No matter the hobby, one facet that always holds true is there are myriad ways for hobbyists to enjoy it. And our Pontiac hobby is certainly one with many avenues. To some, only high-quality, number-matching restorations are of interest, while the only numbers that may concern others are from a dyno or dragstrip. Then there are hobbyists like Woodstock, Georgia-resident Jay DeLaigle, who seeks maximum performance while retaining a factory-assembled appearance.

An Admiralty Blue '74 Trans Am is how Jay satisfies his performance fixation. That said, your first thought might be that a Super Duty 455 resides between its framerails. But Jay's T/A is actually one of 4,648 produced that year with the optional 250hp D-port 455 backed by a Turbo-400 transmission. And the modifications that propel this 2-ton piece of American iron down the dragstrip in the low 13s are all under the guise of an otherwise correctly restored vehicle. But the road to get there wasn't always smooth.

The 39-year-old auto wholesaler and father of three has had a lifelong love affair with Second-Gen Firebirds. Speaking of his formative years, Jay tells HPP, "My friend Art Burdell and I always dreamed of owning a Trans Am. When I was 10 years old, my neighbor's '74 Formula 400 four-speed really had an impact on me, and the 1977 release of Smokey and the Bandit really cemented that car as a goal." It wasn't long thereafter that Jay realized his dream.

During the '80s, Jay's father was part owner of a used car lot in Norcross, Georgia. The two used to frequent the nearby Loganville auto auction for vehicles to stock the lot. A day that will forever remain with Jay is May 29, 1985. "After 10 minutes of looking, we came across a '74 Trans Am 455," he recalls. "Seeing a small-rear-window Firebird was a rarity even in 1985. A short test drive around the auction lot sealed it for me; when the car finally went under the gavel, we won it for $2,130."

Having purchased several cars that day, Jay, then a high school senior, got to drive the Trans Am back home. Knowing that his father frowned upon abusive driving, Jay lagged back from the caravanning pack to catch a red light and gauge the large-cube Firebird's performance out of his father's eye. What he didn't know, however, was a mechanical issue with another car in the pack caused the group to pull over. This gave his father a full view of the massive burnout and resulted in the Firebird being taken away.

"In a matter of one hour, I had found and lost the car of my dreams," says Jay. "Over the next few days, I wore on my dad, begging for the car back. But little did I know he had plans to rebuild the worn engine and have it ready by my high school graduation. That June was as special as anything could be up to that point in my life." His T/A's maiden voyage was a memorable trip with friend Steve Thomas to Panama City, Florida, just days after graduating.

The T/A was Jay's only mode of transportation for the next several years. In that time, he installed a number of different aftermarket components with hopes of increasing the 455's output. The most significant change occurred in 1988 when Jay had Atlanta-area Pontiac-guru Wayne Hubbard remove the T/A's original Turbo-400 and install a complete four-speed manual assembly from a donor Firebird. "It seemed he had the car all summer," Jay recollects, "But the idea of a four-speed 455 seemed worth it."

Modifications began to take their toll on the Trans Am's reliability, oftentimes leaving Jay without transportation, so he drove the Trans Am sparingly and decided to rebuild the 455. He hoped to improve the engine's durability by using high-performance internals such as SD-455 connecting rods, but shoddy machining quickly led to its demise, forcing Jay to place the T/A in his father's garage for long-term storage while his wallet healed.

Several years came and went, as well as Jay's first marriage, as the Trans Am sat covered in extended slumber. When he began dating Nicole, "She was cool with cars and familiar with YearOne. She even had friends who worked there. Irony poured all over me," he says.

Jay and Nicole married in 2001 and life was great, but money for the Trans Am was still sparse. In 2002, after prodding from friends, Jay finally removed the T/A's cover to see what it might take to make it roadworthy and found that it needed little beyond an engine rebuild.

About this same time, a new form of racing called F.A.S.T. caught Jay's attention. It stands for Factory Appearing Stock Tire and allows for a number of modifications that improve performance yet maintain the vehicle's original appearance while running on vintage-technology tires. Always fascinated by stock-appearing performance, Jay decided this was the path he wanted to take with his Trans Am's restification.

The 455 was sent to another Atlanta-area machine shop where, over a year's time, it once again was machined improperly resulting in engine damage. Undeterred by machine shop woes, Jay forged ahead and searched for a qualified body shop to apply a show-quality finish to the exterior and found Shannon Born of Street Machines and More of Chickamauga, Georgia.

Bodywork began in May 2004 and took six months to complete. Starting with a virtually rust-free shell, Born applied two coats of PPG self-etching primer and urethane surfacer. Next were three coats of PPG Global Urethane code 29 Admiralty Blue base followed by two coats of PPG Deltron Urethane clear. The final coat of clear was wet-sanded with 2,000-grit paper and buffed to a mirror-like finish. Two coats of PPG Epoxy Primer in black were applied to the T/A's subframe after it was removed and sandblasted. Jay spent the rest of the year reassembling the car and searching for a quality machine shop to rebuild his engine.

Having had several bad experiences with area machine shops, Jay contacted Cliff Ruggles of Cliff's Q-Jet in Mount Vernon, Ohio, who had custom-calibrated a Quadrajet for Jay and answered several technical questions. "Cliff recommended Jim Lehart of Central Virginia Machine Service (CVMS) in Burkeville, Virginia," says Jay. "Jim found many mistakes and problems that he had to iron out, but he had me ready for the show season by March 2005."

