People in Germany know how to drive. That astute observation was volunteered by Charlie Conklin as he cruised the fast lane on the A9 Autobahn, shoveling the local Euros to the right. His goal was to reach 200 mph as he wound his way toward Berlin on a high-speed test lap ignoring thoughts and worries that might betray him. People stared. It's not every day the German businessman sees a Trans Am, especially one piloted by foreigners wearing helmets. Charlie summed up his rational for us. "After I built this car, I didn't know how it would act at high speed. So I figured, hey, I have to go try it."
But that was last year's news. Today, we're sitting shotgun on an American piece of topsoil holding up the guys trying to do 65 mph in the fast lane so we can take pictures. The car will do that in First gear.
He recalled the beginning during a long interval between the Second to Third shift as the tach neared 6,000 and the speed digits tripled. The car was quiet and smooth.
"Friends and I watched all the Cannonball Run movies and were bench racing a cross-country freeway car. And that's when I saw the '69 Camaro called Big Red that R.J. Gottlieb ran over 200 mph. Aerodynamically, that car looked stock. It was the suspension that was worked. I wondered why we couldn't do that, so in 1997 I got some money together and found the Trans Am with 46,000 original miles on it. I thought that the body style looked more aerodynamic than the Camaro and that the Trans Am would be cool to race."
After realizing that the first Gottlieb Camaro ended up wadded into a ball on the side of a Mexican highway, Charlie hatched another plan. "My wife is from Hungary and my friend has a connection in the shipping business so it was easier to use the German Autobahn for high-speed testing. The roads are better and they don't heat the tires or abuse the car. I'd hate to wreck a car with original paint," he said.
During the conversation, Charlie opened it up and held it before the pump-gas detonation made him lift. The four-speed is modified with a 0.82 Overdrive. That, combined with 2.41:1 axle gears and tall tires, audibly lugs the engine in any gear above Second at legal speeds. His claim to us was an over-200-mph blast on the A9 based on a reading from an in-car GPS designed for speed-over-ground calculations. At the time, he used 19-inch Budnik wheels and BFG KD G-Force tires rated to 186 mph. "I don't have the safety equipment for sustained speeds so I have to just blast up there and back. I am going to have to prep this car and take it to Bonneville eventually to see what it can really do." We'll see him there.
Tech NotesWhat: '7011/42 Pontiac Trans AmOwner: Charlie Conklin, proprietor of a trailer-hitch and snowplow company.Hometown: Norwalk, Connecticut. Home of snow.
Speed secret: A Pontiac 400 bored 0.030-over with massively reworked 72cc cylinder heads combined with domed pistons from Weisco for 13:5:1 compression.
Heads: John Anzalone from Champion Engines ported the iron 670 castings to flow 356 cfm on the intake and 261 cfm on the exhaust at 0.700 lift. The valves are 2.125/1.750 Ferrara stainless with titanium retainers and the rockers are 1.65:1 from Crower.
Rotating assembly: The 400 uses 6.625-inch Eagle H-Beam rods and a cast crank. Charlie doesn't rev too far beyond 6,200 rpm. It is a four-bolt block with standard caps with a windage tray-nothing too wazoo.
Headers: We couldn't see the Hedman 211/48-inch headers through the heat wrap, but we could hear the 311/42-inch collector and 3-inch Dynomax Bullets. We avoid endorsing the wrap.
Intake: Bad news. Edelbrock doesn't make the low Pontiac Torker I single-plane intake anymore. It's low enough to fit under the air cleaner and use the original shaker hood.
Carburetion: Stanford Carburetor has wrestled with the Holley 830-cfm mechanical-secondary carb to get it to work around town without sacrificing too much top end. They're still at it.