Boosted Bandit: <br />A ’70s Icon Reinvented
Never Meet Your Heroes

When it comes to American cars built in the 1970s, there’s really none more iconic than the Pontiac Trans Am. It had spoilers everywhere and a big scoop sitting in the middle of a hood with a ‘screaming chicken’ on it. It was a tough-looking car, and it was made even more badass thanks to its starring role in the Smokey & The Bandit films. Thanks to the on-screen exploits of Mr. Reynolds and his Pontiac, the Trans Am became the car to have in the late ’70s – and it just had to be black and gold.

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The Trans Ams of this era had style by the boatload, but the truth of the matter is they didn’t have much performance to back up their looks. This wasn’t really the fault of GM or Pontiac in particular, as almost all American cars of this era were pretty disappointing in the performance department. In the late ’70s we had the Mustang II and Corvettes with less than 200 horsepower.

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By this point the smog movement had neutered most of the performance that made the muscle cars so great, and despite being one of the most powerful cars you could buy at the time, a late ’70s Trans Ams would easily be outrun by its older counterparts. Remember, this was a time with catalytic converters but no fuel injection.

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Of course, that didn’t stop untold numbers of people from falling in love with the Trans Am after watching Burt Reynolds slide it across the silver screen. One of those people was Gregg Hamilton, a youngster from New Zealand who would grow up to have quite a career in the motorsport world.

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Gregg’s specialty is rallying, and he’s been involved with the sport for 22 years now. His resume includes stints in Japan with Tein’s rally team, adventures with Toyota Team Europe in Germany, Prodrive in the UK and more recently he’s become a pivotal figure in America’s rally scene.

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He’s been in the States for a decade now, and in that time he’s worked as a senior technician for drivers like Dave Mirra, Travis Pastrana and of course Ken Block. Gregg has actually worked with Ken on nearly everything he’s done over the last five years and is now senior tech on the Hoonigan team.

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You might expect Gregg to be prowling the streets in some sort of rally-bred AWD machine, but he’s actually been living out his American dream with a couple of V8 tire burners. His daily driver is a C6 Corvette Z06 and then there’s his Trans Am.

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“Moving to America means I can have a Trans Am,” Gregg says, and he picked up the car from a seller in Alabama right after he relocated from New Zealand in 2005. And while he loved the way his black and gold Pontiac looked, he wasn’t as excited about the way it drove. “They sort of drive like a tractor” he says, and the power from the 403 cubic inch Oldsmobile-built V8 under the hood left a lot to be desired. Thus began Gregg’s journey to transform the Trans Am into a car that drove as tough as it looked.

New Life For An Old Bird
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Gregg started off with basic stuff. He rebuilt the original motor with higher compression heads and a more aggressive cam and swapped out the stock automatic transmission for a manual gearbox. But the big breakthrough came when Gregg found an article in an old issue of Hot Rod magazine about a DIY ECU setup called MegaSquirt. He converted the motor to fuel injection using a custom manifold with a pair of ITB setups for a Hayabusa motorcycle. And with the new ECU and fuel injection he’d also be able to add a couple of turbochargers to the mix.

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He’s since changed over to a 5.3-liter LS motor setup he scored from a friend’s dad’s junkyard, and the Gen III small block’s mod list includes forged pistons and rods, an LS9 cam, a Holley mid-rise intake manifold and Subaru 525cc fuel injectors.

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The turbo setup uses a pair of 68mm Garrett turbochargers with TiAL wastegates, custom manifolds, a custom intercooler setup, and a trick exhaust system with big sidepipes for the proper macho look.

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With the big increase in power, the drivetrain has also received plenty of upgrades along the way. The transmission is ZF 6-speed from a Corvette, while both the clutch and flywheel have been upgraded and the rear end houses a set of 4.56 gears.

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To get the Trans Am handling a little less like a tractor and a little more like a sportscar, Gregg’s also made a number of improvements to the chassis and suspension including upgraded front control arms, adjustable front dampers, a Flaming River steering box and Global West rear springs.

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Stopping capabilities were also greatly improved with a set of C6 Corvette Z06 brakes all around – 14-inch rotors with 6-piston calipers up front and 13-inch rotors with 4-piston calipers in the rear.

Built By Hand
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As for the exterior styling of the car, looks were the thing that drew Gregg to the Trans Am in the first place, so the changes made to the body have been kept at a minimum.

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Key modifications include a set of custom rear fender flares which Gregg fashioned himself, as well as a taller factory-style rear spoiler which he also designed and built.

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Inside, the Trans Am has received a few upgrades, but nothing so far as to diminish its usability as a street car when Gregg wants to go out for a cruise.

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There are a pair of Summit Racing bucket seats with racing harnesses, and mounted on the dash is tablet display which helps Gregg keep an eye on the boosted V8’s vitals.

