Ted Goneos is a Porsche guy. He’s owned a number of them over the years, including the 1980 911SC still in his care. However there’s one car in his small, mostly European fleet that is a particularly American icon: his black-and-gold 1978 Pontiac Trans Am. It’s not just any Trans Am, either—this is one of the DKM Macho T/As that were among the few muscle cars to squeak through the Malaise Era with their core performance ethos intact.
“I was looking for a car to do One Lap of America at the time,” Goneos says. “One day, I saw Smokey and the Bandit on TV and I decided to look at Trans Ams to see if I could find one within my budget.”
This was in 2003, and the internet fortunately enabled him to dive into online research for a T/A. That’s how he came across the story of Dennis and Kyle Mecham, who in the late ’70s had switched gears from sales of new Pontiacs to souped-up versions of the once-powerful Trans Ams.
Federal law in those days required that the cars be sold as “used,” even though they were in reality modified new cars. The brothers called their smog-defeating muscle revivals the DKM (for Dennis and Kyle Mecham) Macho Trans Am. The name may sound silly now, but at the time, remember, mustaches and chest hair were all the rage.
When the Mecham Brothers began selling their improved Trans Ams in 1977, factory muscle cars no longer packed the punch they once did in the late ’60s, before federally mandated fuel economy standards and clean air regulations forced automakers to rethink the way they built cars. The brothers improved the output of the factory 400-cubic-inch Pontiac V-8s by fiddling with carburetor jetting and ignition timing, adding headers and dual exhaust pipes (along with catalytic converters), installing Doug Nash five-speed manual transmissions, modifying the hood scoops to be functional, tweaking suspension systems, and adding custom sport seats. Eventually, the Mechams added a turbo option, too.
“What intrigued me was the Macho story,” Goneos says. “They road raced the cars and had some success in SCCA racing.”
Unlike earlier second-generation Trans Ams—most notably the Super Duty cars—the Macho T/As were within Goneos’ budget. He found the black and gold one for sale on a classic car website. The car’s owner at the time had bought it on a whim at a Barrett-Jackson auction a few months earlier.
“He had been drinking with a buddy and placed a bid on the car,” Goneos said. “I don’t think he knew what to do with it.”
Goneos offered him $1000 less than the auction result, and the guy accepted. The car even came with the Macho jacket that was standard issue to anyone who had bought the cars new (in a manner of speaking) from the Mechams.
Although the Macho modifications were impressive in the eyes of late ’70s buyers, Goneos wanted to upgrade his car with some modern touches that would make his Trans Am more competitive against the mélange of hopped-up rides that were likely to show up for One Lap. He enlisted Lawrence Racing Engines to build a 461 stroker out of the car’s original engine, modifying the shaker hood scoop to work with a high-rise Edelbrock intake manifold. Goneos says that dyno testing indicated 450 horsepower and 560 lb.-ft. of torque at the crank—significantly more than the Pontiac engine would have made even after the original Mecham mods.
Goneos also had the original 10-bolt rear end swapped out with a 12-bolt Positraction unit, and the car’s Scheel seats were reupholstered with material from the company that had made the original seat covers. He also replaced the original wheels with period-appropriate 16-inchers, before installing the largest Wilwood brakes that would fit. Todd Tureski, from TLT RaceTek in Water Mill, New York, also had a hand in building the car. The result is a Macho that pulls hard, handles decently for what it is, and looks like something that could vanish back into 1978 without issue.
“It’s a fun car and it definitely gets a lot of attention,” Goneos says. “Everyone wants you to do a burnout, but I’ve never done a burnout in it.”
He drove the Macho in One Lap for a couple of years, and he occasionally drives it around rural New England. Although it has increased in value over the past couple of decades, the Macho turned out to be less of an investment and more of a really fun car with an interesting history.
“If I had any brains back then, I would have bought a 911 for the same money,” Goneos says, noting the meteoric rise in Porsche 911 values over the past several years. “But this car is black and shiny, with a long hood and a powerful engine. It’s everything you want an American car to be. It’s just cool.”