Some people are content blending in with the crowd, while others thrive on being "different." To some, that might conjure up thoughts of wild hairstyles or outlandish clothing, while to others it entails eccentric lifestyles or peculiar obsessions. Whatever the case, Craig Blake, of Lincoln, Nebraska, proudly considers himself "different," and it's all because of the 500-plus-horsepower punch his stealthy 403 Olds-powered '79 Special Edition Trans Am is capable of dealing.
The 40-year-old restaurateur's interest in Firebirds began nearly 20 years ago when then-22-year-old Craig purchased a 403-powered Mayan Red '79 Trans Am upon reentering civilian life after a stint in the Army. Over the next few years, his interests changed and he ended up selling the T/A-a decision he later regretted. "I always liked Firebirds and wanted another '79 after I sold my first," he tells HPP.
Restore A Muscle Car refinished...
Restore A Muscle Car refinished the Trans Am's original 15x8-inch Snowflake wheels, which ride on 255/60R15 BFGoodrich Radial T/A tires front and rear.
"I started searching and in 1998 found this '79 S/E T/A in San Rafael, California, on the Internet. The original black paint was faded, but the car was otherwise very clean and the 403 ran well. I bought it for $5,000 and drove it 22 hours back to Lincoln."
Following a couple years of enjoyment, Craig sold the T/A, as the birth of his second child in 2000 neared. The Pontiac was bought by an employee of Craig's, and it was all but destroyed over the following three years. Craig was horrified by what he saw, and by December 2003 the T/A was his again. He relocated the Trans Am to his father's shop and began a complete restoration. "My dad was a mechanic and had all the tools, so we planned on a complete disassembly, sending the body out for paint and then reassembling it ourselves," says Craig. Though the car was virtually rust free, he stripped it to its shell and had the body blasted to bare metal. "Many people ask me why I went that far," says Craig. "The best answer I can give is that the T/A had a bad aura about it, and I wanted to give it a fresh start."
Craig felt the performance of his T/A's original 185hp 403ci engine left much to be desired. A stickler for original-type combinations, he wanted to retain the Olds mill despite advice from many to replace it with a Pontiac engine.
An out-of-box 650-cfm Demon...
An out-of-box 650-cfm Demon carburetor from Barry Grant received only minor jet changes to produce maximum power. The ignition system consists of MSD's Pro-Billet distributor, 6AL box, Blaster SS coil, and Super Conductor wires.
Building The 403 Olds
"Very few owners build 403 engines for their Trans Ams, and I wanted to be different," says Craig. "I was looking for 350-400 hp and really didn't know what was available for the Olds engine. The guys at Trans Am Country (www.transamcountry.com) mentioned Terry Fritsch at FCR Performance in Omaha, and since he was only a few miles away I gave him a call. He had all kinds of great ideas for building a high-horsepower 403, so I dropped off the engine at his shop that summer."
Starting with the numbers-matching 403 block, Terry increased bore diameter 0.024 inch to 4.375, boosting total displacement to 408 ci. Though the cast-iron crankshaft retains its original 3.385-inch stroke, it received a series of significant modifications. Its counterweights were knife-edged and narrowed to reduce weight, the main journals were cut 0.010 inch, while the rod journals were reduced 0.020 inch to 2.10. Both pieces were then cryogenically treated by Cryo Nebraska in Omaha before Terry applied an oil-dispersing coating to the crank's counterweights.