Tim’s ’74 LeMans is both a vessel of enjoyment, and a tool of his trade—running bootleg whiskey until a short time ago. It is neither the prettiest nor the fastest hot rod we’ve ever seen, but it’s damn near the most interesting.
Incredibly, the interior was...
Incredibly, the interior was almost this nice when Tim pulled it out of a North Carolina barn in 2006. All it needed were some Sunpro gauges (monster tach on the trans tunnel and water temp, oil pressure, and voltage under the dash), and a slight upholstery repair (by Waller’s Upholstery in Danville, Virginia). Check out the mint dash, steering wheel, and carpet.
Despite the fame of a top-rated TV show, Tim and family—comprised of wife, Shelby, and son, JT—are of modest means. Tim—a Gulf War army veteran—works several jobs to make ends meet (he’s also the chief of his local volunteer fire department and a maintenance mechanic at a mattress factory) and spending big coin on a hot rod project car is out of the question. The ’74 LeMans was no exception. In its initial state, the faded burgundy-colored LeMans looked pretty sorry, but looks can be deceiving. After changing the oil, swapping the plugs, replacing the battery, putting in new transmission fluid, and a B&M holeshot converter, the stock two-barrel Pontiac 350 fired right up. “We got a new exhaust system for it, new springs, and shocks. It was sitting way low to the ground in the back—like it had been haulin’ a lot of moonshine,” Tim says with a chuckle.
As a point of practicality, any sort of “Pro Touring” visual treatment by way of huge wheels and a low stance would be out of the question—flashy rolling stock would be too expensive, it would draw undue attention to the car, it wouldn’t be appropriate for dirt and gravel roads encountered during covert activity, and low ground clearance would hinder accessibility to the still site. Says Tim: “I got some heavy-duty station wagon springs to hold it up. I needed more ground clearance, so I took the 14-inch wheels off, and put the 15-inchers on.” Tim’s choice of budget-minded 15x8 PMD steel rally wheels with bigger Cooper Cobra tires (225/70R15, front; 275/60R15, rear) would give the large coupe ample visual mass while giving it extra ground clearance and sharp looks.
For several years, this is the form Tim ran the LeMans, including for much of its bootlegging duties. The faded burgundy paint, humble two-hole Pontiac 350 mill, and ragtag appearance allowed Tim to blend right into the background when making his illicit whiskey runs. We tried our best to get Tim to embellish his exploits behind the wheel, but he didn’t bite; hauling down the highway with contraband like Burt Reynolds or Robert Mitchum is the easy way to the slammer, contends Tim. “The goal is to outsmart the police; you don’t want to outrun ’em. You gotta blend in with the traffic flow—that’s the best thing. You don’t want to be a loaner—you want to have cars in front of you and cars behind you. You don’t want to be in the left lane.”
The older that Tim’s son, JT, got, the more interested he became in the disco-era LeMans. The desire to build it up was shared by both father and son, so in 2011 it was finally time to sharpen up the looks and add some power. Tim and JT got going on the bodywork, stripping off all ornamentation, then smoothing out and filling most of the small dents. “I did as much as I could to save on the paintwork, then I carried it to Maaco, and they shot it for $500,” Tim says. The black single-stage urethane finish is by no means car show perfect, but it looks good enough to turn heads while it’s rolling down the street.
Underhood resided the original two-barrel Pontiac 350 mill. Considered by snobbier enthusiasts to be the Rodney Dangerfield of Pontiac motors (because they get no respect), Tim and JT saw potential, and decided to do a simple .060-over rebuild using the stock cast crank, stock rods, and new Sealed Power forged pistons and rings. Farming out only the machine work to Taylor’s Engines (Providence, North Carolina), Tim and JT assembled the engine in their detached blockhouse garage. The plan was to reuse as many of the factory parts as possible to hold the cost down, and spend money where it would make the most sense. With that in mind, Taylor’s Engines ported and polished the stock heads, and cut them for bigger 2.11-/1.66-inch valves. Interesting factoid: Tim says even with the small bore of the Pontiac 350, no notching of the block was required to fit those huge valves.