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1982 Banks Twin Turbo Pontiac Trans Am - Faster Than The Challenger Hellcat

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2015 has just arrived and all the kudos from the automotive press are being directed towards the 2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat and to a slightly lesser extend its 4-door brother the Dodge Charger Hellcat.  The Challenger Hellcat is the ultimate and fastest production muscle car ever produced and the Charger Hellcat is the fastest production 4-door sedan ever produced - both cars have 707 horsepower on tap and achieve a 200 mph top speed. As earth shattering as this all seems, 31 years ago an auto magazine and a hot rodder proved it wasn't impossible to build a 200 mph street legal car that was civilized enough to be driven as a daily driver.

Just with any good story, it's important to understand the "why" before the "how".  This story is no different.  You have to mentally use your virtual Back To The Future time machine to rewind back to 1982 in order to fully understand the "why" of this story.  Performance in the American car market was at a low point during the early-1980s.  For 1982, any new car engine that produced over 140 horsepower was considered a powerful motor.  And any new engine back in 1982 that produced over 200 horsepower was comparable to new engines today that produce over 500 horsepower.  The auto 1982banksta-6press for 1982 was wooed and excited about the return of the Mustang GT, its 5.0 liter V8 produced 157 horsepower (when the 4-speed manual transmission was ordered) and was one of the fastest new cars available in the U.S. at that time. As a comparison the most powerful 1981 Mustang had a 4.2 liter V8 which produced a paltry 120 horsepower.  Ironically 1982 would be the first year the competition would heat up in the pony car war since 1973 - a war that has continued to this day.  So even during the early-1980s low horsepower output era, there were promising signs of the higher horsepower days that did eventually come.  

Car and Driver magazine which of the three big auto magazines back in the day had some of wildest and boldest editors and writers in its employment. They wrote about, printed, and drove new cars with a crazy passion. And there was probably none wilder than Csaba Csere. It was Csere who forged his name permanently in automotive history by piloting a street licensed 1982 Trans Am to 204 mph in 1984. This Trans Am was rolling on street tires and didn't even have a roll bar. 1982banksta-4Looking at the exterior and interior one would have assumed this car was an ordinary 5.0 liter Trans Am with fancy aftermarket wheels. And what's so amazing was the high speed feat wasn't done at the Bonneville Salt Flats like Motor Trend or Road and Track magazines would have done. It was done on a narrow 4-mile crowned road in the Southern California desert where one wrong move or slight miscalculation would have sent the Trans Am barrel rolling, leading to a most certain death for the driver.  

The road was born from a strange twist of history dating back to the LBJ presidency. Mrs Orcutt a widow living in Newberry Springs, California had the misfortune of having her driveway cut off from Interstate 66 when the new Interstate 40 (I40) was built. After many letters and correspondence with Sacramento and Washington DC (LBJ administration), a $100,000 (about $5 million in today's dollars) perfectly flat and straight blacktop road was built parallel and within view of the new I40 to connect Mrs Orcutt's house with the nearest onramp to I40 at Fort Cady Road. This 4.1 mile road was called Memorial Drive. Even though the State of California was responsible for the maintenance and patrolling of this pristine road, Car and Driver referred to it as Mrs Orcutt's driveway since her house was the only house this road serviced. The long and the short of it was the road was perfect for high speed driving, it's length was three times that of the longest runway at LAX. And for those reading this article thinking about finding and using the road for some high speed passes, you're about 20 years too late. Mrs Orcutt passed away shortly after Csere hit his 204 mph top speed run. Since then the road has fallen into disrepair riddled with large potholes.

Fortunately Csere is still around and continues to write about and test drive new cars, and so is the famous red 1982 Trans Am he drove back in 1984. It remains in the same mint conditioned state as when it graced the June 1984 cover of Car and Driver. This car is frozen in time, a perfect time capsule.  Currently it has just a little over 5K miles on the odometer. With its historical significance and excellent 1982banksta-1condition, it's value (currently estimated as high as $100,000) will continue to rise. It has made appearances at a few car auctions in the last few years however the current owner is unknown.

The October 1982 issue of Car and Driver had an article which showcased Gail Banks prototype 1982 Trans Am which was street legal and ran on street tires. Banks made a name for himself with his speed shop that modified boat and car engines during the 1960s and 1970s.  By the 1980s he had become a turbo guru - even lending his expertise to Buick on their turbo V6 program at the time. Banks was impressed with the aerodynamics of the new 1982 Trans Am which had a drag coefficient lower than any US production car which meant less drag/wind resistance that equated to a higher top speed than a less aerodynamic car with the same engine. Banks had a simple plan to take an aerodynamic Trans Am and add some power to thrust it over the 150 mph mark. Banks knew the Trans Am's exterior could handle it but its top performance motor for 1982, the 165 horsepower LU8 5.0 liter Cross-Fire V8, barely crossed over the 125 mph mark. Bank's solution was to replace the Chevrolet built 5.0 liter (305 CID) Chevrolet small-block found under the Trans Am's hood with a Chevrolet 5.7 liter (350 CID) V8. By using two turbos with the 5.7 liter V8, he easily sailed the 3,500 lbs Trans Am just beyond 150 mph making the Trans Am the fastest American car and one of the fastest cars in the world. Mission accomplished but not finished.

