A set of adjustable QA1 coilovers up front contributes to the "down-low" stance of Ron Hen
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 is a Moser 12-bolt that ensures the 455's torque gets to bo
KMC Hot Wheels-68 (17x8) wrapped in Dunlop 245/45VR17 rubber contribute to this Trans Am's
Factory advertisements described the '71 T/A appropriately as "Pure Pontiac." Here's proof
A rear console is an extremely rare option that was ordered on this T/A and proudly retain
Donated by a '74 Trans Am, the Henaghans color-matched the dashpad with DuPont interior dy
Ron designed a custom radio-delete plate adorned with a Trans Am decal and installed an Al
They sent the body to Buster's Auto Art of South Boston, Virginia, for chemical stripping, bodywork, and paint. The shop replaced the front fenders with donors from a '74 T/A, repaired the right lower rear quarter-panel, and prepared the T/A for painting with PPG DP 90 epoxy primer, followed by bodywork, PPG K36 acrylic primer, blocking, and PPG Deltron DAS 3021 tintable sealer.
They sprayed the T/A with three coats of PPG Deltron DBC Cameo White base and three coats of PPG Deltron DC 4000 Urethane Clear. The finish was baked at 140 degrees for 22 minutes in a 1.2-million BTU downdraft spray booth, the body was reassembled except for spoiler, flares, and airdam, and allowed to cure for two weeks. Then, progressive wet-sanding with grits of 1,500-2,000, and final polishing were performed, followed by the application of reproduction decals.
"The original engine was damaged in 1974 due to a racing mishap, so the second owner found a date-coded two-bolt main YC block and installed it," Ron says.
An Alpine five-channel amplifier is mounted safely in the trunk so it doesn't detract from
Randall's Racing and Machine, located in Chester, Virginia, bored the 455 0.030-over to 462 ci and machined the block for four-bolt main caps. The company also polished the crank, and employed Eagle forged connecting rods and Speed-Pro forged pistons. The 197 round-port heads were updated with Manley stainless steel 2.11/1.77 valves, Harland Sharp 1.5:1 roller rockers, and Comp Cams double springs and pushrods. A Bullet hydraulic flat-tappet cam featuring 231/239-degrees duration at 0.050, and 0.485/0.507-inch lift was chosen in favor of the stock 068.
The original aluminum intake was bead-blasted and left natural, and an MSD ignition system featuring a Pro-Billet distributor, a 6AL amplifier, and a Blaster II coil is complemented with Taylor 8mm wires and AC Delco R45S plugs. Subsequently located, the original (code 7041270) carb was rebuilt and reinstalled. Other mods include a Desert Cooler four-core radiator and a Flow Kooler high-volume aluminum water pump.
Exhaust gases are evacuated through reproduction H.O. manifolds, sourced from Ram Air Restoration Enterprises (RARE), mated to a 2.5-inch Pypes exhaust system with an x-style crossover and single high-flow transverse muffler.
As was the case with '71 Trans Am "All Systems Go" featured in the Nov. '08 issue, the das
Power is transferred from the engine to a 2400-stall converter in the original and rebuilt Turbo 400 (code PQ). Standard Parts of Richmond, Virginia, shot-peened and balanced the original driveshaft, and installed HD U-joints. Ron swapped the factory 10-bolt rear with a Moser 12-bolt with 3.73 gears.
Suspension And Brakes
The Henaghans replaced the front-end wear items and detailed the original upper and lower control arms, power-steering box, and factory 1.25-inch sway bar. They upgraded to QA1 12-way adjustable coilovers and Poly-graphite bushings. Out back, they restored the original leaf springs and added new bushings, and installed QA1 adjustable shocks. The 0.875-inch factory sway bar was also reinstalled.
Bolting in Power Stop cross-drilled rotors and GM calipers in front, and Wilwood cross-drilled and slotted rotors, and four-piston calipers with integrated parking brake in the rear resulted in shorter stops.
Where many Pontiac collectors would bring a '71 Trans Am back to factory-correct condition, Ron decided to enjoy the T/A his way. "I always get asked, 'Why didn't you keep it original?' I often ask myself the same question. One part of me is a purist, and the other part of me likes to go fast and put on a show. The Trans Am fills the gap between my early years driving my mom's Bonneville down Pacific Coast Highway in California and the G8 courtesy of Pontiac's sponsorship of VMP that I drive daily. Maybe I'll return the Trans Am to stock, but no time soon.
"My son and I got to know each other over the two years the Trans Am took to build," Ron says. "He learned how to prime bare metal with a paint gun and how to reassemble the T/A. He also did a lot of online work locating parts for the project. A father thinks about passing on to his son something he can use in life. I taught my son the love of Pontiacs."