For 1996, GM’s Excitement Division would combine two legendary performance designations into one potent package. Formulas and Trans Ams could now be had with the new WS6 Ram Air Performance and Handling Package. Prior Birds adorned with either moniker became legends in their day.

At the same time Pontiac was reviving its triumphant past, 22-year-old Chris Short from Commack, New York, was in the market for a new ride. Not unlike most of the Firebird brethren, he found himself mesmerized and lusting for a Trans Am after seeing Smokey and the Bandit and watching Knight Rider as a little boy.

His first car was an 1985 V-6 Firebird with an automatic and bright red paint. It was not the performance car he had dreamed of, but as Chris says, “It was more than enough.” He honed his technical skills by installing a 350 engine with all the accessories, a transmission, and suspension components, and swapping the carburetor for a Tuned-Port-Injection system.

During this five-year transformation, Chris realized that having a project car as a daily driver was impractical, so the search began. He soon experienced the Fourth-Gen F-body’s performance when a friend took him for a blast in his LT1 Z28. Chris was impressed with what he felt were multiple improvements over the Third-Gen cars; his new goal became clear.

It was a cold Sunday afternoon in late March 1996 when he visited Morrissey Pontiac in his hometown of Commack. Although the lone salesman seemed ready to close up shop, upon seeing young Chris walk in the door, he knew immediately what to show him. Sitting warm and ready in the back garage were two freshly hatched black Ram Air WS6 Trans Ams, one an automatic and the other a stick. Two things stood between Chris and his dream, however. The first, he was shopping for the more affordable Formula model and the second was the six-speed T/A’s taupe interior (which unbeknownst to Chris is extremely rare); he wanted Graphite.

After some consideration, he returned to begin negotiations and learned that the six-speed T/A was a program car used as a demo by the dealership owner to promote the new models. This explains it still being considered brand new despite having 3,400 miles on the odometer.

Upon hearing of Chris’ interest in the six-speed car, the owner offered it at a comparable price to a new Formula. With the taupe interior the only obstacle left, the dealer agreed to swap it with another WS6 that had a Graphite cockpit as long as Chris paid the labor—the deal was set. With money he saved and a loan from his grandparents, he purchased the new Bird.

Chris quickly became enamored with the style, performance, and rarity of his sleek beaked Bird and racked up many cruising miles on the highways and byways of Long Island. Above all, it was the precise race car-like handling, which impressed Chris and surprised expensive competitors.

With experience gained from his 1985, the first enhancements came in the summer of 1996: a Hotchkis strut-tower brace and custom weld-in subframe connectors in the summer, followed by a K&N filter and a lower-temp thermostat.

By the spring of 1998, vibrations from the stock steel driveshaft required a trip to the dealer that unearthed a GM Technical Service Bulletin, which resulted in an aluminum replacement. Two years later, the factory clutch was starting to show signs of Chris’ spirited driving and was swapped out for a Spec Stage 1 unit and pressure plate. Rounding out early modifications was a Borla cat-back exhaust and 3.73 gears.

After six years of driving excitement and over 40,000 miles, real-life events would intervene. In 2002, Chris’ diabetes flared up and the possibility arose that he may lose sight in one eye. Happily, with the expertise of his doctor, support from his family and friends, and six months of therapy, Chris’ vision was restored.