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Despite the massive transformation the car’s already undergone, Gregg’s not yet done with the project. Next on the to-do list is an IRS conversion, which he plans to design using Corvette uprights. For now it’s just a matter of finding time to work on the car outside of his busy schedule traveling with Ken Block. Even in its current form, Gregg says the car could give his Z06 a run for its money in the performance department.

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Not only is Gregg living out the American dream with a car he fell in love with as a kid, he’s created something all his own out of it – building and designing everything he possibly could along the way.

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To us Gregg’s Trans Am a perfect reimagination of an American icon, retaining the look that made the car so iconic in the first place while adding the performance its badass image has always been calling out for.

Now where’s that cowboy hat…

Mike Garrett
Instagram: speedhunters_mike
mike@speedhunters.com

Photos by Larry Chen
Instagram: larry_chen_foto
larry@speedhunters.com

Cutting Room Floor
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81 comments

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1

STI shift knob and a Megasquirt! I'm in love <3 I could see myself driving something like this for sure

2
DoyouevenM3bro?

The entire time I read this I had two songs playing in my head 1) American Bad Ass- Kid Rock and 2) Danger Zone- Kenny Loggins.


Speedhunters really needs video, would love to see this machine lay down some rubber!

3

No power numbers? ):

4

I'm only 15 and I fell in love with Smokey and the Bandit when I was younger as well! This is such an awesome car!

5

DoyouevenM3bro? Highway to hell!

6

A quality build. It's subtle, yet aggressive; two words that shouldn't be in the same context.

7

Larry your photos are the best on SpeedHunters by far!

8

I absolutely adore this car. Hope to own and build one of these one day.

9

Great photos as always. When I saw the first pic, Gas Monkey's Trans Am automatically came to my mind.

10

@Frozenstar DoyouevenM3bro? Jerry Reed - East Bound and Down

11

XXR wheels...come on...

12
therealnecroscope

Pure Gold. Love it!

13

I've been waiting to read about/see this bird for a while, and you delivered as always, Mr. Chen. 

I can just hear Burt Reynolds laugh now... 

Now, my question is, if this is the reinvented version of what the Bandit would drive... what would The Snowman be wheeling around? Food for thought.

14

BRAVO to the builder!

Definitely one of the most cohesive and well executed street builds featured here in a while.  It is a unique spin and on a classic platform with engineering INGENUITY.  It's certainly not easy to drop people's jaws with a vehicle that so familiar in car culture...but he's done it.


MUUUUCH better than the jenky, lackluster featured builds that pass as "cool" because "drift car" or because "corporate/brand affiliation".

Yeah, I wouldn't have used XXR wheels or Summit Racing seats, but he's seemed to put in the hands-on work and development time to forgive it ;)
Also, he HAS utilized some damn good mechanical hardware.

15

well...
BadAss

16

silveradotx DoyouevenM3bro? METALLICA - Turn the Page

17

wow.. Awesome build

18

Soooo.... which exhaust is used? I see sidepipes which are mentioned in the captions, but I also see those pipes in the rear. Are those used at all, maybe for turbo purposes?

19

Being a native Californian, it's hard to overstate how many rest-modded muscle cars float around these parts. However, a grand majority of them focus on two things - aesthetics and engines. It's a breath of fresh air to see a muscle build like this (including a number of others that have cropped up recently) that focus on all-around performance modifications. I can only imagine what a change it makes from a driver's perspective, and it's obviously a great wedding of form and function!

20

what year is it? '77-'78 front, '79-'81 tail......i'm guessing the latter with earlier nose. and also, why not keep/put the '77-'78 tail? it's much better looking, a must if your going for the 'Bandit' look.

21

DoyouevenM3bro? should of heard Jerry Reed.

22

Good start to a nice build, now make those parts out of carbon instead of covering them with embossed carbon-look vinyl!

Such a great stance for a classic body style, and I love the fender flares.

23

badass build, i like the highlight on other cars from the 70s. back in those days there was no such thing as "performance", i know this first hand driving my 74 mustang around with a whole 88 hp.

24

Great piece of Americana with a Kiwi ingenuity and style. Awesome outcome.

25

Incredible. Never before did it feel so new. And not just fresh-off-the-lot-from-the-70's-new. It looks and feels like it was just two years old. As if it was produced today. So classic, yet so modern.

26

cutterjones13 if you read the article it says the tail is his own custom design

27

One word: SICK!!!

28

It looks a little unbalance with only wider fender on the back ... but overall the car is sick !

29
Chris 'Haffy' Hafner

While I was reading this all I could hear in my head was:
'East bound and down
loaded up and truckin,
Where gonna do what they said can't be done'
Good ol' Jerry Reed. Lol

30
aportlandsummer

@Austin  Yeah, XXR wheels.  They look great on the car... so what?  Do you have an extra 1000$USD to drop on something else?  I commend the choice, honestly.  A great bang for the buck.

