Two years after debuting at the 2018 SEMA Show, Riley Stair is back making some big news as the champion of the Hot Wheels Legends Tour with his insane 1970 Pontiac Trans Am racecar. What's that mean exactly? Well, picture walking through your local Walmart to find a 1:64 scale diecast version of Riley's build on sale for a couple of bucks. How frickin' sweet is that?! You can expect the new Hot Wheels hero car to hit stores sometime in 2021. Riley joins an elite group of car builders which includes Luis Rodriguez and his "2JetZ" creation. You can brush up on how an actual car becomes a Hot Wheels toy here.
Now, if you haven't already figured it out, you're probably wondering what a Pontiac Firebird is doing on Super Street. Truth of the matter is, this car doesn't deserve recognition because it won a contest, but because it's an angry beast on wheels that appeals to all performance car, vintage car and project car fans alike, no matter if your cup of tea is JDM, Euro or domestic. Not just violent power, it goes well beyond, with two years of blood, sweat and tears in the garage. Every component and inkling of material has been carefully shaped and plays a critical role in the overall outcome of the build. A masterpiece like this takes more than immense skill, but vision, imagination and patience - traits that young Riley Stair possesses.
Still need me to spell it out? I'll list off a few high points: how about a pushrod V8 that summons 1,000+ naturally aspirated horses and revs up to 10,000rpm? How about the artisanal equal-length 8-1 header and side-exit exhaust that Riley fabricated himself? Then there's the extravagant tube chassis and rollcage, independent rear suspension, custom knuckles and control arms and quick-release fasteners all-around. Even the suspension geometry, weight distribution and exact dimensions of the Trans Am have been carefully calculated by Riley with the end goal of achieving the fastest lap time, and yet, we're still only scratching the surface of all the attention to detail that's gone into this build!
I had the pleasure of meeting Riley five years ago when we featured his old 1974 Datsun 260Z. From the get-go, I knew he was one of the most passionate and inventive car builders of our time. He wasn't one to take any shortcuts or care about what people said on social media. Quite honestly, he was too focused and motivated to worry about all the bullshit. I would continue to admire his other creations including a V8-powered BMW E28 that was featured on Stanceworks. I'm a firm believer that one day we'll be saying the name "Riley Stair" among the ranks of the world's best hot rodders. As the overall winner of the 2020 Hot Wheels Legends Tour, Riley is well on his way to being remembered by car enthusiasts, old and new, for generations to come.
Special thank you to one of our old Super Street editors, Nate Hassler, for coming out of retirement to help us with the photoshoot of Riley Stair's car!
INTERVIEW WITH RILEY STAIR
Hi Riley! Let's start out by taking a step back and letting people know who you are and how you got into wrenching, fabricating and building wild cars?
I've always loved cars. I've been around older '70s and '80s American cars since I was little, just a normal modest upbringing handing dad wrenches and tools in the carport when he was fixing or working on whatever it was he was driving to work at the time. Cars have been on my mind ever since. My dad had a Chevy LUV he put a 327 in when I was real young and we did burnouts down the street in it. That was probably when the bug for loud 'n fast stuff bit me. Getting to the driving age, I started buying cars I liked that I could afford. Like most of us, I started tinkering and modifying them, trying to make them the way I wanted, both in aesthetic and in performance, doing most everything myself to be able to afford it and get it done just how I wanted, and it just kept going from there. Somewhere along the way I realized that I started buying cars just to execute a vision I had for them, no matter how wild or involved and that those ambitions got larger and larger with each one. My goal since the beginning, and still to this day, is to continue to learn. This car has taught me more than I can convey and continues to teach me at every head scratching moment.
How did the idea of the Trans Am project start and how long did it take?
The Trans Am was a test for myself. A car I really loved the idea of, that I feel really embodies me, and the challenge of building it in its entirety. It represents all of the parts of cars that really excite me and gets me going. Conceptually, I thought it would be a mix of what might happen if '70s era Trans Am teams had some of the designs and engineering we've developed over the last 40 years; all while being executed at a level of finish and quality that I could be proud of. I had been planning to build the car for a number of months prior, but I bought the car in July of 2016 and worked on it every day after work (I worked at Ground Control Suspension 8-to-5 at the time) and on all of my weekends for 18 months until it was debuted at SEMA 2018. I had a picture in my head of what I wanted the car to look like, and the performance that I wanted it to provide, and maybe most importantly, I wanted the car to create a visceral experience that is impossible to ignore. I knew how I wanted the car, and my goal and vision were to build it to just that, no holds barred. If I was going to sell everything I owned and spend all the time and money I could gather, it had to be exactly how I wanted it, without compromise.
I'm pretty sure you could write an entire book about your build so let's try to nail down the top five things about it starting with that 1,000+hp engine
The engine is arguably one of my favorite parts of the car if I'm honest. It was built by Don Zemina of Motor Machine in Carmichael, CA, and I couldn't imagine a better powerplant for the car. It goes back to the "everything that gets me excited about cars, no holds barred" sentiment, and is essential to the visceral experience I was after with the car. Building big, high revving, NA horsepower is hard, and spinning a pushrod engine that fast is something not a ton of people do - with good reason! But honestly, who says spinning a fire breathing, eye burning, suicidally pissed off pushrod V8 to that kind of digit, doesn't make them feel a little bit of something special? It's special to me, which is why I chose that direction; not because it's the most cost effective, or the best for the type of driving I use the car for, but in knowing how hard it is to achieve and how much effort goes into making it happen. It is integral to the ethos of the car.
