The year was 1987 and Gale Banks took a Pontiac Trans Am GTA to 283mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats. He was a man ahead of his time, setting the Fastest Passenger Car record, which still stands today.
“Hot rodding is merely improving. Hot rodding is taking existing technology and pushing it. The term state of the art does not exist in hot rodding. The leading edge is hot rodding,” said Banks.
A twin-turbo system, air-to-water intercooling, electronic fuel injection, data logging…you’d think we were talking about your typical standing mile car today. But instead, we are talking about the mid-80s with dot matrix printers, funny mustaches, and lower octane fuel. Though, the GTA is clearly equipped with a parachute and roll cage, I doubt that does much to calm the nerves when it is “sliding gently” at top speed, chasing the magical 300mph mark. Honestly I don’t know how Don “the Iceman” Stringfellow could fit two basketballs inside his fire suit, but you have to give him credit. At the time he was a veteran top speed racer and long-time member of the 200mph club as well as a record holder in the AA/GC class. But he was said to have incredible trust in Banks and his crew. This sort of endeavor takes meticulous preparation.
According to the December 1987 Hot Rod article, the GTA utilized a 454 cubic-inch big-block from the GM marine program with 25-pounds of boost, though they planned to take it up to 38-pounds to hit 300mph. Twin Garrett turbos, Banks fabricated high-flow intercoolers, and Pontiac Motorsports high-port/high-flow aluminum big-block cylinder heads made the combo capable of 2,200hp.
Why chose the GTA? Aerodynamics. It was one of the sleekest options at the time–stability and resistance is key. The class rules don’t allow for many aerodynamic changes, and the GTA sat at nearly factory ride height. Banks said it had the highest chance of success based on aerodynamics (of any of the cars considered for the project).
Though Banks Engineering was clearly in charge of the powertrain, Lamb Components set up the chassis. Roger Lamb outfitted the GTA with huge brakes, a modified strut arrangement, and a 4-link. He also selected and fitted a Doug Nash Engineering 5-speed transmission with a Long overdrive that would hold together at incredible speed.
"On station somewhere near the three-mile marker you see it long before you hear it. Racing across the pure white horizon, a small red dot speeds crazily toward you, pursued by a pearlescent plume of salt spray. Then, like distant thunder announcing a storm, the primal scream of a turbocharged big-block engine beings to build, brief interruptions signaling the gear changes before it settles into a deep, steadily increasing roar. Turbocharged cars don’t make a lot of noise, but this one delivers an unmistakable vibration through the air. Something awesome is about to happen.” (“Salt Shaker,” John Baechtel, HOT ROD magazine, December 1987)