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.
Who: Jeff Schwartz
What: 1981 Pontiac Trans Am
Where: Woodstock, Illinois
Engine: The mill is a highly modified LS3 with a 4.070-inch bore and an Eagle 4.00-inch crank for 416 inches. The compression ratio is 9.0:1 with a set of forged Wiseco pistons and LS3 cylinder heads ported by Precision Engine and Machine. The heads flow 340 cfm at 0.600 lift. Jeff also uses an LS7 dry-sump oiling system and a factory ZO6 computer and MAF to get the combo to work. The MAP is from a Cobalt SS and is referred to as a 2.5 BAR, and the camshaft is a Comp hydraulic roller with 242/248 duration and 0.650 lift. If the engine combo wasn't aggressive enough, Jeff added a pair of 66mm Turbonetics Hurricane Series turbochargers and built the intercooler using cores from Turbonetics. At 20 pounds of boost, the engine made 1,045 hp and 900 lb-ft at the wheel. Watch out for wildlife at the Sand Hills race, Jeff.
Stainless: The headers are hand-fabbed by Schwartz out of stainless steel and feature a 3-inch cross-pipe and polished stainless mufflers from Summit Racing. Consider the Schwartz phone number as the part number for one of these systems.
Fuel: A big Holley Dominator inline billet fuel pump feeds a set of 102 lb/hr fuel injectors. That is a GM 90mm throttle body.
Transmission: To get the power to the ground and move 3,850 pounds of car, Jeff uses a Bowler transmission 4L85-E with a billet 2,800-stall speed converter, controlled by a CompuShift controller.
Chassis: The engine is great, but the real star is the chassis. This car sits on the bolt-in, full-frame G-Machine chassis that isolates the suspension, rearend, steering, and engine from the body, so everything stays aligned in the corners. The claim here is that the chassis slides under the car without cutting the factory floors, welding, or drilling beyond a couple of holes in the rear framerails. The chassis allows for monster front and rear tires. Jeff says, "275s are no problem in the rear. With mini tubs, a 345 fits in there." Aside from big tires and reduced flex, the chassis brings with it the latest single or triple adjustable coilover shocks, 13- or 14-inch brakes on all four corners, and either a four-link or independent rear suspension. The frame under the Trans Am has Ridetech triple adjustable coilovers with remote reservoirs, 550-pound front springs and 300-pound rears, and a 11⁄4 front sway bar. Inside is a Ridetech Tiger Cage.
Brakes: These are 14-inch Baer Extreme Plus disc brakes with 6-piston mono-block calipers. The gigantic system is perfect for panic collision avoidance at the car's 222-mph* top speed.
Rearend: Schwartz Performance Inc. offers three different differential options. Jeff chose the Moser 9-inch with a Wavetrac differential, 31-spline floating axles, and a 3.25:1 gear ratio.
Wheels and Tires: The wheels are huge 19x9- and 19x12.5-inch Forgeline TA3P "snowflake" wheels that became popular during a brief Bandit Trans Am renaissance and, according to Jeff, have since been discontinued. (Our research found a set online for only $6,884, so hurry!) The tires are Michelin Pilot PS2s and, as promised, are 345 in the rear and 265 in front. The wheels are powdercoated red to add a little flash to a white car and have a polished lip.
Inside: The interior is stock-ish, in that it has a lot of the machine-turned highlights and a stock-appearing console. The seats are from Scat with RCI belts and feature bolsters to keep your butt in the seat when flying around cones. The door panels and steering wheel are from Year One, and Jeff built the dash insert with the Stack Instruments street dash display. The stereo is from Polk Audio. Any extra machine-turned tidbits were created from a sheet that Jeff bought from FPM Metal Products in Fairbury, Nebraska. The shifter was modified using parts from Year One to work with the 4L85-E.
Body: There are a lot of subtle touches on the body. The paint is PPG White Lightning because that was the "whitest white PPG had," to use Jeff's words. The fender flares are from Year One and are designed to fit flush against the fender without the gap for welting. The side marker lights have been filled, and the fender vents were enlarged. Jeff rigged the car to have power locks that work with a key fob so the door lock holes are also filled. The bird was created by Sticker Dude Designs and has elements from all four generations of Firebirds, so take a close look at the orientation of the head, the wings, and the flames. The turbo hood is factory steel that had the original sequential boost lights that run off of three factory pressure sensors. The billet hood hinges are from Eddie Motorsports. Jeff needed them for the heavy hood and likes the way they look.