Story courtesy: Mike McNessor; Hemmings Muscle Machines Oct. 2008
Unless your knowledge of Pontiac performance cars runs deep, you'd probably mistake those Macho T/A callouts for the work of some time-warped customizer. But the Macho is a bona-fide collectible today and was originally the handiwork of two entrepreneurial brothers frustrated with the state of factory performance in the Disco era.
Back in 1977, Dennis and Kyle Mecham built 26 performance-tweaked Trans Ams that they dubbed Macho T/As and initially sold through their family's Pontiac dealership, Mecham Motors, near Phoenix, Arizona. The modified Trans Ams were a hit and the fledgling company, DKM Design, Performance sold all they could build, so they ramped up production in 1978 and marketed the cars through other Pontiac dealers. Sales of the warmed-up Firebirds soared to 204 units. But, uh, what of that oh-so-Seventies name?
"At that time, macho was the 'in' word in the Southwest," said Dennis Mecham, now president of Mecham Design, Performance. "Everything was macho. In desperation, I said, 'Why not call it Macho T/A?' It was almost tongue-in-cheek. It may not be the best name, but how can you forget it?"
Buyers certainly approved. Mecham recalls a leasing company that wanted to purchase several of the cars sans 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.
The recipe for the Macho T/A was straightforward: DKM would purchase new Trans Ams, perform its modifications, and resell them as used cars to Pontiac dealers. Under the hood, DKM would richen the jetting of the stock Quadrajet and change the distributor's curve to bring in 36 degrees of advance at 2,500 rpm. DKM also opened up the sealed shaker hood scoop, increasing airflow to the stock airbox, and installed screen over the opening. A set of off-the-shelf Hooker Headers were bolted up and plumbed up with a 2.5-inch dual exhaust with a crossover tube and two catalytic converters eliminating the restrictive stock system.
"No mufflers or resonators are found, though the exhaust remains reasonably mellow," Hot Rod magazine wrote in its July 1978 review of a Macho T/A. "In fact, a decibel meter may disagree, but to the human ear, a Macho T/A sounds no louder than a stocker, which runs one converter and a pair of mufflers."
DKM also dropped the front end by 1.5 inches, installed Koni adjustable shocks at all four corners, and put 60 series tires on the factory rims. Color combinations were left up to the customer's discretion and, while there were two dozen interior/exterior color combinations listed in the DKM brochure, an additional $150 allowed that customer to choose a special color. Add another $150 and the graphics would be applied using DuPont's Imron paint.
"If it sounded reasonable and the guy wanted it, we'd do whatever they wanted," Mecham said.
The young Mecham stumbled on the idea of building a post-factory Pontiac super car (at least by late-'70s standards) quite by accident. He was running a weekly newspaper that his family owned and driving a late-model Pontiac Catalina when the urge to act his age became too strong to ignore.
"I thought, if I don't stop driving Catalinas, pretty soon I'll be old enough that I'll actually want one," Mecham said!
Mecham and his friend Mike Garrett began tinkering with a 1975 Formula 400 HO. They managed to wake the car up by fattening the lean factory jetting, opening up the airbox and working some advance into the distributor. Mecham did more of the same mods to his new 455-powered 1976 Trans Am--a car that his father, the late Evan Mecham, took a liking to and saw some sales potential in.
"My father came down and I had the 455 T/A in my garage," Mecham said. "He took it for a ride and said, 'I wish I could sell a car like that to our customers.' "
So as an experiment, the brothers Mecham added headers and aftermarket wheels to their list of Trans Am mods and put a fresh example on the showroom floor. It sold in three days. Working part-time in 1977, they built and sold 26 cars, making a tidy profit on each.
Thus, one of the few Disco-era performance legends was born. In fact, it would've lived on for many more years had Pontiac not installed the 301 in the Trans Am--an engine that simply didn't have the latent potential that the 400 and 455s had.
"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.
Rich Robert of North Tustin, California, definitely enjoys the machismo his special Trans Am imparts to curious onlookers.
"Macho T/A? There's so many ways you can take that," Robert said. "Some people look at you like you're nuts. Why would you write that on your car?"
Robert, who is president of Knorr Systems, a swimming pool contractor specializing in commercial and municipal work, was actually searching for the aforementioned bird of the black and gold feather when he happened to spot the DKM machine.
"I was looking, before they got so popular, for a black-and-gold Trans Am and, in the process, I came across the Macho," Robert said. "I said: 'My god, these are the ones to have!' "
Robert bid aggressively on his car in an online auction, only to lose it to another hopeful suitor--one who apparently had more interest in bidding than buying.
"There are very few (Macho T/As) around, so when one popped up on the Internet I went for it hard, but didn't get it," Robert recalled. "But I told the owner, 'Listen, if the deal falls through, let me know. I've got the money and I'd be glad to come up.' "
Assuming he'd missed one of the few opportunities he'd have to buy a Macho T/A, Robert purchased a '77 Trans Am that he wasn't in love with and quickly forsook it when the phone call came in about two weeks after the Internet auction ended.
"I bee-lined to the owner's home in Beverly Hills and I cut a deal," Robert said. "The car was all complete, but kind of weathered and tired. It led a pretty good life. It only has 80,000 miles and for the last 10 years, (the seller) hardly drove the car. Some of the internal plastic was faded and the paint is original but faded."
