In the pages of Drive, it’s not hard to find stories about lifelong relationships their passions as far as Brad Reikkoff of West Bend, Wisconsin. Reikkoff has taken a once broken-down 1980 Pontiac Trans-Am that he bought as a teenager and turned it into the ultimate road and track muscle machine—with the finesse of a sports car.
You name it, we did it—from the carbon-fiber fenders and doors to the motor, drivetrain and frame. We did everything ourselves, as a shop. That’s the short version of the story.
“I always was a Pontiac guy. My first car—even before this one—was a 1969 Firebird that I restored in my mom’s garage before I even had my license. I always built Pontiacs. The biggest reason I like this one is that it was a father-son project,” Reikkoff says.
The car came to him in the usual condition for a teenage buyer—cheap and busted.
“I bought the car when I was 16 years old. My stepfather and I went to the parts swap and bought the car—someone had brought it up from Oklahoma. It had a really bad header leak, and little did we know until we got it home—rod knock!” Reikkoff recalls.
With a build and power like this, you might expect a fancy name for this ride, but Reikkoff keeps it real—this car is just known as “The Bird.”
The broken Pontiac went into the garage, and together with his stepfather, Reikkoff got to work learning the craft of engines and cars.
“My stepfather and I rebuilt the motor, and I probably blew it up three or four more times! I drove it through high school and when I got out of school, I couldn’t afford it any more. My stepfather bought the car and parked it in the garage,” Reikkoff says.
The Trans-Am sat in the garage from 1993 until 2010 while Reikkoff established himself in life and built his business at West Bend Dyno Tuning. Like many other cars in many other garages, Reikkoff’s stepfather held onto the old bird, keeping it dry until the time was right.
“When I was a couple years into my business, there was a local Fourth of July parade. We wanted to take a bunch of customer cars in the parade, and we decided to pull the Trans-Am out. It had a 455 motor bored .030 over and just the basic headers and cam. It had some old Holley Pro-Jection on it—the ancient stuff with a box under the seat with some dials,” Reikkoff notes with a laugh.
Even 20 years later, some things happen in exactly the same way.
Dropping the hammer and laying down the power while still finishing our corner made the rear end jink slightly to straighten the car and we took off like a rifle bullet—all with perfect electronically assisted composure.
“We got it running and drove the Trans-Am in the parade and it acquired a rod knock. At that point, we decided to put an LS into it. My stepfather was going to fund the project. We bought a used 6.0-liter to put in it, and about $3000 into the project he decided he was done funding it. He said, “Do what you guys want, but I’m not putting any more money into it,” Reikkoff remembers.
The next step was obvious. Reikkoff bought his old high school ride back from his stepfather and went to work.
“The coolest thing is it still had the Kewaskum Indians parking sticker from my high school in the rear window. It’s still in there today. Anyhow we took that and we slowly built it up to what it is now. You name it, we did it—from the carbon-fiber fenders and doors to the motor, drivetrain and frame. We did everything ourselves, as a shop. That’s the short version of the story,” Reikkoff says.
We got it running and drove the Trans-Am in the parade and it acquired a rod knock. At that point, we decided to put an LS into it.
The amount of work and money invested in this 1980 Pontiac Trans-Am is significant. Reikkoff can point to over $125,000 in receipts covering every system in the car. That starts with a Wegner Motorsports 416-cu.-in. LS3 engine with CNC-ported LS9 heads fed by a Lysholm 3.3-liter supercharger. Oiling is provided by a custom Dailey Engineering dry-sump system. Long tube headers and a custom exhaust make the noise that announces that this Firebird has hit the 1000-bhp mark.
“The motor worked way better than we expected. The motor has a lot of horsepower for what we do with the car, and it hooks up pretty darn good. It’s got a mild cam in it, so you can drive it around. It idles smooth, so you’d never know it had that type of power,” Reikkoff says.
But the team at West Bend Dyno Tuning wasn’t content to just have a big numbers engine. They mated the blown LS to a Bowler T56 6-speed manual transmission sourced from a fourth-gen Camaro, with a few key upgrades to handle the power. A Centerforce twin-disc clutch takes up the slack, and a Mark Williams custom driveshaft was made to get the power to the back end.
To keep the tub from just twisting itself up into a pretzel, Reikkoff selected a Heidts full front frame and rear subframe, with connectors. Then he suspended the rear end with a Heidts Pro-G 4-Link with Moser axles and a Strange center section. Heidts also provided adjustable front and rear sways to go with AFCO double adjustable remote reservoir coilovers. Binders are custom Wilwood 6-piston front and 4-piston rears actuated by a Wilwood master cylinder.
“We modified it so much it’s not really Pontiac’s design anymore. It took a while to get it set up. We did a lot of running around at Road America,” Reikkoff says.
Yes, you read that right. Reikkoff uses this street-legal supercar for track days at Wisconsin’s famed Road America race course, where he’s been known to outrun ZR-1 Corvettes.
The motor worked way better than we expected. The motor has a lot of horsepower for what we do with the car, and it hooks up pretty darn good.
“We’re hitting 160 at the top of 4th gear, and we still have one more gear left. Sixth is pretty much useless. We need to put a splitter on the front, instead of the chin spoiler that’s there now. When it gets up to high speeds, we do get some lift. At 160–170 mph the car starts to float, but it’s got a lot more left in it. The car flies. Every time we run it, we make changes and it gets faster,” Reikkoff insists.
With a 1980 Pontiac Trans-Am build and power like this, you might expect a fancy name for this ride, but Reikkoff keeps it real—this car is just known as “The Bird.”
“When I was a kid, my stepdad called them Fire Chickens. But everyone around the shop just called it The Bird. I never really cared for the name, but that’s what everybody called it, so that’s what we named it,” Reikkoff says.
When it gets up to high speeds, we do get some lift. At 160–170 mph the car starts to float, but it’s got a lot more left in it. The car flies. Every time we run it, we make changes and it gets faster.