As I hinted recently, I have quite the road trip story to recount, but alas, I’m not going to do it all in one post! My adventure started at 3:30am (Central USA time) when I rousted myself out of bed and Eeyore and I hit the road after my morning ablutions. The time stamp on the photo indicates I shot this pristine 1973 Trans Am at about 10:15am, which would have put me on I-55 headed South out of Peoria, Illinois.
Destination: my father’s home in Central Georgia, normally a sixteen hour drive from our home in the Middle West. I was in it for the long haul, just as Pontiac was with the Firebird, which was really the only ‘muscle/pony’ car to survive the mid-1970s and still live up to the name. The Camaro Z28 would bow out for several years after 1974, and the Mustang, well, let’s just leave well enough alone.
While only 4,772 Trans Ams were produced in 1973, sales shot up over the next couple years, with more than 10,000 sold in 1974 and 27,274 in 1975. 1973 was an especially significant year for the Trans Am, as it saw the introduction of the Super Duty 455 (7.46l) engine with 290 net hp and 395 ft. lb. of torque (!), as well as Regular Production Option (RPO) WW7—the “Screaming Chicken” hood decal.
And Paul, please note that I’m being properly passed on the left here. Finally, if you’ll look past the Trans Am for a moment, you may notice what appear to be storm clouds building on the horizon…
As much as I abhor the screaming chicken I like the early Firebirds. They were at least a bit different during my teen years when seemingly EVERYONE had a Camaro.
Quite the opposite for me coming of age in the late 70’s . . seemed there were lots of Trans Ams -EVERYONE seemed to have one – the new-for-’77 Z-28 (revived with a Chevy LM-1 350 and low restriction exhaust) were “different” (as were the Formula Firebirds, which I’d really admired in the day).
Oh my, I have not seen honeycomb wheels in a long, long time.
Those wheels were also on the HZ Holden Monaro long time no see and now I know where they originated cool. I hate the screaming chook decal it was stuck on all sorts of old bombs but the Trans Am yeah thats an American car I like it had grunt and was the last real performance car left. Ok the platform came here with a Holden body aboard but you forgot to send the powertrain.
Even though Smokey and the Bandit put the 2nd gen Firebird on the map, one of my favorite 2nd gens was the Brewster Green 72 Trans Am John Wayne drove in McQ, I will always remember the scene where it gets crushed by 2 semi trucks.
One of my favorite movies! I always got a kick out of the car chase (or as us Seattleites would call it-the ‘You-can’t-get-there-from-here’ chase) when McQ was hauling ass underneath I-5 (off of Airport way S.).I still don’t think the cloud of dust has dissipated after 40 years….
I remember that part, plus the big final chase on the shoreline with the Plymouth and the Cadillac
Here’s the clip from ‘McQ’ (along with an impromptu Seattle travelogue…)
Pretty cool! That actually is Seattle. Film makers usually use Vancouver, BC as a substitute for Seattle.
As a junior-high kid, I remembe riding my bike to downtown San Rafael to where there was in the showroom (springtime, ’72), a ’72 Pontiac GTO (demoted to a appearance/powertrain option). White vinyl top, white interior, four speed (it’s HURST shifter calling out with pride!) . . . 455 . . . and . . . honeycomb wheels. First ones I’d seen in the flesh. The honeycombs were more commonly seen on ’73 and ’74 Grand Ams, if I recall . . . . saw one set on a ’75 Trans Am in town. That was about it. Most T/A’s – Formulas came with the Rallye II’s.
“The Camaro Z28 would bow out for several years after 1974..”
Well, 2 model years, 1975-76 are not really ‘several’.
For 1977 and a 1/2, the Z returned, and did sell well. May not have had 400hp premium fuel V8, but was a welcome relief after near extinction.
Back to Firebirds, this year is 40th Anniv of the Pontiac SD455 motor. It was delayed until spring 1973 and then held on for 1974 and gone.
Another car on my wish list as a teenager.
My parents had a 73 Firebird but I think that it was brown. That car was responsible for me coming along about 10 years later so it’s all good!
Didn’t Jim Rockford have a pretty discrete Firebird? No chicken and such – rather wheel covers and whitewalls; just a competent V-8 car for a single guy that was much simpler, more refined and less gaudy than a contemporary Thunderbird.
Jim Rockford/James Garner had the good taste to drive a refined, competent Firebird and to endorse fun Mazdas.
– ranchero –
I read something on the internet that stated that the Rockford Firebirds used for chase scenes were actually Formula models shorn of all their boy-racer exterior trim. The thinking was these disguised Formulas would offer better acceleration and handling during the action shots, while real Esprit models were used for the “hero” shots.
