America used to make amazing muscle cars. Thanks to the Warmack brothers, Americans still do.
Trans Am is the latest Discovery series that found these two brothers who have made a lucrative art out of the rebuild and who appreciate the beauty of an unforgiving gas guzzler that rips up the road.
The Warmacks car creations are featured on the Discovery car series Trans Am, as they work hard to bring those revved-up rigs back in vogue and into the waiting arms of well-heeled muscle car devotees.
An all-American work ethic combined with good timing and a track record got them the rights to the Trans Am name from GM, and now they are fielding orders for custom builds from all over the globe.
These Florida panhandle entrepreneurs are on a roll. Scott is the hands-on designer, and Tod is the bean counter.
When GM abandoned the iconic Trans Am, the brothers snapped up the rights to the name and took over manufacturing and restoration for the hordes of muscle car fans who wanted their V-8 heavy duty engine fix.
Together and with a team of car restoration experts, Tod and Scott Warmack also restore classics to their former glory while they build new cars, all of which sound like a rocket ready to blast off.
More than a fast car orgy, the show is also a history lesson in American cars too. You will be schooled on the histories of unique rides like the Rocket 88, GTO, Firebirds, to the holy grail of ‘gets”, the 1978 Trans Am with a Fisher T-Top.
The modern Camaro stripped down and retrofitted with Trans Am embellishments, fiberglass fascia, and even the Smokey and the Bandit package with details that mimic the famous car Burt Reynolds drove in the film) are their most popular bread and butter.
We spoke to the brothers Tod and Scott Warmack this week about this exciting new series.
Monsters and Critics: I really appreciate that you have you resurrected the muscle car, but you also kind of are recreating it using those new stock Cameros as the Trans Am base, how did Discovery find you?
Tod Warmack: Sure. So, initially, I received a phone call from a guy who is from Tallahassee and went to school here and was visiting home but was living in Hollywood. He was trying to break into the film business out there. He saw our trailer drive by a location that he was at and called the number on it which is my cell phone.
He explained to me who he was, what he was … he goes, “Have you guys ever thought … what do you guys do? And a friend of mine told me that you’re building new Trans Ams. Explain that to me.” And I did.
He said, “Have you ever thought about a reality show?” And I said, “You know … not really.” I said, “You know, we’ve had people talk about it. That you guys should do one someday, or whatever… but not really pursued it.”
It really started with him and then he came in and said, “We want to do something with you. We think there’s a story.”
And then he actually passed it off to a guy who he felt could do a better job of penetration and reaching the right people and then eventually got to Vin Di Bona and then so here we are today.
So it’s a process. It took a while but we felt like if it goes, it goes. We had to run a business so we weren’t concentrating on a reality show. You know?
M&C: Right. And it shows actually when I’m watching it. It shows that you guys are really up to your necks in rebuilds and clients. Why did GM relinquish the name or the license from Trans Am? Why did they do that?
Tod: You know, that is a very good question. The only answer that makes sense to me is they did that back in …I don’t know when they actually let go of it. I don’t know the exact year, but whenever they did do it, they had made a decision at that point, at least internally, they’re not going to do the Trans Am again.
And maybe it was costing them too much to hold on to it, who knows. I don’t know. If I knew the time frame that they actually released it, I could probably parse together a more coherent response but I think if it … it stands to reason or follows for me that internally they knew that they were done with the Trans Am after 2002.
Scott: When they were done with Pontiac. So Trans Am was a product of Pontiac. So everything Pontiac built is done.
Tod: Yeah, I guess that’s what I was alluding to is that when they let go of Pontiac, which I think was in ’09 … was it … was that when they made the announcement?
Scott: Or ’10.
Tod: Anyway, then that could have been when they let it go. But, I don’t recall because we reached out to get the brand name I think it was in 2011 and there were five other companies that were trying to get it at the time.
M&C: So there was a bit of a bidding war?
Tod: There was. I was not privy to the other parties. I did find out, however, that at least one of them was a big player. Much bigger than we were. But, we … for whatever reason, they decided to give us the crack at it and I think that the quality … the probably perhaps our track record. The SCCA could answer this better than I could but I believe that our attention to detail and our willingness to really go to extremes to personalize the Trans Am that really identified as something different than a Camero.
M&C: So you had to present a plan, not just bid on with money just to own the name or to own the licensing right of that name. You had to actually show what you were going to do with it?
Tod: Well actually, at that time, we’d already built the prototype and we had been featured on the cover of Hot Rod and unveiled a car at SEMA.
So they had first-hand knowledge of what we were doing. It could have been that the other parties were talking about ideas and didn’t really have anything materialized yet. But we developed a very good relationship with SCCA, as a matter of fact, we’re building two pace cars right now for their championship runoff in Sonoma for next month.
M&C: The title of the show is Trans Am and you guys obviously excel at recreating the feel and the look and the authenticity of a Trans Am. But what about other cars like Chevelle or the Rocket ’88 or any of those other muscle cars that people wax on about? Do you dabble in making those or recreating those or restoring them?
