SEMA 2021: This ‘81 Trans Am Father And Son Project Goes Viral

While some people were struggling through living in tight quarters with family and few friends over the past year and a half, this father and son team of Jim Miller Sr. and Jr. from Buffalo, New York were busy building memories and this awesome 1981 Pontiac Trans Am.

Photo Courtesy of Rick Penny

With its eye-searing shade of yellow “Sweet & Sour” AkzoNobel paint, spotting this modded Poncho among the primped and polished cars of this year’s SEMA show was as simple as finding a flare in the sky, in the middle of the ocean, at midnight, during a new moon phase. Once the yellow paint’s tractor beam tugged your attention, other deviations from the Pontiac’s original build come into focus, some being more obvious than others. Of course, a shaker scoop perched amid the hood’s screamin’ chicken applique is always good fodder for power-hungry folks. But there’s a lot of story to go through before we get to the obvious.

The rear spoiler and diffuser let you know right off this Tin Indian has been modified since it left the factory, but did you notice the tops of the doors and the hidden door handles as easily?

You know you’re dealing with a petrol-head when the story starts like, “We were only married for about six months, and my wife and I heard about this Pontiac for sale.” Yeah, she’s a keeper! Jim Jr. goes on to say they went to look at the car and since it wasn’t painted its current color, his wife missed it the first time they drove by it. (We won’t hold that against her – I mean, they were only married for six months at this point).

The “Sweet & Sour” eye-searing paint has plenty of flaky spice to get your attention.

When they turned around, she instantly redeemed herself by saying, ‘If you want it, just put it on your credit card.’ She did concede that he’d have to sell one of his other projects though— which he did about a year later, to put a new coat of brown paint on the car. Originally, the car had the 301 cubic-inch engine with an automatic, which was soon swapped out for an Oldsmobile Rocket 350 engine, since it closely resembled the 301. From there, the slope became much more pronounced and a 455 mated to a four-speed soon found its way under the hood.

The Jims kept the mods flowing into the interior and under the hood.

Then, it happened – about three years ago, Jim was the recipient of a “free dog.” Well, as the proverbial dog goes, it wasn’t exactly free, since it cost him five dollars, and it wasn’t exactly a dog. Instead of man’s best friend, Jim ultimately was the winner of a $5 Garage Giveaway at the Detroit Autorama and won a $2,500 gift card. Of course, with a wife like Jim’s, you can guess a new set of sneakers for the family’s daily driver wasn’t even a consideration. Instead, Jim and his father, Jim Sr. began reconfiguring the Trans Am into the show-stopper we see here.

You can see many of the modifications Jim and Jim did to the car, but many, much smaller mods are used throughout and needed to be planned upon very early in the process. To start, you see that T-Top hood? The twin Jims chopped the original one-off and replaced it with this pop-top variety. Beyond that, keen-eyed readers may have noted how the doors meld up into the roof pillar more than they had originally. A subtle modification, but time-intensive.

Much custom work allows the LSx 376 engine to sit down into the engine bay, which is good, as it allows the Magnuson supercharger to wear that iconic shaker scoop.

Beyond those changes, the accentuated front splitter-style treatment, along with the NASCAR-esque rear spoiler, blend in well with the wider outer wheelhouses which try to conceal those BOZE wheels (19×10 Front and 20×12 Back) which are wrapped in TOYO R888R rubber. Just a few inches inboard, a complement of Wilwood brakes front and rear fill in the space between the wheel and the RideTech suspension and in the rear, the Currie Turn-9 differential.

Photo Courtesy of Rick Penny

With the intent for serviceability, the inner wheel wells were modified to bolt into place using smaller, individual panels. This allowed Jim (or Jim) to access all the necessary wiring connections, pumps and relays easily. Another modification easily unnoticed would be the custom firewall and subframes, allowing the engine to be moved back four inches. And of course, that is the very reason you’re reading about Jim (and Jim’s) Trans Am on LSX Magazine!

Ditching the BOP-style powerplant of years ago, the team of Miller & Miller opted for a fresh LSx 376 B16 (boost-able) crate engine from Chevrolet Performance. Topped with a Magnuson TVS 2650 supercharger thanks to a custom-fabbed intake, the engine kicks out about 800 ponies when at full boost. The engine uses an LS3-style harness to run and is connected to the Ron Francis harness running throughout the rest of the car’s body. They run up behind the dash to those New Vintage USA gauges.

The Millers wanted all of the benefits of today’s technology, but also enjoy those vintage tunes of the horsepower era. Jim Sr. explains, “I hadn’t heard it yet but thought to myself, we’re gonna’ have this crazy setup, but it’s going to sound smooth like a modern engine. I didn’t expect it to sound like it does. This LSX 376 engine is perfect! It sounds like the baddest big-block you’ve ever heard!” Of course, that is thanks to the 4-inch oval exhaust which was ceramic-coated black and feeds from a set of stainless headers.

Inside the car is another lesson on how old and new can unite in harmony. The D-shaped steering wheel still wraps around that oh-so-Poncho center spoke assembly and the dash pad, seat configuration, and door panels continue the blend between today’s build and yesteryear’s designs.

Photo Courtesy of Rick Penny

Knowing the majority of the car was built during the short time-frame since the globe came down with the sniffles and seeing the extent of modifications made during its last upgrade, it’s easy to assume the only thing gathering dust in the Millers’ garage may have been the 1981 Pontiac Firebird/Trans Am restoration manual.

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About the author

Andy Bolig

Andy has been intrigued by mechanical things all of his life and enjoys tinkering with cars of all makes and ages. Finding value in style points, he can appreciate cars of all power and performance levels. Andy is an avid railfan and gets his “high” by flying radio-controlled model airplanes when time permits. He keeps his feet firmly grounded by working on his two street rods and his supercharged C4 Corvette. Whether planes, trains, motorcycles, or automobiles, Andy has immersed himself in a world driven by internal combustion.
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