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.
Here’s the T/A’s proud owner, Chris Short, at the wheel.
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.
After years of use and New York winters, the black beauty received a respray in 2007. The
The lowered stance adds another facet to Chris Short’s Ram Air WS6 T/A’s already impressiv
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.
After taking a five-year break from modifying his T/A, he began planning to make it a more formidable match for the stock LS1 cars that were now out-pulling his LT1 at will. Starting in 2007 and over the next three years, in the confines of his garage and driveway, Chris upgraded every aspect of his 1-of-2,051 ’96 WS6 Trans Am and created an LT4-based Bird worthy of taking on even worked LS1 competition.
The present setup, completed in 2010, is as follows:
A Pioneer CD player and trio of A-pod mounted Auto Meter gauges (oil temp, fuel pressure,
A stock LT1 bottom-end block is now up-gunned with an LT4 top-end including the LT4 hot cam with a 219/228-degrees duration, 0.525/0.525 lift, and a 112-degree LSA. LT4 cylinder heads feature 195cc intake runners, 2.00/1.55 valves, and new valvesprings, and an LT4 intake was installed. GM replacement lifters, Comp Cams pushrods, and GM 1.6-ratio roller rockers complete the valvetrain. and a Chevrolet Performance extreme-duty timing chain and ARP head bolts add durability.
Feeding air to the new heads is a BBK 52mm throttle body and a Granatelli mass air sensor inhaling through a modified Ram Air open-element airbox with a K&N filter. Pumping go-go juice into the mix is the responsibility of a Racetronix LT1 fuel pump kit, a Walbro 255-lb/hr in-tank fuel pump, a TPIS adjustable fuel pressure regulator, and FAST 36-lb/hr injectors.
Firing-up this T/A is a Pro-Billet LT1 distributor, a Blaster LT1 ignition coil, a 6AL ignition box, Superconductor 8.5mm wires, and a three-step rev control module—all courtesy of MSD. ACDelco R43TS plugs provide the spark.
Expelling emissions through the 3-inch Borla catback is a set of Arizona Speed and Marine 1.75-inch, dual-cat to single-cat conversions and HPC-coated shorty headers with a QTP electric cut-out (for first impressions). Drivetrain mods include a Hurst Billet Plus shifter for the T56 and a Zexel Torsen differential, which houses the aforementioned GM 3.73 gears behind a TA cover.
With an LT4 top-end, headers, and upgraded fuel system, the factory 5.7-liter LT1 puts out
Enhancing the already impressive handling capabilities are Hyperco Hypercoil lowering springs front and rear and Bilstein shocks valved for lowered F-bodies, with black polyurethane bushings front/rear on the sway bars and front end-links. A Baer Tracker kit reduces bumpsteer up front. A BMR adjustable Panhard rod and chromoly adjustable lower rear control arms with bolt-on relocation brackets keep the T/A planted at all times and a BMR tunnel brace/driveshaft loop provides additional rigidity and piece of mind.
With the increased power and cornering abilities, Chris improved braking with a Corvette C5 front-brake conversion, Power Slot rotors front and rear, Hawk HPS pads, and RK Sport stainless lines all around. For the track outings an SJM Manufacturing LT1 F-body line-lock kit was installed.
Polished WS6 17x9 inch rims with 275/40ZR17 BFG g-Force T/As replace the factory silver-painted wheels, which are now allocated to drag-race duty only.
Once the wrenching was complete, Chris sought the tuning artistry of Enzo Racing in Bay Shore, New York, and everything came together. His LT4-upgraded LT1 is putting 344 hp to the rear wheels. Chris says, “I really enjoy the power and the handling of my Trans Am. I have always thought of it as a refined musclecar and even more so with the mods.”
Chris has accomplished what few Pontiac owners can claim. He is an original owner of a WS6 Ram Air T/A and he has improved its performance without sacrificing its driveability via a careful selection of modifications integrated over the last decade-and-a-half.
We can certainly consider this Ram Air to be revived and then some.