The Red Dragon

Duck and cover! It's a self-preservation strategy that's becoming a familiar ritual for John Cunningham whenever he rolls up to a crowd full of muscle car traditionalists. That's because his '73 Trans Am used to be an original, 74,000-mile, factory 455 car with a four-speed and A/C. Not surprisingly, transforming it into a g-Machine wasn't part of the original plan. "I was going to just repaint it, replace the carpet, and restore it back to its original numbers-matching condition, but I didn't want to put a bunch of money into a car I could never drive. It would have only gotten 6 mpg anyway," he quips. "After I started talking to Kevin King about our Trans Am projects, he suggested building something that I could actually drive. I've always wanted a '73 Trans Am since I was 10 years old, so I definitely wanted to be able to enjoy the car after finishing it."

Like Kevin, John had also been on the lookout for a Trans Am for a very long time. "These cars used to be everywhere in the late '80s. I remember passing up on an opportunity to buy a '71 Trans Am for $700 just because it had a little bit of rust on the fenders," he laments. When he started searching for an early second-gen Trans Am once again, the task proved unfruitful. After spotting what he figured was a Camaro sitting under a car cover, he finally stopped to check it out after having driven right past it for three years. "I walked up to this old lady's front yard, picked up the car cover, and saw this perfect Buccaneer Red '73 Trans Am sitting there. It was her son's car, and I convinced them that they needed to sell it."

After deciding to take the Pro Touring plunge, John yanked out the 455 and replaced it with a Chevrolet Performance LS7 crate motor. Thanks to an Edelbrock supercharger, the motor kicks out 570 hp and 550 lb-ft at the rear wheels. "Those figures are with the low-boost pulley. With a smaller blower pulley, the combo is good for another 100 hp," John says. The potent Gen IV mill is mated to a McLeod clutch and a Tremec T56 six-speed transmission. Getting it all to stick to the pavement, both in a straight line and around corners, is a Detroit Speed and Engineering front clip and suspension, as well as a QuadraLink four-link out back.

Ultimately, the combination of all this state-of-the-art hardware has netted a wonderfully balanced package that flat out rips at the track and cruises like a Tomahawk missile on the open road. Need proof? After this year's MCOTY competition outside Columbus, Ohio, John went cruising through the Carolinas and down to Georgia just for fun, then drove all the way back home to Kentucky. For some reason, we don't think he regrets ripping out that stock 455 and four-speed, not one bit.

By The Numbers

1973 Pontiac Trans Am
John Cunningham, 46 • Mayfield, KY


Type: GM LS7 small-block
Block: factory 4.125-inch bore aluminum
Oiling: Melling oil pump, GM pan
Rotating assembly: GM forged steel 4.000-inch crankshaft, titanium connecting rods, and 11:1 hypereutectic pistons
Cylinder Heads: stock LS7
Camshaft: factory 211/230-at-.050 hydraulic roller; .591/.591-inch lift; 120.5-degree LSA
Valvetrain: stock
Induction: Edelbrock E-Force aluminum blower manifold
Power adder: Edelbrock E-Force intercooled supercharger kit No. 1572
Ignition: GM coil packs and wires
Exhaust: custom YearOne headers, dual MagnaFlow mufflers
Cooling: GM water pump; Be Cool aluminum radiator and dual electric fans
Output: 570 hp and 550 lb-ft at rear-wheels


Transmission: Tremec T56 six-speed trans, McLeod clutch
Rear axle: GM 8.5-inch rearend with 3.23: gears and limited-slip differential


Front suspension: Detroit Speed and Engineering subframe assembly, control arms, spindles, sway bar, and coilovers
Rear suspension: Detroit Speed and Engineering QuadraLink four-link and coilovers
Brakes: Baer 14-inch discs with 6-piston calipers, front and rear

Wheels & Tires

Wheels: YearOne billet Honeycomb 18x10, front; 18x12, rear
Tires: BFGoodrich 295/35R18, front; 335/30R18, rear