photos by: the author
It’s Out With the Old, and In With the New for Project Phoenix
It’s been a little while since we’ve brought you an update on Project Phoenix, our 2002 Trans Am WS6. This car has been in our project car corral since the publication’s inception in 2014, and in your author’s personal garage since its was brand new.
Previously upgraded with a head/cam package, a HEIDTS IRS suspension system, and a built 4L60E (yeah, yeah) from PerformaBuilt during its brief stint as a GM High-Tech Magazine project, there’s still a lot to attend to on this car. Namely, those black 5-spoke ZR1 wheels that have been mounted to the car since 2004. Although they still looked great and served their intended purposes fine, we felt that it was time for a change.
Now there are plenty of options on the market, and there are so many directions that we can go with this. However, we have to consider what the car is intended for.
We’re partial to maintaining the “grand touring” theme. We want the car to handle like it’s on rails, but be comfortable to drive on the street. It’s not a dedicated drag car. It’s not a some street/strip machine set up for unsanctioned Friday evening events. It’s a car that’s daily-driven, occasionally hits the autocross, and is set to hit Hot Rod Power Tour this year for the first time.
This is why wanted to avoid the larger diameter wheels on the market, and for the reasons listed above, maintain a factory-type wheel and sidewall size for a good balance of handling and ride comfort. We also wanted to lend a touch of nostalgia, and old school, classic aesthetics to the car. We’ve been following what YearOne has been doing with their line of aluminum Retro Wheel Kits for some time.
YearOne 17-inch Snowflakes
YearOne has taken the most popular OEM wheels of the ’60s and ’70s muscle cars, and have given them a new lease on life by recreating them in a modern tire size-friendly 17-inch diameter, and offering them in 8- and 9-inch widths. So you can now get a 17-inch version of your favorite throwback OEM wheel for your vintage muscle car, or relatively modern pony car, at a very affordable price.
We’ve been a fan of them since thier inception, and have actually installed them on two of our other AutoCentric Media project cars; a ’70 Chevelle and a ’68 Firebird. After seeing examples of the popular Pontiac Snowflake wheel on a few fourth-generation Firebirds, we had to have a set. So we placed an order with YearOne for a quadrant of 17×9 Snowflakes, with silver painted inner spokes that will (later) tie into our overall theme. They’re currently available in silver, gold or black painted finishes, with a polished lip.
The aesthetic its essentially based on the ’78-81 WS6 snowflake wheel, in that it has the dished lip, rather than the “flat plane” snowflake surface of the standard ’78-81 wheel. We’re glad YearOne went with the decision to base the wheel on the WS6 design, and it works well with our car, considering that our car is such an example.
The set includes the wheels, lugnuts, center caps and the famous Firebird logo emblem that you apply to the center cap. The center decal is available in with the red/black bird logo, or with the gold/black bird logo to match the gold wheels for those who order them. The wheels look great, they’re a high quality design and, we fell, will accent our Trans Am well.
Mounting the wheels is a pretty straightforward process; the only thing that deviates form any other wheel on the market is that you have to glue the center cap bird to the cap itself, and the cap snaps into the wheel. Prior to doing so, obviously you need to get the tires mounted to the wheels.
Falken Azenis RT615K+
Of course, we needed a fresh set of rubber for all four corners, too, and after some recon, we selected Azenis RT615K from Falken, in 275/40/17. We’ve used them on Project Redrum, too, and have had nothing but great luck with them. They offer the perfect balance for what we need for our car, from grip, longevity, dry and wet weather traction, and so forth.
Despite being located in the Midwest, we don’t drive Project Phoenix in the Winter — that’s what The Mule is for — but we do get caught in the rain from time to time, so we had to keep that in mind. But we wanted a tire that can be somewhat multi-purpose. A dedicated track tire wouldn’t make sense, and since we don’t drive in the froze stuff, all-seasons would be pointless. These are a happy medium.
Developed for maximum performance-minded drivers, the AZENIS RT615K+ is derived from the original competition-winning RT615K. The PLUS encompasses a digitally-engineered, nanotech-formulated compound enhancement for superior grip and excellent handling. On the track, the RT615K+’s confidence-inspiring straight line and cornering traits encourage drivers to push their vehicles to the limits in safe, closed-course environments.
On the street, high-tension carcass construction provides added durability, ensuring this DOT-approved tire is capable of road-legal daily use. Built for performance compacts, sports coupes, sports sedans and muscle cars, the AZENIS RT615K+ is the enthusiast’s choice for competition-proven performance, from the track to the street. – Falken Tires
Posted just above is a depiction of the available sizes for the Azenis RT615K+, as well as a bar graph depicting the levels of quiet ride, grip, handling, ride comfort, etc. The tire sizes range from 14-18 inch diameter, and width can range from anywhere between 195mm-315 diameter, depending on the wheel diameter.
In the days since our wheel install, we’ve had zero complaints from either the wheels or the tires. We’ve had a ton of compliments on the wheels, including from some people who were absolutely puzzled by what they were. The style is certainly reminiscent the what would would have seen on a 1970s Trans Am, but clearly, due to their diameter it can throw some people off. We’ve even had people ask us what year the car was, as a result.
We’ll be getting the car back on the street and the truck in the coming months, but our Trans Am is currently sidelined while we’re building a brand new powerplant for the car.
Rick Seitz is the owner and founder of GMEFI Magazine, and has a true love and passion for all vehicles. When he isn’t tuning, testing, or competing with the brand’s current crop of project vehicles, he’s busy tinkering and planning the next modifications for his own cars.