There it is, at the intersection. You’re looking at my fifth grade dream car, the ’85 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, complete with T-tops. This car seemed to me then to be the perfect chariot for a successful, professional adult, one of which I had aspired to be one day. There was the sleek, Italian-inspired shape. The hidden headlights. The tasteful, two-tone black and gold paint scheme. A sporty rear spoiler and ground effects. Why would anybody with the means choose anything different?
The Corvette was for fancy people. The Camaro, while also a great-looking car, lacked something in the Firebird’s image that was slightly upscale, and more hip and urban… at least, in my eyes. The Mustang was alright-looking in GT, SVO, and convertible forms but, to me, the general image of this generation up through the mid-’80s was dragged down considerably by the appearance of the spoiler-less hatchback more or less resembling a big Escort, or some other nondescript compact car, especially in strippo “L” form. By contrast, the base-model Firebird looked fabulous. With more points in the Pontiac’s favor, wasn’t K.I.T.T. on “Knight Rider” basically a mildly customized Firebird? A great show, and another major plus.
I loved the looks of the newly-refreshed ’85 Trans Am so much, I purchased a Revell Monogram scale model of one, along with Testor’s model paints and glue. I miss the days experiencing the pure joy of when a trip to Toys ‘R Us seemed second only to a jaunt to Playland Arcade in Flint suburb Grand Blanc (pronounced “Grand Blank“) to ride the go-karts and play video games. I still own many such model kits purchased around the dawn of my age progression to double-digits, with many of them in their original packaging (albeit in storage). If I remember correctly, my thought process regarding putting them together had usually been not to start until I had the time to do it right. My 1:24-scale Trans Am model, however, was just too good to let sit in that box. It bumped my Fiero kit down a notch on my list of priorities, which was no small feat, given the novelty of the newer car.
Patience has been a learned and practiced virtue for me. In adulthood, it’s been easier to see and reap the benefits of deferment of instant gratification. It takes time to do my day job accurately and with correspondence, both written and verbal, that is well-considered and thought-out. Editing my photographs takes a substantial amount of time, with rotation and / or cropping of images being something I do painstakingly, until my images meet my standards. Additionally, years of piano lessons had taught me that there’s just no way to fake the time that it takes to practice in order to master a challenging piece and put on a quality performance as a participant in a recital.
Still, around the time I was ten or so, and as is true of many boys that age, waiting was simply something I was not keen on doing. I was that kid who was intent on gluing parts of my model kit together on the same day I had painted certain components, against the strong recommendation of my older brother. “Oh, no.” I’d reason. “The paint is dry to the touch, so I’m good to go. He’s just trying to spoil my fun. Stupid him.”
And, ahhh… the smell of Testor’s model paint and glue. I sat at my newspaper-covered desk in the bedroom I shared with my younger brother, with the window cracked open for ventilation, painting the T/A’s ground effects on the little, plastic parts-tree with gold metallic enamel, breathing in the delightful (and yes, intoxicating) aroma of that paint. A small bowl of turpentine for my paintbrush sat nearby. I wasn’t deliberately “huffing” any of those fragrant, chemical substances. I just really, really liked their smell. Perhaps this, combined with my impatience, is why the results of the hard work on my model kits turned out to look substantially less glamorous and lifelike than the finished car model shown on the box in the second image, above.
My Trans Am, in the same colors as our featured car, ended up looking a little like the shirt Denise Huxtable made for Theo on “The Cosby Show” for thirty of his dollars (in 1984 – about $70 / adjusted). My car sat lopsided on its wheels, had glue smudges on it, including on that cool piece of rear wraparound hatchback plastic “glass”, and some of the parts that weren’t falling off just plain didn’t line up. Sadly, as an emblem of my disappointment (both with the finished product and with myself) and shortly after it rolled of the “assembly line” of my bedroom desk, it ended up being one of my go-to crash-’em-up cars when horsing around with my younger brother.
This real Trans Am had passed by as I was sitting outdoors at a coffee bar after work. I immediately sprang out of my chair and got these few snaps, right before texting my niece who had just visited me in Chicago a couple of weeks prior. Maybe I was prompted to text her just from missing that sweet girl so much. Maybe this car jogged my memory, being something I had considered one of the ultimate expressions of automotive supremacy and machismo, when I was a boy of about my niece’s age. It was probably a combination of both of these things.
My other thought was that the last, major reference to this generation of Firebird that I could remember in popular culture was when it was the ride of Dwight K. Schrute in “The Office” – who is one of my personal heroes, but one probably not shared with too many others. Regardless, spotting this black & gold Trans Am was a great reminder of what it felt like to want to grow up. And yes… I still think it looks cool.
Ravenswood, Chicago, Illinois.
Thursday, August 10, 2017.