I have been watching post after post get criticized for stupid crap like Summit seats or "cheap" wheels.  Have you no idea the work, time and money that goes into a build?  Man.  Finding something that fits the build AND is inexpensive is an art, in my opinion.  Everyone should respect that.

31

This things cool as hell, cant believe a trams am can look this good haha.

32

I love it! I love the fact that is still keeps the classic look.Fender flares in the back,spoiler...Love them too.And also,if i ever build my own Trans am,i do the same thing,77 Frontend,79 Taillights...I wish the owner lot of smiles per gallon!

33

Would love to drift the hell out of this car!

34

aportlandsummer I'm starting to get real tired of this stuff. Someone builds a bad ass car with wheels that fit into their budget and people get with the chirping.
Like what aportlandsummer said working within a budet is an art, everyone should respect it. I would rather see a build like this with more money under than hood than on wheels if something had to give.
Cast wheels are perfectly fine for most people and honestly if XXR marketed themselves slightly different and said their wheels were "inspired by motorsport" or some such other marketing jargon people would change there tune.
/rant
Sorry. This car rules. Might be my second fav to the year one version.

35

I like the newer taillights and the very subtle mods, I.e. Rear wing. That is a good looking car and it doesn't need much. Very nice job. The seats and wheels are his choice but I would think a car of that caliber would go for the Year One snowflakes. I am also on the fence with the rear flares. You did a great job, enjoy the car. Just straighten out the pass side headlight ;). You car looks so good it sticks out.

36

Ohhhhh Yeeeessssss!
This Car is 100% Porn.
Great Job! :-)

37

Buick Man Why snowflakes for a car of this caliber?  Can't it have something that doesn't mimic the stock wheels, and isn't so predictable?  Snowflakes are fine if that's the look you're going for, there are lots of other quality choices that aren't snowflakes and will do a much better job at setting the car apart.  Cars from a template are boring, even if they are black with a firebird graphic on the hood.

38

My pants are ruined. Thanks Larry Chen.

39

dangina cutterjones13 they are pontiac lights, off firebirds '79-'81. not owner (or shop) made.

40

I love how the modern techology make symbiosis with the old school style...

41

This car is BEAUTIFUL! Seems like STI injectors would be too small though? Anyways I think this car is one of my all time favorites from Speedhunters.

42

First Trans-Am car feature on Speedhunters?

44

I want this in my life.. brilliant car... I have owned a Gen 3 Pontiac Trans Am GTA, and was brilliant muscle

45

There are plenty of "real wheel brands" out there that are affordable, better quality, used by real race teams... i love the car, just its not finished til it has wheels to fit the quality of the build... like wearing a shirt from express then slipping on some sketchers... but honestly, bad ass car...with crap wheels. get what im saying? Bad ass car...with crap wheels. not bashing the car. like tucking a polo shirt into gym shorts...or wearing a polo shirt with gym shorts for that matter... hot chick with yellow teeth. Thats the way i see it, and many others. But i know its not my car and i bet the car wasnt built to impress anyone but the owner. But there is a movement in supporting the real brands as i know personally people with innovative products that have been ruined because of people buying the cheap coppies of their stuff because theyre on a budget.. may it be wheels, manifolds, aero, etc... some little guy gets fu**ed from coppies somewhere. Speedhunters readers would throw a fit if their beloved rocket bunny was ripped off and popped up on the net on a feature car.. why do u accept crap wheels?

46

Sweet baby John the Baptist.
Pure porn, like the mix of modern upgrades with the old school charm, so has my 7 year old self just hit puberty and done the deed in his desk chair.

Thanks Larry.

47

Oh lord that car is just perfect! Nice blend of new and classic I love it! Those pics are fantastic too! New wallpapers incoming.

48

Wow! What a sympathetic build. Restraint and taste come shining through. The wheels suit, and there's also none of those cereal-box prize Auto Meter gauges. Impressed. I looked it over four or five times. Very pleasing, and fast as well!

