Once there was a time when clapped out second-generation GM F-bodies were a common sight on the road. With over 2 million Camaros and 1 million Firebirds produced between 1970 and 1981, they were plentiful. This in turn made them affordable: Cheap enough that any Bandit wannabe worth his mullet could afford a worn out second-hand example (and let’s be honest here, it was almost always a him). First generation F-bodies, in contrast, were never very common, at least not in my lifetime.
Unfortunately, over hunting has driven the herd to near extinction. Countless examples sacrificed their lives as shade-tree body and engine projects, which make today’s CC Capsule a dying breed.
1977, in my mind, was when we reached peak Trans Am. That was the model year of the Trans Am driven by Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit (OK it wasn’t. Little known fact – because the movie was filmed before the 1977 model year, Pontiac supplied 1976 models with prototype 1977 front clips).
Alas, 1977 was also peak malaise. The 400 cid V8 wheezed out a mere 180 HP (200HP in optional form), and struggled to reach 60 mph in less than 10 seconds. A modern Prius would likely give this car a run for its money at a stop light – that’s how slow these were.
Other than the color, this featured example is full-on Bandit: Screaming chicken on the hood, gold snow flake wheels, and glass T-Tops. The only things missing are a CB radio and Sally Field in a wedding dress. [Edit: Thanks to commenter XR7Matt for pointing out that these are likely aftermarket T-Tops].
Even more impressive, this example seems to be largely as it left the factory. There is not a bigfoot accelerator pedal, chain link steering wheel, or pistol grip shifter to be found anywhere. Not even so much as a bandana hanging from the inside mirror. It appears to be all original and complete, save for the missing radio and rhinoplasty on the front end. Externally, there are no signs of pop-riveted scoops or spoilers, or other ill-advised body modifications. Finding an unmolested Trans Am today will be akin finding an unmolested WRX 25 years from now.
Now if you’ll excuse, me I’m going to go find a Cowboy Hat.
It’s funny because it’s bigger than a normal hat. –Turd Ferguson
*rapidly chewing gum* Its funny. It’s a funny name. Haha!
Still my favorite T/As.
Oooooh, smell the mildew from the leaking T-tops. Seriously, it is cool to see one so original. And I agree, there do not seem to be many of these left in the wild, a statement which is taking me a little time to wrap my head around. Was it really 40 years ago?
An excellent retrospective of the life of second (and third and fourth) hand F bodies. These were every wannabe mechanic’s favorite ride for a time.
The bird design and the larger T-tops tell me this is a 78. Dream car of mine, even has the T/A 6.6 on the shaker so it’s a real deal Pontiac 400 – assuming the owner didn’t change the decals like my dad did back then – those actually got a nice power bump to 220 for 78, bucking the malaise before nosediving into 4.9l mediocrity.
I’m thinking the only thing non-original are actually the gold snowflake wheels, nothing else is gold on this car to match and these cars were very color coordinated from the factory. I’m thinking it either had rally IIs or different snowflakes, either the ones like these accented in red or the WS6 ones with the dish, accented with argent.
The VIN decoded to a ’77, but it is possible that it a bitsa car (bits of this, bits of that).
I’m thinking that may be the case the more I look. I’m betting the bird and shaker decals are new(ish), and the T-tops may be aftermarket – the 77 ones were smaller Hurst designs and the 78s don’t have all that stainless trim. –
I always grab a shot of the VIN when I’m unsure. W = Trans Am, Z = 400 cid V8, and 7 = 1977, so it is a genuine 6.6 1977 T/A.
Those are the Cars and Concepts aftermarket T Tops.
NOPE, those tops are aftermarket. not Hurst or Fisher. so there is no way you could know that from the tops.
Please base the styling of the next Camaro off of the 2nd Generation cars.
I am sick to death of the “LOOK IT’S 1969!” theme you’ve been pushing since 2010.
I’ll second that idea, most wholeheartedly.
I mean, at least Ford had the sense to copy the best looking Mustang of all when they went retro in 2005.
Make the next one like a ’70 1/2 Z28 and I may buy one.
On “Canada’s Worst Driver” it was hard to bear watching a very clean ’77 or ’78 Trans Am get banged up by incompetent participants. They also drove a brand-new Mustang & Camaro, which got similar treatment, so any car buffs watching this should expect serious emotional distress!
The premise: Nominate a friend or family member for the show, & the one who responds least to the training & challenges gets the shameful award; sort of an inverse “Survivor.” There are many localized versions of the show, including for the US, but I could only find the Canadian one on Netflix. Actually this was just as well, for the thought of those drivers on American roads is frightening.
I honestly thought this show was completely phony, I couldn’t believe anyone could be so stupid but I work with a guy who knows a woman who was a contestant and will testify to her terrible driving record.
