Like all of us, 52-year-old Craig Kleberg has a passion for Pontiacs-in particular, the Trans Am. As soon as he took ownership of his '01 six-speed WS6 Bird in 2005, Craig wasn't about to waste a second and began to transform it into a serious street car built for comfort and performance.
As he racked up the miles, he also started making tweaks here and there. "I knew I wanted to drive the car on the street often, but I also had an interest in autocrossing and road racing, and some street fun slaying the 'tail of the dragon,' a twisty 11-mile stretch of road crossing from North Carolina into Tennessee," Craig tells HPP. With that in mind, he focused primarily on the chassis setup.
His WS6 already came with a great chassis; thicker swaybars than other Trans Ams, and competent shocks and struts, but Craig set out to make some aftermarket enhancements to more fully exploit its attributes. Hotchkis 1-inch lowering springs were placed on all corners, giving the car the perfect stance. Hotchkis also enhances performance by carefully selecting spring rates. In Craig's case, these were progressive 285- to 525-lb/in fronts and 100- to 140-lb/in rears.
To complement the springs, Craig got in touch with Koni North America for a set of Sport double-adjustable shocks, which allow him to change compression and rebound. Together, the ride quality is firm yet compliant, and that's just what he was looking for.
After they were installed, a set of Strano Performance hollow sway bars was bolted in-32mm front and 22mm rear. Every rubber suspension bushing was pulled out and replaced with Energy Suspension polyurethane replacements.
Craig also wanted to firm up the chassis, so he installed a UMI strut tower brace, bolt-in subframe connectors, a Panhard bar, and rear lower control arms. The T/A was morphing into a real hot handler and it needed to look the part even more. It was time to choose the wheels.
"I searched all over until I found a set of HP Design wheels, but I was worried about their import-style mesh appearance. Then I watched Grand Am racing on TV and noticed the race cars' wheels looked very similar to those I wanted." This was enough to calm any of his concerns, and their highly affordable price helped too.
Budget was still on his brain when he chose his tires, but he wouldn't let that stop him from getting a good set of rubber. He was directed toward the Sumitomo HTR Z II tires for their solid reputation and great pricing-275/40ZR18s can get expensive. "I know I left some on the table with the tires, but they've done the job well," Craig explains. He plans to buy a set of stickier rubber to use at autocross sessions and the eventual open course track day.
To slow the car down, the factory PBR calipers were tossed in favor of new brackets that allowed him to upgrade to Corvette calipers, which in turn allowed him to upgrade to 13-inch rotors. Now his brakes have more leverage as the Hawk HPS pads bite down on a set of slotted and cross-drilled front and rear rotors with stainless lines feeding the fluid.
Craig had taken care of the chassis, but there were still some horsepower mods to be done under the hood. For this, the stock 346ci aluminum mill was upgraded to a mild, custom Comp Cam. The 224/224-degree-duration, 0.581-lift bumpstick may seem small by some LS standards, but his goal wasn't peak power-it was great driveability and low-end torque. The 112-degree lobe separation angle also gives the Bird a healthy idle as it grumbles out of the Quick Time Performance long-tube headers, catted 3-inch Y-pipe, and Hooker after-cat system. If he wants just a little more grunt, then he can open his DMH electric cutout and gather a crowd.
To compensate for the hotter cam, Craig removed the aluminum valve covers, replaced the factory valvesprings with Patriot Performance dual gold springs, and slid in a set of Comp Magnum hardened pushrods, retaining the 1.7:1 rockers. A Thunder Racing coil-relocation kit remotely mounted the ignition coils so that Craig could show off his new carbon-fiber valve covers. The LS1 also benefits from the traditional bolt-ons, including a carbon intake lid, an underdrive pulley, and a ported Shanner S3 78mm throttle body. These work in concert with the stock MAF and 28-lb/hr injectors.
The carefully selected grouping of parts rewarded Craig with 393 rwhp and 366 lb-ft of torque through the stock clutch, six-speed, and 3.42:1-geared rearend. But, more importantly to him, the car drives like a total dream. "It handles so well I couldn't be happier with it," he boasts. Sometimes he'll even have a little fun on the world famous Tail of the Dragon. Craig's modified WS6 eats up all 318 turns with ease and puts a smile on his face.
Now the nearly 80,000-mile Trans Am sees some well-deserved street time on the weekends, but it also makes its way around to some big car shows. We caught up with it at the 2010 Trans Am Nationals in Dayton, Ohio, and this was after it took Best in Class at the F-Body Gathering in Atlanta, Georgia, earlier in the year.
Craig's T/A's blend of style and performance makes it a rolling classic with a cool attitude that's hot to handle.