Everyone has heard a story about an old musclecar that was found on a lot dirt-cheap and was built from the ground up into a beautiful machine. What isn’t common is a similar tale about a late-model Pontiac. Robert Pucillo, however, did just that with this ’99 Formula. As a dedicated hobby mechanic and devoted Fourth-Gen owner, he was determined to build a ’99 pace-car clone that could lead any field.
By 2004 and after owning eight Fourth-Gen F-bodies; marrying his girlfriend, Ana; and having his daughter, Samantha; Robert was ready for his next project: a ’96 Trans Am. “I converted the car to a six-speed and a T-top roof,” he explains. “I built a pretty stout 355 that made a respectable 380 hp and 366 lb-ft of torque.” The T/A was fun, but he decided he wanted to get back into an LS-powered car.
The 30th Anniversary Trans...
The 30th Anniversary Trans Am wheels were a difficult part for Robert to find. “I went through three sets before I found four that were good,” he tells us. They wear Sumitomo HTR 40Z tires in the factory 275 size up front and Firehawk Wide Oval 285/40R17 tires out back.
At the time, Robert and his family were living near Miami. He found an inexpensive white ’99 Formula in South Florida with 187,000 miles that “ran well but had light damage to the front left and was hit in the right quarter.” He took his buddy Ryan Ferguson to look at it, who pleaded with Robert to stay away from it. Robert viewed the extensive damage as a challenge. “I couldn’t get the car out of my head and decided to buy it.”
Robert loves projects and knew he had a fixer-upper with the Formula. “Everything leaked and looked bad,” he says. However, he finally had another LS1 car and couldn’t wait to start building 500 rwhp. Ryan helped him along the way and was luckily looking to do an LS1 swap into his Third-Gen. They found a wrecked ’00 white Trans Am on eBay, so Ryan took the engine and transmission; Robert took the rearend, complete interior, and the body panels he needed to convert his Formula to a Trans Am.
“Now I was left with a white Trans Am,” he says. “I didn’t know what to do with it until I saw a poster for the 30th Anniversary Trans Am Pace Car. It read: ‘Who says muscle starts to sag at 30?,’ and I couldn’t resist building a pace-car clone.” The plan was set: Build a 30th Anniversary Pace Car clone with 500 rwhp and call it “Pace This.” Easy, right?
That’s a 408ci LQ9 with an...
That’s a 408ci LQ9 with an LS3 top end. The healthy Gen IV mill generates 517 rwhp through the T56 and factory 10-bolt upgraded with a 3.73 gear. It runs an impressive 10.89 at 128 mph in the quarter. Since it’s set up for street driving, there’s a lot to be said for breaking into the 10s with just a set of drag radials.
His first engine combination was comprised of an ’08 cast-iron LQ9 block filled with 4.030-inch, -4cc Diamond pistons; Eagle H-beam rods; and a 4-inch Eagle crankshaft. Compression was calculated out to 11.2:1. A custom cam was installed, along with a set of CNC-ported LS6 heads. Channeling air into the motor was a Fast Toys 4-inch lid that fed into a 4-inch LS7 MAF. From there, a 92mm throttle body and a FAST 90mm intake manifold distributed the air evenly, while a set of factory Ford ’03/’04 Cobra injectors added the fuel supplied by a Racetronix fuel system. Total engine displacement was 408 ci.
Robert went with a rather unique exhaust setup for the Bird. A set of 1.625-inch Texas Speed headers spill into a 3-inch off-road Y-pipe meeting at a 4-inch I-pipe. There is a 4-inch electronic cutout installed there to unleash the full sound of the ferocious late-model mill. With the cutout closed, the exhaust gasses travel over the axle through a single 3-inch pipe, where they meet another electronic cutout. He can adjust how much will go through the muffler, or continue through a straight pipe out the back of the car, making it tunable. The gases that don’t break free at either cutout location are subjected to the sound suppression of an SLP Two On The Left (TOTL) muffler that delivers a mellow, clean musclecar tone.