"So much for the golden future, I can't even start
I've had every promise broken, there's anger in my heart
you don't know what it's like, you don't have a clue
if you did you'd find yourselves doing the same thing too
Breaking the law, breaking the law
Breaking the law, breaking the law
Breaking the law, breaking the law
Breaking the law, breaking the law
You don't know what it's like ..."
- Judas Priest - Breaking the Law -
NO SUBSTITUTE FOR CUBIC INCHES
Wednesday, October 21, 1987
is the art of wasting time and gas, both so-called valuable
commodities. It is also the art of having the time of your life, if you
do it right.
cruise, you need a car that you like, one that is you in that special
way. You know, the kind that fits you like an old pair of jeans. A good
choice is one that cheats the wind, guzzles gas quicker than a teenager
goes through a six-pack, and is fast enough to scare the pants off your
Shields spent most of his spare time cruising. Almost as much time as
he spent working on his car, and as any of his know-wells could tell
you, that was a lot of time. One of the people that Shields did call
friend, Cody, had told him that a street machine was never finished. It
was constantly getting added to and made just a little bit better all
the time. A perpetual expense if ever there was one. His Trans-Am lent
a new meaning to the term grocery getter. What ever he earned by
working at the local grocery store, the car got.
No one knew that better than Shields.
paused a minute to wander in his thoughts as he stood in the yard of
his apartment. He wiped his arm across his forehead to remove the beads
of sweat there. A second later his mind was back in the present and on
the job at hand; tuning the 403 cid small block V-8 that was cradled in
the engine mounts between the front fenders of his car.
was a 1979 model Trans-Am. Black on black with gold decals and
pin-striping. T-tops. Fifteen by eight inch gold tone deep dish
snowflake style aluminum wheels. Shaker scoop poking up through the
hood and the "6.6 LITRE" symbol emblazoned on the sides of the shaker.
was unique in that Pontiac Motor Division had only produced around four
Special Edition Trans-Ams per Pontiac dealer that year, the year of the
new third and final facelift for the Pontiac second generation
F-bodies. All of the SEs had come with the infamous WS-6 high
performance suspensions and the Rally Radial Tuned Suspensions (RRTS)
that included high ratio Saginaw variable power steering, 'snowflake'
style cast aluminum wheels, new (for the '79 model year) four wheel
power assisted disc brakes, and extra thick stabilizer bars on the
front and rear with heavy duty bushings and shocks. There was a
full 'wall to wall' rear taillight assembly that was colored like
smoked glass, and removable Fisher glass hatch T-top roof panels that
were smoked to gray twenty tint.
SETAs rode on Goodyear steel belted radial tires, and were painted a
deep midnight black lacquer with metallic gold decals and special
'bandit' stripes. Pontiac had called the SETAs 'blackbirds' in lieu of
having copyright problems over calling them 'Bandit' editions after the
successful Hal Needham / Burt Reynolds film "Smokey and the Bandit"
done way back in the late seventies.
of the SETAs had come with a complete blackout treatment that left
absolutely no chrome whatsoever on the Pontiac that wasn't blacked out
with paint over it, or made of a strong black plastic instead of the
T/A had been equipped with the last of the big cube V-8 motors, the
code L80 403 cubic inch small block built by the Oldsmobile
Division. The motor was backed up by a 3-speed
Turbohydramatic THM350 automatic transmission connected to a ten bolt
Safe-T Track limited slip differential that was geared to the tune of
2.73. The highly capable motor was underrated at a mere 185 horsepower
with all emissions in place and produced enough torque to jerk an
elephant through a keyhole. Very rare Pontiac indeed, one of only a
little over a nine thousand eight hundred and seventy four produced
with the motor and transmission that this one had in it.
body style was still sleek and streamlined, a beautiful design that had
sold more than 125,000 Trans-Ams that year alone. A figure Ford could
never hope to match, no matter how hard they tried. In fact, in 1979,
Firebird production totals exceeded both that of Ford Mustang and
Corvette put together.
