A set of adjustable QA1 coilovers...
A set of adjustable QA1 coilovers up front contributes to the "down-low" stance of Ron Henaghan's '71 T/A.
A Pontiac father-and-son (or daughter) project is a great way to foster a love of the hobby in your children, but finding the right Poncho to build can often be difficult. For Ron Henaghan, marketing director of Virginia Motorsports Park (VMP) in Petersburg, Virginia, that dilemma was compounded by his need to have a Pontiac that would earn respect among his peers.
"My interest in Pontiacs started in 1964 with the introduction of the GTO," Ron says. "My mother worked for a sports-car dealer in Southern California, and I used to frequent the car lot, dreaming of Pontiacs. She purchased a traded-in '63 Bonneville convertible, white with black interior, equipped with a 303hp 389 motor, bucket seats, console shifter, and a four-track aftermarket tape deck. Over the next year, I drove the Bonne more than she did.
"She sold the Pontiac a year later to help with college, and though decades passed, my admiration for Pontiacs stayed with me. By 2004, my son, Matt-15 years old at the time-and I were looking for a project car. I wanted him to share the love for cars that I had when I was his age. We had just finished a '97 Grand Prix GTP, but I wanted something classic, something pure Pontiac with the power that I remembered from the old days."
One of Ron's duties working for VMP is to develop new business for the track. In 2005, he called one of his local auto-parts stores and began talking about cars. The owner mentioned an old Pontiac that was being stored behind the building in a garage. "I had to go look at it, not even knowing what it was," he says. "When we opened the door to the dark garage, I was shocked. It was a '71 T/A, and the owner wanted only $6,500 for it. I knew it was the perfect car to restore, so I bought it and brought it home on a roll-back with the interior filled with the parts that were removed at the body shop."
Just 2,116 Trans Ams were produced in 1971-1,231 of them were automatics and 885 were four-speeds. Production was split between the Norwood, Ohio, and Van Nuys, California, plants. Like its cousin the '71 Judge (see "Final Verdict" in this issue), all '71 Trans Ams were equipped with the 335-horse LS5 455 H.O. round-port engine.
According to Jim Mattison, president of PHS Automotive Services, Ron's Trans Am was purchased new at Koons Pontiac of Manassas, Virginia, and retailed for $4,590. "Its sparse option list included a push-button radio (code 401), front console (code 431), roof molding (code 481), Soft Ray glass windshield only (532), custom belts (code 451), and belt-reveal molding (code 484). Its rarest option is a rear console (code 424)," he says.
The T/A was sold to its second owner in 1973, nicknamed the "Sundance Kid," and spent the next two years racing at small dragstrips. It was taken off the road in 1987 with 68,000 miles, and sat in a corner of a body shop covered with dust. "The third owner decided to move the T/A to a storage building behind an old auto-parts store in Petersburg, where I found it," Ron says.
Restoration Or Restomod?
Keeping the Trans Am stock or modifying it was another hard decision. After much consideration, Ron decided to restomod it-upgrading the Pontiac with modern components to improve its ride and handling, and its quarter-mile capabilities. "One of the reasons for restomodding the T/A was a good friend at GM named Ron Strayhorne," Ron says. "He had just finished a '68 Firebird with a built 455 motor and a four-speed. We bench raced the two cars and, since I worked for Virginia Motorsports Park, the decision came down to settling it at the strip. The race never panned out, but I know my T/A would clean his Bird's clock."
"My son Matt helped disassemble the F-body, including the front clip, radiator, and suspension, and he pulled the engine and sub frame," Ron says. "He was a wiz at cleaning, and wire-wheeling nuts, bolts, and small parts. We scraped the undercarriage and also removed the old exhaust system."
Tucked behind the rear valance...
Tucked behind the rear valance is a Moser 12-bolt that ensures the 455's torque gets to both tires reliably via an Eaton limited-slip unit and 31-spline axles.
KMC Hot Wheels-68 (17x8) wrapped...
KMC Hot Wheels-68 (17x8) wrapped in Dunlop 245/45VR17 rubber contribute to this Trans Am's menacing stance.
Factory advertisements described...
Factory advertisements described the '71 T/A appropriately as "Pure Pontiac." Here's proof-the legendary 455 H.O. powerplant, rated at 335 hp, was standard. This 455 has been warmed over with forged rods and pistons, a hotter cam and ignition system, and modern exhaust components.
A rear console is an extremely...
A rear console is an extremely rare option that was ordered on this T/A and proudly retained in its original state. John Spence of Prince George, Virginia, restored the seatbelts and retained the date-code tags. Note the stereo speakers in the side panels to keep rear seat passengers in tune.
Donated by a '74 Trans Am,...
Donated by a '74 Trans Am, the Henaghans color-matched the dashpad with DuPont interior dye and then cleaned up the gauges. Cloverleaf Upholstery of Richmond replaced the seat foam and re-covered the thrones with reproduction pieces sourced from PUI. With the new carpet and headliner installed, and the front console also re-dyed, the final touch was a reproduction Formula wheel from Ames.