Anyone making fun of 2nd gen Trans Ams should tune into Barret Jackson to see Bandit style cars going north of $30 grand and regular T/As coming on strong
Thanks; I also had trouble believing there could be licensed drivers that bad. Another sacrifice was a very nice Lincoln Premiere, dented in back at least. Horrors!
Although some of the obstacles were foam, even these didn’t prevent damage to exterior finish. I must say that show induces a good range of emotions for the viewer!
1977 was NOT “peak malaise”, that would be 1980-81, when there was no 400. The ’77 TA 400 motor had 200 HP, look it up. The Olds 403 had 180. What mattered was how the car drove and handled, not simply 0-60 times. Certain car guys like to jump on the “60s only” band wagon, but those cars still rusted and wasted away, too. Have to keep them hermetically sealed.
Car sales were up, in summer ’77, too. “Malaise” at the time referred to the economy of 1980, not car horsepower.
So sick of bloggers overusing word ‘malaise’ which was coined by a certain Gen X car blogger, who loves to dwell on it. And the whole Net versus Gross HP numbers has been explained a million times. But still will see an amateur car guy post “wow HP dropped by 100’s in 1972!”
According to Wikipedia, the 400 came in 180hp and 200hp versions (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pontiac_Firebird#1977). If Wikipedia is wrong, please feel free to correct it. I picked the lower number to emphasize the point, but either way it is a pretty wimpy number for an engine of that size.
As you can tell, the post was written with tongue planted firmly in cheek. I was 9-years old when Smokey and the Bandit came out, and remember watching it doe eyed. I do have a genuine love for these cars, but like any cars they are not perfect.
180 HP 400’s were in the Grand Prix’s, Bonnevilles and Lemans series cars. TA 400’s were rated at 200 HP but made more than that figure which was proven in many dyno tests. Simply bumping up the timing a few degrees, running a little more timing advance and quicker opening secondaries on the carb could easily bring these down into the mid 6 second range for the TA’s
The 77 T/As were available with a 180 or 200 HP 400s. The 180 HP were the standard 400 and the 200 HP was the W72 engine. In 78 they were rated at 180 and 220 HP. I have owned my 78 since 1979.
Looks great! Big fan of those slot style wheels too
I discovered vintage MotorWeek clips on YouTube a few weeks ago. I may have to agree that the early 80’s were peak malaise, and it reinforced my memory that domestics weren’t the only manufacturers building utter crap at the time.
At least these big wheezy motors still had some torque.
This is my favorite Trans Am as well, styling-wise. My perfect T/A would be the 1977-78 front end coupled with the 1979-80 rear taillights, which look a lot cleaner to me.
In college, I had several close friends who owned these cars so I have a lot of seat time in them. True, the acceleration wasn’t great, but the handling was better than almost any American car of that era. And we won’t even mention the fuel economy!
The build quality of these things was low as well, especially from the Ohio plant where management/labor relations were bad for many years, resulting in line workers who really didn’t give a carp about whether something was screwed on properly or not.
In the VIN that Tom posted upthread, I’m guessing the letter “N” indicates that this car was built at Norwood.
Quote: Alas, 1977 was also peak malaise. The 400 cid V8 wheezed out a mere 180 HP, and struggled to reach 60 mph in less than 10 seconds. A modern Prius would likely give this car a run for its money at a stop light – that’s how slow these were.
Actually the 403 Olds motor made 180 horses. The Pontiac 400 made 200 for 1977 and 220 for 1978-79. In actuality any of these 400 mills made more than that in real life and certainly run far better than 10 second 0-60 times. I have one test of a 79 with the 220 HP motor that shows 6.7 second 0-60 runs so the 77’s would only be a tad slower say around 7 seconds in factory tune. Any upgrades yielded even more power easily. Hell even a 1980 301 W72 ran far better 0-60 times than 10 seconds as did a proper running Olds 403. A current prius runs over 9 seconds 0-60 so that is not correct. The real malaise was 80-81.
Looks like Car & Driver may have clocked a ’77 T/A at 9.3 seconds. But it doesn’t say what motor and transmission, nor do I know what was available. Oh and I can’t verify it either. Maybe somebody else can.
But there’s more info elsewhere on the ’78 that shows 6.3 seconds, so I tend to believe you are correct.
While I agree with you that these engines may have made more hp with some dyno tuning, I’m not prepared to accept that GM purposefully labeled them with less hp than they actually made, in stock form. Sorry, not buying it.
And why exactly would they do that? Let’s face it, the low hp numbers during these era were a PR negative; if they made more power, GM would have had every incentive to say so. As they did, as power eventually moved back up.
Yes, I’m sure there’s dyno tests to the contrary, but just how perfectly stock are they, in every aspect, including the timing?