The correct '74 YW-code block was bored 0.040 inch to a total of 4.191, and the nodular-iron crankshaft retains its original 4.21-inch stroke. Total displacement equates to 465 ci. Cylinders were filled with Speed Pro forged-aluminum pistons, Sealed Power moly rings, and Eagle H-beam forged-steel connecting rods. The entire rotating assembly was balanced and rides on Federal Mogul main and Clevite rod bearings. A 60-psi Melling oil pump within the stock oil pan pressurizes the lubrication system.

To remain F.A.S.T.-class legal, CVMS massaged a pair of 4X cylinder heads for Jay's 455. In addition to milling the heads to meet Jay's target compression-ratio range of 10.0:1, the company completely rebuilt the castings and performed a competition valve job including new 2.11/1.77-inch valves. The intake ports were enlarged to R/A IV-size, and port work increased the intake and exhaust airflow capacity to 257/215-cfm at 28 inches, respectively. CVMS also port-matched a correct No. 495106 cast-iron intake manifold with EGR.

A Comp Cams hydraulic-roller camshaft featuring 236/242 degrees duration at 0.050 inch and a 110-degree lobe separation angle opens the valves to a gross valve lift of 0.552/0.562 inch when combined with the 1.65:1-ratio Harland Sharp roller rocker arms. On the rear of the camshaft is a points-type distributor triggered by a Crane XR1 conversion kit with a rev-limiter setting of 5,800 rpm. The stock coil initiates spark, and the stock-replacement plug wires transfer the current to a set of AC R45TS spark plugs. Total timing is set at 34-degrees BTDC, which is achieved by 2,800 rpm.

The correct No. 7044262 Quadrajet modified by Cliff's Q-Jet contains 0.069-inch primary jets, 0.042-inch-diameter primary metering rods, and 0.040-inch secondary metering rods. A stock-replacement mechanical AC fuel pump acts as a return-style regulator for the Mallory Comp 110-series electric pump that supplies fuel to the hungry mill through the stock fuel lines. A replacement K&N air filter residing within the stock air-cleaner assembly cleanses the cool air that's drawn through the modified Shaker scoop.

Unlike most enthusiasts who seek maximum output, Jay decided to forego tubular headers and even Ram Air-style exhaust manifolds. Instead he chose to reuse the original No. 490142 and 490143 log-style exhaust manifolds to comply with F.A.S.T.-class rules. The castings were port-matched, and the collector flanges were enlarged to a diameter of 2.25 inches. They mate to a 2.5-inch aluminized exhaust system from Pypes Performance Exhaust of Hatfield, Pennsylvania, that includes an X-type crossover, a transverse-mounted DynoMax Ultra Flo SS muffler, and reproduction chrome exhaust extensions.

Behind the high-performance mill is an original cast-iron flywheel with an 11-inch Hayes street/strip clutch. Coupled to this is a Borg-Warner Super T10 manual transmission that was rebuilt by Eric Babin of Marietta Auto Specialists in Marietta, Georgia. The original 8.5-inch GM 10-bolt rear axle with limited-slip differential, which contained its original 3.08:1 gear set, will soon house a 3.42:1 unit.

The T/A's suspension consists of many stock components, including its original 1.25-inch front and 0.812-inch rear stabilizer bars and rear leaf springs that are now clamped just ahead of the axle tubes. Front coil springs are from Moroso, and the front shocks are Competition Engineering 90/10 drag-racing units. Rear shocks are stock-replacement Delco pieces. Competition Engineering bolt-in subframe connectors help dampen road imperfections and improve body rigidity.

A set of restored 15x7-inch Honeycomb wheels accented by N.O.S. trim rings and center caps are mounted onto the original front-disc/rear-drum brake system. And even through Jay's Trans Am was originally equipped with GR70x15 steel-belted radial tires, he chose a set of reproduction F60-15 Firestone Wide Oval bias-ply tires to maintain a period-correct look and still comply with F.A.S.T.-class rules.

Since the Trans Am's completion in early 2005, Jay and Nicole have amassed a small collection of trophies, many of which are Best in Class awards. Included among them is HPP's coveted Editor's Choice Award, which was presented to Jay and his 18-year-old son, Jack, at the 2006 Pontiacs In The Park event in Petersburg, Virginia, covered elsewhere in this issue ("PY Pontiacs in the Park," page 32). This Firebird's success, however, is not limited to the show field.

The 455 engine in the stealthy Trans Am cranked out 380 hp at 5,300 rpm and 464 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm as measured the rear wheels. And even with a portly race weight of 4,150 pounds, the car owns a present quarter-mile best of 13.20 seconds at a trap speed of 108.90 mph in the F.A.S.T.-class event at Martin, Michigan, in June 2006. With a best 60-foot time of 2.17 seconds with the F60-15 Firestones, Jay hopes that with more power, better traction, a little tuning, and more seat time his Trans Am can break into the 12s.

How does Jay feel about his T/A? "I have always been attracted to Second-Gen T/As of all types. But I really like how few '74 455 cars are left, especially in Admiralty Blue. It seems that no one brings the base 455 cars back to the level that the SD-455s are. But the car isn't really a dedicated F.A.S.T.-class racer. It's legal if I choose to enter another F.A.S.T.-class event in the future though."

Jay's Admiralty Blue T/A isn't the only Second-Gen Firebird currently in the DeLaigle household. Nicole has a Buccaneer Red '74 Trans Am with a 400ci engine and automatic transmission that she calls her own. With a totally stock-appearing '74 Trans Am with 12-second potential and a wife like Nicole, it sounds like Jay has found the right combination in a couple different ways. Now that's what we call a Firebird family affair!

About the Restoration

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