403 cubic inch small block motor would rev to over five grand but had a
nasty habit of throwing air conditioner and power steering belts off
their pulleys at higher RPMs. Also, the 403 was known to use pistons of
a design that were prone to detonation. The oiling system would suck
the pan dry after prolonged use above five grand, and the two bolt
crankshaft rested in a hollowed out web. Oldsmobile also used a
non-adjustable valve train on their engines. With all these
disadvantages, the 403 still shined brightly, if you knew anything
about engines. Besides, there was really no room to push the motor that
far into the RPM band, or that fast. He had never found the top speed
of the motor but one known fact was that it would bury the 100 mph
speedometer easily, effortlessly, and would live there all day.
Pontiac's interior was still the factory stock black naugahide 'custom'
interior with the only major offshoot from what the factory had
installed being the addition of a fifty watt Kenwood stereo. The door
panels had been cut up to accept the modifications and he regretted not
knowing who had done the work.
fading sun glinted off the gold pinstriped body and bathed the huge
faded hood bird in a brilliant afterglow. The T-roof panels were
removed, stored in their protective black covers in the trunk.
Christopher hopped into the open interior of the car through the space
left by the T-tops and sat down, the driver's seat rocking backwards,
reclining back on a broken 'H' rail support. The setting sun came in at
him through the front window full glare and he squinted as his right
turned the worn and faded GM keys in the plastic covered ignition
switch. The motor turned over, growled, and settled into an easy
idle with the exhaust burbling authoritatively.
had dressed in his black customized T/A jacket, driving gloves, a pair
of old faded Levi bluejeans, and he was ready to go out. He took a pair
of custom prescription mirrored Bosch and Lomb Ray Ban sunglasses from
their case, put them on, buckled his seatbelt and tuned in the
Kenwood. The Pontiac slowly edged out of the grass and onto the
road in front of his apartment.
Time to take the Pontiac out for a drive ...
'86 red and black Ford Mustang GT cruised the back streets of Jackson,
the license plate read "CRAZY S" and the plate was from Hinds county.
The Ford turned onto Raymond Road and accelerated slowly out of the
driver was dressed in a black Ford racing jacket, heavily embroidered
with Blue Oval efforts in racing patches, and very dark aviator style
glasses. His gloved hands worked the five speed transmission's shifter
and grasped the steering wheel. A pair of white with black dots
fuzzy dice hung from the rear view mirror. They bounced as the GT idled
at the stop next to the Raymond Road Plaza. He looked out the side view
mirror as a '79 black and gold Pontiac Trans-Am slowly pulled up next
to the GT. The GT's driver looked over at the new arrival.
T/A's T-Tops were off. The Pontiac was driven by hard looking youth.
Dark Pontiac jacket. Wearing his seatbelt. The Pontiac's driver wore
finger-less dark leather driving gloves. The other driver seemed to
finally take notice of the Ford. The GT driver looked from the
other driver to the shaker hood of the Pontiac. Inscribed on the scoop
was the 6.6 Liter script and the driver smiled. It wasn't the
Pontiac motor, it was the Oldsmobile motor. Boat anchor.
The small block Ford could take the Oldsmobooger engine any day.
license plate of the Pontiac read BADR N-U and had a smaller black tag
bracket which ran around the outside of the metal tag. The tag-bracket
said simply in bold white letters; "NO SUBSTITUTE FOR CUBIC INCHES."
The plate was Forrest County. The GT's driver revved the Ford's
small block in obvious challenge and the car shook from the torque
produced. The Pontiac driver laughed and looked over at the GT as the
other driver revved the engine again in challenge.
sound was different. Christopher had thought that the GT was a
'84 model, with the carburetor topped, dual snorkel high output
engine. No, this engine was different. Sounded stock,
but there was the whine of the injectors. It was a fuelie!
That made it a good fifteen horses stronger than the stock
403. Just something else to consider. Not a reason to
decline, just something else to consider.
The GT driver turned and shouted over to the Pontiac driver.
"Race you for pinks. You game?"
Christopher looked over at the man.
nodded. He'd played the game a few times. The Trans-Am was still his.
Christopher grabbed the automatic shifter, ratcheting the stick down
from DRIVE to SUPER and finally into LOW. He reached behind the
seat and opened the lid on a tape case in the back. He took out a tape,
and slid it into the Kenwood as Sammy Hagar began his concert version
of "Trans-Am, Highway Wonderland" from the Street Machine album.
