Curbside Classic: 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am 6.6 – Prolonging The Magic

So I was visiting a friend of mine in one of San Salvador’s residential areas, a peculiar vicinity from the 1960s, built for the military when they were considered a class of their own in this nation. My friend’s father had actually been a military doctor, and thus the reason for his family having a home there. Given the background, not necessarily the best of places to go curbside hunting.

But just as I was leaving, the sight of a very ’70s shape appeared on a side street. A ’70s Pontiac Trans Am? With a Screaming Chicken? Despite the surroundings, time for an undercover operation to grab some pics! After all, I would be hard-pressed to find in this city another American vehicle that screamed “Living the 70s!” with such conviction.

It’s no secret that as the ’70s advanced, Pontiac’s fortunes were quickly reversing. From hot-shot star to has-been, in a scant few years. But well, such is the spirit of the US; you better keep up with the times, or you’ll quickly fall behind.

But even if its star was fading, Pontiac occasionally found its way into the spotlight; offering a model here and there that kept the brand alive in the eyes of the young. Had it not been for the ’70s Firebird and Trans Am in my childhood years, would I have known about Pontiacs at all? Doubtful. Same with my classmates.

Of course, if you liked the purity and classiness of Pontiacs of the ’60s and longed for them, the ’70s Trans Am was a kick to those sensibilities. But how we, kids of the ’70s, had a way of knowing the brand’s best days were behind it? There was no web available in those days, and my father was into Soil Science magazines, not R&Ts. Not the best environment to know about Ponchos of the 60s.

In any case, the ’70s Trans Am carried every styling cliché of the period with unabashed pride. And like every fad-related matter, those clichés we now mock were… well, the coolest at the time. We may wince now, but my Mom gladly wore her color-coordinated polyester suits from Sears with great delight. And I better not share photos of my teen years with those ’80s stone-washed jeans.

Who hasn’t sinned on the altar of fashion?

But as said, the Trans Am carried the fashions of the day to an extreme. No middle of the road on that. And if there ever was a car that looked ‘right’ with such excesses, it’s a ’70s Trans Am. A late 1970s sporty-&-broughamized Pinto or Mustang II looks funny, as if carrying an ill-fitting suit. A Trans Am is just the opposite; one of few cars that as a strip-o, looks as if missing a great deal. Excess befits it.

Not that the Trans Am, at least in ’77, was just an appearance package. The 6.6’s 400CID V-8 still provided about 200 HP, and could reach 0-60 in about 10 secs. It was only to go downhill after that, of course. CAFE standards, malaise era, and all that. But no matter how ancient and emasculated those mechanicals got, Pontiac never failed to clothe this Trans Am’s generation with lots of drama.

“Excess ain’t rebellion…” sang an alternative rock band in the ’90s. Well, no one told that to GM and Pontiac’s execs, as everything in the Trans Am screams: “Screw conventions! I’m a -corporate- rebel!” The Trans Am’s loud decals unabashedly proclaim speed and fun times. No surprises there. After all, the expected ‘youth revolution’ of the ’60s had become a cynical marketing exercise by then.

Want fun and rebellion? It’s up for purchase, at Pontiac dealers!

Still, it was this image that kept the Firebird/Trans Am in the public’s consciousness, prolonging Pontiac’s magic to some degree. And when the time came to get himself a cool youthful ride, some influential colonel in the Salvadorian Army knew a Pontiac was the ticket and without hesitation, got himself a ’77 Trans Am.

Or so is my theory, after talking to my friend (the military doctor’s son) a couple of days later. As he explained to me, back in the day, members of the Salvadorian Army could import any car they wished tax-free and with no red tape hassle—one of the perks of the job.

In the case of this Salvadorian Trans Am, no matter how much ‘excess’ GM added to the model, no local can resist adding a bit more ‘visual flair.’ Trans Am experts may correct me, but I’m pretty sure this owner found a way -somehow- to add yet more gold trim on the car. Quite a feat.

The car’s location partly explains the poor quality behind some of my photos (that I hope will look better on your tiny cell phone screens). As I saw the car on my way out of the gated community and the security guard passed me heading in the opposite direction on his bike, I felt luck was calling me. The light was lousy, and yes, I took the photos in haste, hoping not to get caught (Growing up under repressive military rule creates that, you know?) But would I get another chance? After the furtive action, I quickly parted.

A few days later, I called my friend and asked about the car:

  • You think there could be a chance to walk around your ‘hood and take some photos of a car I saw on my way out?

A long quiet pause followed, before he answered;

  • Mmmm… You mean the Trans Am? I better check who the owner is before we do that. For all I know is some high-ranking general who won’t like us doing that at all… That car has been there since my childhood, and you know how those old military types were then…

Ooops! And I thought I had a fondness for living.

As we know, the Firebird and Trans Am were becoming dinosaurs even by the late ’70s, losing ground to more efficient and nimbler vehicles. Besides its outdated platform, the Trans Am probably stuck to its ’70s fashions far longer than it should have. Those ‘oh so cool’ Trans Am cues from the ’70s, looking increasingly out of step. Much like Mother, who refused to let go of her polyester suits all through the ’80s.

“Honeycomb pattern… Stoooopid!”

A quote, etched forever in my mind, emphatically told by a close California pal of mine whenever a ’90s Trans Am appeared in traffic, back during my college days in LA.

You probably rightly guessed that I won’t be going back for more photos of this ’77 Trans Am. Kind of a shame, as it’s just such an icon of that era. A model with plenty of fans and detractors. But regardless of where you sit on that fence, what can’t be denied is that the model kept some of that Pontiac magic alive in the eyes of many. Not quite the ’60s kind of magic, mind you. But new tricks have to be tried and learned in order to keep an audience’s attention.


Further reading:

Curbside Classic: 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am – Not Quite Screaming Chicken

Curbside Classic. 1979-81 Pontiac Trans Am – Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em

Curbside Classic: 1981 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am – Instant Attitude