Some people go an entire lifetime without finding one real keeper. The practice of trading in wives and project cars for younger, hotter models seems to reinforce this inconvenient truth. Don't tell that to Paul Welch, who miraculously found two keepers in one day. Statisticians we're not, but the odds of landing your dream car and dream girl in one fell swoop has to be spectacularly slim, making Paul quite possibly the luckiest dude alive. What's more, it's only once you hear the tale of how the two loves of his life simultaneously came together that you fully realize how deep this man's luck really runs. "I stood up my girlfriend on our second date so I could drive from Texas to Alabama to pick up my Trans Am," he chuckles. "I was sure she was going to break up with me, but she didn't even get mad. When she was still waiting up for me after I got back home, I knew she was the one for me." That was 12 years ago, and the happy couple is now married with one sweet 1978 Trans Am parked in their garage. Thanks to the blessing of one keeper, Paul was able to transform his other keeper from a primered-up heap into an undercover Pro Touring bruiser that can mix it up with the big boys at the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational.

Although this story has a happy ending, like most men in their mid 20s, Paul's priorities were a bit mixed up. Ever since he watched Burt Reynolds pitching a black and gold 1977 Trans Am sideways on the big screen, he had to have one too. Two decades later—after years and years of searching for a four-speed car with T-tops to no avail—he found a 1978 Trans Am on eBay right before getting off of work on a Friday night. He put in a last-minute bid for $1,500, and was shocked to win the auction. That was at 8:30 p.m. "The problem was that I had already made plans with Shannon. We had gone out for drinks once before and this was supposed to be our first real date, but it was more important to me to pick up the car," Paul admits. "I was so excited that I didn't want to have the car shipped, and I left at 10 p.m. that night to make the 26-hour roundtrip to Alabama and back to go get it. I explained to Shannon that we couldn't go out that night because I just found my dream car. Instead of getting mad, she was happy for me and was eager to see the car in person. Once I got back into town, she came over the next morning and made me waffles. No woman I had ever been with before had tolerated that kind of nonsense, and I knew at that moment that she was a keeper."

Considering that Paul put an entire hour and a half of planning into his trip to Alabama, it proved to be an epic adventure as well. "Growing up I had this cool uncle, Dan Ferree, who had a gold 1978 Trans Am that I always loved. I picked him up, we drove all through the night, and got to Alabama at 10:00 the next morning," he recollects. "After I got the keys to my new Trans Am, I filled up the tank and headed back to Texas with my uncle following me in my truck. The car's interior had been gutted, and the heat radiating off the headers made it very hot inside. Even though it was February and still cold outside, I had to drive with the T-tops off. If the car broke down, I had no backup plan on how to get it back home, but I was so happy to finally have my dream car that it didn't matter. The adrenaline rush was awesome. My uncle joked, 'Let's take a picture with you and the car so you'll have something to remember it by if it doesn't make the drive back home.'"

But wait, the road trip story gets even better. Right before crossing the Texas state line, Paul and his uncle stopped by a Waffle House to load up on caffeine. "As we walked in the waitress asked, 'Is that your car?' I turned around just in time to see my car rolling across the parking lot and into a ditch," Paul laments. "I didn't get the V-gate shifter into gear like I thought I did, but fortunately the mud in the ditch prevented the car from rolling into the street. Half the Waffle House walked out with us to see what happened to the car. As I hammered the gas pedal and threw mud everywhere to free the car, all the drunks were hooting and hollering and cheered me on. Everyone patted me on the back once we finally got the car out, then we BS'd with some muscle car guys we met inside before driving back the rest of the way."

Once back home, Paul started to assess the condition of his new toy and planned on restoring it back to stock specifications. Although it was wearing three different shades of primer, the body was very solid. After replacing one of the fenders, prepping the body and spraying it with a fresh coat of black paint, the bulk of the Trans Am's aesthetic rehab was complete. On the flip side, the car's mechanicals were another issue entirely. Although the factory Pontiac 400 engine still ran well, after driving the car around Dallas traffic for a few weeks, the car's shortcomings became painfully obvious. "I realized that in order to cruise around safely in traffic, it had to keep up with modern cars on the road today in terms of handling and braking," Paul explains. "The only way to accomplish that was stripping it down to nothing and building the car back up from scratch using modern suspension and brake technology. The small front disc and rear drum brakes weren't going to get the job done either."