Christopher watched the light.
"...I want to tell you about my car..." Sammy Hagar began.
tapped the accelerator slightly. The 403 cid engine roared up 2500 RPM,
the shaker hood scoop lobbing to one side and back as the engine
torqued to the right.
driver took hold of the gear shifter and nodded without looking back to
the T/A. The answering rev from the Pontiac's engine had done all the
talking. The Trans-Am driver must have sensed the acceptance of
his challenge as the 403 cid small block whined again. The exhaust hit
a crescendo. The Pontiac's driver backed off the motor and prepared for
six point six liter was topped by a Rochester Quadrajet four barrel
carburetor. The GT had a port fuel injected system going for it versus
the open shaker scoop jutting from the hood of the Pontiac, but the
small block motor in the Pontiac made over a hundred and eighty-five
horses stock and was fed by a solenoid actuated hood scoop assembly
scavenged from a '70 Pontiac T/A. Christopher flicked a rocker
switch and the rear of the shaker scoop snapped open, letting cold air
at the base of the windshield reach the hungry Quadrajet
carburetor. He smiled as the Ford driver had obviously seen the
rear of the shaker hood flick open. His expression was priceless.
five point oh liter small block Ford made two hundred horsepower,
fifteen more than the Pontiac had but the Ford motor had a torque curve
as flat as the bird decal on the hood of the T/A.
"... She's American made, you know what I mean..."
that was stock, and the ominous black Pontiac belonged to Christopher
Shields. Someone who knew that boat anchors existed only in the
minds of the ignorant and the ham fisted amateurs. He had long
ago discovered the secrets of the maligned 403cid small block V8 and he
was about to educate another student in the ways of basic hotrodding.
"... Red or black, she's a street machine..."
driver casually moved the gear shifter down into first and the GT sat
at the light, it's five point oh liter small block idled, burbling
through the resonators and dual exhausts. The driver watched as
the light for the adjacent side of the intersection went from green to
yellow and then to red. There was a long second before the light in
front of the two cars went from red to abrupt green and then the
challenge was met.
The race was on.
"Sits ten inches off the ground with a custom plate that says: I EAT Z28"
dropped the accelerator pedal to the floor hard. The Trans-Am leaped
out of the hole, it's rear tires spinning and smoking as the Pontiac fought
to get traction on the black top, leaving a long set of dark black
marks as the Safe-T Track limited slip rear differential locked up. The
front end rising as the torque of the small block peaked. He let
off the gas and walked the Pontiac out of the hole. Almost sideways. He
was forced back into his seat by the instant torque being produced,
over three hundred and twenty pounds per foot of torque. The seatbelt
locked up on hard acceleration.
saying: horsepower sells cars, but torque wins races. Small block Ford
makes lots of horsepower. Small block Oldsmobile makes lots of torque.
The tach climbed to 4500 RPM. Yellow line. You can build a motor
for horsepower or you can build a motor for torque. If you build
a motor for torque, horsepower will take care of itself.
shifted from Low to Super, first to second gear, slapping the gear
shift forward, ratcheting it up a notch. The rear tires finally got
traction, having spun all the way through Low gear, leaving dark
stripes on the road behind the Pontiac. The rear tires chirped
sharply. Second gear. Drop to 2500 RPM. 45 MPH on the speedometer. The
Pontiac hooks up and starts to fly straight.
The Ford started to fall behind.
GT driver was slower by almost a quarter of a second, but that was a
quarter of a second too long and resulted in letting the Trans-Am get
ahead by a little over half a car length. The Ford driver nailed the
pedal and sidestepped the clutch at high RPM. The power of the
engine was channeled to the rear wheels through the close ratio 5 speed
manual transmission. The GT laid down a thick cloud of gray smoke
as a sharp screech came from tires spinning faster than their rubber
compounds could attain traction on the asphalt and overcome the force
of torque that the small block was producing.
driver smiled, or rather the corner of his mouth moved up just a
fraction to a smirk and he let off the pedal just a little. A quick
shift to second gear, up from 1 to 2, produced a chirp of the rear
tires and then the GT wasn't far behind the Trans-Am. The
Trans-Am was proving to be stiff competition.
