Maybe if the hacks in Hollywood werent so busy telling everyone how to vote, they might actually make a decent car flick. In a ridiculously obscene era of performance thats spawned 580hp ZL1 Camaros and 650hp Shelby GT 500 Mustangs, the best Tinseltown can come up with are movies in which pitching a car sideways like a hooligan is supposedly a novel concept. Please. Every good ol boy in America has been doing that since he turned 14. And thats with one hand tied behind their backs and the other hand strumming a banjo. On the flip side, back in the day filmmakers had a knack for making something out of nothing.
Although plastic bumpers and wheezy 165hp Corvettes were the order of the day in the 70s, Hollywood somehow managed to make iconic heroes out of miserable smog-era machinery. Even junk like T-tops, tacky screaming chicken graphics, and a .5hp-per-cube V-8 werent enough to keep the Smokey & The Bandit 77 Trans Am down. Jumping bridges, driving through creeks and smoking the bacon made it an instant legend, and Wayne Layman was just one of the countless kids who had to have one. When that dream came true one day, instead of turning it into a clone of the movie car, he instead transformed it into an 11-second, fully modernized, LS-powered g-Machine that runs harder and looks way cooler than any piece of late-70s machinery should.
Wayne first watched that fabled cult classic flick at 11 years of age, and from that point forward his mission in life was to someday own a Trans Am. “Every time I went somewhere with my parents or grandparents, I was always looking for a Trans Am on the road. Whenever we talked about getting my first car, all I wanted was a Trans Am, and I started saving my money to get one,” he recalls. “Not long after my 15th birthday, my dad started scouring newspaper ads for Trans Ams. He looked at 30 or 40 cars before finding a 403-powered ’79 model that he thought was the perfect car for me. We didn’t want anyone to swoop us, so we went over to check the car out the same day that the classified ad came out. We didn’t get there until nighttime, so we had to buy a flashlight on the way just to see the car. It was very clean and only had 42,000 miles on it, and the next day I was the new owner.”
Wayne is a big fan of Chip Foose’s work, and opted for 20-inch Foose rollers. He installed
As a teenager with a paltry budget, Wayne kept it stock and drove the snot out of it, logging 10,000 miles during the first summer he owned it. The fact that his new ride was a 79 model, not a 77, was of no consequence to Wayne since his childhood dream had finally materialized. Coming from a long line of hot rodders, however, he couldnt leave the car alone. I repainted the car, and jacked the back end up as high as I could. My dad bought me some Cragar S/S wheels for Christmas, so that let me put some fat tires in the back, Wayne recollects.
After eight years of service, his enthusiasm for the Trans Am waned, and he stored it in a barn. “Over the next 10 years, I drove everything from trucks to Buick Grand Nationals. Then in 2004, as the Pro Touring scene started getting really big, I took the Trans Am out of storage,” Wayne explains. “At first, the plan was just to repaint it, but one thing led to another and I was suddenly deep into a full g-Machine build. There was a time when no one liked ’79 Trans Ams, so I thought it would be cool to turn one into a Pro Touring car. You see ’69 Camaros built that way all the time, but not Trans Ams. Since no one else had done it before, I thought the potential was there to make it a one-of-a-kind car.”
In addition to building a custom center console, Wayne ditched the factory red interior an
Although the Trans Am had just 66,000 original miles on the clock and had been sitting in storage for a decade, Wayne completely disassembled the car. "My neighbors kept driving by and asking, 'Man, why are you taking apart such a clean and original car?' I told them that it's just a run-of-the-mill Trans Am, nothing special, but it was going to be special after I got done with it," he quipped. Disassembling the body panels revealed a solid subframe and undercarriage, which were sandblasted and powdercoated. The floorpans, trunk floor, and quarters were all rock solid, and Wayne says that there isn't a single patch panel on the entire body. As someone with no inhibitions, you might get the impression that Wayne's just some joker who haphazardly tears into cars, but that's simply not the case. This is a man who plans every move with methodical attention to detail. "When you build a car, everything has to flow and the entire combination must be well balanced. I didn't want the car to look crazy and over the top, but I didn't want it to look stock, either."
Not surprisingly, the Trans Am packs a multitude of tasteful yet subtle body modifications that aren't revolutionary, but merely further refine the original body lines. The rear spoiler is a custom one-off design that sits shorter and leans back farther than the stock unit. Additionally, Wayne shaved the marker lights and integrated functional vents into the front bumper and fenders. As batty as it sounds, Wayne spent hours upon hours drawing slightly tweaked renditions of the screaming chicken logo by hand, and passed the design onto his graphics guy once it was perfected. He even went through dozens of different fonts before finding a style that looked just right for the car's Trans Am logos.