Car and Driver realizing that Banks was barely tapping the potential of the Trans Am, commissioned Banks to up the ante and upgrade his Trans Am to hit the 200 mph mark. Bare in mind even the fastest 1982banksta-2exotic sports cars during the 1970s and early-1980s couldn't top 170 mph. Car and Driver felt the task was necessary in order to make the Trans Am the fastest street car in the world - at 200 mph it would easily beat even the exaggerated top speeds of the fastest exotic cars by a large margin. The end result was the use of a Chevrolet truck sourced heavy-duty 5.7 liter small-block V8 with 4-main bearings. The induction system was an 800 cfm Holley 4-bbl carburetor. Two Rajay E-flow turbochargers provided the compressed air for the carburetor. On top of the 4-bbl was a decorative metal air-box with "Banks Turbo" callouts that captured all the air the twin turbos could produce. A set of high-performance 1970 Chevrolet LT-1 heads, TRW pistons, a forged steel crankshaft, and a free-flow exhaust system helped to maximize the performance of the small-block 5.7 liter V8. The end result was 611 (fly-wheel) net horsepower. It was this setup that hit the 204 mph as documented in the June 1984 Car and Driver issue. Banks installed a heavy duty Nash 5-speed manual transmission to handle the massive torque from the turbo motor.

If you thought the Banks Trans Am was all about straight away speed. You would be wrong. The suspension tweaks took a Trans Am capable of .83 g on the skid to a solid 1.0 g handling car. Even now in 2015, only the absolute best handling cars in the world can obtain 1.0 g or better (the Challenger Hellcat is good for .94 g). Helping to obtain the 1.0 g mark, are wide and sticky Goodyear VR50 tires mounted on a set of shiny 16-inch Centerline wheels. The wheels gave the Trans a traditional muscle car look.

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To his 1982 Trans Am, Banks added a set of the lower air dams which were optional on the 1984 Trans Am. Banks cut four narrow horizontal slat sized holes in the lower front air dam to increase air flow to the radiator to assist with cooling. Interesting to note, somehow in the thirty one years since the magazine test back in 1984 these four slats in the front air dam have been changed to two long slats. It appears the thin vertical lines separating the two slats on both sides of the front air dam have been removed changing the four slats to two longer ones. Never-the-less these air dams lowered the 1982 Trans Am's drag coefficient from .32 to around .30. The low drag coefficient aided the Trans Am's journey to the 204 mph mark.  And in case you are wondering the 2015 Challenger Hellcat has a higher drag coefficient of .35. Banks also found the factory budged hood that his Trans Am came equipped with from the factory hurt aerodynamics at higher speeds, so he used the flat hood found on the base-model 1982-1983 Trans Am to remedy that situation. To give the Trans Am a popular European sports car look at the time the mirrors, the rear hatch spoiler, and lower air dams were all painted the same shade of red as the rest of the body panels. And for those with a keen eye, black lettering "Banks Twin Turbo" decals were affixed to each front quarter panel and the right rear bumper.  

The interior looks the same as it did a little more than 30 years ago.  It is factory stock with the exception of the following Bank's installed upgrades: VDO gauges (inside the stock instrument panel), a 1982banksta-3VSE steering wheel, Recaro KRX front bucket seats, and an aftermarket 1980s vintage AM/FM cassette receiver. And this Trans Am came equipped with working factory options such as air-conditioning, power windows, power steering, and power brakes.

In the final analysis with a top speed of 204 mph, Banks and Car and Driver proved that America could make a civilized street legal super car that was faster than any other street legal exotic sports in 1984 and for many years after that. Unfortunately GM was asleep at the switch or so terrified of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards that it never utilized the full potential of the sleek third generation Trans Am body by offering a high horsepower twin turbo variant. The 1989 20th Anniversary Trans Am equipped with the Buick Sequential Fuel-Injected (single) turbo 3.8 liter V6 was able to hit the mid-160 mph mark bone stock was the best GM could muster for this aerodynamic Trans Am body. Could you imagine the implications if a special limited production Trans Am that hit 200 mph was offered to the buyers back in the mid-1980s?  Ferrari and Lamborghini would have been brought down several notches on the exotic car performance scale. Unfortunately it was never meant to be. You realize how special the Banks Trans Am was when you consider it can beat a 202 mph top speed 707 horsepower Challenger Hellcat by a few mph in the top-end and decimate it on the handling skidpad.

Mrs Orcutt probably never realized that her letters to LBJ and Sacramento would create the perfect setting for testing the twentieth century's most famous over-200 mph street car. It's funny how history plays out.  

 

Written contents in this article - © 2015 Pete Dunton - All Rights Reserved

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