"... In seventy-nine, if you were in the road, if you wanted horsepower overload..."
two cars sped down the street. In their wake, the various trash and
debris from the street scattered, thrown to the wind, flying and
settling back down as taillights became hard to see in the
distance. Christopher swerved hard into the other lane, the WS-6
suspension handling the task easily. Both of the cars emitted a primal
roar from the power plants that were juicing the Dearborn and Van Nuys
iron to the limit of physical laws and mechanical tolerances.
Christopher shifted. The Hurst-inspired dual-gate 'slapstick' style factory shifter ratcheted ahead a single indent and locked.
Drop to 3400 RPM.
70 MPH on the speedometer.
Final gear ratio, one to one.
"... Well feels like this, just take it to the floor, your shifting gears and the engine roars..."
Kenwood was sounding like Christopher was on the front row of that
concert almost a decade ago. The Trans-Am was ahead now. The Ford GT
began to fall behind the Trans-Am by more and more. Christopher
looked back at the GT. It was then that he took advantage of the
situation and pushed the Pontiac's accelerator to the floor all the
way, standing on it for all it was worth.
GT was still falling behind. Half a car length, then three quarters of
a car length. Soon, one and a half car lengths. Christopher's gloved
hand gripped the shifter knob. The wind hit him in the face. He smelled
pollution, people, exhaust. His eyes tingled. The halogen
headlights cast long shadows to either side of the urban constructed
congestion. The Pontiac's rally instrument cluster was backlit in red,
giving a hellish tint to the dash. Christopher looked back at the
GT and the Ford's driver looked ahead at Christopher. Christopher
smiled almost triumphantly, as the Trans-Am began to pull ahead.
He held the throttle and let the 403 really scream. The Pontiac pulled
ahead as the engine whined through its power band. It's amazing how
going fast can make you feel so good.
90 MPH on the speedometer.
"... In my Trans-Am, catch me if you can in my Trans-Am Highway wonderland... Trans-Am. Trans-Am..."
The 403 cid engine roared.
4000 RPM. Climbing.
has run out of numbers on face but Christopher doesn't
care, he's too busy watching the tach and the road.
She shines on the street, and she shines in the heat, and she shines in
my baby's eyes, and she shines on every other guy's..."
small block engine was approaching redline as the T/A continued to lead
by over three car lengths. The 403 cid small block would pull well past
the yellow line and into the red. Hell, it would pull until it self
destructed. Christopher could feel the engine start to fall off towards
the top end of the tachometer.
5000 RPM. Climbing.
old saying: a fool and his motor are very soon to be parted. You push
your engine. You push your luck. You push your car.
out of town toward Hinds county but also onto an on ramp that is used
to access the suburbs and the inner city. On ramp leads to highway, and
beltway girdling town. Highway means lots of room. Room to open it
wide. There's going to be traffic though. Don't stand on it.
Christopher stands on the brakes. Four wheel discs. The Pontiac brakes
in a controlled manner, he downshifts, the rear tires chirp, leaving a
long strip of rubber. The Trans-Am roars off the street and onto
the on ramp.
Up shifting to third gear again.
The two cars emerge onto the beltway, playing tag and hop scotch. There is moderate traffic even this late at night.
lanes are moderately crowded. Moderately ordinary people getting off of
work. It's fixing to get hairy. Jackson is a big city and there are a
lot of people who are fixing to be going home. You can run on the
beltway, but only if you know what you are doing.
"... T - R - A - N - S - A - M... Trans-Am!..."
Hagar shouts the lyrics like a high school cheer. Hagar tries to kill
his guitar by strangling it with it's own strings. Guitar dies a slow,
long and very agonizing death.
traffic poses a problem in that it impedes the Pontiac's progress.
Christopher slows slightly to pass a four door, four cylinder, four
speed, air conditioned Jap and Korean built family econo box.
Christopher slows and stands on the brake. Four wheel discs grab and
the Pontiac slows.
is downshifting as he is thrown forward by the inertia of the braking.
