• A Firebird, a Trans-Am, oh and a Vette too

    I have always been interested in American cars, probably from the great American TV series and Movies that dominated our TV screen in the 70's and 80's, but in particular I have always loved Firebirds and Trans-am.
    In 1982 I used to spend most Saturdays in my local book shop reading a book called Firebird by Richard Carlyon until eventually for my 12th birthday later that year my parents bought me the book.
    I spent countless hours reading, studying and drawing the cars in the book and I guess owning a Firebird of my own was destined to become a reality in these early years.

    Fast forward to 1993, aged 22, the dream became a reality when I saved enough money to buy my first American Car. A 1974 Firebird with the 4.1L straight six found its way into my possession complete with hand painted bodywork! The guy who used to service my typical English cars at the time did not want to know so I bought myself some workshop manuals and got to work.
    A top end engine rebuild, new shock absorbers and some body work later I was away and enjoying the new found American Car Scene. The car was never going to win any prizes compared to the cars I found at the shows but it was mine and I got much better MPG than the V8 boys I was hanging with. About this time I joined the now defunct Classic Trans-Am Register and Club which I later ran with another Firebird Compadre from the Swindon area.

    In 1995 the bug for the V8 was too great for me too resist and the '74 was sold and replaced by a 1978 Firebird Esprit that had been converted to a Trans-Am clone by a previous owner. This car had a Pontiac 400ci engine from 1975 that had serious overheating issues until I found a plate missing from within the water pump. The Internet proved invaluable in diagnosing this (I have always worked in IT so had access to the Internet before many were even aware of its existence!) as none of the manuals showed the plate and unless you knew it was missing you would never know!

    The Firebird stayed with me for 10 years during which time I undertook a massive restoration. It stayed a Trans-Am clone but there was virtually nothing I didn't do to the car and I am a massive believer that the aftermarket offers much better solutions than GM did originally. Certainly not cheap but it was fun and until I saw the '97 car the bird was going nowhere.

    I still have no idea what I was doing browsing the for sale section of American Car Imports web site. I was at work and should have been working after all. But the bright red 1997 Trans-Am with red leather and a 6 speed manual kept me staring at the screen. Some discussions with Clare later and the decision was made and 3weeks later the car came home in Feb 2003. This meant the '78 Firebird didn't get used too much in and in 2005 I finally sold it.
    My new toy was a completely original Euro Spec 1997 Trans-Am with the LT1 engine and the 6 speed manual gearbox, red leather interior with t-tops.

    I kept my car completely stock for a couple of years even paying other people to do work on it (the computer engine controls scaring me) but after a while the desire to replace bits with aftermarket became too strong.
    Like most people I have had a go at drag-racing but I much prefer carving the corners and whilst the T/A handled far better than Jeremy Clarkson and Co. would have you believe, the modifications to mine made it even better, and as I later discovered was almost as good as the Corvette C5!

    The full list included:
    SLP Cold Air Intake
    Throttle Body Airfoil
    Custom Tune by PCMforless
    MAC mid length headers and y-pipe with high flow cats
    Borla Cat-back Exhaust
    QTP electric cut-out
    Richmond 3.73 gears
    1LE Aluminium Prop Shaft
    SLP Stage 2 clutch
    SLP Billet Steel Flywheel
    Sam Strano hollow 35mm front sway bar and 22m rear sway bar with poly bushings
    SLP Sub-frame connectors
    Hawk pads & rotors front and rear, '98 on front brake conversion
    Braided brake lines
    UMI Lower control arms with poly/roto joints
    BMR 1.25" drop springs with increased spring rate
    Koni Single Adjustable Shock Absorbers
    Custom rear spring cushions
    Watts link (replacing the panhard bar)
    American Racing Torque Thrust II wheels with Kumho 275/45 17 tyres on all four corners.
    I had also done a couple of minor appearance modifications.

    The Trans-Am was my baby, kept highly polished and won me several trophies but after 10 year�s of ownership the spark wasn�t there anymore. At about this time, my employer rewarded me with promotion and a significant payrise, and as any diehard American car owner would, my thoughts turned to what next?

