Pontiac produced 4,648 non-SD...
Pontiac produced 4,648 non-SD 455 Trans Ams in ’74. This example was saved from an export to Japan by its original owner, retired sheriff deputy John Chencharick of San Bernardino, California. He bought it with 6.7 miles on the odometer.
Three years before Smokey and the Bandit became America's favorite cop versus cowboy movie, then-sheriff-academy graduate John Chencharick was already confidently chasing a Trans Am—his. "The story of my '74 Trans Am actually began in September of 1970," he recalls. "I was a freshman in college and had been involved with cars; I participated in gymkanas and road rallies, and attended various NHRA, SCCA, and Trans Am series races. The '70 1/2 T/A caught my eye and a lifetime love affair was ignited."
Though he worked full-time while attending college, the cost of a brand-new Trans Am was out of John's reach. Then in 1973 he was hired by the San Bernardino County (California) Sheriff's Department and things looked brighter. In May 1974, he completed his Academy training and was ready to purchase a graduation present—of course, he had his sights set on a new-in-the-wrapper '74 T/A. "I started shopping for my Super-Duty 455 and soon learned that it was impossible to find one," he says. "I visited dealership after dealership and was told the same tall tales over and over, from 'No more are available,' to 'They are not allowed to be sold in California.'"
The original 455 still provides...
The original 455 still provides plenty of instant gratification, though it’s been freshened with 0.030 pistons, a cam, ported and polished heads, and headers, among other mods. The original code 7044272 carburetor and intake manifold were swapped out for an SD-455-specific unit and an ultra-rare, non-production aluminum SD-455 casting respectively.
On May 19, 1974, John went birthday shopping for his sister and took his mother with him. It wasn't long before he decided to make a detour from the shopping spree to visit another Pontiac dealer, in search of an SD-455 Trans Am.
"We drove to Savage Pontiac in Monrovia," John explains. "As we drove in front of the dealership, sitting right on the corner was a new '74 T/A. It was Cameo White, with blue decals, and a blue screaming-chicken hood decal. Inside, the cabin featured an eye-catching, two-tone red-on-red interior, and brilliant colored lettering on the front passenger window, proclaiming, 'Sexy Mutha.' Talk about standing out! The yellow, red, and blue writing on the windshield with a multi-colored circle around it caught my attention."
The rookie deputy spoke to a salesman and heard the same old sob story: "Super-Duty Trans Ams were very difficult to get and a dealership would not trade it unless it got another one in return."
Model-year ’74 was the last...
Model-year ’74 was the last year for the shorty-style rear window. All F-bodies from ’75 through ’81 received wrap-around rear windows. It’s also the first year for Pontiac’s Radial Tuned Suspension (RTS), which featured special spring settings, altered bushing durometers, and smaller-diameter rear sway bars (than previous years)—0.812-inch on the Trans Am. Check out the owner’s custom license plate, which has been on the car since 1975. It reads, “A ’74 T/A.”
Regardless, John wasn't discouraged, after all the dealership had a large selection of Trans Ams, and he was going to check them out. "I walked over to the T/A that had first caught my eye and took it for a testdrive," John says. "I was in the driver seat, my mother was in the front, and the salesman was in the back. There we were cruising the street in a car with a screaming chicken on the hood, [a non-functional] Shaker scoop, and bold print saying 'Sexy Mutha.' By this time in my life, I had either driven or was a passenger in some very fast automobiles, ranging from Sunbeam Tigers, Mangustas, and AC Cobra 289s, to Shelby Mustangs. Without a doubt, the low-compression-and-smogged '74 T/A ran very well in comparison."
After returning to the dealership, John began negotiations to take the thrill-ride T/A home for good. That's when the dealership told him the car was already spoken for. He explains: "It seems that this particular T/A and nine others were to be sent to Las Vegas to a dealer that was exporting them. My understanding was that they were going to Japan. Fortunately, Mr. Romano, the dealership sales manager, knew how much I wanted this car. He made a few calls and substituted a similarly-equipped T/A for the trip overseas. The T/A was mine."
John, then a recent sheriff-academy...
John, then a recent sheriff-academy graduate, sure lit up his sirens when he saw the Trans Am’s arrest-me-red, code 901 custom interior.
John's T/A was built at Pontiac's Norwood, Ohio, plant on April 13, 1974. Though its base retail price was $4,350.75, 20 extra-cost options—including the custom trim package, AM/FM stereo, front console, side and hood moldings, hood decal, power windows, Soft-ray glass, rear window defogger, lamp group, 455 D-port engine, 8-track stereo tape player, roof drip moldings, tilt steering wheel, power door locks, air conditioning, front floor mats, and custom seatbelts—brought its price to $5,117.49, or as John remembers it "$6,333.90 out the door, including a 50,000-mile extended warranty, tax, title and tag, and doc fees."
John enjoyed the T/A for the next decade. "It continued to impress me with its power and handling. I remember getting on it and twisting, and then literally snapping the rear stabilizer bar in half when it was only four months old. Many mechanics were amazed at the quickness of this car, "he says.
