Hotchkis coil springs up front and leaf springs in the rear beef up the stance in a very g
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."
The fully modernized cabin boasts Procar seats, a revamped factory A/C system, and a Kenwo
Resisting the urge to go with an LS motor, Paul opted for 461 ci of Pontiac power instead.
The taillights look stock, but they feature LED bulbs that light up sequentially as the br
To give the chassis the full Pro Touring rubdown, Paul revamped the suspension with Hotchkis springs, sway bars, subframe connectors, and front control arms. Spring damping comes courtesy of Bilstein shocks, and giant Wilwood brakes—13 inches up front and 12 inches out back—provide the stopping power. The 18x9 Snowflake wheels retain the look and feel of the stockers, but are large enough to accommodate 275mm-wide BFGoodrich rubber for some extra stick. "When I first started building this car in the early 2000s, Pro Touring wasn't nearly as big as it is today, so parts were harder to find. Luckily, it didn't take long for better suspension hardware to hit the market, which made building this car much easier," Paul says.
Since every g-Machine needs enough grunt underhood to take advantage of all that enhanced grip, Paul sent the Pontiac 400 engine to Patterson's Garage to have it stroked to 461 ci. After boring the holes out to 4.155 inches, Patterson fitted the block with an Eagle rotating assembly. Ported factory iron cylinder heads and an Edelbrock Performer RPM intake manifold provide the airflow, while a COMP 230/236-at-.050 hydraulic flat-tappet cam actuates the valves. Overall, it's a combo that prioritizes low-end grunt and civility over peak horsepower, just like Paul intended. He estimates output at 450-475 hp, but it's the torque that he truly enjoys. "This motor can break the tires loose at any speed, and you can lug it at 1,400 rpm on the freeway at 75 mph. It's so nice to be able to carry a conversation in the car, which I couldn't do with the four-speed," Paul says. What makes such easy freeway cruising possible is a Tremec T56 six-speed manual transmission that sends power back to a GM 12-bolt rearend with 3.42:1 gears.
After a tedious 10-year build, Paul put the finishing touches on it in 2012. Since then, he's logged over 10,000 miles cruising with Shannon all around the South to places like Talladega Superspeedway and the Jack Daniels Distillery. The duo also teams up with fellow Trans Am enthusiasts on annual Bandit Runs from Texarkana to Atlanta. Although cruising is what he enjoys the most, Paul's not afraid to let it rip from time to time. "I ran my car at an Optima Faceoff event in Texas in 2012, and while I wasn't close to being the fastest in the autocross or road course, everyone noticed how much fun I was having. I lit up the tires and slid the car sideways whenever I could, and because of my enthusiasm they gave me a Spirit of the Event award and an invite to the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational," he recalls. "I certainly didn't get invited because I was faster than anyone else, but racing against guys I looked up to and read about was the opportunity of a lifetime. I was ranked 18 out of 40 or so cars during the middle of the event, but I don't know where I finished overall and I don't care. I was just happy to be there."
Whether Paul is taking off for a midnight run to Alabama, cruising to Atlanta, running laps around the autocross or heading out to Las Vegas, he's living it up with both his keepers, which he happened to find on the same day. How much luckier can one man possibly get?
BY THE NUMBERS
1978 Pontiac Trans Am
Paul Welch, 38
Type: Pontiac 461
Block: factory iron bored to 4.155 inches
Oiling: Melling pump, stock pan
Rotating assembly: Eagle 4.250-inch forged steel crank and rods; Ross 9.7:1 forged pistons
Cylinder heads: Pontiac 6X iron castings ported to 240 cfm
Camshaft: COMP Cams 230/236-at-.050 hydraulic flat-tappet cam; .488/.491-inch lift; 110-degree LSA
Valvetrain: COMP Cams timing set, lifters, and pushrods; Butler 1.6:1 rocker arms
Induction: Edelbrock Performer RPM intake manifold, Holley 850-cfm carburetor
Fuel system: stock tank; Aeromotive pump and regulator
Ignition: MSD distributor, coil, plug wires, and 6AL ignition box
Exhaust: stock exhaust manifolds, dual 2.5-inch MagnaFlow mufflers
Transmission: D&D Performance T56 six-speed manual, Centerforce clutch, Hurst shifter
Rear axle: GM 12-bolt rearend with 3.42:1 gears and limited-slip differential
Front suspension: Hotchkis upper and lower control arms, springs, and sway bar; Bilstein shocks
Rear suspension: Hotchkis leaf springs, sway bar, and subframe connectors; Bilstein shocks
Brakes: Wilwood 13-inch rotors and six-piston calipers, front; Wilwood 12-inch rotors and four-piston calipers, rear
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: YearOne Snowflake 18x9, front and rear
Tires: BFGoodrich 275/40R18, front and rear