The seat belt locks up again. He laughs at the startled faces looking
out the back window of the Nissan. Christopher jerks the wheel to
the left and the high ratio Saginaw power steering responds in
conjunction with the WS-6 suspension. The Pontiac was in the other lane
in less than a blink of an eye. Bright lights flash in the
rearview and a Jap curse sounds from the dinky little horn.
"Thank God for big engines and tight suspensions..." Christopher muttered.
A prayer for hardware. There was a sound from under the hood of
the Pontiac. Sounds like a belt is starting to come loose. Damn. Not
now. Ordinary people drive like they want to live.
Some kind of attitude.
GT is four cars back and poses a threat to Christopher now more than
ever. If the driver can use the traffic to his advantage and get by
Christopher, then the GT may can get free long enough before the T/A to
get a good lead. A lead that Christopher may not be able to make up in
time. He can't allow that. A good driver takes advantage of his
environment. A good driver doesn't let his environment take advantage
GT is threading through the traffic with a vengeance.
Slamming form lane to lane, nailing it and then braking hard, down
shifting, up shifting, cutting in front of people. Amateur.
Christopher watches, interested, as the Ford will whip into a free
lane, punch it and lurch ahead, only to slam on brakes and whip in
front of another car, into another free lane, after barely missing rear
ending a far heavier and far slower Buick Electra directly in front of
it. The driver has obviously done this before, but he lacks
finesse. Lacks hard experience. Lacks style. Lacks the proper
equipment to get the job done. Always make sure you use the right tool
to do the job. Ford doesn't produce a very good tool.
five pound sledge hammer ... Now that's the perfect tool for working on
a Ford. Christopher swerves hard around a new gray Ford SHO. The Ford
honks angrily as Christopher swerves back in front of it. Christopher
flips the Ford driver and passengers off. SHO can't hang with a
403. That's been tried before. Christopher knows from
experience and smiles.
Keep America's highways beautiful.
Keep your Ford parked at home.
swerves back into a free lane, narrowly missing a Chevy Caprice. He
downshifts, builds power and speed, then quickly up shifts into third.
The engine roars like a dinosaur. 60 MPH. The two old couples in the
car stare and point at Christopher and the Trans-Am. Christopher smiles
and waves casually, ignoring them for the most part. One of the old
women waves in return. Confused.
A white sign with black letters appears on the side of the road. It says: SLOWER TRAFFIC KEEP RIGHT.
is a fact that thousands of grown Americans are illiterate, possessing
not the skill to read. It is also seemed to Christopher that most of
them were out driving the highways tonight.
Trans-Am takes the high speed maneuvers with ease. The WS-6 special
performance suspension is tight. The one suspension that Ford can never
seem to outdo. No matter how hard they try. A decades old suspension on
a Pontiac that still handles better than any Ford suspension today.
Quality is Job One. Hah!
RPM. Yellow line. Belt under the hood is shrieking now. Slipping on the
pulley. Feels like air conditioner belt. Steering is still tight. When
he got back, he would remove the AC belt. He didn't need it. Winter was
coming anyway. Christopher up shifts to third gear. Plenty of
room to run free. Off beltway ramp coming up. Fast. Ramp leads
back to the street. Green metal sign with white letters flashes by.
Illuminated by the quad headlights of the Pontiac. CITY LIMITS it says.
Behind the two cars, the artificial urban horizon looms high, shrouded
in haze, lit by the setting sun.
Christopher swerves, downshifts, brakes.
The Pontiac takes the off ramp at high speed, 75 MPH. Nothing the Trans-Am can't handle.
Absolute grace in motion.
The GT follows. Trying. Struggling.
An effort in futility, the GT driver almost tosses his car off into the ditch.
looked back briefly at the failing GT, now almost four car lengths
behind. The two cars roared down the spiral off ramp, the exhaust
echoing off the sides of the embankments. Christopher down shifts
into second gear just a little too fast and the rear tires chirp as the
engine revs higher. Intimidating the GT driver. The Pontiac threatens
to give in, to slip off the pavement, but Christopher hounds the car.
He knows what the Pontiac can really do when cornered.
GT negotiates the curves with all the grace of a school bus.
