Just like the big boys, Bob prefers stacking dozens of subtle aesthetic tweaks upon each other that cumulatively yield a dramatic visual kick rather than opting for a couple of flamboyant changes that net an incredibly amateur end product. From afar, it looks like nothing more than a stock Trans Am with a hot stance and big wheels. Up close, however, the subtle design elements flow like hookup lines in an eHarmony.com chat room. Virtually every body part has been modified in some way or form. Out back, Bob shortened the rear bumper 4 inches and recessed it into the quarter-panel. He then built a custom taillight panel from 3/16-inch steel to streamline the light lenses. Beneath the bumper, the quarter-panels have been extended into a handbuilt roll pan that sits closer to the ground than the stock piece, and also houses the exhaust tips. Likewise, the rocker panels have been rolled to cover up the factory pinch welds. In an effort to replace the factory rear spoiler with something less gaudy, Bob fabbed a one-off piece from 18-gauge steel. "I pictured what a Firebird would look like if GM were to build one today, and tried to create it out of sheetmetal," he says. "My goal was to make the Trans Am look sleeker and more modern by smoothing out the car's lines, but I also wanted the aesthetic changes to be completely functional. I tried to make the body panels look more streamlined and elegant with changes that were both subtle yet noticeable."
Bob's ability to shape custom sheetmetal is just one of his myriad skills, and he's learned a thing or two about fiberglass fabrication over the years as well. To give his bird a custom beak, Bob started out with an aftermarket fiberglass front nose and filled in the vent openings. The bottom of the nose then got hacked off and reshaped with a custom fiberglass spoiler, foglight openings, and brake ducts. The one-off hood met a similar fate. It started out as a fiberglass aftermarket unit, which Bob immediately cut a pair of vents into. By positioning them right behind the cooling fans, they help extract heat from the engine compartment. The finished product is a rather complex panel with smoothly flowing contours that looks factory. Bob estimates that he spent 100 hours on the hood alone, but that wasn't the most difficult piece of fiberglass to fabricate. "I noticed that the Ringbrothers and Troy Trepanier were putting bellypans on a lot of their cars, and I really liked the way they covered up the gas tank and made the bottom of the car look so clean. I wanted to put one on my Trans Am, but I had no idea how to make it," he says. "I first made a mold of the bellypan out of wood, then I took it to a local guy who makes fiberglass animals for miniature golf courses. He said he was way too busy to take on a project like mine, but he agreed to let me use his equipment for $50. I learned a ton from hanging around his shop, and that gave me the experience I needed to fabricate the nose and hood of my Tran Am out of fiberglass as well."
Even brand loyalists who despise Pontiacs, or all GMs in general, can't help but sit back in awe at the magnitude of fabrication ability exhibited by a guy working out of his two-car garage. So how exactly does the average hot rodder develop the chops necessary to build a car of this caliber? "My dad taught me when I was little that if someone else can build something, that means you can build it too. That's just the prevailing philosophy out here in the Midwest," he says. For a man with such gifted hands, Bob maintains his modesty and is always willing to learn more. "It's not that I'm a better car builder than anyone else, I just have an eye for it and seek out help whenever I can. Some people want to be know-it-alls, but if you're willing to talk to people with an open mind, it's amazing the kind of advice you can pick up. Most of the stuff I've learned is from my friends and guys I talk to at various shows, and even people who build cars that aren't as nice as yours have valuable skills you can learn. Believe it or not, high-end builders are also willing to talk and aren't as hush-hush as you might think. Mike Ring of Ringbrothers has helped me out a ton, and sometimes the most basic tips go a long way. For instance, one time Mike told me that if you use an air gun to cool down your welds, you can move along to your next weld so much more quickly because you don't have to wait for the first weld to cool down. I've had guys at the local body shop give me tips as well, and being stupid enough to jump head first into a project can sometimes pay off. Of course, it never hurts to have very talented friends who are willing to lend a hand."
Brake ducts integrated into the front spoiler run down the framerails, and supply cool air
Appleman Interiors in Lancaster, Ohio, gets credit for the Trans Am's inner sanctum. The d