Jessie Jewart's Boosted LSX-Powered 1979 Pontiac Trans Am Dropped Jaws At LS Fest West 2021

10 min read

Jessie Jewart's Boosted LSX-Powered 1979 Pontiac Trans Am Dropped Jaws At LS Fest West 2021

10 min read

“We do a lot of crazy stuff here,” says Jessie Jewart of Jessie’s Performance in Fort Worth, Texas. “We’ve built more than 200 cars in the past seven years that we’ve been operating. We’ve done drag cars, off-road trucks, pro-tourers, drift cars – you name it. Basically, if you want it to go faster, we can do it.”

Jewart recently brought out one of his personal projects to LS Fest West, where the sharp aesthetic and brutal performance of his twin-turbocharged Pontiac Trans Am turned heads even amongst a sea of killer builds. “I grew up wrenching with my dad – the ’79 Trans Am was his originally,” he explains. “He had a need for speed, and I inherited it. I started driving the ‘79 in high school, and I have another ’82 Trans Am drag car that I started building around that time too. The ’82 is what really got me into focusing on performance – it was the first car I put nitrous on, and at the time, it was a pretty formidable competitor.”

In 2004, Jewart decided to buy a ’95 Acura Integra from a local seller for $500 to start tinkering in the sport compact scene. “I did the eBay turbo kit thing, and after we put it all together, it really hauled,” he says with a laugh. “It was faster than my ’82, and so I really got attached to the import stuff for a while and the Pontiacs got put on the back burner.”

Jewart Trans Am Wheels

Nitto NT01 tires are wrapped around custom two-piece 18x12-inch snowflake wheels. Stopping power is provided by Wilwood six-piston calipers up front and four-piston units in the rear.

Not long afterward, Jewart took a job working with PFI Speed, a tuning outfit based in Weld County, Colorado. “They do a lot of Honda turbo builds, and when I was there, it was really just about pushing the envelope when came to making power with four cylinder engines.”

And around that same time, the Trans Am went through a streak of bad luck.

“The car got T-boned, so it was parked while I figured out what to do with it,” he says. “After I got the insurance money from that, I bought all the parts I needed to fix the car, and I took it to this local restoration shop to get the work done. The shop actually ended up getting raided by the police, and the cops never returned my parts. They allowed me to pick up just the body – it didn’t have a frame, rear end, or anything else underneath it.”

Jewart Trans Am rear

The Trans Am’s tubular front subframe and torque arm suspension components come from TCI. Ridetech coilovers provide the stance.

Jewart says he dragged around this “dead horse” of a car from one storage facility to another as the next few years went by. “At one point, I let the storage bill lapse and the lady who owned the facility had the car towed to the junkyard,” he recalls. “I didn’t even know about it until I happened to be going to the junkyard to look for some parts and, lo and behold, there was my car just sitting there. That moment was the push I needed to get the car rebuilt. I just thought about my dad and how important the car was to our family, and realized that I needed to do something with it.”

So, in 2011, Jewart shifted his focus back to the ’79 Trans Am, acquiring a Butler Performance 461ci stroker LS and a 700R4 transmission to go with it, along with an array of bits and pieces that he’d need in order to get the car back on the road. “I was working at PFI at the time, and that kind of inspired me to do a turbo LS,” he says. “I started putting a plan together, and that’s when the brainstorming about what the car could be – and what it is now – really began to take shape.”

Shortly thereafter, Jewart decided to set out on his own and open Jessie’s Performance. He also got his hands on a ’74 C10 and built a turbo 5.3-liter LS for the truck, a project which ultimately served as a primer for the more elaborate Trans Am build that he had in mind. “That was a learning process – I knew I needed to work with the LS a bit more before I took on the Pontiac build – the Trans Am was a much bigger vision. I built the motor, the trans, the harness, put together the programming for it and so on. Once I got that finished and drove it, I was immediately hooked on LS engines. I was just blown away by how well it ran, the drivability – all of it.”

Jewart Trans Am interior

The reupholstered seats are factory Recaros from a Trans Am pace car. The Ridetech TigerCage provides an additional measure of safety and a welcome dose of structural rigidity. Clayton Machine Works provided the aluminum pedal assembly as well as the six-speed’s billet shifter arm.

It inspired him to sell off the stroker LS and gearbox that were in the Trans Am at the time so he could build something bigger and better, which in turn set off a string of different engine combinations. “Since 2014, I’ve probably had about 15 different motor and turbo setups in that car,” he notes. “With my personal stuff, I generally try to approach these builds by thinking about what I haven’t really seen before, and how I can do things better than the closest approximation. With this car, I kind of wanted to it be an interpretation of what it might be like if GM were to build one today. I also wanted it to be a kind of a ‘triple threat’ – something I could daily drive, take to a road course if I wanted, or run down the drag strip and make respectable numbers with. Drivability was important, and so was durability. It’s gotta live. I’m really hard on parts because I drive like I’m still 16!”

These days the Trans Am gets its motivation from a 427-cube Dart iron block LS with a Callies crank and rods, valvetrain components from Texas Speed, cylinder heads from Frankenstein Engine Dynamics, and a pair of 76mm Xona Rotor turbos, a combination which recently lit up the dyno with 1398 rear-wheel horsepower. “It might be more like 1600,” he says. “It was spinning the tires on my dyno, so we decided to stop there.”

Jewart Trans Am horizon shot

“I’ve made it my mission to get out to LS Fests,” he says. “We brought four cars with us for this one, and I’m hoping to bring a few more next time around.”

The LS is backed up a Tremec T-56 six-speed manual gearbox, which sends the power to the rear wheels through a Ford 9-inch rear end. As you can imagine, channeling roughly 1500 horsepower through a manual gearbox has the potential to make the Pontiac a bit of a handful, so Jewart turned to Holley Performance for a Dominator EFI system to help tame the beast.

“The main reason I went with the Dominator is because I wanted to be able to set up traction control, and that’s really hard to do with a T-56,” he says. “We use a lot of them at the shop, and I really like the flexibility that the system provides. It’s been working great with this setup.”

Since getting the Dart motor dialed in, the Trans Am has been serving as Jewart’s daily driver and a rolling showcase for the shop, but he’s already plotting his path to the next milestone for the car. “Everything in this car is rated to 2000 horsepower, and I kind of want to see how true that is,” he tells us. “This time around I think I’m going to do a 455ci LS with bigger turbos. The car brings a lot of folks in, so I’ve got to keep it fresh.”


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