Flying High

Jan 18, 2013

Only a handful of individuals are lucky enough to go to work every day to pursue their passions and make history. Both are a reality for Tod Warmack and the team at Tallahassee, Fla.-based Trans Am Depot.

Founded by Warmack, his brother Scott and Jim Dowling in 2006, Trans Am Depot is the only company licensed and authorized to use the classic Pontiac Trans Am moniker. Its nine-person team of engineers, fabricators and technicians create one-of-a-kind restorations by artfully blending yesterday’s designs with today’s technology.

The company’s current calling is the design fabrication and conversion of the 2013 Trans Am. Based on the Chevrolet fifth-generation Camaro platform, Trans Am Depot offers a 6T9 version Trans Am, a 7T7 Trans Am, a limited-edition Hurst Trans Am and also a 6T9 GTO conversion.

“If you compare the old and new models, you’ll see the original Trans Am DNA in the new ones,” Warmack says.

Like many conversion shops, Trans Am Depot began as an extension of a hobby.

“It started with restoring cars and competing year after year at a national level,” he says. “We took that same passion and skill and put it toward building these new conversion cars.”

With multiple wins at the yearly Trans Am Nationals, Warmack knew the pride and attention he and his brother were putting into their conversions was not going unnoticed. He says they experienced such a high demand for their quality work that they had to turn it into a business.

Before the Warmack brothers collaborated with Dowling they owned Half-Time Enterprises, a sports marketing company that distributed licensed sports team merchandise.  They sold the company in 2008 to concentrate on the Trans Am builds and attracted a team of enthusiastic followers who wanted to be a part of their business. Now they operate out of a 16,000-square-foot facility in Tallahassee.

In addition to tackling any detail job, Trans Am Depot offers standard base packages with options for upgrades. The team can upgrade motors, powertrains and transmissions into rebuilt originals with factory-matching numbers, or add state-of-the-art performance enhancements.

The Trans Am Name

The Trans Am name and formula is actually owned by the Sports Car Club of American (SCCA). General Motors never owned the name, and operated under a licensed agreement with the SCCA from 1969 to 2002, when they last Pontiac Trans Am rolled off the assembly line, Warmack says.

Trans Am Depot (www.transamdepot.com) contacted the SCCCA to see if it could be licensed to use the moniker and succeeded. Trans Am Depot is the only company besides GM that has ever been licensed to use the name Trans Am-a fact that Warmack and his crew take very seriously.

“They made sure we put out a product that would maintain the quality and integrity of their name. To be considered for that, and to be the only actual company other than General Motors that’s acquired brand exclusivity is nothing short of historical,” he says.

Warmack notes that one of his company’s most notable projects is the Kevin Morgan-designed Hurst Trans Am. Thanks to a partnership with Hurst Performance Vehicles, the company recently produced its third Hurst-edition Trans Am, a white and gold model.

Trans Am Depot has also created black and gold, and silver and black Hurst-edition Trans Ams. The black and gold Hurst-edition Trans Am the company displayed at the 2012 SEMA Show was named one of Motor Trend’s Top 10 Favorite Rides. Starting life as a Camaro SS, it was given the iconic Smokey and the Banditlook along with modern performance upgrades.

“We’re building a limited number of Hurst Trans Ams,” Warmack says.” It’s the first time it’s been done since 1997, when only nine of them were built.”

Some features of the standard Hurst conversion packages include a RTM OE-style shaker hood, forged Hurst deep-dish five-spoke wheels in the front and rear, a three-piece rear spoiler, Hurst shifter, side skirt ground effects and custom sill plates. It also includes a custom-designed Hurst interior, which features a Hurst dash plaque, custom “old-school” leather seats, Hurst embroidered floor mats and refaced 1978-style gauges.

It is also possible to choose additional options such as T-tops, supercharger, twin turbo, leather-wrapped interior, stainless headers and coil-over suspension.

Take a Picture

Warmack says what he drives depends on the day. He has a black Hurst Trans Am, while his brother Scott’s is white and Dowling’s is blue. Between the three, the trio owns some 40-plus muscle cars.

