Pontiac had a stable of Super-Duty–powered Engineering mules and one was a black ’73 Grand
Two Pontiacs from that day that stick out most in Gregg's mind are a Buccaneer Red Trans Am equipped with a near-production SD-455 and another T/A with a highly modified SD-455. "I spent time with the cars to determine the best way to launch them and fed that information to the drivers as they staged them. The SD-455 would annihilate the tires. I can remember GM Design Chief Bill Mitchell asking me how to launch the Super-Duty. The writers couldn't believe how fast the SD-455 was and that it was actually being released for production."
The SD-455 engine finally reached production in June 1973. Availability was, however, limited to the Firebird model line only. Though the original design saw many production compromises, which included less camshaft timing than originally intended, it was still net rated at 290 hp and 395 lb-ft and proved a stout performer. What totally remained, however, was a seemingly endless amount of potential for greater performance—and few knew that better than Gregg, who by then had graduated from GMI and was hired on by Pontiac.
Purchasing An SD-455
When the '74 Firebird was introduced, Gregg took an immediate liking to the restyle, especially the full-width rear taillights. "As a graduation present to myself I ordered a Trans Am through Pontiac Engineering when the order bank opened. Along with the SD-455, I chose an Admiralty Blue exterior with white custom interior and added performance and convenience options, including an automatic transmission, air conditioning, power windows and door locks, and Rally II wheels. I had it delivered to McMullen Pontiac in Waterford, Michigan."
Gregg was tracking his order and when he learned his Trans Am would be delivered in the middle of the winter, he immediately attempted to cancel the order. "I refused to drive it on the salted Michigan roads, if even for a short distance. I mentioned my intent to order a second car to Pontiac's production planner Tom Goad in late October and he advised to place my next order quickly or I would miss the window of availability on this limited-production engine."
Upon being hired on at Pontiac, engineer Gregg Peterson rewarded himself with a ’74 Trans
On October 26, 1973, Gregg placed an order for a second identical Trans Am, which had an expected build date of early spring. While waiting for it arrive, he began thinking of ways to promote the Super-Duty's performance image to the public. Hedging on the interest generated when Car & Driver magazine pitted a new '64 GTO against the Ferrari it gleaned its name from, he proposed to Goad that Engineering develop a modified SD T/A to showcase its potential. The objective was to create a Firebird that performed and handled as well as the Ferrari Daytona for a fraction of the cost.
While Pontiac's marketers may have considered Gregg's proposal in preceding years, it came at a time when looming emissions regulations and economy standards dashed any hopes for the SD-455 after the '74 model year. In fact, within a few months of Gregg's proposal, Pontiac cancelled any ongoing and future developmental work on the SD-455 program. It signified the end of the SD-455 line for consumers, but Gregg anxiously awaited taking delivery of his car so the fun could begin.
Though he attempted to stop the first order from processing, it seems it may have been too far along. "For whatever reason, my first order never got cancelled because I got an unexpected call from the dealer saying my car came in. I told them I didn't want it. They probably weren't too upset though. Super-Duty Firebirds were rare and not sitting on dealer lots. They probably sold it at the sticker price or probably more."
In November 1973, Gregg created a multi-page internal report proposing that Pontiac create
The next Trans Am arrived in late March 1974, and though Gregg was very excited to take delivery the experience wasn't as pleasant as he had hoped. "I went to pick it up and one of the dealership mechanics told me it was the fastest Super-Duty Trans Am he had ever driven. Apparently he took these cars out for a ‘test drive' as part of the dealership's pre-delivery preparation process. Having the first 10 miles on my new car spent smoking its tires wasn't exactly how I planned to break it in!"
Of the stock SD-455's performance in his new Trans Am, Gregg remarks, "Nothing stock is ever acceptable to me. I knew how many compromises were needed to make it a production engine and meet emissions and customer-use requirements—even a hand-built, blueprinted example like the SD-455. It certainly ran well as delivered, but I knew what it was capable of and wanted to capture some of that."