By January 1985, John's Sexy Mutha T/A had logged 52,000 spirited miles and began to burn oil, prompting him to overhaul the engine at a local speed shop. "If I recall, the rebuilder used TRW forged pistons sized 0.030 over, floating wristpins, and other performance mods typical to the time period. The shop's workers also balanced the engine, and installed a set of Doug Thorley headers. During the rebuild, the shop showed John that the stock intake was cracked, needed welding, and couldn't be replaced because the part number was no longer available, "That didn't make sense to me," John says. He found out years later exactly why the intake manifold was no longer available—he says it was an SD-455 'LS2' and the factory installed it onto his D-port car!"
Many of the delivering dealer...
Many of the delivering dealer goodies that came with his T/A, including this Pontiac introductory stereo tape cartridge to be used in the code-422 stereo 8-track player, are still in near-mint condition, even after 36-plus years of storage.
Shortly thereafter, John stopped driving the love of his life and put it in storage. There it sat for 20 years, until, in 2004, he thought about retirement and how much his Trans Am meant to him during his early days in law enforcement. "I felt that my loyal T/A deserved to be rewarded and truly freshened up. My goal was to get it done and drive it to my retirement party. Imagine, the same car that started my career would now drive me into the next phase of my life," he says.
"This time, the T/A received the full treatment," John continues. The 455's bottom end, which was rebuilt once, was inspected and deemed operational, so NASCAR engine builder and tuner Jim Van Gordon, of Van Gordon Racing in Upland, mildly ported and polished the stock 4X heads and fitted them with Manley Racemaster stainless-steel 2.11/1.66 valves. He recalibrated and installed a No. 7044270 SD-455 carb, which tops a non-production ultra-rare SD aluminum intake (PN 485640). The distributor is original, but is upgraded with a Pertronix ignition module, and MSD 8mm wires and ACDelco 45S plugs complete the ignition path.
Upon John's suggestion, the shop also installed a Comp Cam hydraulic flat-tappet cam with 218/218-degrees duration at 0.050 lift, and 0.454/0.454-inch lift. Exhumed fumes route their way through a set of new ceramic-coated Doug Thorley headers (1¾-in primaries, 3-inch collectors) to a custom 3-inch dual-exhaust featuring Flowmaster mufflers.
In ’74, Pontiac put the switches...
In ’74, Pontiac put the switches for several of its extra-cost options into the engine-turned appliqué dash. Shown here are the toggle switches for rear window defogger (code 594) and the electric door locks (code 554).
Though the Turbo 400 remains stock, its gaskets and seals were replaced and the rearend's original 3.08 gearset was switched out for 3.42s. The suspension remains stock, except for replacement shocks front and rear, and the factory's 10.9-inch rotors and GM single-piston calipers up front and 9.5-inch drums in the rear have been rebuilt. According to John, all of the original parts were kept and preserved.
Since he cared for his T/A's interior since day one, very little work was required to return it to its radiant glow. He replaced the front seat upholstery, carpet, and headliner with reproduction parts and had his original AM/FM in-dash stereo rebuilt. The door panels, dash, gauges, and trim are original.
John's T/A was an accident-free, rust-free survivor, so a basic exterior refinish using BASF basecoat/clearcoat paints was performed by West Coast Collision in San Bernardino. Afterwards, the shop used 3M polishing products to give the code-11 Cameo White exterior a high luster, and installed new decals. "I admit I used creative freedom with replacing the decals," John laughs. "The blue hood bird never made sense to me with a red interior. The only solution was to apply the '74 orange decals and hood bird. Man, did that make a difference!"
Trans Ams came standard with...
Trans Ams came standard with code-HM Rally IIs, which are still on the car, but restored. The original GR70-15 steel-belted, raised white-letter radials have long since been replaced; they’re now Firestone Firehawks.
Since its rise from retirement, this Trans Am has been shown once, at the POCI National Convention in 2005 where it was awarded Second Place in the modified class. "The judges stated how easy it would be to make the car competitive in the stock class and how rare the all-red interior is," he says.
Pontiac fans won't find the Sexy Mutha 455 (SM-455 for short) listed in any history of the Trans Am. Nonetheless, for this original owner, his T/A looks nearly as fine today as the first time he set eyes on it back in the day. "I couldn't be happier with how fate directed me to this car," John says. "It may not be a Super-Duty, but it's one Sexy Mutha."
John Chencharick would like to thank the following folks who assisted or contributed to this project: Van Gordon Racing (Upland), American Muscle Car, Sal Perez and Jeff Bachar (San Bernardino), West Coast Collision (San Bernardino), Precision Auto (Bloomington), and Restore a Muscle Car (Lincoln, Nebraska).
John Chencharick and High Performance Pontiac would like to give special thanks to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department and Deputy Chief Sheree Stewart for being so helpful and arranging the photo shoot to take place at the Sheriff's EVOC Driving Center.