1978 Macho T/A Turbo

Filed in Pontiac Trans Am by on February 27, 2017 • views: 1381


These Macho T/A graphics may seem like the work of some time-warped customizer, but the Macho T/A is actually a bona-fide collectible. The Macho T/A was originally the handiwork of Dennis and Kyle Mecham.  Dennis and Kyle were the sons of dealership owner, Evan Mecham, and Dennis had modified his black 1976 Trans Am for added punch. “It had a 455 and a four-speed. I opened the hood scoop and modified the carburetor, distributor and exhaust to increase output. It ran very well. When my dad drove it and said, ‘I wish I had a car like that to sell to my customers,’ I began thinking about a Trans Am performance package that we could offer through the dealership.”

The Mecham brothers created DKM, Inc. (for Dennis and Kyle Mecham) and began modifying new ’77 Trans Ams in the dealership’s service bay on nights and weekends. “We applied what worked so well on the 455 in my Trans Am to the T/A 6.6 for 1977, modifying the carburetor and distributor, and installing Hooker headers, a crossover pipe and twin catalytic converters. It added 50 hp or more while remaining emissions compliant. We also modified the suspension to improve handling.”

As the package evolved, Dennis and Kyle were having difficulty deciding upon an appropriate name for the hot-running result. “We simply couldn’t come up with anything that fit. If for nothing else than out of frustration, I said ‘Call it the Macho T/A.’ It was a popular word at the time that meant ‘cool and masculine’ and it seemed to work well with ‘Trans Am.’ We decided to give that a try to generate recognition. We then created a graphics package and numbered each car to build lasting value and create exclusivity,” says Dennis. Buyers certainly approved. Mecham recalls a leasing company that wanted to purchase several of the cars without the Macho lettering. But at DKM’s urging, they purchased three without the decals and three with. Customers greedily snapped up the lettered cars first.

DKM churned out more than two dozen Macho T/As during the 1977 model year. “We would build a car and place it on the showroom floor,” Dennis recalls. “The fact that it would sell in a day or two told us that people wanted performance. We only built 27 because of time and space limitations. The program was, however, profitable enough that we moved production to an offsite facility with a fully equipped garage staffed with mechanics. We figured we could build about 200 for 1978.

“Transforming a standard Trans Am into a Macho T/A added about $3,000 to the overall price of the vehicle. For that amount, DKM realigned the front suspension, modified the front coil springs and installed Koni shocks at all four corners. The enhancements improved handling and gave the Macho T/A a slight rake to reduce aerodynamic drag. In addition to the exterior accents, each Macho T/A was numbered externally (All of the Macho T/As bear their series number on the spoiler and lower front fenders.), also receiving a console-mounted plaque engraved with its sequential build number.

DKM had established a relationship with H-O Racing Specialties, a popular West Coast performance retailer that specialized in Pontiac V-8s, and Dennis had been purchasing its carburetor and distributor kits for his Macho T/A program. “The late-1970s Trans Ams were great cars but lacked the power of the earlier Firebirds,” says Craig Hendrickson, founder of H-O Racing. “We had some customers willing to go the hot rod route and replace their cylinder heads, intake manifolds and camshafts with earlier high-performance units, but the components were expensive and many customers didn’t have the knowledge or desire to install them.”

Craig believed a number of late-model Trans Am owners sought a bolt-on kit that increased horsepower. “I felt a turbocharger kit would be an easy way of providing them with that,” he explains. “I developed our TurboFORCE kit in 1977 along with Ken Crocie (a then-H-O Racing employee who would later become owner). I talked with some knowledgeable turbo experts about a blow-through system where pressurized air is routed through the carburetor. They told me it couldn’t be done with a Quadrajet. That became my motivation to prove it could!”

The idea of adding the turbocharger was easy. Packaging execution proved a challenge. “I wanted it to be completely bolt-on and compatible with the stock accessories–particularly air conditioning–to maximize its appeal,” says Craig. “I studied the Trans Am engine compartment and began visualizing where the turbocharger could be mounted and how to route its exhaust tubing. Ken found the compact Rajay 301E turbocharger would supply the volume the Pontiac 400 needed. And it went together from there.”

Craig felt that 7-psi of boost was a reasonable amount that could add about 100 hp to an otherwise stock late-1970s Trans Am without compromising reliability, driveability or fuel economy. “We found exhaust back pressure of a typical Trans Am was enough to limit boost to 7-psi, but when Pontiac improved the W72 exhaust system for 1978, or when owners replaced the factory system on others, the back pressure reduction allowed the turbo to create even more boost, so we added a wastegate to the system,” adds Craig.

When Dennis learned of H-O Racing’s TurboFORCE kit, it only made sense that DKM offer a turbocharged V-8 option to further increase the Macho T/A’s potency. From there, the Turbo Macho T/A was born. For approximately $6,400, buyers received all of the visual and suspension upgrades of the basic Macho T/A package, plus an engine approximately 50 percent more powerful than the stock T/A 6.6. Also included were oversized Goodyear tires, a trunk-mounted battery, and when equipped with a manual transmission, a Hurst Competition Plus shifter. Specific front fender and rear spoiler graphics let would-be competitors know that they were about to encounter a boosted version of DKM’s already-potent Macho T/A.

In 1978, Hot Rod Magazine was impressed with the Macho T/A and ran a low 14 second e.t. (non-turbo version). “What the customer gets is, in effect, a brand-new Trans Am, delivered right from a Pontiac dealer with everything he needs to blow a stocker right into the weeds,” Hot Rod’s Dave Wallace wrote. “At least, this was certainly the case with 1978 Macho T/A No. 3, which collected a remarkable time slip of 14.29 seconds at 98.79 miles per hour on the best of 17 good runs at OCR. (The very next day we watched a four-speed 49-state ’78 Trans Am clock steady 15.20s at 96 mph, which is the best performance we’ve seen from a stock 1978 automobile under virtually identical conditions at the same facility.)”

Hot Rod went on to rave about the car’s handling and DKM’s use of readily available parts to put some respectability back into the Trans Am’s performance. “But quarter-mile acceleration is only the beginning of the Macho’s appeal,” Wallace wrote. “A combination of heat-treated front coils, Koni shocks all around and careful suspension tuning gets the Macho around corners quicker, too. Throw in a dealer service agreement (sure to include special provisions concerning non-OEM components and obvious operator abuse) and you’ve got about the best Poncho performance bargain since the Super Duty days.”

“We stopped making them in 1980 because the car was no longer viable,” Mecham said. “If you got any real horsepower (out of the 301), you were rebuilding a hand grenade.”

Throughout the 1990s, the cars of the 1970s were regarded disdainfully by collectors, but something funny happened one day on the way to the car show–’70s machinery, particularly Trans Ams sporting black paint and gold eagles, became not just collectible, but hot.

Riding the tail feathers of this trend are DKM’s Macho T/As. Mecham’s warmed up ‘birds have attracted a cult following among collectors who fondly remember the days when clothing and furniture manufacturers were vying with the Bee Gees to see who could sell the most vinyl.

So keep your eyes open. These cars are collectible, and you just never know where they’ll turn up.

Photos:

Resources:

Hemmings.com – Boosted Blackbird

Hemmings.com – Macho Ponch

 



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