Pontiac Enthusiast :: May/June 2007

Top Notch

:: Steve Kuhn had gold in his eyes when he set out to build an award-winning ’69 Trans Am

It’s fair to assume that most enthusiast are familiar with the term “Bloomington Gold,” as it applies to the internationally known annual Corvette event which originated in Bloomington, Illinois. Although it is now held in St. Charles, Illinois, the award title “Bloomington Gold” is still retained for its instant recognition and prestigious notoriety.

For those not familiar, a Corvette earns the coveted “Bloomington Gold” award certificate only when it is presented as “factory correct.” The car must satisfy an extremely knowledgeable team of judges, who focus on extracting standards of factory correctness. The “Bloomington Gold” certification designates a factory correct restoration or excellent all-original car that has been maintained just as it left the factory. The certificate is widely respected and generally adds value to any Corvette that has earned it.

This 1969 Trans Am see here is obviously not a Corvette, but the attention to detail that went into its restoration reminds us of the same commitment that those Vette guys have when chasing that coveted certificate. Indeed, this T/A was put together as close to factory-original as possible – and, like so many restored cars, some details are much better than the factory’s assembly line standards.

With this Trans Am, the paint certainly stands above anything that could be produced in a mass=-production environment. It is knock-out quality. In any kind of flattering light, the paint grabs your attention. The overall quality and workmanship is impeccable and it’s apparent the moment you lay your eyes on the car.

Whether you begin with the paint, or happen to notice the engine compartment first you are struck with the presentation (another goal of the restoration). Otherwise the owner, Steve Kuhn, of Bloomington, Illinois – just a coincidence, really – and his restoration team, Aloha Automotive Services of Port Washington, Wisconsin were true to the theme of representing the car “as delivered.” Wherever overspray was characteristic of the way the factory applied paint to the panels, it was reproduced. Factory paint markings and vendor tags characteristic of the engine compartment and undercarriage are where they should be and are the correct color too.

Needless to say, all parts are factory correct and properly date coded (with the exception of the alternator). So successful was this restoration in meeting its goals that it was recognized at the 2005 POCI Convention in Greenville, South Carolina, with a points-judged “Gold” award. It scored 397 points out of a possible 400.

Interestingly enough, Steve was born and raised in Bloomington and, as a teenager, attended all of those early Corvette extravaganzas. He admired the quality of the cars and coveted the perfect restorations. During his late teens and early twenties, Steve owned a couple of musclecars: a ’69 Dodge Super Bee and a ’71 Ford Mustang Mach 1. But by the mid ’90s, he was 40 and craved a musclecar again. After looking at many cars, Steve was fortunate to find a rare ’70 Dodge Challenger T/A. It fit in well at local cruise nights and was nice enough to compete in local car shows.

During the years he owned the challenger, Steve became friends with a father/son team, Darrell and Jody Traylor, from nearby Pontiac, Illinois. They were avid car enthusiasts and having a restoration performed on their 1964 GTO. The restoration was superb and the car scored 399 out of 400 points at the 2003 POCI show. As he watched his friends put the finishing touches on the car, Steve began to wonder what it would be like to have a car that couple compete at the national level. So, the friends discussed  what type and condition of car would be best to start out with for such a project.

Considering that most restoration work done at the concours level required skilled journeymen, and that top restoration shops were not cheap, it was decided the best direction was to start with a #2-condition car. Then, with some minor upgrades done by a top-not restoration shop, the car could be transformed to a #1 – at least, that was the thinking. (Yes we know many of you are rolling your eyes right about now.)

In February 2003, Steve and Darrell set out to find a car that would be a suitable candidate for the project. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Matt Lazich, the owner of a ’69 Trans Am, was agonizing over the decision to sell his car. Steve found an advertisement for Matt’s T/A on an internet site. A phone call was made, and a few days later Steve and Darrell flew to L.A. to inspect the car. They found that Matt was the third owner of an 82,271-original-mile car with the Ram Air II 400, automatic transmission and 3:55 rear gear.

The car had its drivetrain and most of its original sheet metal, with the exception or rear quarters. During the inspection, several small dents were found in the passenger side front fender. The paint was in good shape, with a chip or two, and the interior was also very good, with just a few scratches here and there. The engine bay needed to be freshened up and the underside, while showing no signs of rust, also needed refreshening. It was a solid #2 car.

The “LA/TA” was a rare find, too. Of course the 697 ’69 Trans Ams produced, it was one of only 114 automatics. To Steve’s delight, he found it was even rare than first believed, as PHS documentation confirmed it was an original Canadian sold car. While there are no hard numbers to prove how many ’69 Trans Ams were delivered to Canada, it is widely felt that the number is less than 10 percent, according to Steve.

It was time to get serious about the restoration. The musclecar-collecting Weymouth brothers from Michigan (see “Family Flock,” PE March-April, 2007, introduced Steve to Tommy White, at Aloha Automotive Services, the highly regarded resto shop known for Mopars. After discussing the project, it was decided to give the car a full, rotisserie restoration. Engine builder Dan Jensen was consulted, too, to ensure all the Pontiac details would be recreated correctly.

Like most restos, this one began with the systematic stripping of the car. After the glass, headlights, taillights, etc., were removed, the body was media-blasted down to bare metal. Next, the car was totally disassembled, leaving only a shell, which was mounted on the rotisserie.

Approximately eighteen months after the restoration commenced – and just in time for the 2005 show season – Aloha returned to Steve a completed restored , “new” 1969 Trans Am. The shop spent more than 1,700 hours restoring it to factory specs, or better.

Steve says the “LA/TA” – as he likes to call it – was ready for the national spotlight.

“The attention to detail and accuracy was remarkable,” he says. “All of the body panels lined up perfectly, and the painted Tyrol blue stripes were the correct thickness and were laid out laser straight.”

Steve is just as happy with the sound of the car, as the overall look.

“A Ram Air IV cam gives the car a guttural, almost hostile, but exciting sound,” he says.

In August 2005, after the POCI meet, the Trans Am appeared at the Trans Am nationals in Dayton, Ohion. It brought home the first place trophy in the “First Generation Firebird/TA” class. Then, in September 2005, it was spotted by a film crew at the popular “Indian Uprising” show in Geneva, Illinois. Kevin Oeste, the producer, was so impressed he asked to film Steve and the car for a television show called “V8TV.” It was featured in episode #13, which aired on the “Men’s Channel,” which is carried by Dish Network. A year later, Steve returned to the “Indian Uprising” show in 2006, and took home on of five Best of Show awards, out of a field of 350 Pontiacs.

So, what is next for Steve and his rare ’69 Trans Am?

“The car is retired,” he says. “It is resting comfortably in an environmentally controlled garage and started every couple of weeks. It has fulfilled my wildest dreams” owning a car that could compete and win at the national level.”

With the results he’s had, it’s hard to fault Steve for going out on a high note.


Story by: Pontiac Enthusiast

[button_icon icon=”arrow-left” url=”http://www.apexautosports.com/dt_portfolio/1969-trans-am-ram-air-iii/”]See 1969 Trans Am Ram Air III Gallery[/button_icon]