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1996 Pontiac Trans Am - The Scalpel

A Clean And Sanitary Approach To Building A Winning LT1 Trans Am

Justin Cesler Nov 1, 2009
0911gmhtp_01_z 1996_pontiac_trans_am Freeway_drive 2/10

There are some cars, like people, that you just can't help but like. This '96 Trans Am, along with its owner Charles Obstfelder, certainly fit this mold. When we first met Charles, he had just made an eight-hour journey from Chicago to Kansas City to compete in the LTx Shootout. Not two seconds after the truck and trailer stopped in the parking lot, he jumped out, a bottle of quick detail and microfiber towel in hand, ready to make sure his '96 Trans Am was looking as good as it was going to run. Most of the time, a "waxer" isn't much of a racer, but you know what you get when you assume things. Turns out, Charles would go on to be the Extreme Street Power Adder champion, along with running a blazingly fast 10.46 at 131 mph, on a mildly built LT1 with ported stock heads and a 4L60E.

"I've been through six 4L60Es, two 10-bolts, five Optisparks, and one short-block. The current short-block has had eight years of my 'lead foot' and runs great ... all of the hard work was installed by me and my friends, including the Hamilton family (who have been my second family), my boys at Speed Inc., and Anthony Manna." It seems we aren't the only ones who like to break parts, but what separates Charles from other guys is that he just keeps going.

For the engine build, Charles enlisted the help of the professionals at Speed Inc., who seem to consistently turn out some of the nicest LT1-powered cars in the Midwest. Focusing on the overall goal of the build, Speed Inc. chose to build a fairly simple and reliable motor. Starting with a stock rotating assembly, Speed Inc. traded out the pistons for a set of Speed Pro forged units and drilled the stock rods for better oil control. Once machined, Speed Inc. balanced the assembly around a cleaned up stock crank and bolted the short-block together using the stock two-bolt mains. Down the center of the block lies a Comp Cams 236/236 duration, 0.625/0.625-inch lift camshaft on a choppy 112 LSA. A pair of Speed Inc./RGR ported and polished LT1 cylinder heads bring the compression to a nice 12.0:1, while a set of 2.02 intake valves and 1.60 exhaust valves, actuated by a set of Comp Cams 1.6 roller rockers, make it all work. Breathing off of a ported LT1 intake and a 52mm BBK throttle body, air is then exhausted out a pair of Hooker long-tube headers and the infamous SLP dual/dual exhaust. The real motivator here is a TNT nitrous kit, which is pilled for 200 rwhp, the deciding factor in any heads-up race.

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With the motor complete, Charles turned his attention to the rest of the drivetrain. Aft of the crankshaft is a TCI flexplate, bolted to a Yank 4000 SS torque converter. The power is transferred to a Jimmy's Performance Transmission-built 4L60E, which turns a "nitrous-ready" 3-inch driveshaft. All the way out back is a Moser 12-bolt stuffed with a set of 3.73 gears and 33-spline axles, which applies power to a pair of 15x10 Weld ProStar wheels wrapped in Mickey Thompson drag radials. When not in drag trim, Charles sports a set of gorgeous 19x10 CCW 505A wheels on the back, which allow the car to pass as an almost flawless show car.

All four corners of Charles' LT1 sport QA1 shocks, with a pair of QA1 springs up front and a pair of BMR springs in the rear. BMR also provided a pair of lower control arms, subframe connectors, and a rear sway bar. A Spohn adjustable torque arm makes sure to plant the rear end, providing enough control to push Charles into the 1.48 60-foot range. Once on the big end of the track, Charles relies on a set of LS1 front brakes to bring everything to a stop, while a pair of stock rears balance everything out. "Whether it was the late nights at Speed Inc. or pulling out the transmission, in the dead of winter, on jack stands in my garage, I have never broke at the track (knock on wood). However, I did bust a 10-bolt on the street (racing)."

0911gmhtp_09_z 1996_pontiac_trans_am Dashboard 7/10

Inside, as well as out, Charles has focused on keeping the Trans Am in great shape, without adding silly extras. A set of LS1 taillights make the back end look a little more modern, while an LT1 WS6 hood give the front just enough attitude. The interior is almost as delivered from GM, with the addition of a Wolfe Racecraft six-point rollcage, which was painted white to match the exterior. The center A/C vents have been replaced with a triplet of gauges, including nitrous pressure, transmission temp, and fuel pressure. In race trim, Charles uses a pair of cloth Firebird seats and five-point harnesses to keep him safe, trading out the stock leather interior he uses while on the street.

As you can tell, Charles truly enjoys both driving and working on his beautiful Trans Am. "I've always wanted a TA. The first week I had the car I modded it. I added an exhaust, camshaft, throttle body, and whatever else I could find, until I met Larry Hamilton and there went my bank account! The car has been through many heads and cam combinations, from LT1 to LT4 and back to LT1." So, what's next for this race-winning Trans Am? Charles told us, "If this setup fails, I have some things in mind that would bring boost into my life." Knowing Charles and the crew at Speed Inc., we can rest assured that it will be another ultra-clean monster and, in truth, we kind of wish he would hurry up and do it already!



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