a fleet of exotics couldn't fill. "Exotic cars are fun, but the problem is you can't actually work on them. I knew I'd come back to my Trans Am someday, and I started getting serious about it five years ago," he says. "I wanted to build a car in the spirit of Trans Am racing like an AAR 'Cuda or a Z/28, but with a Pontiac. It needed to be able to turn laps on a road course, but with an old-school muscle car flavor mixed in with some European sports car flair. Retaining the old-school vibe was very important, so I didn't want to go over the top and make the car look too modern."
The first order of business was stiffening up the suspension, so Steve installed a set of Hotchkis lowering springs, QA1 shocks, and Global West control arms and sway bars. He turned his attention to the cockpit next, and fitted it with a rollbar, custom bucket seats, and Classic Instruments gauges. Drawing inspiration from Ferrari 360s and 430s, Steve screwed custom billet aluminum plates to the floorboard and pedals. In keeping with the not-too-modern motif, a 5-channel amp and subwoofer are hidden behind the rear seats; an iPod hookup is inside the center armrest, and nine speakers inconspicuously surround the cabin.
Steve tried running long-tube...
Steve tried running long-tube headers, but had ground clearance issues since Pontiac motors sit very low in Firebird chassis. His solution was installing factory exhaust manifolds off of a Ram Air IV car. He says the loss in power is negligible, and ground clearance problems are a thing of the past.
Although the exterior didn't need any bodywork, Steve couldn't leave good enough alone. "I originally wanted to buy a '73 Trans Am, so I installed the front clip off of a '73 onto my car. I've always liked the bird-nose front end of those cars, since they remind me of the '70-72 GTO," he says. Since the car was built as a driver, Steve painted the engine bay flat black to hide dirt and eliminate the need to clean it all the time. Deciding what to put in that cavity proved to be more difficult. "I flirted with the idea of putting a modern LS3 or an LS6 in the car, but there's definitely some dignity in keeping a Pontiac motor in a Pontiac, especially since '76 was the last year of the 455. The 455 was so badly detuned that year, I knew I'd be able to pick up a ton of power just by making a few simple changes."