A Suncoast Creations Predator R/A hood received two coats of body-colored PPG enamel, as w
Boil it all down and speed can only be obtained by controlling the air. The engine needs it to breathe and keep cool; the body needs to bat it out of the way so it doesn’t impede progress. Build for one and not the other, and trouble will follow; hit that sweet spot, that narrow harmonious sliver, and the world is yours.
Speed is the goal here. Let your gaze fall upon this ’97 Trans Am. There is no disguising its intent—its shape is too clearly defined, too aggressive, too boldly obvious. Its lines broadly resemble an arrow—pointy in front to cleave the atmosphere and penetrate its prey, and gradually widening toward the back for stability—a nod perhaps to the great Chief himself, who shares a name with this machine’s maker, and who unwittingly lent his name to the marque. Its color—a pure liquid silver, echoed on the wheels that blur so easily, whether the rest of the machine is in motion or not—does nothing to dissuade the comparison.
It was this Trans Am’s visage—clean, streamlined—that drew owner Danny Gomez to it in the first place. “I love the sleek lines,” the Oak Leaf, Texas-resident tells us. “I also like the ’97 nose better than the ’98 facelift. Seeing that nose is what prompted me to do my car shopping in late ’97.” The answer came on the lot of Jerry’s Chevrolet in Weatherford, Texas: a recent ’97 trade-in with less than 12,000 miles on the clock, and loaded with T-tops, Monsoon stereo, leather, and six-speed.
At first blush, only the flush-fit K&N air filter and strut tower brace to the cowl show t
And so the battle with the air began. With larger-diameter Enkei Win wheels on lower-series Nitto NT 555 275/40ZR17 (front) and Mickey Thompson 315/35R17 ET Streets (rear), the Trans Am’s ride height remained stock. It took a set of Eibach Pro Kit springs (with factory shocks and struts) to lower it 1.3 inches, thus lowering frontal area and making it even more impervious to atmospheric forces.
Additional stability was built into the package as well. A set of Kenny Brown Double-Diamond subframe connectors help dial out any unwanted torsional flex created by the T-top-shaped holes in the roof, while a Spohn torque arm, Thunder Racing adjustable Panhard bar, and Jegster adjustable rear lower control arms aid in stability.
The only compromise made with the airstream here is the Suncoast twin-nostril hood, which reaches up ever so slightly, and only then to grab a snootful of cold, dense, sweet air for its own nefarious purpose. Tribal markings by Mecham Design—an old and respected name among the elder tribesmen—allow both identification and continuity among those in the know. This minor addition feeds the naturally aspirated beast tucked stealthily away between the strut towers.
And what a beast! A stroker crank, ported heads, a trick cam to get the valves opening higher still, an unimpeded exhaust, and air being rammed down its gullet from the outside, encourage this 383 small-block’s voracious appetite.
We all know that an engine requires air, fuel, and spark to get going; in order to react to (and properly utilize) all of that air, the fuel and spark end of the tri-quation must be solid. To that end, a descreened and polished MAF, a stock throttle body with twin 48mm bores, and 30-lb/hr FMS injectors were deemed sufficient. A genuine GM replacement Optispark has been treated to an MSD cap, rotor (with Loctite on the retaining screws), and wires, MSD 6AL-2 ignition box, ACCEL Supercoil “E”-core coil, and a set of Autolite 104 plugs gapped at 0.030-inch. Also, the tuning was optimized by the owner using Tunercat once the factory PCM was replaced with an OBD-I unit. (Tunercat was not available for OBD-II at the time.)
Inside, Gomez went the full stroker route with 383-cubes, utilizing a 3.75-inch-stroke Eagle cast crank with 6-inch Eagle forged rods and forged flat-top JE pistons. Dennis Wells Racing of Duncanville, Texas, did the machine work and Gomez built it.
Lloyd Elliot of Elliot’s Portworks of Red Oak, Texas, ported and rebuilt the LT1 heads with larger Manley 2.02/1.60 valves, Comp Cams beehive springs, and steel retainers and locks. His port work resulted in a 205cc intake port and flow of 281/194 cfm versus 216/156 cfm stock.
T-tops, leather ... there’s precious little to indicate that this is a machine that would
“I shot a Trans Am into the air/it fell to earth I know not where/for, so swiftly it flew,
Here’s the angle you’re more likely to see on Gomez’s Bird. The 17-inch wheels fill out th
The static compression ratio is 12.48:1—seemingly quite high for 93 octane. Danny explains, “I worked very closely with Lloyd on this, as I was skeptical too, but he assured me that with the reverse cooling of the LT1 plus the fact that the heads are aluminum, it was doable if we keep engine temps under control. [The dynamic compression ratio actually works out to 8.8:1.] Compared to my previous 350 tune, I had to change the curve, bringing the timing in a little later, and I pulled about 3 degrees total out of it. It doesn’t ping and I don’t pick up anymore knock when data logging than I did with my 10.5:1 350.”
Match that to a GM847 cam with 234/242 duration at 0.050 and 0.575/0.595-inch valve lift with 1.6:1 Comp Cams Pro roller rockers, and there’s a whole lot more air getting sucked, squished, banged, and blown through the system ... all in the name of power.
And you can’t pass that quantity of air with a clogged exhaust. To that end—if you’ll pardon the pun—a set of FLP ceramic-coated headers (1.75-inch primaries, 3-inch collectors) feed a 2.5-inch Y-pipe and a 4-inch exhaust, exiting through a single Edelbrock muffler. (The passenger-side exhaust outlet is a dummy.)
The factory-installed Monsoon stereo system remains, but in order to rise above the mechan
The rest is reinforcement to keep it running reliably and strong at all speeds: a Melling oil pump, factory windage tray clearanced for the stroker crank, a beefed-up T56 six-speed featuring a McLeod twin-disc clutch and flywheel, plus Denny’s nitrous-ready driveshaft to handle the power, and a 12-bolt Moser rear with an Eaton posi, 3.73 gears, and 33-spline axles that accommodate the factory rear disc brakes.
Does it work? And how, to the tune of 407 rwhp at 6,000 rpm, and 409.5 lb-ft of neck-straining torque at 4,150 rpm. Danny says of its road manners, “My T/A has a great balance of power and driveability. It provides late-model ride quality with the rumble and power of a musclecar. With the six-speed, you just drop it in whichever gear you want—feel the vertebra-snapping harshness of a lower gear or the smooth power of a higher gear.”
He’s currently working on improving his driving technique on the strip to fully realize the T/A’s potential on a timeslip. In the meantime, air is patient. It just waits—taken for granted.
When things happen as fast as they do in the stock grey leather cabin, an Auto Meter shift
In the wilderness, it’s sweet and refreshing. Under pressure, its power can be terrifying. In the end, air always wins. But that doesn’t mean you can’t bend it to your will once in a while, make yourself its master, and force it to do your bidding. Danny Gomez has learned how.