    Well, I could up the power level of the LT1 of course. Supercharge it, stroke it, add some NOS. Or I could replace with an LSx, hmmm, 4th gen with an LS9 anyone?

    Or I could return to my first love, 2nd gen T/A's, and then modify to handle well too. It does take some work and some fabrication but all doable.

    And then I started looking at Corvette's, the next logical step from an f-body. Initially I looked at C6's (2004-2013) but I really wanted a Z06 as they are wide body compared to the regular models and they were out of my price range. Having discounted the C6 I looked at the C5's but again the regular coupe left me feeling uninspired. But the C5 Z06? Well! Lighter, more unique, more HP, proven handling and for me styling that reminds me of a fighter plane with its bubble style cockpit when viewed from the side!!

    I did some research to ensure I knew what wanted and to educate myself on Corvette's and the more I learnt the more I wanted. About then, a silver low mileage Z06 came up for sale with a well-known dealer, and with finances in place I went to see. I know you should never buy the first car you look at but the test drive had me smitten, and besides the Z06 doesn't come up very often, so a deal was struck. I built in some things I wanted done, to the deal and that meant I had to wait to take it home. I'm glad I didn't hesitate as he reckons he could have sold it several times in the couple of weeks I had to wait!

    The drive home was uneventful. The car performed faultlessly and drew attention everywhere. I had already budgeted to replace the valve springs, a known failure point on 2002/2003 Z06's and I did this virtually immediately, and then winter set in.
    2014 rolled in and eventually so did spring. The car was great, and handled superbly although only slightly better than the modified T/A. I settled into the cars personality and gradually got used to its stunning performance. Remember, this car is supposed to be able to do 3.9s 0-60 which is more than 1.5secs faster than the T/A could muster so it took some getting used to, and to this day I haven't turned the active handling off!

    I have covered 3000 miles since purchase and attended 15 shows in 2014 from as far north as Loughborough and many along the south coast! Hopefully 2015 will be as busy and would love to do some European events too.
    Mods? None yet but who knows..

    Update: When I bought the Z06, I also joined the Corvette Club UK and almost instantly regretted it due to clique'y and snobbish attitudes. I know I am not alone in finding the CCCUK like this - many ex-members of the CCCUK I spoke to agreed it was why they too were ex-members. But, for me it spoilt the enjoyment of ownership.
    Not all bad though - after winning a trophy for best 00's at Can-Am in May 2015, I decided the time to sell was right, and the Vette moved onto her new owner within a matter of days.

    So what next? Another 2nd gen of course. The big decision was whether to buy cheap and modify with modern suspension and maybe LSx power or buy something much more original with a goal of keeping it as close to original as possible. Concours is not for me - you would never want to drive it, but a nice original car is only going to appreciate but and will still be very useable for as many shows and events as I choose to attend each year.

    After much hunting around for the right car, I eventually chose this 1979 10th Anniversary Trans Am. Plenty of work to do, but a good solid original car to start with.
    I am just hoping that I can be ready for some shows by August this year!

    Comments 7 Comments
    1. TransAmDan's Avatar
      TransAmDan -
      Awesome, Thanks for posting Dave. Great reading, and hopefully it will set a trend for others to follow.
    1. saleen 192's Avatar
      saleen 192 -
      Great write up thanks for taking the time to do this,
    1. AmericanThunder's Avatar
      AmericanThunder -
      Quote Originally Posted by TransAmDan View Post
      Awesome, Thanks for posting Dave. Great reading, and hopefully it will set a trend for others to follow.
      You're welcome. Hopefully others will follow.
    1. AmericanThunder's Avatar
      AmericanThunder -
      Quote Originally Posted by saleen 192 View Post
      Great write up thanks for taking the time to do this,
      Glad you enjoyed it.
    1. an88fiero's Avatar
      an88fiero -
      I might throw a couple on here - but I'm not really good at doing write ups - I shall try though
    1. Chriswrx123's Avatar
      Chriswrx123 -
      Great write up good read thanks for posting.