A few more early 2nd-gen ‘Birds you guys might remember:
1. The bronze one driven by Erik Estrada ( Ponch ) in the TV show “Chips” .
2. The two red ones in the 1973 movie “Cannonball” starring David Carradine.
3. A black one that gets destroyed in a chase with Mark Hamill in “Corvette Summer”.
Yes, that’s right, the bad guy in Corvette Summer had one
Also a 1976 with a hideous custom paint job used in “The Driver”, a little known Walter Hill gem with ryan O’neal and Bruce Dern.
Yikes! Bring out the brain bleach… A few years after that movie was out, I ran across the movie’s Corvette (with the gold paint job) south of San Jose. As awful as it looked in the movie, it managed to be worse in real life (wasn’t at a show, but on the road down near the Motocross park).
Rockford cars were Esprit Firebirds . . . . but there were several of them used for the more “energetic” scenes called for the RTS heavy-duty suspension models . . . . The rear stablizer bars would be visible and you wouldn’t see the front wheels twist/dig in on their sidewalls like some scenes with the “regular” esprit. In the day, you could check off most of the option boxes to have an almost T/A or Formula. Come the smogger years (’74 through ’76, at least in California), the 400 was a Firebird/Firebird Esprit option.
My first American car was a 76 TA. With the weezy 200HP 455 and 3 pedal transmission. Bought it for, IIRC, $2495 back in 1978 which now that I think about was a steal. I was an ignorant teen aged gearhead back in my former HS days. You see I thought that cubic inches was the same as horsepower so compared to my equally dumbassed friends with their SBC powered Colonades and Windsor’d Fords that my 455 cubes would make me King Shit of the parking lot as far as four wheeled liberty went. Hard to say if I was just the better driver as I could easily better most them at the Friday night drags we would hold out at the “darkness on the edge of town”. There was the 440/6 Super Bee along with an equally nasty 440/6 Cuda and Challenger twins owned by some brothers that seemed to find these things rather easily. My coworkers with a 429SCJ Torino and 396 Nova. Yeah I was riding high. Come to think of it we were all pretty bad at street racing as I later found out when I made my first pilgrimage to the closest drag strip to the area. I was lucky if I could break into the high 15’s and if you followed HOTROD or even Car&Driver back than you know that that was hauling for a 455 76 TA and at least a second or more off for all of those other cars I mentioned. I loved the Screaming Chicken hood decal. Especially when compared to the early second generation racing stripe and matching shaker hood scoop. I cant say for sure but it might have been the reason I traded that car in on my first ElCamino. I picked the BlackKnight one over the more bland monotone version. Too bad I was into instant gradifaction in my post graduation years. I wanted one of the last Pontiac 400 powered 79 TransAms so bad when they came out a year later. But I couldn’t swing the extra cash on the car payment. I cry every time I see one for sale. I guess nobody drove those last “true” TAs and stored them away for prosperity.
Lt. Bruno – where did you live? If you got a T/A in ’78 (a ’76 model and a 455 no less) . . . that price WAS a steal. In October, 1975, one of my best buddies (who had a very wealthy widowed Grandmother). was given for his 16th birthday a brand-new, silver, ’76 Pontiac Trans-Am. Screaming chicken, red vinyl interior. Rally II’s. Being this was ’76 model year California, you got only the 185hp Pontiac 400 with THM 400. It still went pretty good, although it would’ve been no match for the de rigeur car (at San Rafael High School) in the day, namely a Chevelle SS 396 . . . .
Shortly after that, every kid (spoiled or hard-working) started showing up with Trans Ams. All screaming chickens and by ’77 in the Golden State, all with 403 Oldsmobile engines (automatic only in Cal). My best friend wound up getting a silver ’79 T/A (screaming chicken – no air, radio delete).
In defense of the Olds 403 smoggers of the day, they still had plenty of “oomph” and could roast a tire pretty good and these were easy to throw sideways (not necessarily intentional).
This guy (kind of homely looking) became an instant celebrity and chick magnet, much to our chagrin. I heard he recently had a stroke and still lives in Marin. I need to find out if he has the T/A (he did, as of 1989, from what I knew – by then it remained cherry . . . and garaged).
All the right options ticked off…..Honeycomb wheels, Red paint (wasn’t the Trans Am only available in White or Blue from 70.5 to 72?), Screaming Firebird on the shaker-hood and the best looking instrument panel and steering wheel in any car from that era.
Knowing that a Herb Adams was behind the scenes, applying his suspension expertise to the Trans Am made it the handler it was. One of the greatest and most iconic cars from the 1970’s. Period.
You’re correct on the colors – ’73 was the first year the red was offered, IIRC.
In ’73, the T/A was restricted to white, red, or “Brewster Green” (a dark green). I want a ’73 Firebird in Verdant Green with white interior.
The Super Duty was the last true HO/HP factory engine for awhile to come. The forged mains, all the heavy duty pieces and yet, still had good net hp (and a big increase in torque) certainly was the envy of the other GM divisions (Buick’s Stage 1’s and Olds’s W-30s kept getting weaker against the tide of hang-on emission control devices) . . . I am not sure if the SD-455 was available in California in ’74 . . . .
