Ordinarily, when we spy a Trans Am with this level of restoration, we aren't going to see it sliding sideways as nature intended. It's going to be a polish wagon that sees the backside of a chamois instead of a Walmart doing smoky brodies. So when we heard autocross ace Jeff Schwartz built this car, we knew the car was destined for violence, and we stopped for a better look.
You may know Jeff already for his unique builds. In 2002, he built an 1982 Cadillac and soundly defeated all comers at Car Craft's Real Street Eliminator contest. The Cad was unique in that it featured handmade suspension parts and a huge, snorting, 500-inch Cadillac V8 instead of catalog parts and a Chevy swap. It could be argued that the four-door hatched the modern muscle-car chassis concept with its popular exploits. The car received plenty of media attention as it ate hapless exotics at nationwide autocross events, while retaining the street manners needed for the Hot Rod Power Tour and other cruises.
Jeff lists one of his inspirations as The Hammer, a 190-mph, boxy-looking, four-door Mercedes 300E with a huge motor swap build by AMG in the '80s. That thing, like the Cadillac, stunned and abused everyone in its path and woke people to the concept of brute force and mastery of physics as a means to winning on a road course, instead of a tube chassis and a race engine. Not to sit on his successes, Jeff then built an Ultima GTR kit car with a then-unusual Chevrolet LS swap and proceeded to swipe everyone's trophies and make it to 211 mph in the standing mile.
Somewhere along the way, Jeff had built a following of potential clients looking to improve the handling of the larger bodies in GM's lineup. He also had experience with the then-new LS7 Corvette engine. "We had a 730hp pump gas package and a 1,500hp twin-turbo combination," says Jeff. He combined his manufacturing career experience with his SCCA seat time and engine-building chops to create Schwartz Performance Inc., and he built one of the first dedicated bolt-in chassis for the 1964–67 Chevelle.
The business filled a gap, and soon after the Chevelle chassis was perfected, a Mustang and first-gen Camaro followed. When it came time to develop the second-gen Camaro chassis, Jeff looked again to the 1980s. "The hot car was the 1976 455/four-speed Trans Am. Everyone wanted the 455 because it was the baddest engine of the day, but it only made 200 hp. The turbo model had 255 hp. The Camaros only had a 350," Jeff says. Insiders knew that the turbo was the setup to have. With that, Jeff found an 1981 Trans Am turbo in El Paso and began the build.
"I built this car as a demonstrator for all the parts we manufacture," Jeff says. "It took seven years because customer's cars always came first." Now that the car is complete, the beatings will begin. Jeff is going to add an aerodynamics package and take the car to scary venues like the Sand Hills Open Road Challenge in Nebraska, the Silver State race in Nevada, and less-scary autocross events like the Optima Street Car invitational. Look for it on a road course and the Car Craft Summer Nationals in St. Paul, Minnesota, next July.