In 2002, after the last Firebirds and Trans Ams rolled off the assembly line, GM Performance Division put together an elaborate, but very satisfying, plan to build the ultimate Fourth-Generation Trans Am. It called it the Trans Am 421 SD, a modern interpretation of the '71 455 H.O. Trans Am.
Kip Wasenko, GM Performance Division director of design, was the creative mind who proposed the show car, coordinated the project, and upon its completion, proudly displayed the Trans Am at the Woodward Dream Cruise in August 2003.
The 421 SD T/A was featured in the March '03 issue of High Performance Pontiac ("Just Don't Call It Retro"), where its appearance and mechanical attributes were discussed. This story is a bit different.
Six years later, with Pontiac being phased out and the prospect of a new Trans Am crushed, the Trans Am 421 SD holds the honor of being the last Trans Am show car ever created within General Motors. Fortunately, Kip has agreed to provide a first-person, behind-the-scenes look at this heritage-friendly, modern-style road rocket, which is proud to wear the Trans Am badge.
GM Performance Division created...
GM Performance Division created this 421 SD Trans Am show car for the 2003 Woodward Dream Cruise. Its style is a modernized version of the '71 455 H.O. Trans Am.
High Performance Pontiac: Please tell us about the idea to build the Trans Am 421 SD "Heritage" show car?
Kip Wasenko: We did the 421 SD T/A as an employee enthusiasm project when we first formed the Performance Division. John Heinracy was the Director of Engineering and I was the Director of Design. One of the things we did as part of this program was try to get a group of people who hadn't worked together as a team and give them a fun project.
HPP: Why a Trans Am?
KW: F-body cars were always dear to my heart and Heinracy's too. Both of us are racers. I had a '71 455 H.O. Trans Am, the white one with the blue stripes, and I always loved that car. I said, "Why don't we take the '71 Trans Am and try to do a contemporary version of it?"
HPP: Starting with the paint, how did you accurately make the 421 SD T/A look like a modern interpretation of the '71 455 H.O. Trans Am?
KW: Graphically, the paint scheme was the same as my '71 T/A, but I had the 421 SD T/A painted in a pearl white and glass-beaded blue paint, unlike the Cameo White paint and blue decals on the original. Even the Trans Am lettering is identical, although again, it was painted on and not a decal.
HPP: How did you accurately match the stripe decals of the '71 455 H.O. T/A to the 421 SD T/A?
KW: We did the paint mask from the original graphics to try to hold the heritage of that car.
HPP: Please describe the cues that maintain the Trans Am heritage in this factory Trans Am showcar.
KW: I made the front fascia of the 421 SD T/A with twin nostrils to look like a modern interpretation of the '71 Trans Am, including the shape of the front air dam, which flared just like the original.
GM Director of Design Kip...
GM Director of Design Kip Wasenko double-checks his measurements on the T/A's front fascia. Look at what he's using for a reference-a photo of a '71 Trans Am.
For the rear spoiler, I wanted to stay true to the classic shape of the [three-piece] spoiler, rather than going to a contemporary wing-style design. If you look at the rear spoiler on the 421 SD T/A, you'll see that its shape is very much like the original one.
With the taillamps, we painted their center section body color to look graphically like the '71 Trans Am, as opposed to cross-car taillamps, just like the last generation Firebird.
We even machined the [Hamann PG3] five-spoke, 19-/20-inch wheels to try to get more of that Rally II look, and added a Formula rear fascia and round exhaust tips for a correct look.
HPP: There's also one exterior styling cue that is unmistakably "Trans Am" . . .
KW: . . . The Shaker scoop.
HPP: How difficult was it to build a Shaker for the 421 SD T/A?
KW: We actually started by getting a functional Shaker that was right off a '71 or '72 Trans Am, but it looked really small on the Fourth-Gen. It just wasn't scaled properly. So we ended up remodeling the Shaker entirely to make it look like the one that was on my '71 T/A, but proportioned to the car. We even installed a solenoid that makes the Shaker functional, just the way that it did on the original. It opens the door and sucks in cold air.
Katech Engineering built two...
Katech Engineering built two C5.R engines for GM Performance Division's Woodward Dream Cruise projects. Although nearly identical to the one installed in the 421 SD T/A, the engine shown displaces 427 ci, was mated to a SPEC clutch, and was dropped into the Penske Camaro. No pre-installation photo of the Trans Am's engine was available from GM.
The GM Performance Division...
The GM Performance Division design crew works diligently to ready the show car for the Woodward Dream Cruise.
Kip checks the hood gap to...
Kip checks the hood gap to ensure a perfect fit.
Nearing completion, the 421...
Nearing completion, the 421 SD Trans Am is getting close to its first-and only-public showing.
Pontiac's vintage 421 SD engine...
Pontiac's vintage 421 SD engine set records for NASCAR and NHRA drivers in 1962 and 1963. No wonder GM Performance Division chose that displacement when it designed an LS-based engine for the ultimate Trans Am show car.