Christopher watches as the GT's brake lights flare, casting red glare
against the embankment. The rear end slides a little.
Definitely an amateur. The driver is trying to compete with the
suspension and the engine in the Ford. Too many demands on too simple a
piece of equipment causes it to get confused easily. Typical Ford. Just
make it interesting and look good, don't worry about if it works or
not. The Ford driver has to slow down to avoid oversteer. Rubber
squeals as the two cars slide around the curves and finally onto the
street. The GT has managed to catch up a little. The
Trans-Am is now almost three car lengths ahead. Christopher up shifts,
works the shifter from SUPER to DRIVE, to third gear, and nails the
accelerator to the floor, standing on it.
403 roars, the Rochester Quadrajet screams as it sucks in over 600
cubic feet of air a minute to the ever hungry engine. The tach is
climbing, but so is the speedometer. He walks away from the GT
again, with little effort. Christopher looked in the rearview as the
GT's lights flashed from dim to bright and back to dim. Simple meaning:
okay, I'm beat. Christopher tapped the brake pedal twice in rapid
succession. Simple meaning: I know you are. Christopher smiled and
shouted in triumph as he pushed the shifter forward and up.
and engine both power down with a whine and a hum. Red line. RPM
falling. Yellow line. RPM falling. Engine holds together. Didn't expect
otherwise. Downshift back into third. RPM falling. 55 MPH. Normal
operating RPM. 35 MPH. Downshift to second gear. Slowing the car.
Lightly apply pressure to brake pedal. Hydraulic fluid flows along
snaking metal lines under the hood. Four wheel discs engage. Downshift
to first gear.
Shift back up into neutral.
"... From Daytona Beach, down the Riverside, if there's a race, she's qualified..."
Stop light. Pontiac stops. GT stops. Side by side.
There still is no substitute for cubic inches and skill.
yet, at least. One good race tonight. Probably not
the only one. No doubt about it. Good race. Winning is
everything. Losing sucks. Especially losing to a Ford. The
two cars sat side by side at the stop light. The Ford had pulled up on
the left beside the Pontiac. The driver looked over at
Christopher and began to say something. Sammy Hagar continued:
My six point six is a little too heavy, for a big Boss Ford or any
fucking Chevy... Trans-Am, catch me if you can in my Trans-Am..."
Christopher caught the last part of what the Ford owner was saying as Hagar's guitar finally gives up and dies.
"... just what've you got under that hood?" The Ford driver asked good naturedly, looking over at the Pontiac.
looked over slowly, casually. His mirrored glasses reflected the red GT
in their lenses. Christopher's reply was classic:
"Obviously more than you do."
Sammy. Thanks Pontiac. Good song. Damn good song. Good car. Damn
good car. The GT driver looks nervous as Christopher holds out
the waiting hand for the title and papers to the man's car, not
expecting them of course. He's played the game
before. More talk than action. It's a bravado thing.
Bragging rights. It's kind of funny how the GT looks so
triumphant in victory and at the same time, it can look so down and
dejected in defeat. The Pontiac had an attitude that had been lost a
long time ago by the automotive industry. It was fast because it was
"Hey, ha, ha, uh, say dude. C'mon, guy... We were only having fun, weren't we?"
Christopher thought for a minute, scowled to make it look good, and then smiled his characteristic smile.
"I'll tell you what ... we'll call it even if you give me the fuzzy dice on your mirror there. Deal?"
Pontiac made a right on red turn, heading back towards Jackson. The
white fuzzy dice were hanging from the Pontiac's mirror now. A trophy.
The GT slowly accelerated away when the light turned from red to green.
Chastised. Beaten. It's exhaust tucked between its rear wheels. The
driver knowledgeable of his place on the street.
dice would soon go into the back seat, and then into a memory box at
the apartment. Gone, but not forgotten. He sighed. No one was
going to believe this night. Christopher thinks: Built Ford
Tough, my ass.
Pontiac builds excitement.
Ford builds paperweights.
No substitute for cubic inches.
Sammy Hagar would agree.
You win some, you lose some.
Care to lay odds?
My '79 Pontiac Special Edition Firebird Trans Am - circa 1987