Original Owner Obsession - The saga of a man and his determination to build his ultimate '76 Trans Am! When pressed to share his favorite features in the body design, Jerry admits they are the round corner edges, curves, hood scoop, and spoilers. The picture supports his sentiment. By Jesse Freeman Photography: Thomas DeMauro "Aren't the Trans Ams better?" was the question that a 17-year-old Jerry Brushaber was posed by his father in 1976. Almost out of high school and given the option to go to college or get a new car, Jerry opted for something more instantly gratifying. Being the humble lad he was, Jerry originally sought a Formula from his local Pontiac dealer when the offer was put on the table. However, after dad's blessings, the hunt was on for this North Ridgeville, Ohio, resident. "I pretty much decided on the overall features [AM/FM radio, power steering and brakes] and color, and fortunately one was planned to be shipped within the next 2 weeks." Unfortunately they were NFL weeks, which stretched into 3 months before his Firethorn Red Trans Am showed up. Then, shortly after taking possession of it, a drunk driver badly damaged his new set of wheels. Sporting all '76 circa outer metal, including license plates, Jerry's '76 T/A is a stunning example of Pontiac muscle. Fast forwarding to 1977, Jerry had gotten married to Marian (his high school sweetheart) in the T/A, fought off the impulse to sell it and was beginning the obsession with--I mean collecting of--extra factory options such as an 8-track player, rear console, and tilt steering column. In 1981, a perfectly good '77 T/A was specifically purchased to pirate these goodies. "From this car I used the wiring harnesses, power door locks, power windows, power trunk, cruise box, rear window defogger, and courtesy lights." Not one to wait for the "right time" Jerry also confesses, "There was no saving of parts over the years. All parts were collected and installed during the same time. I also installed a functional flapper door [from Ames Performance], 304 stainless exhaust system [with a Borla 304 stainless muffler], including stainless splitters." A custom bracket was fabricated to accommodate the switch for the flapper door. Having collector car status means the T/A doesn't get a tailpipe sniff, so Jerry replaced the cat with a cheater pipe. In 1994, a second garage was built to store the Trans Am. Three years later, upon retiring as a union carpenter, Jerry started the restoration and modification with 31,000 miles original miles on the odometer. The attention to detail is described in his own words: "The T/A was totally disassembled down to every bolt. Most of it was disassembled at home before trailering it down to Marvin's [Auto Restoration of Washington Court House, Ohio]. The entire car was stripped down to bare metal and even put on a [rotisserie] to strip the undercarriage." Almost every weather-exposed piece of metal was sent out for powder coating and into storage went the factory-issue 400ci engine/Turbo 350 trans combo. Body color accented 15-inch Rally wheels compliment the classic Second-Gen Trans Am lines beautifully. Mounting trim rings and 225/70SR15 BFGoodrich Radial T/As provides a stock look but inside there are many upgrades. Is it no wonder that this T/A takes home plenty of trophies? Marvin, did the stripping, preparation, and painting himself. Five coats of PPG epoxy primer DP90lS and K36 were laid down and topped by 3 layers of PPG Deltron Universal basecoat. Only the 4 coats of top-level PPG 820 clearcoat were wet sanded with 1500-grit paper. PPG Deltron acrylic urethane covers the chassis. Jerry regularly visited the shop to assist throughout the process--as any true hobbyist would. Together they installed the Moroso subframe connectors and Polygraphite body mounts and they re-applied all of the decals from Stencils and Stripes adding a hood bird this time. All the windows were replaced with tinted glass. Beauty is more than skin deep here. Every bolt was replaced with a stainless one. Though well hidden, stealthy performance parts lurk below in the hot 462-cube engine. They are supported by a Carter high volume fuel pump, Fine Lines stainless fuel lines and a Thomas Radiator (Elyria, Ohio) 4-core unit. During the 1998-99 season, the decision to go with more power meant, either tearing into an original low-mileage 400 or just getting a new engine. Jerry chose the latter. After contacting Jim Butler Performance, he became the very happy owner of a stout JBP-built '76 replacement block 455--punched .030 to 462 ci. Ready to drop in, the big-cube motor came chock full o' goodies like forged TRW pistons (PN 12359) wrapped in TRW street rings and Eagle H-beam connecting rods bolted to a stock crank. A Melling high-volume oil pump works from a stock oil pan to keep things well lubricated. Keeping this combination in harmony is a Fluidampr and True Roller double timing chain. Ultradyne got the nod to keep the valve timing in check with a cam directing roller tipped rocker arms via hydraulic lifters and hi-po push rods. The cam is a 280/288 H12 grind and features 223/231 degrees duration at .050 and .463/.485 lift. Up top, Butler street-ported and installed bronze valve guides in D-port 6X heads with new valve springs. An aluminum Ram Air IV intake of '69 vintage is bolted to the heads and supports the original Q-Jet from Jerry's 400 engine. An aluminum Ram Air IV intake of '69 vintage sits up top with the original Q-Jet from Jerry's 400 engine. Before you start with the letters of how that can't be, Jerry had Stainless Works of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, added material to the intake's exhaust crossovers so that the openings