Not a fan of the factory taillights, Wayne had Spaghetti Engineering design custom LED pie
With the bodywork complete, Wayne focused on getting the car's mechanical bits in order. He scored a '00 Trans Am donor car, and swapped the LS1 engine, 4L60E overdrive, and 10-bolt rearend into his '79 Trans Am. To maximize the Gen III small-block's grunt without breaking the bank, Wayne bolted up a set of ported GM LS6 cylinder heads, matched them up with a 222/224-at-.050 COMP hydraulic roller cam, and then topped everything off with a 150hp hit of nitrous. Wayne estimates that the combo is good for 425 hp at the rear wheels, and with high 11-second e.t.'s at the dragstrip, that figure seems plenty legit. Even so, not everyone likes seeing an LS small-block in a vintage Pontiac, but Wayne gets a kick out of it. "I have purists come up to me all the time and ask why I put a Chevy motor in a Pontiac. First of all, I pulled this motor out of a late-model Pontiac, not a Chevy," he explains. "Secondly, my car didn't even have a Pontiac motor in it from the factory. It came with a 403ci Olds motor. I'm glad I'm not a purist, or else I'd be stuck with 195 hp and a 15-second car. That's no fun. Running high 11s at the track is much more entertaining."
Since g-Machines don't live by acceleration alone, Wayne built a chassis capable of managing the Trans Am's newfound grunt. Instead of taking the easy way out with bolt-on goodies, Wayne took a more creative approach. Recognizing that second-gen F-bodies were equipped with capable front underpinnings from the factory, especially compared to their first-gen forbears, he retained the stock control arms while bolting on a set of 2-inch drop spindles and RideTech air shocks. In the rear, Wayne knew that the stock leaf springs wouldn't cut it, but finding a better solution wasn't exactly easy. "I started building this car before all the aftermarket companies came out with four-link kits for second-gen F-bodies, so I had to build my own. With the help of my friend Jake Mooney, we came up with a custom triangulated four-link design," he says.
True to the Midwestern hot rodding tradition-where brains and fabrication talent trump white-collar bankrolls-Wayne has built a car out of his garage that can hang with the checkbook cars for a fraction of the price. Tastefully modernizing a late-'70s muscle machine is no small feat because, let's face it, people realized that the infamous black Trans Ams glorified on the silver screen weren't nearly as cool in real life as they were in the movies. "In my opinion, everything on a car needs to flow and look like a better version of what the factory originally designed. That's what I set out to achieve when building this car," he explains. Without question, the end product has far exceeded those goals, which isn't too shabby at all for something inspired by a movie car stricken with tacky screaming chicken graphics and a .5hp-per-cube V-8.
By The Numbers
1979 Pontiac Trans Am
Wayne Layman, Plainwell, MI
The trick twin-snorkel cold-air induction system is a custom piece, and the firewall has b
Type: GM 346ci LS1 Gen III small-block
Block: factory aluminum
Oiling: stock pump and F-body oil pain
Rotating assembly: factory GM cast crank, rods, and 10.0:1 pistons
Cylinder Heads: ported GM LS6 castings
Camshaft: COMP Cams 222/224-at-.050 hydraulic roller cam; .566/.568-inch lift; 112-degree LSA
Valvetrain: stock timing set, lifters, pushrods, and rocker arms
Induction: factory GM F-body intake manifold and throttle body
Fuel system: stock tank; Aeromotive pump and regulator
Ignition: stock coil packs and plug wires
Power adder: 150hp nitrous oxide injection
Exhaust: stock GM exhaust manifolds, dual 3-inch Flowmaster mufflers
Transmission: GM 4L60E trans, FTI 3,500-stall converter
Rear axle: GM 10-bolt rearend with 3.73:1 gears and limited-slip differential
Front suspension: stock control arms, McGaughy's 2-inch drop spindles, RideTech air springs, Air Lift shocks
Rear suspension: custom four-link, RideTech air springs, Air Lift shocks
Brakes: Wilwood 13-inch rotors and four-piston calipers, front and rear
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Foose Nitrous, 20x8.5, front and 20x10, rear
Tires: Toyo 285/40R20, front; 315/35R20, rear