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1986 Pontiac Trans Am - 3rd Gen's A Charm

Rob Spremulli takes the hands-on approach, making his road-find '86 T/A into a slick, Turbocharged, 11-second street sinner and show winner

Andrew Nussbaum Mar 14, 2014
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The word generation is often used when referring to people, names or recurring trends that trace their origins to a common line of descent. In the case of Rob Spremulli, a 28-year-old CNC technician from Suffield, CT., the term intersects and culminates into his awesome 3rd-generation Firebird Trans Am.

Back in the fall of 2002, Rob was a teenager in search of his first freedom-inducing-ride. With his dad Robert on board, Young Rob had his heart set on an American icon, the Pontiac Firebird.

Robert Sr. had the pleasure of owning a 2nd-generation, Cameo White with Tyrol Blue stripe, '71 455cid, 4-speed T/A back in the day. He would now pass on that experience and pride of Pontiac ownership to his son.

Originally looking at a '92 V-6 Firebird, the rough example prompted father and son to pass. On the drive home, destiny presented itself as an '86 ‘Bird was nesting on the side of the road with a for sale sign in the window.


The T/A was re-sprayed white with a grey/black cloth interior and its original Auto/305 TPI motor showing 106k miles on the clock; for $2200 the deal was done, and Rob took the running-driving bird home to begin his journey.

Rob cruised his stock T/A until he graduated from high school, when yearning for more power and a budding technical prowess lead the way to multiple modifications.

Doing the work himself, Rob yanked out the tired 305, installing an iron block 350ci. mill equipped with aftermarket heads, a big cam, and a custom fabricated mini-ram fuel injection kit. Rob admits only taking a couple of shop classes in HS, being completely self-taught as his project ‘Bird evolved.

Through much trial and tribulation, the 350 setup provided nothing but headaches, as Rob could never dial-in the performance, even listing the T/A for sale when frustration overcame him. Once again, destiny intervened when Rob realized he couldn't part with his Bird.


In 2006, another generational influence took place when Rob acquired an awesome '00 black on black 6-speed SLP Firehawk T/A. He loved the 4th-Gen's LS1 power, handling characteristics, and improved build quality. After only a year, finances dictated the sale of the Firehawk, but not without leaving a powerful and lasting impression.

A year later, Rob says, "I went off the deep end." After almost selling the '86, hedecided to take it off the road to fly around in his LS1 Firehawk, he was now determined to follow a path that would ultimately lead his 3rd-Gen to greatness.

He began the four-year labor of love by ripping the troublesome 350 from the engine bay and parting it out. Those funds were used to purchase the new heart of his phoenix, a 5.3L/LM7 truck motor from an '05 Chevy Tahoe and a T56 six-speed from a 4th Gen Camaro.

The 5.3L retains its stock internals, and benefits from an LS6 C5 Corvette camshaft with a 204/218 duration at .050, a .551/547-inch lift, and street friendly 117 LSA.

Adorning the new block are GM 317 6.0L aluminum truck heads, pulling air into their larger combustion chambers, through a Spectre air filter, stainless steel intake piping, and a FAST 78mm throttle body.

Fuel flows via 60-lb injectors guzzling from twin Walbro 255LPH pumps, operating at 58 psi.

Rob had long dreamed of a force-fed V-8, and wanted to achieve this by way of a turbo, thus he purchased a MIG welder, a used turbocharger, and all necessary parts to put it together. After learning how to weld during the install, the pre-owned turbo failed, and was sent off to the manufacturer for a full rebuild.


The final custom-fit and fabricated system includes a Turbonetics T76 ball bearing turbocharger making 11-lbs. of boost with a Tial 50mm blow-off valve, MV-R 44mm wastegate, and a CX Racing intercooler with 2.5-3.0-inch custom fabricated stainless steel hot/cold side piping.

Exhaust gases are expelled through the stock LM7 manifolds –now mounted facing forward to mate up with the turbo's 3.5-inch downpipe leading into the piping and a single Borla XR-1 muffler.

Lighting the ‘Bird's fire is an MSD 2-step launch control box, connected to the stock coil-packs, pulling spark from NGK BR7EF plugs and stock wires.

Controlling vehicle functions is a custom HP-tuned, 4th-Gen F-body PCM, programmed with a 2-bar map speed density tune for proper Turbocharger operation.

Moving through the drivetrain, the aforementioned T56 went kaput after a mid-build test-drive refusing to engage gears. Rob sought the assistance of his friend, co-worker and tranny-guy Mark Vasseur, in rebuilding the six-speed to Viper-spec with upgraded parts; including a Textralia clutch and flywheel, a 4th-Gen LS1 aluminum driveshaft, and an MGW shifter.

Getting the turbo power to the pavement is a Dana 44 rearend with strong off-the-line, yet street-mannered 3.55 gears.

Even with the impressive custom turbocharged powerplant, the chassis and suspension best display Rob's workmanship and attention to detail, separating his 3rd-Gen T/A from the rest.

Up front is a full assortment of BMR chassis components including, sway bar, lower A-arms, K-member, and adjustable control arms, along with a custom wonder bar and Hotchkis steering sleeves.

