Time and again, we’ve seen people refer to builds as a family affair. Let’s face it, they’re usually great stories. Any time one can read about a father and son team working together – father passing on knowledge and skills, it’s heartwarming. Especially when the car has been in the family for decades, and it’s now getting a new lease on life thanks to the father and son team.
When we happened upon James Miller’s Trans Am in a pro-touring group on Facebook, we didn’t know that would be the case, so we were pleasantly surprised to learn about the car’s origins and how it’s come to look the way it does. Imagine our surprise when we pick up the phone, notepad in hand, and he quickly passes the conversation off to his son, James Jr. (Jimmy).
As the voice of inspiration for many of the modern performance upgrades, and a skilled fabricator in his own right, Jimmy was the perfect person to break down just what they’ve done to the car so far.
They began by blowing the entire car apart, which was a considerable undertaking since the car had already won multiple awards over the years for being such a high-quality build. Although, it wasn’t the wild custom that it is now. Once they were done with the extensive amount of custom sheet metal fabrication, they began putting everything back together. This time with modern performance in mind.
We asked James about the car’s history and why he suddenly wanted to change things up on such a stellar car. “Well, I’ve had the car for 25 years. So, it’s been in the family ever since the kids were small. I actually had the car before my son was born. To be building it with him now is really cool, being that he’s 21 and totally on fire for the muscle car scene. He schools me on all kinds of products that are new and out there.”
“I originally bought the car in 1994. So, I basically, I built the car the first time 18 years ago. Ever since smokey and the bandit came out when I was a kid, I had to have one. A guy at work told me about it around the corner so I went to buy it with my wife.”
“The first time it was actually restored it was a different yellow with a 455 Pontiac in it and a crazy interior. Playstation 2 and TVs. The car actually started out as a 301ci, auto, hardtop car and it was brown.”
“We swapped that out for the 455 4-speed and 342s. Drove that for about 18-years and 30k miles to many shows. Through that time, it got noticed as a guy building quality, custom cars. That car launched our business and it graces the background of our business cards.”
“In fact, my son and daughter actually both have Trans Ams we bought when they were 15. They still have them. My son’s got an ’84 and my daughter has a ’91. Neither one moved or ran, they both needed complete restorations. They helped me do the restoration and had new muscle cars at 16 and won best cars at their high school.”
Well, that hard work has paid off for Jimmy because he is responsible for a majority of metal and fabrication work on Viral. All of which he’s picked up on his own car and working with his father at their shop, Miller & Son. The business has been up and running for four years now, and the car that has graced the business card James mentioned was due for an update.
Even though the car had already won multiple awards on the show circuit, James still decided to tear it all apart and start from scratch. There was a point when Jimmy walked into the garage and saw his father had already begun taking things apart and he exclaimed, “Dad, what are you doing?” To which James replied, we’ll it’s too late to go back now.
Luckily for him, Jimmy was very much in-tune with the aftermarket and pro-touring trends. So, they got to work installing a whole host of aftermarket goodies to welcome the proud bird into the modern performance era. With their eyes on a SEMA 2o2o reveal, they came up with the clever name of Viral ’81.
Bear in mind, this was well before the pandemic and the term viral would take on a whole new meaning to everyone. Instead, they figured the car would be so well-loved it would become a viral sensation on social media. In James’ own words, “It sounds crazy, but before the pandemic hit, I already had the name picked out. But I figured once the car went to SEMA it was gonna go viral. But ever since the pandemic, it became kinda cool for a different weird way.”
Rightfully so. With the amount of work into their beloved Viral ’81, it’s plain to see what they had in mind for such a showstopper. We asked Jimmy what the most difficult part of the build has been so far. He explained, “Some of the problems or challenges were taking apart a car that was completely restored. We were still winning shows up until the day we took it apart. Following our vision without hesitation or wondering if we were going to need or reuse any of the parts we were taking off was also a challenge.”
“It was going to be tough to keep things like suspension stock though. It would have been really easy to keep that stock stuff we had on there because it was in great condition, but when there are way more advanced options out there like the RideTech suspension we have on it now, why would we.”
“You’re throwing away your carb that you’ve been tuning for 30 years for new fuel injection stuff that you’re trying to figure out. That was challenging. Abandoning the things we new to try out new things that are better.”
“At the end of the day, we wanted to make the car completely custom. To the point where you didn’t lose what the car was, but subtle and custom enough to not lose the feel of the original trans am.”
James’ daughter actually played a big role in working with Miller & Sons’ partners on the build, so it truly is a family affair.
Engine: Magnusson TVS-2650 Supercharged LSX 376 B15 (Rated for 15 pounds of boost). Custom bent stainless steel lines throughout.
Transmission: T56 Super-Magnum Six-Speed.
Rear End: Currie Turn 9 Fabricated 9-Inch with Strange 4.11 Gears and SureTrac Posi.
Wheels & Tires: Custom Boze Forged Snowflakes and Toyo R888R 275/35/19 Front and 325/30/20 Rear.
Brakes: Wilwood Big Brake Kit. 15-Inch Six-Piston in Front and 14-Inch Four-piston in Rear.
Suspension: RideTech TrueTurn Quadralink and Shockwave Air Bags.
Interior: Custom In-Progress (Roll Cage and Mini Tub)
Paint & Body Work: Akzo Nobel (Modern Classics by Kindig – Sweet and Sour). Custom bead-rolled firewall, smoothed wiper cowl, bead-rolled core support, custom inner fenders, and custom engine covers. A custom subframe drops the engine 4-inches for the custom cowl hood. The shaker is functional and cools the supercharger. 2008 Pontiac Solstice mirrors. Custom rocker moldings. Custom stretched doors. Kindig-it door handles. Custom rear mudguards. Custom hidden marker lights behind acrylic panels hidden under the paint. Custom stretched all-steel rear spoiler.
Unfortunately, the familial team wasn’t able to showcase the Viral ’81 at SEMA 2020 for obvious reasons, but perhaps that was a blessing in disguise as it gave them more time to fine-tune the things they wanted to. As such, we asked James and Jimmy about their future plans for the car since it is so close to ultimate completion. James said, “We’re basically oging to get the interior finished and get the audio installed. My goal is to have it done for my birthday in September and wrap everything up for Vegas in November and SEMA 2021. Eventually, we’d like to do Power Tour together.”
‘We wrapped up our conversation with the father and son team, by asking what their favorite part of the build has been, Jimmy quickly spoke up and answered with, “As corny as this sounds, I’d have to say it definitely is the quality time with my father. I mean, there’s a lot of cool products we’ve been using, but nothing beats the experience of leaving the shop at like one in the morning, and I look over at him and think, this is ours – we built this with our vision and I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else.”