Sure, the reduced timing and other aspects of these engines could be readily improved, but that’s not really the point in discussing a stock car’s performance. Any car can be made to go faster.
All of these 0-60 numbers you cite here, how do we know they are of genuine stock cars? Were they dyno tuned, or more likely, ringers from GM? As you said yourself, it was easy to get these engines to make more power; did the magazines confirm that they were tuned to factory specs?
No doubt there was some serious horsepower shame going on. Contemporary brochures don’t even list power output.
I believe this is the C&D article in question.
It confirms the 180 HP figure for the base TA engine. While a 0-60 time is not mentioned in the article, the 16.9/82 quarter mile time they clocked gives credence to a 9+ second 0-60 time. Granted, their tester had a relatively tall 3.23 axle, and they do not mention whether they had an automatic or manual transmission.
And while you could tune the engines for more power, so what? You can say the same about any engine.
If you download the pdf version it has all of the stats.
The TA did the 0-60 in 9.3 seconds. That’s mighty close to Prius territory.
Interestingly enough, the Z/28, with less hp, did it in 8.6 seconds.
A friend of mine had a ’78 Z-28, and it had 3.73 gears in it which made it eat my ’79 403 Trans Am alive, until I started modding it. The 3.21 gears I put in it alone made it pretty close. Of course, if he had modded the engine, or swapped in a good one, he could have made his car a lot stronger than mine, and for less too.
I drove a 49-state version of the high performance 400 (W72?) with 4 speed on my local racer road, and it felt pretty quick for the time, though I had always owned 4 cylinder cars so perhaps I was easily impressed. At the time I still had my Vega GT 🙂 A few years later, I traded my ’77 1.6 Scirocco for a California model 305 Chevy powered TA with 4 speed. It had a great V8 power band and would pull a significantly higher top speed than the Scirocco, or my other car, a Fiesta. After the brief honeymoon was over I traded the TA in on a 1500 Civic 5 speed. Honestly, I didn’t think there wasn’t a huge difference in real acceleration between the TA and the three 4 cylinder FWD cars, though it certainly felt more flexible. And the older 400 was much stronger. 30 years later we owned a 2nd gen Prius for 100K miles, and while the Prius is no slouch in normal driving, the TA of either power train would smoke the Prius. At least till the first gas stop.
There were two versions of the 400, the L78 rated at 180 hp and the W72 rated at 200 hp. The W72 was $50 extra on a Trans Am, While it’s easy to balk at the 200 hp now, that was great power then especially if you compare it to a 1976 455. Unlike the 455 used in the previous year, this engine was actually tuned for performance and made some power in the higher RPM. The 455 used previously was a low RPM motor with no performance aspirations. I have a lot of respect for these cars carrying the performance torch during this era.
And while the 9.3 sec 0-60 isn’t all that impressive, 16.9 secs in the 1/4 mile was excellent for the era and still not too bad today. I think we can’t lose focus of the fact that in their time, these were very strong cars. It’s pretty unfair to compare this car to something 40 years newer? Are you going to compare the performance of a 1977 Trans Am to a 1937 Pontiac?
And sure lots of modern cars can beat it in an all out race, but that doesn’t mean they’d “feel” as fast. Isn’t how good a car feels more important than raw numbers? The low end power/torque makes these cars much more fun to drive. I can tell you although a Prius may have a close 0-60 time, they are NO fun to drive aggressively We had one for 5 years, so I speak from experience.
I was typing way too fast here. What I was supposed to say was that the Olds 403 made 185 HP, the base 400 was 180 and the TA W72 had the 200 Hp rating for 1977 and 220 for 78/79.
One 1977 road test does not cement a 9.3 second 0-60 time with these cars as gospil. I have driven loads of Trans Am’s and some Formula’s of this time era in stock and modified form mostly with the base 400 which came with blue painted valve covers in these years and can say they are quicker than that with normal break in miles and 87 pump gas. The TA W72 mills were stronger still and could be told by there chrome valve covers. They could outrun a 1980/81 turbo 301 which the same magazine tested at 8 seconds 0-60. I own a 1981 Trans Am with the 301 turbo and when I first got it stock with 20K original miles it could easily be dusted by either 400 Pontiac mill in a drag race. The W72 was no contest. The base 180 horse engine was similar to my turbo but pulled away as the revs increased.
