Barn Find, it’s a term that gets thrown around a lot with respect to Muscle Cars. There are of course the urban legends, those of pristine, rare optioned cars that somehow were tucked away and forgotten until one day, years later, when some lucky car hunter stumbles across it. The truth of the matter is that “Barn Finds” are in many cases typically found in about the same condition as, or worse than the barn they’re rescued from.
The Barn Find
It was in a side shed attached to a barn, they had painted the barn with the car inside of it, so you can imagine how it looked. -Jeff Altemus
In the case of the ’76 Trans Am pictured here, which now Belongs to Jeff Altemus of Marion, Arkansas, this Barn Find was close to the same color as the barn that had struggled to shelter it for several years. “It was in a side shed attached to a barn, they had painted the barn with the car inside of it, so you can imagine how it looked.” Adding insult to the injury was the damage done to the body as well, he told us, “I think they moved it around with a tractor or fork lift, it was gouged up pretty good.” Further complicating things was the car’s current state of assembly or rather lack of it. The condition of the car when he bought it brought to mind another term often heard around project cars, basket case.
Altemus, bought the car from a local county extension agent, who had disassembled it extensively. The current owner lacked the resources necessary to get the car reassembled, and back to running and driving condition. So one night after work, while hanging out at the local auto parts store, he struck a deal and the car was his.
Hybrid of Muscle
Altemus, already an avid Pontiac fan saw potential in a car that many would have simply sent to the scrap yard. He developed a build plan that incorporated some of his favorite components from nearly every generation of Trans Am production, utilizing parts from Trans Ams spanning nearly thirty years to build his car. “Right after I bought it, I went up to Missouri and bought a 1970 model front cap, because I liked the earlier model front end better,” he says. He also scored the rear bumper and tail lights from a ’78 TA.
The car’s original powertrain was in no shape to resurrect. Originally equipped with a 400 cubic inch Pontiac V8 and three speed automatic, Altemus had something different in mind. Having previously built a GTO equipped with a 476 cubic inch engine, he was looking to take a more modern tact. A wrecked 1999 Trans Am became the donor car for the drivetrain and many of the car’s interior components. The stock LS engine was hopped up with the help of a camshaft upgrade from Comp Cams, along with matching springs, and pushrods. “I had some giftcards that I’d won from an engine building contest at a car show. So I called and ordered the cam kit and parts I needed for it,” he told us. Stainless headers and 2 ½” exhaust direct expended gasses through either a pair of turbo mufflers, or electronically controlled cut outs. Altemus also swapped in the six speed trans from the donor vehicle as well as multiple interior parts. The car was sent to Memphis, TN for custom tune on the computer. The combo puts down 392 horsepower at the rear tires.
“I kept finding parts I could take off the donor car and graft onto the ’76,” Altemus recalls. Parts picked from the donor for under the hood also included the radiator and condenser.
Up front stopping is also aided by the addition of C5 corvette front brakes. “I read an article a few years ago on how to make those fit the early model F-body cars,” he told us. The stock front spindles were modified to accept the late model braking system. Out back a posi has been installed in the rear differential along with 3.73 gears. The ’99 TA also gave up it’s rear disc brakes, which were easily swapped to the ’76 project car.
A Heidts four link rear suspension system does its best to keep power planted, while the front suspension remains mostly stock with just the addition of polyurethane bushings, and lowering springs to get the stance right. Subframe connectors keep the body from twisting up like a pretzel through the corners.
Inside and Out
Outside Altemus shaved the door handles and locks, he also built a custom scoop for the shaker hood to allow it to be used with the LS engine. Year one reproduction 17” snow flake wheels set off the car’s pro-touring stance.
Inside the car has received new carpet, the factory rear seat and donor car front seats have also been recovered. 3M Niloc has been used to accent the gauge panel with, lending a carbon fiber look to the dash. The ’99 TA seats were reupholstered matching the carbon fiber theme. White faced gauges monitor vital functions, replacing the stock units. The ’99 cars console was also modified to fit the floor of the ’76 TA, and looks like it belongs there.
In the quarter mile the car has squeaked out a traction limited best time of 13.1. Spirited driving endeavors are not solely limited to the drag strip as Altemus also takes the car through the cones at the Autocross as well.
I think the era of building the old big Pontiac engines to go fast is ending, the LS engines are just so good at making power efficiently. -Jeff Altemus
This car is no trailer queen either, it’s been all over the south making runs here and there for car shows and events. With the AC blowing ice cold air, and the cruise control set, Altemus reports that he has averaged a daily driver like best of twenty six MPG on long trips! He credits the six speed trans and the LS engine for the incredible fuel economy. That GTO and it’s 476 cubic inch engine could barely muster 10 MPG even with the help of a Gear Vendors overdrive. He tells us that car also had similar performance on the drag strip. Altemus has been impressed with the LS engine’s performance and potential, telling us “I think the era of building the old big Pontiac engines to go fast is ending, the LS engines are just so good at making power efficiently.”
Jeff is not resting on his accomplishments. Next up for him is a Porsche being constructed with a friend for NASA competition. He’s also beginning work on a ’69 Trans Am that he’ll again be using a LS engine to power. We’ll see what kind of hybrid bird that turns into as well.