Car Feature 1998 Pontiac Trans Am WS6If you have been into drag racing for any length of time, what you are about to read is an all too familiar tale. What starts innocently enough as a perfectly good daily driver eventually turns into some sort of half-driven, half-tracked monster that leaves you wanting even more. All of your friends keep telling you to go big or go home, and suddenly you are literally spending your house money for the thrill of more speed. "I originally bought the car for a daily driver. The mods started with some suspension stuff and a 125 shot of nitrous ..." If this sounds eerily familiar or even exactly like something you said to your friends a week ago, welcome to the club. It all leads to the same twisted place, as Mike Piccione of Hazlet, NJ, goes on to explain "... Cartek then installed a 383, then a 408, and then this current motor."
Piccione's addiction began in 1998, staring at a brand-new Pontiac Trans Am on the dealer floor. Bought as something to drive daily and have fun with, Mike started to get the itch. "I have always loved the looks of a fourth-generation Trans Am and I love the car's attitude when it leaves the starting line." As time progressed Mike built a 383 and then a 408. After getting bored of those, Mike knew the next bullet would have to be much bigger. Having sprayed some of his old motors, Mike decided that this time, he would use only nature's own 14.7 psi to feed his powerplant. If you are going to be competitive in this day and age with an all-motor combo, you better know what you are doing. For Mike and the boys at Cartek, this proved almost too easy.
First on the list was getting the air in, and to do this Mike fabricated his own "dual ram air system." Using the factory foglight holes to draw air up to the stock filter location, air is then passed through a FAST 90mm throttle body and into a Cartek ported L76 intake manifold. This manifold is bolted to a set of ported and decked L92 cylinder heads, which are directed by a custom ground Cartek camshaft. A hydraulic roller with 252/262 duration, 0.630/0.630-inch lift on a 116 LSA makes for a "surprisingly good drive and nice idle" while also providing enough power to put Mike's TA well into the 9's.
Fueling for all this airflow is done by a set of 60-pound injectors and tuning by Julio at Cartek using the stock ECU. Once the air/fuel mixture enters the cylinder, the really trick parts start to show their stuff. Starting with a new LS7 block, the boys over at Cartek added a 4.125-inch stroke and 4.125-inch bore together to get a massive 441 cubic inches of displacement. To do this, they used a Callies forged crankshaft, hung by the stock LS7 caps and wrapped in Clevite bearings. Swinging around the crankshaft is a set of Manley forged rods that connect to a set of Manley forged pistons with Sealed Power rings. This combination ends up being 13.0:1, which is right where Mike and Cartek needed it. For exhausting all of this air, a set of Quick Time Performance 1 7/8-inch long-tube headers are tied to a 3-inch Texas Speed cross-pipe and Dynatech mufflers.
In order to put all this power to the ground, Mike enlisted Rossler Transmissions to build him a capable, but still street-friendly TH350. Mated to the back of the crank is a TCI flexplate and Neal Chance converter, which stalls to a rather lofty 4,400 rpm. A B&M Pro Stick shifter allows Mike to command the gear changes, while a TCI transmission cooler helps keep the transmission fluid at the proper temperature. Aft of the transmission, a chrome-moly driveshaft passes through a custom safety loop, built by Carrolls Rod and Racecraft, and attaches to a surprisingly simple GM 12-bolt. Using a set of 3.73 rear gears, a full spool, and 33-spline axles, power is transferred out to the massive 30x10.5-inch Hoosier slicks. Stock rear springs, dual airbags and HAL/QA1 rear shocks keep everything planted while Spohn lower control arms and a Spohn dragbar keep it all level. To keep consistent and controllable 60-foot times, Mike uses a Carrolls Rod and Racecraft wheelie bar. "I race the car off the footbrake, just rev it to 3,500 rpm and hold on." This technique has achieved 1.29 60-foot times on the way to some lightning-fast 9.59 e.t.'s.
Up front, a pair of HAL/QA1 coilovers transfer weight to the rear tires and wheelie bars along with a set of custom-built travel limiters. With no front sway bar and polyurethane bushings, Mike reports that the "car drives surprisingly well on the street and handles pretty good for a drag setup." If things do get out of control, as they sometimes do, a set of Madman SYA bars were installed to keep the headers and oil pan from taking too much damage. During our shoot, Mike found out the hard way that they do, in fact, work quite well.
Inside and out, this WS6 maintains a fairly tame appearance. Up front, only a small, pin-on VFN hood gives a clue as to what lies beneath it. Front and rear wheels are courtesy of Weld Racing with 15x3.5 and 15x10-inch Draglites. To make those big tires fit without rubbing, the rear quarter-panels have been ever so slightly stretched. The front foglights have been removed for the Ram Air intake and the rear valance has been blacked out, which so subtly hides the NHRA required on/off switch. One thing Mike cannot hide are the long wheelie bars, but usually by the time you see those, it is too late. Inside, the interior is also very tame and stays true to the daily driver street car that this used to be. A Carrolls Rod and Racecraft 10-point cage keeps Mike safe, while a pair of Jazz racing seats keep him and his passenger in position. The door panels have been replaced with Wolfe sheetmetal units that have been upholstered to match the factory colors.
Whether cruising the streets of New Jersey on his way to the track or racing in the Quick 8, Mike is really living the speed addict's dream. Most of us get to the "take it apart and start building something stage" only to fizzle out and start another project. Mike gives us all hope that with a strong game plan, dedication, and good company, building a magazine-worthy, 9-second driver is possible. And for that, we all owe him one.