Increasing structural rigidity and rear end planting duty are BMR weld-in subframe connectors, an adjustable torque arm, Panhard bar, and lower control arms.

The T/A's tough and purposeful stance is provided by Tokico Blue shocks at all four corners with 1.5-inch drop springs front and rear.

The most recent and attractive addition to the car are a quadrent of Weld RT-S black anodized wheels; 17x9's in front and 17x10's in the rear, wrapped in Falken 512 275/40/17 front and sticky Mickey Thompson ET Street II 295/45/17 rubber out back.


Borrowing from the GM parts bin, Rob installed a C5 Corvette front brake kit with 13-inch rotors and 4th Gen F-body rear clampers to haul the Bird down from speed.

Early in the build, Rob had the entire chassis soda blasted, then brushed on Herculiner and prepped and primed the body himself. He later brought the T/A to Specialty Automotive in East Hartford, CT, to receive its stunning PPG (Plymouth Prowler) Flame Orange metallic paint job. Also upgrading the Birds exterior, Rob installed a ‘91-92 rear hatch and wrap around spoiler with the more up to date and integrated taillight.

Rob personalized his TA's cockpit with a custom cluster encasing a flock of Autometer Cobalt gauges, custom leather insert door panels, and a pair of Corbeau LG-1 racing seats. Further enhancing the driving experience, Rob Dynamated the interior compartment, listening to his favorite tunes blasting over the turbo's whine from an Alpine/Kicker CD/stereo system.

After ironing out a few bugs, the T/A has proven to be a real runner, making 540hp and 522lb-ft. on the current tune. Predominantly a streetcar, Rob has run the 1/4-mile for test and tune purposes with a best time of 11.52 at 124mph, off a 1.86 holeshot.

Future plans include a more efficient intercooler, and perhaps, an increase in boost to achieve 11.0's or even high 10's.


Rob says, "The car drives excellent on the street. The suspension is tight and firm, but not too rough. I can hop in and drive anywhere and be comfortable doing it. The tightest 3rd Gen F-body I've ever experienced," nuff said.

Rob admits having two main goals when starting the build back in ‘07. The first was (no lie) to get his '86 TA into the glistening pages of GM High-Tech Performance Magazine, the other, to win a best in class trophy for his exhaustive efforts and final vision.

I am glad to use one to report the other, as Rob's T/A did indeed win "Best Firebird" at Marks Classic Cruise Night in July of '13, the largest show and cruise night in New England. Mission accomplished.

Spanning a decade of blood, sweat, tears, and roughly $40k, Rob's dream of an award winning, Turbo powered, pro-touring 3rd Gen TA has come to fruition. He extends his thanks to his friends and family for their support, and Cottons Performance for supplying parts and technical help.

Rob's gorgeous '86 T/A is a testament to different generations; both familial and automotive, combining to a final incredible outcome. Rob states that with such sentimental value he plans to keep his beloved Bird forever, who knows, maybe he will pass it along to the next generation.

Data File

Car: 1986 Pontiac Trans Am
Owner: Robert Spremulli
Block: 5.3L,LM7, 325cid
Compression ratio: 8.6:1
Heads: GM 317 6.0 liter, aluminum truck heads
Cam: GM LS6, hydraulic/roller, 204/218 duration at. 050, 551/547 inch lift, 117 LSA
Pushrods: Stock 5.3 LM7
Rocker arms: Stock
Pistons: Stock
Rings: Stock
Crankshaft: Stock
Rods: Stock
Throttle body: FAST 78mm
Fuel injectors: Mototron 60lb/hr
Fuel pump: Twin Walbro 255 LPH
Ignition: MSD 2-step launch control, NGK BR7EF plugs, stock wires/coil packs
Engine management: LS1 F-body PCM, custom HP tuning, 2 bar map speed density tune
Power adder: Turbonetics T76 ball bearing Turbocharger
Boost: 11 psi
Intercooler: CX Racing
Wastegate: Tial MV-R 44mm
Exhaust system: Forward facing stock manifolds, custom piping, Borla XR-1 muffler
Transmission: Viper Spec T56
Clutch: Textralia
Driveshaft: 4th Gen F-body, aluminum
Front suspension: BMR lower A-arms, sway bar, K-member, adjustable control arms, custom wonder bar and Hotchkis steering sleeves, Tokico Blue Shocks and 1.5-inch drop springs
Rear suspension: BMR weld-in Subframe connectors, adjustable Torque arm and panhard bar, Tokico Blue shocks and 1.5-inch drop springs
Rear end: Dana 44, 3.55 gears
Brakes: C5 Corvette front kit, 13-inch rotors, 4th Gen F-body rotors and calipers rear
Wheels: Weld RTS black anodized 17x9 front, 17x10 rear
Front tires: Falken 512, 275/40/17
Rear tires: Mickey Thompson ET street II, 295/45/17
Fuel: 93 octane
Best ET/mph: 11.52/124.5mph
Best 60-ft. time: 1.86
Current mileage: 3280 after build
Miles Driven Weekly: 70



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