49

@milano 
"Used by race teams"
This isn't a race car.
"real brands"
How is the manufacturer of this car's wheels not real? Are they made up? Are they an optical illusion?
Show me an instance of honest-to-jebus failure of an XXR, STR, Rota, etc wheel. Other than the infamous pic of the shredded rota because the kids smashed into a giant rock.
You "wheel elitist" always use the same B.S. argument for something that is the stupidest argument to hit the car scene since "Ford vs. Chevy."
Sportmax, STR, Rota, etc - all meet the same certifications and testing requirements (for several countries/etc) as OEM and other aftermarket years.
I have a friend who tracks a car. Hard. It is only a track car - and he runs slicks on all four. 7 years on a set of Rota Slipstreams - not a single issue.
I have been running XXR and STR wheels for years - with occasional track use - ZERO issues.
Dude wanted those wheels. They work as intended. They are safe.
Let me diffuse your next argument before you even start. Sure, there are lots and lots of wheels that look just like other wheels.
So before you make yourself look even worse with the wheel drivel - take a count of every single wheel design manufactured. Now spend a few years and come up with every single functional design that can be used inside a wheel.
Guess what? I bet the two numbers are really close. What does this mean Mr. Wizard? It means there are only so many feasible designs for a wheel. It means that there are soooo many wheel manufacturers out there - they are bound to look a like, draw inspiration from, and copy each other. Who cares.
The only time this is a valid issue is when someone attaches stickers from more expensive brands on cheaper ones - AKA - faking the funk.
Stop the senseless and quite frankly - pointless - wheel elitism.

50

And all my statement comes from real world. From people who REALLY track their cars, drive their cars, and drift their cars.
The video-game-track-star and magazine-educated-master-mechanic with a 99 dollar craftsman tool kit on a shelf who feels accomplished because he/she screwed on a autozone air filter can keep should keep their made up-trumped up wheel theories to themselves.
As far as track use and daily driver use I would rather have a new set of XXRs than a 10 year old unknown history set of "real" wheels.....lol

51

So what year is the body though

52
Gianluca FairladyZ

Man that's such a nice car! I always had a soft sport for firebird! In a fast and furious movie there was that last scene were latin rapper tego calderon drove that firebird! Just awesome!

53
RichieTipsyKariuki

Sweeeet...except the interior. Feels a bit too modern and the red hurts my eyes. Awesome none the less!!

54

@twolb Isn't that a 1977 or 1978?

55

DoyouevenM3bro? Radar Love, Chase the Ace (AC/DC), I'm In Love With My Car (Queen), Heading Out to the Highway (or perhaps Turbo, or Freewheel Burning; all three by Judas Priest), I Don't Wanna Stop (Ozzy Osbourne)...

56

That was my dream car too as a kid, together with the Golf GTI mk1... both in black.

57

rv_zenki Wouldn't they be 100hp capable apiece? 8 of them would be a waterfall of fuel.

58

Brilliant project! Looks like a hot bird. I like the little touches everywhere including the tach under the hood scoop and the big Corvette brakes. I bet this thing makes some nice racket!

59

MattGermain This weeks wallpapers....check.

60

matthewyaa It has this trick exhaust setup that I couldn't really get photos of. It shoots out the side with a flick of a switch instead of out of the rear pipes.

61

HunterHunted Umm..... Thanks? haha.

62

silveradotx Thanks for the support as always. I'm glad you liked it.

63

@milano What about a hot chick with gold teeth?

I agree with you 100%

64

iProGam3r Thank you!

65

Awesome!!! Bringing it back man. My dad had one of these and as early as I can remember - this was the car that got me into cars! Literally:

67

this car is the reason I visit this site every morning. Absolutely stunning. Have wanted a Trans Am since I was in preschool and this just rekindles the fire.

68

matthewyaa Thank you Larry Chen for all those high quality pics! Great work!

69

@milano this movement you speak of is full of loopholes and double standards. 
I know because I've watched it. The lines between a copy and an inspired wheel are so blurry I really think it just comes down to who marketed it. Take a close look at some of the more popular brands and they all have wheels that look pretty darn similar.

Wheel failures of 'real' wheels are quietly discussed while 'fake' wheel failures are blasted around the internet like gospel.
As an aside I heard this car is awaiting different wheels so really in a few weeks I guess this conversation will be irrelevant.

70

That thing is perfectttt! On the outside at least. Interior is fine except I'm not digging the seats too much, and I thought it was a little strange that he's using an STI shift knob lol. Buuuut its still quite breathtaking.

71

MattGermain matthewyaa Haha, of course!

72

love it .. I have a model of this car.. my dream car has always been and will be til I get it .. a Fire Engine Red Firebird T Roof and gotta have speed.. Now that car I would not pimp out Pepsi Style just keep it the way she is :)

73

speedemon963 I'm sure its his rally roots.  nothing wrong with an STI!!

74
JohnKrzeminski

Beautiful car, but why dump all that money and time into it and cheap out with those Chinese made, generic seats?

75

Is this not some sort of copyright infringement?
http://gasfreaks.com/the-bandit-pontiac-trans-am/

76

totophi  It has a 1977/78 front but 1979-81 Tail lights.. Could be either one...

77

Hi what a beautiful beast, I have a 79 T/A - T/T model & i'm bout half way doing it up,

78

How did he make the rear fender flares?

79

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Probably worth a read

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