Robert's Macho T/A is equipped with an optional lift-off fiberglass hood that is said to save 60 pounds over the stock unit, a firewall-mounted oil pressure restorer device that holds a quart of oil in reserve and forces it back into the crankcase in the event that the engine's oil pressure drops, a color-matched four-point roll bar and four-wheel disc brakes.
Since purchasing the Macho, Robert has performed some housekeeping, such as repainting the Macho T/A graphics on the doors, dyeing some interior panels, and installing bushings in the Hurst Competition Plus shifter, but he has been hesitant to dive into a complete restoration that would erase the car's originality.
"There's only one thing left to be done to make it really good," Robert said. "It needs a paint job. I'm battling with myself about whether to take the plunge or keep it original. I want someone who's done one to take it apart. So, in the meantime, I don't do it.
"That would be the last thing. It's a great car from five or six feet away, but the paint is cracking a little here and there and the fiberglass hood is faded to a slightly different color."
Robert also contacted Mecham and received a letter authenticating his car. Mecham has since signed the T/A's glovebox door, as well.
Also, here's an interesting bit of trivia about the car, which can neither be positively confirmed nor denied: Robert believes that it was used in photographs on the cover and inside of DKM's brochure. Mecham says it's possible, but he has no way to be sure.
"The car runs hard and really well," Robert said. "They're scarce and they run a lot faster than a factory Trans Am. These things kick it for a big, heavy car! If a Bandit guy drove a Macho, he'd say, 'Why did I pay $40,000 for this thing?' "
In 1978, Hot Rod was just as enamored of DKM's tuned-up T/A, wringing a low 14 second e.t. out of Macho T/A number 3 (All of the Macho T/As bear their series number on the spoiler and lower front fenders.).
"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."
Robert, of course, is already a true believer and is convinced that Mecham's star will rise on the wings of the Macho.
"As time progresses, Dennis Mecham and his DKM machines will be honored like the tuner gurus a decade before him," Robert said.
What about the SPECS you say?
Base price: (Macho T/A) $9,610
Base price: (Trans Am) $7,331
Options on car profiled:
Specialty items supplied by DKM: lift-off fiberglass hood
Pontiac options: Trans Am special performance package, $324
Type: Pontiac OHV V-8, iron block and cylinder heads
Displacement: 400.14 cubic inches
Bore x Stroke: 4.121 x 3.750 inches
Compression ratio: 8.1:1
Horsepower @ rpm: 220hp @ 4,000 (stock) 270-290 @ 4,000 est. (with DKM mods)
Torque @ rpm: 320-lbs.ft. @ 2,000
Valvetrain: Hydraulic valve lifters
Main bearings: 5
Fuel system: Single 800cfm Rochester Quadrajet
Lubrication system: Pressure, gear-type pump
Electrical system: 12-volt
Exhaust system: Single catalyzed exhaust, crossflow muffler (stock) Hooker headers, dual 2.5-inch pipes with crossover tube and two AC catalytic converters (with DKM mods)
Type: Borg Warner Super T-10 four-speed manual
Ratios 1st: 2.43:1
Type: Corporate 10-bolt housing with Safe-T-Track limited-slip differential
Type: Saginaw recirculating ball, power-assist
Turns, lock-to-lock: 2.4
Turning circle: 38.9 feet
Type: Hydraulic, four-wheel vented disc
Front: 11.0-inch disc
Rear: 11.1-inch disc
Chassis & Body
Body style: Two-door coupe
Layout: Front engine, rear-wheel drive
Front: Independent, unequal-length A-arms; coil springs; telescoping shock absorbers, anti-roll bar
Rear: Rigid axle, semi-elliptic rear leaf springs, telescoping shock absorbers, anti-roll bar
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Aluminum Pontiac WS-6 "Snowflake"
Front: 15 x 8-inch
Rear: 15 x 8-inch
Tires: Goodyear Polysteel Radial (original)
Weights & Measures
Wheelbase: 108.2 inches
Overall length: 196.8 inches
Overall width: 73 inches
Overall height: 49.3 inches
Front track: 61.3 inches
Rear track: 60 inches
Curb weight: 3,750 pounds
Crankcase: 6 quarts (with oil-pressure accumulator)
Cooling system: 22.9 quarts
Fuel tank: 21 gallons
Transmission: 3.75 quarts
Rear axle: 3.75 pints
Bhp per c.i.d.: 0.7
Weight per bhp: 13.275 pounds
Weight per c.i.d.: 9.29 pounds
DKM produced 204 Macho T/As in 1978
0-60 mph: 7.8 seconds
0-100 mph: 22.8 seconds
1/4 mile ET: 14.29 seconds @ 98.79 mph
Top speed: 120 mph
*According to a July 1978 road test from Hot Rod magazine
View the Message Forum Tech Sections!
trans am, firebird, formula, how to, install guide, dyi, do it yourself, technical, tech, videos, restoration tips, restore, restoration guide, you tube video, you tube, u tube, interio, exterior, sheet metal, seat covers, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984,1985, 1986, 1987,1988,1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995,1996, 1997, 1998,1999,2000, 2001, 2002, door panel install, seat back trim install, seat trim