Next, I absolutely love the header design. What's the story behind it?!
The car originally had an 8-1 header that exited the passenger side door. It was created at the time as a necessity, as there is no room for the header and exhaust to pass the drivers compartment and foot well area. I have since changed the design to equal-tuned length, stepped 4-1 headers, that I was able to squeeze to the same passenger side door exit using Vibrant Performance's 4-inch oval tubing. The car is constantly evolving in my quest to learn as much as I can from it. As the car is used more, and I find things that could be better, the car develops, along with me and my knowledge and abilities.
How about the chassis? Was it all geared toward stiffness, low center of gravity, racecar handling?
The chassis was built with all of that in mind. I knew the ride height I wanted to drive at, and I knew that I wanted to design and build my own independent suspension for the car to exhibit the correct geometry and kinematics at my desired ride height and weight distribution. For structure, I wanted the chassis to be completely noded. There are no dead load paths in the tube work, creating not only extreme rigidity, but also, paramount safety. Let's face it, I'm no pro driver so someday I could easily run out of talent and need to test out the cage. Haha!
Was the styling goal to simply keep it old school?
I wanted the car to still appear to be a vintage race car. Nothing too loud or crazy, outside of the overall width, but much like the cars I'm inspired by and the era of racing I wish I could have been around for. The width of the car, in my opinion, was just what the Trans Am needs to really even out the proportions, complimenting the features and body lines that I had already fallen in love with. Inspired by the SCCA Trans Am race cars of old, I wanted the classic Minilite, but knowing the width of the car would need to house a more substantial width than a 7 or 8, I got to looking for a similar styled wheel. The Panasport C8-16 was the only wheel of that vintage and style that offered a multi-piece design and therefore the ability to achieve an acceptable width and offset. I started searching the web for a set of wheels, originally thinking I would need to find a set, and get inner and outer halves made tailored to my setup. I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a set for sale, new in box that a gentleman had bought and imported back in the '80s-90s for his race car, in the lug pattern I wanted, as well as the widths I wanted, too. He had never mounted them and was kind enough to sell them to me. They are in my opinion the best wheel for the car, and I'm so happy I was able to get my hands on them.
Lastly, inside the cockpit is also impressive. Can you highlight some areas?
The interior is pretty spartan. While like every other part of the car, I wanted a nice finish to the interior, but ultimately it is all there out of necessity. The panels are all aluminum, and bead rolled for rigidity as well as to give a level of class, but they are all removable for the sake of access to the mechanics of the car. Being a tube chassis, and flat bottom car, access to remove, repair, and replace a lot for the mechanical aspects of the car, needed access in the cabin. The electronics are mounted for easy access, as well as to keep them free of danger from the engine and its associated heat and potential fluids. I had a custom Kirkey passenger seat made, to compliment the driver's full containment seat, and placed items in the cabin based off of my perceived weight distribution. When faced with putting a rear bulkhead/firewall in the car, I wanted to leave myself the option to conform to a rule set in the future with a bolted-in aluminum bulkhead, but for the time being, opted for Lexan panels to be able to keep an eye on rear end componentry easier.
How do you feel it all came together?
I couldn't be happier with the car! I worked on it diligently for a long time and in close quarters for a long time, never being more than five feet away from it. So even now, stepping back and getting to see it all together, I am elated that it came out just like the picture I had doodled in my head back when I was searching Craigslist for the car. With that said, the car will continue to be developed in pursuit of that ever elusive 100% and truly "finished" mark.
You've done two track days on the car and it's still being fine-tuned. How does it drive and what can we expect on its next outing?
You know, the car drove great. To be honest, I'm a pretty realistic dude and I was preparing myself for the car to want some huge adjustments to drive tame and balanced. Don't get me wrong, I did all of the leg work and did my due diligence to build everything correctly, capable of driving phenomenally. But when you build something in its entirety, I'm not naive to the fact that sometimes real-world dynamics have a plan of their own. I'm ecstatic at the way it drove, it was very balanced, had phenomenally scary power delivery, and with some tuning I anticipate it should be able to exhibit some real speed out on track. I'm hoping to get the car back out in a month or so after some adjustments and maintenance.
What's next for Riley Stair?!
The Trans Am showed me that I love building cars and the parts that comprise them. After two years living down in Costa Mesa, running a business building cars and offering high level fabrication, I've decided to make a move and take everything I've learned and continue in the place I call home: Sacramento, CA. I have signed a lease on my new shop where I will be offering high level fabrication services from modest jobs to full builds, all while doing what keeps the passion burning inside me; spending my nights and weekends locked in the shop building the Trans Am's successor.
Good luck to you Riley! We can't wait to see how you're gonna top this!