I even extensively drove a 1980 bone stock W72 301 equipped TA with automatic and stock 3.08 rear gears that could run stronger than 9.3 seconds 0-60. I was strongly considering this white TA before I found my 81 Nascar. It was a mint low mileage non t-top car owned by a fellow Pontiac enthusiast and was garage kept and pampered all of it’s 30K original miles. This guy wouldn’t know a carburetor from a fuel pump and would have no clue how to modify the car in any way. It just ran really smooth but was not as quick as my 81 turbo in a straight line and I got the turbo car for the same money. All of this makes me seriously doubt a proper running stock 1977 180 HP TA was as slow as this one C&D article is claiming. Besides no where in the article was it mentioned what the outside temps were, altitude, the shape of the tires, launch methods, how many miles were on the test car or anything else. And as any car enthusiast knows these 0-60 times could vary by a whole second going from one magazine to another. Just look at many of those older car articles and you would see big variances between sources.
Today 0-60 and quarter mile times are far more consistent. If a bet was made between a Prius and a stock proper running 1977 TA 400 with 3.23 rear gears in a drag race my money would go on the latter every time.
“Were they dyno tuned, or more likely, ringers from GM?”
GM is still notorious for this. There was a recent 3-way pony car shoot out where there was good evidence the Camaro had been tweeked for the test…and still wasn’t a clear cut winner.
Which test was this? And what was the evidence of cheating?
It’s hard to not call this a Malaise-Era car from a performance perspective – regardless of engine power or torque figures those rear diff numbers destroy any semblance of muscle-car acceleration. 9.3 for 0-60 and 16.9 in the quarter (according to the C&D article) for the Firebird. My 71 Alfa Spider with a 1.8 liter engine shows 8.3 for 0-60 and 16.4 for the quarter mile.
I can assure you that in 1971 I was not challenging any Firebirds to stop-light-drag-races, however by the late 70’s American performance was all decals.
When your Trans Am is getting clearly stomped in drag races by a little dinky Italian sports car, that, my friend, is malaise .
Auto Catalog post “simulated” performance, not actual performance. Regulations changed between 1971-77 so not exactly a equal playing field. Maybe you should compare your 1971 Alpha to a 1971 Firebird.
From a styling perspective, this is definitely “peak” Firebird / Trans Am. Gotta love that this one has the full-length (albeit aftermarket?, referencing earlier comments) t-tops instead of the oddly truncated “Hurst hatches”. Great pictures and post, Tom.
I’ve got agree with Bill and others. This car was a product of it’s times, and Pontiac managed to hold onto the performance banner and carried it forward until it passed to the 5.0 Mustang and later 5.7 Camaros. I drove my brother’s ’96 T/A in 1977 and it was an impressive car. Even with an auto it ran up to a hundred mph. in a sustained rush of power. At the time the T/A was considered a better performer than the Corvette. And we all thought that it was the last hurrah. We thought that the performance car was dead forever. Luckily technology came to the rescue.
When new, these were good looking, very desirable cars. A blast to drive and own. Remember that memorable scene in Smokey and the Bandit when Burt Reynolds drives the T/A down the ramps out of his transporter? You could hear the murmurs of appreciation from the audience, myself included!
A Black ’77 Pontiac Trans Am is what I borrowed for my FIRST DATE, (1982?) with my 1st wife to be. (T-tops removed, of course). I was the coolest guy on the streets that night!.
First wife is gone along with that Trans Am.
I will agree that finding one of these, unmolested, is exceptionally rare anymore. The 2nd Gen F-Body was definitely the “peak” of Firebird sales, for Pontiac. Though, the 3rd Gen F-Body is still my favorite.
You should try to do some kind of condescending article, towards the ultra-rare 1989 Pontiac Firebird, that had the Buick 3.8L Turbo from the GNX, under its hood.
A lot of GM haters on this website, that’s for sure….
Here is how it was in the late 70’s early 80’s:
77 – 79 z-28 0-60 was approximately 7.5 seconds with 4spd and 3.73 rear. Auto had 3.42 rear and high 7 to 8 seconds was typical. 350 was approx 175 horses. 1980 got 190. Auto cars had 3.42 rear and 4 speed was 3.08. Automatic cars were mid 7 sec to 60 and mid to hi 15’s in th 1/4. 4 speeds were similar. Trap speeds were good at 88 to 91 mph. 4spd cars with taller gearing required a good driver to beat the auto but the 4spd was faster overall. Formula and Trans Am cars were a different story. A lot of people don’t get these cars. The 77 – 79 cars were the fastest GM cars available at the time. The W72 motors were rated at 200 horsepower in 77 and 220 in 78/79 partially due to an exhaust upgrade. All autos got 3.23’s (78 4spds had 3.42’s and 79s 3.23’s). These engines were underrated. The 4 speed cars got to 60 mph in 6.5 – 6.8 seconds. 1/4 mile was 15-15.3 traction was a big problem (high 14’s were possible with proper tune and good gas). Trap speeds were consistently in the mid to high 90’s. Real horsepower was more like 240 – 270. I recall many races with these cars against hot 60’s and early 70’s muscle cars. The W72 cars frequently won!