Tod: Yeah, all of the above. As a matter of fact, we’ve already done a 5th gen[eration] GTS and if you get on our website, you’ll find that car. We did a Hurst addition there were seven of those in that addition. We did ones that were not a part of that and that’s where the chairman of Hurst would sign off on them.
Those were very popular. We suspended production on those simply because the banded addition sold out quickly and we found ourself in a production deficit and needed to really sequester all of the time that we had available to the production of that addition.
We’ve already redesigned the GTO on the 6th gen platform which we will be releasing as well as another muscle car that we’ll be releasing next year. Which I really don’t want to tell you what that is at this point. But, it’s extremely popular and to me, it’s bigger than the GTO. In fact, I believe it will eclipse the Trans Am popularity, myself.
M&C: Now you’ve got me curious.
Tod: So that car has already been designed. We are in the process of doing the CAD work on that and it is likely that we will unveil it sometime probably late next year.
One of the things that we want to do differently with that one versus the Trans Am … when we came out with the Trans Am we had a prototype, so the 6th gen platform I’m referring to. And we unveiled that at the New York auto show. We took a lot of orders off of that and … which was the intention. That was all good.
But, what we learned in the process was that it was a prototype and there was still refinement to be done. So what happened is production was further down the road than what either us or our customers were hoping for and so with this one, what we want to do is actually have it more refined. Ready for production, I should say, before we actually take orders on the car.
So when we unveil that one, we’ve got the molds are completed, all the little nuances and all that minutia has been worked out and we’re ready to start building cars.
M&C: Do you guys actually have like an assembly line? Like a proper automaker?
Tod: We don’t…it’s not what you would imagine like General Motors where they’re moving down a line. We have nine independent stations that we move a car from the moment it comes in as a Camero, it gets stripped down to a rolling shell.
Everything is literally gutted from the car and then it begins its process of a rebuild. And it goes through nine independent stations and we replace well over 300 parts before it’s complete. So, it does move through a process flow. It is much like what you would consider an assembly line but it is definitely a production format.
M&C: How many employees do you have?
Tod: I have 22 at my shop and Scott has 7 to 15 depending on his workload.
M&C: Is there such a thing or can there be such a thing as a hybrid or electric muscle car? Is that even possible?
Tod: I mean, I guess performance wise or quarter mile wise, certainly torque, you could make that argument. Whether that concept would sell in the marketplace, I don’t know.
M&C: Is the customer just biased?
Tod: I think so. I mean, my gut tells me it wouldn’t sell as the muscle car. A lot of what makes a muscle car a muscle car, besides the design, is the sound. And a lot of what we’ve really worked hard to recreate in these new performance platforms is that old school sound.
To get that you have to have a higher life on the cam, which is not conducive to forced induction motors.
And so if you, for us, it takes a lot of engineering to not give up performance in exchange for an aggressive idle, if you will.
M&C: Right. Describe your customer. Who are they?
Tod: Well Scott’s customer is very similar to ours. But … because he’s handling the restoration side. But our customers are between 45 and 65 on average. And they’re part of that sweet spot of the baby boomer generation. It’s where most of our customers come from. And they are customers that have discretionary income.
This is not their daily driver. They’ve either owned a Trans Am back in the day and they want to recreate that feeling and that sensation and the fun. Those memories that they had.
Or, they wanted one really bad but didn’t have the means to acquire one. And now they have those means and they want to build one like just like they did in the past. Just like the one they had.
We have all kinds. I think [one customer] that is on one of the episodes. He is in his 70s. He was a pilot in the Air Force and he has a need for speed. This guy ordered the most aggressive performance package we can offer and then called back and wanted to know if we could upgrade it. And he’s … I think he’s 75ish, in that area.
Then the youngest customer was 18 years old. His father bought it for him for a high school graduation gift.
M&C: I know you guys ship worldwide and you have customers. Where in the world is the appreciation for our lovely muscle car repertoire at its biggest? Or what’s the most lucrative foreign market for you?
Tod: Oh, wow. It’s the middle east. Without a doubt. There are big Trans Am clubs over there. They are big-time muscle car collectors.
The guys that, especially … The Saudi princes and even the average guy is trying to acquire a muscle car whether it’s an original or one of our newer conversions.
We actually have a dealer in the process of being established there in Kuwait and in Dubai right now. That will service that middle east market for us.
M&C: Do you actually go over there or do they come to you?
Tod: We’ve not been yet. We’ve been invited several times and I’m sure it’s likely we’ll make a trip to one of the car shows over there. Perhaps in Dubai. There’s a couple of bigger shows there that occur each year. But, believe it or not, 90% of our customers we never meet in person.
Even at the level that we’re performing and we’re selling. Our entry level is 107,000. So, it’s a discretionary buyer that’s buying our product. It can go north of 200. So, and even at that level, we develop great relationships over the phone and sometimes, a lot of times we’ll eventually meet them.
If not at delivery, we’ll invite them to a car show and they’ll bring their car, they’ll come by. But those … we always encourage our customers to come to our shop and see the process and all. They just … but a lot of times we don’t have the opportunity to meet them in person.
Trans Am Premieres Tuesday, October 2 at 10 pm ET/PT on Discovery.