in the heads would be covered and tweaked his Q-Jet for better performance. Stainless Works fabricated a Y-pipe to bolt up to '70 Ram Air III reproduction exhaust manifolds from Ram Air Restorations Enterprises. The 2-1/2 inch stainless exhaust from 1981 just needed steel wool scrubbing to liven things up. A Performance Distributor HEI fires up AC/Delco plugs (a hotter spec gapped at .060) and wires. A maximum timing advance of 34-35 degrees is dialed in. A definitive compression ratio number was unavailable at press time but given the heads, block, and piston choice it should be in the area of 9.3:1. Parma Transmission of Parma, Ohio, provided Jerry with what they call a "bullet-proof" Turbo-400 transmission with a stock torque converter against the stock flexplate. After a slight repositioning of the crossmember and installation of an adjustable Lokar electronic transmission kick-down kit and homemade driveshaft loop, the remaining drivetrain components were installed. Sleep on its stock looks at your own risk because you'll frequently see this view of the near-perfect T/A. Fine Lines stainless brake and transmission lines, a new master cylinder topped off with silicone brake fluid, PST Polygraphite suspension bushings, powder coated suspension components, and new stock brake components were installed before the Bird was ready to come home. Towing back home a finished rolling shell, with drivetrain, Jerry jumped into the interior by reinstalling all the parts that he had been collecting such as the rear console, 8-track cassette player, and power accessories. All seals (door, trunk, etc) were replaced with Soffseal products from Warpath of Cleveland, Ohio. Fully loaded wasn't enough for Jerry. Winter of 2000 tinkering meant the 100-mph speedo had to be swapped for a '70 model 160-mph gauge. Original carpets were thoroughly cleaned. A year later, the black Lombardy velour seat covers and vinyl door panels were replaced with custom-made pieces using factory material. While he was in there, Jerry had the seat frames and springs stripped and painted with POR 15 paint. Told 'ya, it was an obsession. After spending nearly all of its life sitting around waiting for parts, this gorgeously restified Bird was ready to ruffle its feathers and strut its stuff by the time 1999 rolled around. That year Jerry came home with First Place finishes at the Tri-Power Pontiac Nats and Trans Am Nationals. During the 1999 winter, the rearend gears were upgraded from the factory 2.41 to a Richmond Gears 3.42 ring and pinion. He used an HPP tech feature to help recalibrate the speedometer reading. Jerry takes the first step to recovery from his obsession by admitting, "Since the T/A was 5 years old, I have done something to it each year." This still holds true even after the brilliant Pontiac has been restified. Super rare features like this rear center console add even more interest to the near flawless restification. The 2000 show season earned Jerry an Ames Performance Pontiac Nats Best of Class and the honor to be displayed in the T/A Nats Winner's Circle since he had won in 1999. 2001 garnered a First Place win at the Ames Perf. Nats. In 2002 the coveted HPP Editor's Choice award was presented to him at the T/A Nats. Still not content, Brushaber replaced the parking brake cables with OEM style stainless cables in 2002. Keep in mind, this car is still driven about 1,000 miles a year on weekends and/or for fun. Ready for 2003, the Firebird swooped off with one more Ames Performance Nats First Place finish and displayed in the T/A Nats' Winner's Circle. Would you believe Jerry is content with the T/A for now? YEAH, RIGHT. This coming cold season he will adorn the Bird's appearance with new wheel spoilers and a powder coated air cleaner. Oh yeah and a set of Rapid Fire spark plugs. Some people like their Pontiacs. Others love their Pontiacs. And then there are those like 46-year-old Jerry Brushaber who reminds us one last time, "Selling the car is not in my plans! My plans are to hand the car down to my [18-year-old] son when I can no longer drive it. Hopefully, this will not happen for many years to come. Remember that it's an obsession." ABOUT THE RESTIFICATION Ironically, 2 weeks after taking delivery of the Pontiac, a drunk driver hit Jerry and his new T/A. Fortunately Jerry, his fiancee, and brother-in-law-to-be were not seriously injured. The same could not be said for his ride. We're guessing the early brush with disaster instilled a lifelong appreciation for this Trans Am. Notice the hood decal was not present when Jerry first bought the T/A. For 3 more months Jerry was without his new Pontiac as it sat at the dealer waiting for parts. "The damage amounted to a little over $2,000 [$5,220.50 was the original selling price], including the replacement of the front fender, door, and windshield." The obsession begins. An already clean, low-mileage Trans Am being stripped for a restoration. Notice black paint STILL on the rear drums and springs and rust-free bottom door edges. Here's Jerry's disassembly of the T/A before it hit the painter's. Taking it all off for the camera! Here is the all-original sheetmetal stripped bare. Shown is the stripped and sanded undercarriage in 1997 ready for painting. A Parma-built Turbo 400 trans from a '77 A-Body is positioned properly on the relocated Turbo 350 crossmember. This is the result of all of that chassis work, the finished (for now) undercarriage while on the alignment rack. The original stabilizer bars were powder coated and bolted in with new GM GasMatic shocks. Standard Lift Truck of Lorain, Ohio, made a set of custom rear leaf springs. PPG Deltron acrylic urethane paint covers the undercarriage.