May get booed for this but once had a 68 firebird 350/350. No matter how gently you drove it only 8mpg. Hoon like crazy and you got 8mpg. I just wrote it off as a bad buy and it was my last pontiac. Looked great though.
Love the t/a and want another now that Im older. My first was an 81 turbo but with a 69 old rocket 455 balanced and bluprinted and built to last. That car was a hoonmibile if their ever was ine. Sadly I sold it as gas hit 55 cents a liter.
Really odd CC Effect with this one – saw a yellow Trans Am parked on the Melbourne University campus yesterday, complete with RHD conversion. Makes you wonder how many of these made their way Down Under in the ’70s and ’80s.
One of my Favorites! The color, the wheels, the only thing I dislike is that it appears to be a trailer queen. I for one love the screaming chicken. 73s were also unique in that you could get a “mini” screaming chicken on the front bumper in lieu of the large hood decal. It’s basically the same size and placement as the decal used at the front of the stripe on the 70-72s.
This particular CC is a childhood favorite. I’ve had this Ertl one as far back as I can remember. Spitting image.
Drove my Firehawk to work yesturday for the first time. It was interesting to learn that not one person who saw it had any idea that Pontiac no longer builds cars. It was even more interesting to hear the misconceptions about Firehawks and that they all thought it was a 2013 the “new Firebirds”…
Get tired of hearing the same complaints about ‘the screaming chicken’. This term is plagiarized to death, from 35 year old C&D magazines. Car Purists are ‘supposed to’ say that every time there is a TA story online. Have to “fit in” with the ‘clique’.
The decal is original and fits the car and time it was new. C&D purists always have to throw cold water.
And again, Trans Am sales started rising during the middle of ‘malaize era’ [another trite term] 1974 to early 1977, before ‘The Bandit’ was release. To casual car fans, they think TA’s were introdcued in summer 1977, not!.
Yes I try not to overgeneralize when it comes to car eras or in general for that matter. Whenever we look at something over time, we will inevitably compare it to past and future. The “Malaise Era” was a time of rapid change in the automotive industry as old precepts that dictated car design were thrown out the door and technology was just emerging to deal with those changes that many cars are viewed today like “what were they thinking?…”
Every era has its “theme” so to speak. The 50s were about style and rocket ships and new found exuberance as it was the first decade since the 20s that wasn’t constrained by finances (Great Depression) or WWII. The 60s cool off as far as outlandish style but focused a lot on performance and capability as we saw the emergency of big engines, muscle and pony cars, and more conservative three box designs. The 70s people seemed less interested in crude brute performance and concentrated more on flash. Making a “statement” in presence was key, it extended not only to cars but to clothes and most everything else. Everything was over the top, Las Vegas, bright lights, and twinkle in the eye. Cars did not go as fast, emissions and safety regulations increasingly ate into development budgets, but that was replaced by chrome, vinyl, and even the “chicken” on the Firebirds. I drove a 79 403 TATA for a while, it was no slouch, nothing like today, but very capable for its time, but the chicken on the hood and the shaker hood did make it fun. The 80s seemed to be about technology as most automakers dove headfirst into FWD and cars radically changed from RWD body and frame jobs to monocoque FWD jobs. IDK, 90s its hard to think about a theme for cars per se, I think passenger car design grew stale and too jellybean like, but it certainly was the decade where truck based platforms (SUVs and trucks themselves) became major forces in the marketplace. What used to be the purview of farmers, commercial workers, and other heavy users of utility, became perfectly acceptable as domestic vehicles in many garages across America. I think the 00s and today, especially since the mid 00s when gas prices rose and now have largely stayed high, passenger cars are coming more into their own. Automakers are becoming more bold in their approaches and pushing the envelope. Which is a good thing. I thought cars were downright ugly 10 years ago and bemoaned the future of the industry, but I think a lot of things look good today especially considering the constraints put on the designers and engineers.
So to properly reply to the comment, I would not by a 70s car of that time expecting it to be anything different than it would have been had I been purchasing that vehicle new then. You know Studio 54 wasn’t just about the music…
Agreed. Most folks wouldn’t know that the Trans Am was a model no different then the Z28 Camaro or Boss 302 Mustang or Cuda AAR or Challenger T/A or Javelin….ponycars with a sub-model homologated for the Trans Am racing series. Instead it is thought of as an off shoot of the disco era, gold chains, bad suits and bad music. Ironic that the least successful Trans Am racer of that era would carry the race series moniker to such fame and legend.
Car and Driver sold it’s soul to the Germans and in particular, BMW, so I take what they say with a grain of salt. I kind of imagine more Trans Am’s from this era survive today then their vaunted 3 series that C&D so worshipped!
The new Camaro may be selling well for what it is, but there is a seat missing at the dinner table…… No Pontiac, no Firebird and for this discussion, no Trans Am.
I still can’t believe those people did that to Pontiac. Shame on them.