As for daily drivers, they enjoy one of only nine Pontiac G8 GXP supercharged Firehawks ever made.

“If you were to experience getting into one of our cars, you wouldn’t be able to drive far without getting your photo taken or getting pulled over,” Warmack says.

Trans Am Depot’s prices are based on parts, labor and general overhead costs. Its base conversion is $30,000, but its average conversion is around $52,000 because most people prefer more than the just the basics.

“Customers should plan to spend at least $60,000 on a turnkey Trans Am conversion and at least $70,000 on a GTO,” Warmack says.

Eighty percent of Trans Am Depot’s customers come from outside of Florida. Many are collectors or owners of multiple cars, he says.

However, whether the customer is an average person seeking his or her dream car or a collector, Warmack says the most rewarding part of the job is seeing their satisfied reactions.

“The most gratifying part of this business is to know that you are creating something that started on paper, from an idea, and you’ve shepherded this idea through a process of creation that people adore,” he says. “They are thrilled, and they want to tell everyone about it.”

A recent high-profile project was a conversion for a retired NBA player who lives in Atlanta. The complex, nine-month endeavor included suicide doors, a POV camera, custom wheels, shaved door handles, a 580-hp supercharged engine, and a custom paint job with a Firebird hood  graphic and glossy black matte finish.

That can be typical of some of the company’s more intense jobs. Because the single greatest challenge Trans Am Depot faces is turning cars around in a reasonable timeframe, the company is planning a transition from a custom shop to a full production facility.

“We’ve recently invested in a substantial tooling upgrade, which will allow us to turn cars around a whole lot quicker, because we’re changing the types of materials we’re using. Those types of materials (OE) will allow us to prep the car a lot sooner than we currently do,” Warmack says.

Typically, there are five to six cars in the shop at any given time in various stages of completion. The average turnaround time is eight weeks, but a job could take longer depending on what features the customer wants. For example, complex upgrades like T-tops that require more man hours can take up to an extra month.

Breaking It Down

Once a new-gen Camaro or GTO rolls into Trans Am Depot’s facility for conversion, the exterior and interior are completely disassembled including all glass on the car. Then, the car’s put on a rack to receive performance and suspension upgrades. Then, it moves from performance to body, where technicians will begin cutting the roof it a T-top was requested.

Before it goes to the paint department, the pieces are dry-fit. Installers take measurements, calibrate the reveals and make sure everything is factory spec before disassembling it again. Finally, every piece of the car is prepped and painted separately.

Once the painting process is complete, the car is reassembled.

“We then have to test the car. We have to test it for leaks in the T-tops, for performance, for handling, make sure nothing’s rubbing,” Warmack says. “We take it through the course, if you will, and just make sure there’s no irritation.”

The last few steps involve washing, cut scrubbing (wet sanding), buffing and waxing the car.

“Like most things, the devil is in the detailing,” he notes. “You’ve got 80 percent of the work done in the last 20 percent of the job. The assembly and the detailing of the car is a two-week process.”

He mentions that every one of Trans Am Depot’s employees touches the car at some point in the process. Everyone has a role to play, but most are specialized in one or two things.

“Every employee we have migrated to us somehow,” Warmack says. “These guys are so passionate that I have to tell them to leave sometimes. They know we’re making history with what we do.”

Whether they’ve worked on the world’s fastest and lightest vehicles or completed paint jobs on half-million dollar Concours restoration cars, members of Trans Am Depot’s team are incredibly specialized, and several have been recognized for their work nationally.

“We have guys that have been in the industry doing what they’ve been doing for their entire career,” Warmack says, “These guys have grown up around it, and they’ve learned a lot.”

Trans Am Depot will eventually move to a larger facility once it makes its transition into a production operation. Warmack says it will probably also seek out additional skilled labor to join the team, especially in metal fabrication.

Although Trans Am Depot ships cars for customers as far away as Canada and has been talking to individuals in the Middle East and China, Warmack is not counting on any international expansion for the business in the near future.

“I don’t know where all of that will go,” Warmack says. “But if it does go that way, we’re ready.”