The Forgotten Pontiac Macho Trans Am From DKM Was The Fastest Late-70s Muscle Car
If you were an American car dealer at the end of the 1970s the outlook was pretty bleak, especially if you had built your reputation as a purveyor of performance cars. Smog regulations and the rising price of gasoline stopped the muscle car scene dead in its tracks, there wasn't much sitting in the showroom to sell to customers seeking a quick speed fix. Unless, of course, you happened to be Evan Mecham, whose two sons were determined to make his Glendale, Arizona Pontiac franchise an oasis in the desert for high horsepower fans.
Thus was born the Pontiac Macho T/A, a car that took the power back from the federal government and Big Three executives and put it once again in the hands of a small, but dedicated number of automotive enthusiasts.
Kyle and Dennis Mecham were just as frustrated as their father by how watered down the once-proud Pontiac Firebird Trans Am had become as a result of the dramatic shift away from big block power that plagued the latter half of the decade. With 1977 models delivering a paltry 200 horsepower at most from a 400 cubic inch V8, the Mechams decided it was time to step in and do something about the automotive anemia streaming out of Detroit factories.
Dennis had been toying around with both a '75 and '76 Firebird at home, and after having worked around or removing many of the factory restrictions that had transformed both Pontiacs from mild to wild. After giving his dad a chance to sample the fruits of his labor, the senior Mecham got behind his sons and their scheme to return the Trans Am to the top of the street heap.
The plan was simple. Since Pontiac was forbidden from making any tweaks or changes to the drivetrains of the cars it shipped to its dealers by federal law, the Kyle and Dennis formed their own tuning company—the creatively-named DKM—and began 'buying' cars from their dad so that they could be titled. By that process, even a zero-mile car was considered 'used,' which meant it became an unrestricted canvas for performance.
Big Power, Big Attitude
At first, the effort was modest. DKM took 26 brand new Firebirds and converted them to 'Macho T/A' spec, a name chosen due to the rapid colonization of southwestern pop culture by that word at the time.
Each car started life as a W72/L78 package model with the previously-mentioned 400 CID engine, which the Mechams hopped up with a more aggressive distributor curve (36 degrees of advance), a re-jetted four-barrel carburetor, and a set of Hooker headers.
Mating the latter to a 2.5-inch muffler-free (but catalytic converter equipped) dual exhaust system that completely replaced the factory setup would net an extra 50 horses from the lump, aided and abetted by punching out the fake hood scoop and installing actual cold air induction,
Quarter mile times weren't the only important performance criteria for DKM, which also took to improving the Trans Am's suspension setup via a set of four Koni adjustable shocks, which were a good match for the WS6 springs installed by Pontiac. With a pronounced rake, wider-than-stock tires, and an alignment designed to promote quick turn-in, the Macho T/A went from lumbering to lithe with the right pilot behind the wheel.
Quien Es Mas Macho?
Those first couple dozen Macho T/A sales served as a rolling advertisement for driving excitement, what with their bold, extroverted paint jobs, MACHO T/A graphics on the doors, and rumbling exhausts.
The car was nearly a full second faster than a stock Trans Am at the drag strip, which was an astounding feat given the downtrodden expectations of American muscle car fans at the time. New customers flocked to the Mechams and DKM was much busier in its second year, with more than 200 cars finding new homes.
1978 was also notable for a big bump in power for the Macho, made possible by the decision to offer a mighty, but persnickety Rajay 301E turbocharger pushing 7 psi of boost as an option for their hot rod Trans Ams. The 20 or so brave souls who ticked this box were gifted with 325 ponies, making the tuned T/A the undisputed emperor from stoplight to stoplight. There was nothing from any factory—European or American—that could touch those numbers. A five-speed manual gearbox sourced from Doug Nash was also included with the turbo cars.
DKM was putting out a quality product, and it was also asking for a premium price. If you wanted all the bells and whistles you'd be looking at more than $3,000 on top of the cost of your Trans Am, which was a big upcharge at a time when you could pick up a Mercedes-Benz for a similar amount. The Macho was still selling in 1979 (officially, 325 were produced across three years), but by 1980 the Mechams would retire the concept as Pontiac switched to the much maligned 301 cubic inch V8. The brothers knew the new motor simply wasn't strong enough to stand up to the kind of performance modifications they'd have to make to keep it competitive with past Macho models.
Instead, a more modest MR MSE (Mecham Racing Motor Sports Edition) Trans Am later took its place from 1982 to 1986.
Finally Getting Its Due
Although it took decades of image rehabilitation, the late-70s Pontiac Firebird and Trans Am have grown in esteem among collectors and muscle car fans alike. Their sleek shapes and association with nostalgia for Smokey and the Bandit have made once-outsiders into fan favorites, even as prices remain reasonable for decent quality drivers. The Macho T/A, despite its completely un-self-aware name, has also started to gain recognition alongside more vaunted dealer hot rods from Pontiac like the Super Duty cars of the 1960s.
As for DKM, it was reformed many years later under the Mecham Design, Performance banner. Today, you can find the Mecham name still associated with the Firebirds of its past, along with the Corvettes, Camaros, Tahoes, and Silverados of the present. Just don't expect to see any 'Macho' decals calling out from the rocker panels.
Photos courtesy of Barry Johnson, Chris Pumphrey and Manny Salierno.
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- The Pontic Macho T/A's better known cousin was the Bandit Trans Am. Here's what made Smokey And The Bandit Pontiac's best-ever investment of the 1970s.