This is the letter to Chuck...
This is the letter to Chuck from Carter Dennis. Note the deletion of the Recaros, Blaupunkt stereo, and the Bandit windshield graphic. So equipped, the total price was $26,875. Neil resisted the temptation to add the Recaro seats, aftermarket stereo, and windshield graphic for his resto.
Some Pontiac guys in the area would go to Atco Raceway, see the Chevys race, and then come to Rent A Bay and ask us to add the same speed parts to their Pontiacs. The problem was, I already knew that these parts didn't work well on a Pontiac engine-a Pontiac is not a Chevy. So we started doing upgrades and selling parts that were specific to Pontiacs. When we moved to Cherry Hill, it made sense to open Trans Am Specialties. We had a very good business, no comebacks, solid suppliers, and good sources.
Why build your own tuner car?
We thought it would be a good way to get our company's name out there.I used to read car magazines all the time and I began to notice that many of these tuner cars had the same parts. Everyone loved Recaro seats and Escort radar detectors, and so on, so we negotiated with Universal to get the rights to the name "Bandit" and began building what we thought would be a great tuner car.
How did you make your tuner stand out from the rest?
Our basic philosophy was to retain everything from the factory that made the Trans Am comfortable, but make it perform much better.
We went the extra step in many areas, like our Anti-Rattle Package. In the doors, the pop rivets that held the window regulators in would work loose and rattle, so we rebuilt doors using bolts instead pop rivets. In a new car, a good portion of the bolts would be loose so we went through and tightened up every accessible fastener before delivery. Front and rear swaybar bushing brackets were also common problem areas.
We upholstered the Recaro seats with the same GM material that was used on the stock seats so that they would match the rear seats perfectly.
Here is Chuck with his 9-year-old...
Here is Chuck with his 9-year-old son, Skyler, in friend Jeff Landry's '79 T/A.
Tell us about the 455 engines.
We bought 455 engines and built them up. All were bored .030 over and got TRW flat-top pistons. We used heads with specific combustion chamber sizes to provide approximately 9.2:1 compression. They were fitted with better valvesprings, screw-in studs, 2.11-inch intake valves, the 1.66-inch exhaust valves were changed to 1.77s, and I think we used 1.65:1 rockers. For the engines, we had one set of master parts to check clearances and fit. All the engines worked perfectly because they were built the same way using a specific formula. Only Rob and I built the motors. Lunati provided the cam but I can't remember the specs. An Edelbrock intake was installed and we rejetted and bolted on a Holley 650 spreadbore carb and added vent baffles. The headers had 1.75-inch primaries with 2.5-inch collectors and no flange, for improved ground clearance. The remainder of the exhaust was our own design and employed two Ford honeycomb converters to replace the single and very restrictive GM pellet-type converter. We found that '68 or '69 Ford Mustang mufflers fit well and offered good ground clearance, so we used them.
How could the 455 cars be emissions legal?
(Laughs) This is part of the reason Trans Am Specialties ended up going away. We had no problem passing the New Jersey state test but we could not meet federal standards. The EPA did visit one day and said we shouldn't be doing some of the things we were doing, and they were adamant about it.
Not too far away from our shop was a Corvette guy who tried to do the same with Corvettes and Camaros that we were doing with T/As.
Their customers would challenge us to races all the time so we would just take any car off the lot and race them and beat them, regularly.
We used to run a nice little Paxton supercharger on the Third-Gen five-speed 305s. Sure enough, one day the guy from the Corvette shop shows up with a supercharged Camaro. We raced on the street and I beat him. At the next light, I saw the cops coming up behind us so when the light turned green I idled away, but he took off and four cops caught him. About a week later the EPA showed up at our shop-I still think he turned us in.