The 1998 WS6 Ram Air Trans Am

At this point, having gone through the story behind the car's origins, some mention should be made regarding the car itself. The car is a black 1998 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, with the WS6 ride and performance package (which includes the Ram Air performance items). Originally destined to be a winter car, I chose to equip it with the 6-speed manual transmission and Traction Control.



The darling under the hood is referred to by the RPO code: the LS1. This honey of an engine has made Ward's Top Ten Engines in the World list every year since its release. Rated at 320 hp in this application, track and dyno performance shows actual power production more likely in the 340-360 hp region.

As of Spring 2002, thanks to this all-aluminum overhead-valve 2 valve-per-cylinder technological marvel, the car has been able to churn out a best 1/4-mile time of 13.4@107.6 mph at a local track, and yet still remain capable of consistently stretching highway mileage to a miserly 33 mpg. 6200 RPM rev limits are the stuff of overhead cam V8s yet this one pulls smoothly across the entire RPM range, you would swear it had 4 valves per cylinder.


A Borg-Warner T-56 6-speed transmission provides the power path to the drive wheels. By selecting this transmission, I automatically received the 6-speed-specific differential ratio of 3.42:1 aided by a limited slip unit for evenly distributing drive torque. The transmission shifts fairly well, with little notchiness, although the overall enjoyment of the car is hampered by the occasional unwanted intrusion of the Computer Aided Gear Selection (CAGS) routine, which locks out 2nd and 3rd and guides the shifter from 1st to 4th gear in some driving situation deemed inefficient by the EPA and GM engineers. Truth be told, driving "under" CAGS does yield some impressive fuel economy, but driving excitement suffers when you can't wind out the high-revving LS1.

You can make out the Skip-Shift light at the bottom right corner of this image.

WS6 package:

The most visual aspect of the car is the 'quadra-port' front end treatment, with the two additional Ram Air nostrils augmenting the existing nostrils of the Firebird. With no sealing material between the hood nostrils and the air intake box, there is probably not an appreciable amount of pressurization going on, but as mentioned before, the cooler air is bound to make some power.

For obvious warranty reasons, there are some baffles inside the hood that serve to restrict water flow through the nostrils at speed. Some have removed these baffles, but this is safest only on cars that never see any driving in the rain.

Nonetheless the basic idea is to force air into the motor at speed... I think it works fabulously.

Then there's the suspension upgrades (stiffer bushings, revalved shocks, thicker sway bars, etc.) working hand in hand with the very wide 275mm Goodyear F1 tires on 17 inch highly-polished rims. Dry weather handling is outstanding and comfortable at the same time, and many long distance trips have been taken in this car without ever arriving at the destination feeling tired. Care is needed when it is raining out, as there is enough engine torque to break traction in many situations, but overall the Goodyear F1 is a good tire.

Then there's the controversial single-outlet exhaust, a 1998-specific item. Word has it that too many complaints were made regarding the look of a single outlet exhaust on the top performance model whereas the base models all got dual outlets, so the 1999+ WS6s all received smaller dual outlets. Supposedly the lower restriction exhaust (for 1998) could not pass drive-by noise regulations with two large outlets, so the decision was made to allow for 1 large outlet. Luckily, I was able to deal with this aesthetic issue in an innovative way (discussed later).

Odds and Ends

Traction control

Very nice option. Interfacing with the cruise control and ABS modules, this multi-stage traction control system starts off by reducing engine output by forcibly restricting throttle openings (which has the secondary benefit of providing feedback for the driver). The other stages involve spark timing reduction and brake pulsing to further reduce torque to the drive wheels. Very quick to react, although the system is meant solely for use on the street as a safety measure. Under no circumstances can it be counted on to provide good launches at a drag strip, as there is residual spark timing retard that takes a while to dissipate, hampering the engine's performance for this run.

Monsoon Stereo System

As you can see I chose to equip this car with the Cassette Player unit instead of the base CD player, for $150 credit. The idea was (at the time) that it was more likely for me to be listening to a home-made tape in the car and I could always use an adapter (shown inserted in the deck) to play my portable CD player through the head unit. The trunk-mounted 12-disc changer was listed at some outrageous cost, so I skipped that too (although the wiring is supposedly present on all tape-player cars, and I have begun accumulating the necessary parts to install the CD Changer myself). At a rated 500 watts through 10 speakers (2 of which are C-panel-mounted subwoofers), the system is plenty powerful although can be a bit muddy sounding sometimes. Careful control of the equalizer is needed to make this otherwise- excellent system compare with what's out there.

The climate control is simple and no-frills, but accurate and efficient.

insert picture of Monsoon and grilles


There are plenty of little gadgets and items meant to make the driver's life a little easier. Here's a quick look at some of them:

The interior is definitely a little more snug than you would expect for a car of this size, but one has to consider that most of the car's volume is dedicated to the serious high-performance hardware it packs. So occupants generally feel a little more snug than in a large 4 door, but nonetheless I find it a very luxurious kind of snug, and definitely comfortable. The car remains the most comfortable car I've ever driven over very long distances, PERIOD. No other car has come close to this one when it comes to feeling absolutely fresh and unfatigued after driving as long as 12 hours at a time, sometimes longer.

When it comes to shuttling children, there was an awkward time when the child's legs hang out in a forward direction from the edge of the baby seat because their knees are still not reaching the seat edge. Luckily, this did not last more than a year. We'll soon see how it handles two children but for one child, it worked fabulously for a child 2 years and older.

Trunk space is not exactly awe-inspiring, but with the hatchback nature of this automobile, I've actually been in many situations where this car has managed to haul stuff that could not fit in my Marauder (the large full sized RWD Ford!). The folding seats help a great deal. In fact, save for a few large items (TV, large furniture, etc.), this car actually managed to move most of my personal possessions out of my parents' house to my first house including stereo systems, musical instruments, computer equipment, records, CDs, dismantled desks, many many many boxes of clothes, etc. A truly practical automobile.

And of course a very important detail in a high performance automobile: the instrument panel is excellently laid out and extremely easy to read. Everything is easily viewable and accurate... no dummy gages or lights on this car (luckily the 1998 cars got accurate and linear fuel level and temperature gages... the others apparently did not!).

insert small pics here Discuss luggage capacity, leather trim, seats.