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by Eugene Liss

Although I live in Illinois it took me over two months for me to locate a 1996 red t-top Trans Am Ram Air edition with automatic transmission. I located the “magical” dream machine by calling Southern California dealerships, and was lucky enough to track down one at John Hine Pontiac in San Diego.

My experience with John Hine’s sales staff was very positive in light of complications of a California dealership selling a car to someone over 2,000 miles away. A real pleasure. I discovered prior to purchasing this car that a cost/benefit comparison of some performance cars showed that the Trans Am Ram Air gave one of the best dollars per horsepower. This purchase makes both me and my wallet smile each time I see a Viper, Porsche and new Corvette driving alongside me on the Chicago highways, as my car gets more horsepower per dollar than any of those. Although not the fantasy of driving a quarter million dollar car, my insurance and car payments are a tad easier to swallow. I used to drive a red 1994 Corvette Targa top, but the 1996 red Ram Air T-top is faster, much more unique (many more stares) and costs 30% less. A win-win situation!


As my photos show, I have performance updated the look of my 1996 Ram Air TransAm, with some of the following changes:

Major Modifications and Cost
O.Z. Comp.Racing Wheels, 17 X 9.5 fronts, 17 X 10 rears - $1,220
Goodyear GSC ZR285/40/17 fronts, ZR 315/35/17 rears - $ 900
Hypertech Power Programmer - $ 395

Minor Modifications and Cost
KandN air filter(more air in) - $ 65
GTO fog light performance fog light covers (less air damning in front) - $ 35

Recent Modifications and Cost
Borla stainless steel cat-back exhaust system (adj.sound level) - $ 600
Polished O.Z. wheels (polished by Eddco of Santee, CA) - $ 500


This is a letter that I have written to Automobile Magazine in response to a story entitled American Driver by David E. Davis Jr.:

Dear Mr. Davis of Automobile Magazine:

As a car enthusiast who researched my auto purchase strategically back in 1996, I was able to determine that the most horsepower per purchase dollar was the 1996 Ram Air TransAm. 305 h.p. for a sales price of $28,800.
That equates to a cost per horsepower of $94 per horsepower.

Compared to the 1996:

Corvette at 345 h p. - $44,000 = $127 per horsepower
Dodge Viper 400 h.p. - $62,000 $155 per horsepower
Ford Mustang 220 h.p. - $22,000 $100 per horsepower

Also realizing that I was saving huge dollars compared to the above cars for my performance dollar, I was able to spend a total of less than another $4,000 to super-enhance my car to 350 ń horsepower, with highly complementary mechanical and physical upgrades that did not take away from the original look of the vehicle itself (e.g. Ferrari/Lamborgini type O.Z. Competition racing wheels, Hypertech Power Programmer, etc.). And such upgrades were done without extensive modifications that are beyond the average sports car enthusiast.

I recently read with interest your February 2000 American Driver (page 41) article about the SEMA show and the move away from V-8 powered cars to Honda 4 bangers. Well, if these Honda admiring Gen-Xer's had any brain power, they would spend their tight car budgets on something that us Baby Boomer's figured out long ago. To spend our dollars on cost/benefit upgrades / performance modification that transcends the ridiculous nature of the sound of those garbage can top size mufflers/resonators (in your version of description; an exhaust extension as big around as your forearm) on these rice burning machines. Buy what real American men drive, V-8, rear wheel drive power that delivers testosterone inducing results on the pavement, not high whining / high revving / fake exhaust tuning / front wheel crap.

Will a story ever be written on ordinary folks like me who know how to upgrade their $28,000 cars by only about a 1500 extra investment, versus some goof taking a $18,000 Honda, adding $12,000 of aftermarket (SEMA-like) upgrades, and still have a car that only a few diehard Honda owners would give two cents for? Let alone any normal human being ever wanting to buy this hybrid jalopy sometime in the future - oh; I forgot; thinking a couple years from now for these people would be thinking way to far ahead of the matter???

Sincerely wondering why journalists seem to think the outer fringes of society are the new trends, when all they have to do is look at main street America for a majority of real life stories that really apply to our real society that may not be as exciting as what the new craze is, but will probably remain a lot longer and more long lasting than the next Pokeman concept. But that sure makes a more exciting story than main street America?

How about some representation? Just contact the National Firebird and TransAm Club members in Chicago, IL (website, or the numerous Corvette Clubs of America that are based throughout main street America if you need some evidence of my conclusions.

Let me know - if possible - if there is a auto magazine (other than yours if their is no feasibility of a story on this subject) that may be interested in such subject matter. Or I would be happy to display my knock out looking American muscle car at the next SEMA show as an alternative. At least then you could call your article American Driver, and really mean it.

Eugene P. Liss, CPA, CFP

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