1970 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
OWNER Riley Stair
HOMETOWN Folsom, CA
OCCUPATION Automotive Fabricator
ENGINE Motor Machine-built 400ci LSX Dart LSNext2 Block; Dart 368cc 10* canted valve heads; Victory titanium valves; PAC valvesprings; titanium retainers; .970 solid roller lifters; custom tapered 7/16 pushrods; custom ground Cammotion billet camshaft; Jesel shaft rockers and belt drive; billet no drill balance Callies crankshaft; GRP aluminum rods; one-off 16.25:1 compression JE pistons; ARP fasteners; FAST 4500 series thin throttle body mounted atop Dart intake made specifically for their canted valve heads (necessitated by their reversed intake and exhaust ports, negating any other intake fitment); 5-stage ARE dry sump pump; 4-gallon Peterson oil tank; ARE Spintric and vent can; ClearView oil filtration system; custom Fuel Safe fuel cell featuring bonded collector at pickup in alcohol safe FIA SFI approved bladder; dual Aeromotive Eliminator fuel pumps feeding straight Methanol through Aeromotive fuel filter to Holley EFI fuel rails into Holley 220lb/hr injectors; equal-length 4-1 headers and 4" oval exhaust transitioned to a 2x14" side exit exhaust protruding through the passenger door fabricated exclusively out of Vibrant Performance ready-to-weld stainless steel "U" and "J" bends
COOLING Allstar large oil cooler and rear oil coolers for differential fluid and transmission fed by Tilton pumps mounted horizontally via NACA ducts in rear window affixed to custom cooler hats via 3" Vibrant Performance HD clamps for easy removal; custom CSF by PWR/C&R radiator fed with Meziere remote electric water pump
DRIVETRAIN G-Force GF4A handcuffed four-speed dogbox; Spicer 1350 U-jointed custom driveshaft with Sonnax chromoly slip; 5.5" sintered metallic, triple disc Quarter Master clutch and starter ring assembly with Quarter Master aluminum bell housing and reversed mount starter; custom G Force CV axles; RTS-built Winters quick-change differential with 4.12 ratio
STEERING custom Woodward steering quick-ratio power steering rack, remote steering reservoir and safety column; PSC power steering pump with remote reservoir
FOOTWORK & CHASSIS entirely TIG welded, noded, space frame chassis; handmade steel body IRS and IFS built to exhibit correct suspension geometry at desired ride height of 2"; hand-built front and rear control arms; zinc-plated suspension arms, bell cranks, rear differential cradle, sway bar arms, and motor mounts; custom rear knuckles to house 5x5 drive hubs; Coleman 2" snout modular spindles; PCR 5x5 front race hubs; Speedway Engineering adjustable splined front and rear sway bars; custom inboard pushrod front and rear suspension utilizing custom Performance Shock-built Ohlins TTX36 double adjustable coilovers with Eibach ERS springs
BRAKES Tilton floor-mount pedals and master cylinders; two-piece slotted vented rotors; AP Racing six-piston front, four-piston rear calipers; handmade aluminum shrouded brake ducts,
(front ducted from front valance and connected via Vibrant Performance HD clamps,
rear ducted through NACA ducts in rear window)
WHEELS & TIRES 16x12" Panasport C8 wheels; 23.5x12R16 front, 25.5x12.5R16 rear Hoosier slicks
EXTERIOR mediablasted; stripped to single layer shell; all rust repaired with replacement panels and TIG-welded in; body affixed to finished chassis, at which point the entire car was powdercoated light gray by Performance Powder Coating and Stripping; new bumper, taillights, side markers, chassis/body wiring harness, taillight filler panel, lettering, sill plates, door handles, locks, strikes, functioning latch assemblies, weather stripping, windlace, grilles, vents, etc.; front T/A fender vents moved back 4.75"; metal fender flares; aluminum air dam; side-exit exhaust; capped door tops where window tracks used to exist; bead rolled aluminum firewall panels; Lexan front and rear windows with aluminum stiffening ribs; Chevrolet Ermine White paint
INTERIOR Kirkey full containment driver seat and one-off full containment passenger seat; bead rolled aluminum interior panels; DZUS fasteners for removal to access drivetrain and plumbing; Battlecraft shift knob; Momo Prototipo steering wheel; Woodward steering column and quick release; Holley Dominator ECU, digital dash, Smart Ignition coils mounted on passenger side kick panel area to escape engine bay heat; ARC switch panels; all wiring removable via bulkhead connectors for servicing and maintenance; Simpson 7-point harnesses; bead rolled aluminum door cards with Simpson door pull straps to engage factory door handles and open door from inside (stitched by Lex and her mom from old submarine harness belts); Antigravity lithium 5lb battery behind driver's seat; two 5lb Safecraft halon fire suppression bottles plumbed from behind passenger seat; Tilton brake bias knob, master shut-off button and fire pulls next to switch panel;
Lexan bulkhead in main hoop to separate driver compartment from exposed rear section of the car; bulkhead fittings allow fluids and electrical to pass through lower-center Lexan bulkhead panel; Howe Racing brake and clutch fluid reservoirs