Billy Meade and His 1978 Trans Am with a Boosted 5.3L

When we first saw Billy Meade’s Trans Am, we were instantly reminded of the 1978 film classic, Hooper, starring Burt Reynolds. In the film, Reynolds’ character is a Hollywood stuntman, who uses the T/A to complete a large jump a la Smokey and the Bandit. The car was powered by a rocket booster to help complete the “longest jump in history,” just to add effect to the movie. So when we saw this red hardtop and heard it was powered by a turbocharged LS motor, we couldn’t help but think of that 35 year old film.

Under that shaker hood is the aforementioned LS motor – a 2002 spec 5.3L that was plucked out of the junkyard with only 27,000 miles on the ticker. It’s been freshened up with a COMP camshaft, LS9 head gaskets, and ARP head studs. Topping the engine of this Hoopermobile is an Edelbrock intake and plenum to not only help increase power, but to clear the low hood as well.

Expelling the spent fumes are Hooker’s LS cast manifolds and a custom-built 3-inch exhaust that feed into the rear mounted, Comp Turbo CT43 billet, oil-less 78mm turbo. Meade relies on 83lb injectors and three Walbro 255 fuel pumps to help the boosted LS mill properly fed when under load.

Rob Raymer, the car’s previous owner, was responsible for the swap and tuning the current setup. The boosted 5.3L is backed by a Turbo 400 gearbox that’s been upgraded with not only stronger internals, but a trans brake and and a reverse manual valve body. A custom-built stall converter help get the T/A into the higher RPM to build boost. The OEM 10-bolt has been swapped out as well, and in its place went a Ford 9-inch differential, stuffed with 3.23 gears and 35-spline axles.

It's a blend of many years of F-body; with a '79-81 Trans Am rear end, an '80-81 Turbo Trans Am hood, and '98-02 Camaro console and dashboard on the inside of a '78 Trans Am body.

On the inside, the machine-finished dashboard and center console have been replaced with those from an LS1 Camaro that have been adapted to fit a 2nd-Gen. The old school vinyl seats have been set aside, and in their place are a pair of Summit Racing leather-covered race-style seats equipped with 5-point harnesses.

A roll cage keeps Meade safe when he’s making those low 10-second passes. Thanks to 787 HP and 720 pound-feet of twist making its way to the tires, his best time is a 10.22 at 141. However, the track conditions weren’t optimal that day, so he suspects that with better traction, 9.70s aren’t out of the question. We’ll keep our eye out for this ‘bird in the future, and if you see a red hardtop ’78 Trans Am that looks a little different, don’t say we didn’t warn you.

About the author

Rick Seitz

Being into cars at a very early age, Rick has always preferred GM performance cars, and today's LS series engines just sealed the deal. When he's not busy running errands around town in his CTS-V, you can find him in the garage wrenching on his WS6 Trans Am, or at the local cruise spots in his Grand National.
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