(Posted to the CC Cohort by William Rubano)
Seeing this Trans Am at the CC Cohort prompted genuine excitement followed by a pretty sobering realization – this car is old. Figuring this is a 1979 model (although it could be a 1980 or 1981), it is from the same time period as The Dukes of Hazzard premiering, Margaret Thatcher becoming prime minister of the UK, and Pope John Paul II visiting Jimmy and Roslyn Carter in the White House.
That wasn’t exactly yesterday.
Once upon a time, Pontiac F-bodies were as common as stink. From plain-jane Firebirds to high-end Trans Ams they always seemed to be more plentiful than any other Pontiac. That really wasn’t the case, especially if looking at the relatively paltry 1981 sales tally, but the seeming plentifulness can easily be attributed to their being more memorable in appearance than any contemporary and boring B-body Catalina or Bonneville.
The realization the number of screaming buzzard Pontiacs has dwindled to being slightly more common than a pregnant mule wasn’t a surprise. Perhaps due to the visual and visceral stimulation these were endowed with, and the subsequent fan group, the F-body always seemed to have a more pronounced downward life spiral than most cars.
Sure, Burt Reynolds could afford a new T/A, but some Cousin Eddie type could always be counted on to be a subsequent owner down the line. Say what you want about the Cousin Eddie’s of the world (and there are an abundance of them), but just like they know when the shitter is full, they also know when it’s time to purge themselves of that old, ragged-out T/A.
And thus the life cycle ends.
Was it really all that long ago when these Trans Ams, in all their peel-and-stick gold-flecked finery, were the ultimate in slightly upscale sporty car for many a young man with means enough to afford one? The related Chevrolet Camaro was just too common and unsophisticated. For those of a certain disposition, the T/A was it. Even better, it possessed a flavor of being the anti-Everything Else type of car.
Long ago, my first job was at a fast-food joint. I was supervised by a man who had had a ’79 Trans Am as his first car. He reveled in telling stories of the nefarious and lurid deeds that included his Trans Am.
He would almost be misty-eyed when finishing these stories; he fit the knee-jerk stereotype and really loved his T/A.
I currently work with an engineer who still has the ’79 Trans Am he purchased new. Powered by the 185 horsepower Olds 403 cubic inch V8, the engine which replaced the Pontiac 400 quite early in the model year, he has taken great strides in caring for his Pontiac – but only in the last couple of decades. Another co-worker has told me about the many times he witnessed the proud, thirty-odd years younger owner blissfully smoking the rear tires of that white T/A with wild abandon through residential neighborhoods in the wee hours of the morning.
Bill and his T/A have matured together, having a very enviable relationship over portions of five decades.
Even in the small town of 450 where I grew up, there was a twin to our featured Trans Am blasting around. For quite a while Jeff, a young man of dubious character in his early twenties, used it every evening to deliver that day’s issue of the Southeast Missourian newspaper. During the summer, it was quite easy to hear Jeff’s rumbling Trans Am coming down the quarter-mile gravel lane to our house.
As an aside, Jeff’s T/A would later make way for a Corvette. Yep, he delivered newspapers from his ‘Vette.
One warm afternoon Jeff was following my school bus home. On the bus that day was Tiffany, a perpetual senior in high school. Tiffany, a good-hearted but frequently misguided young woman, would periodically, as she put it, “whip out” a specific body part at motorists – often truckers – who followed the bus. She’d unbutton, unclasp, and plaster her bare bosoms on the rear window of the bus, often shrugging her shoulders just enough to provide further displays for her hapless spectators.
The amusement from those onboard perpetually drowned out the howling disgust of her critics.
Bored that day, Tiffany opted for some variety by deciding to sail her bra out the window. Never in a thousand T/A lifetimes could she have aimed better (plus she somehow still managed to expose her glandular appendages to everyone onboard). That brassiere sailed beautifully out the window, glided into the open T-top of Jeff’s Trans Am, and bounced across his head, providing everyone a terrific showcase about how airflow works – enough to inspire one of her witnesses to enter into an aerospace career at Boeing in St. Louis. The bus driver nearly ran off the road from laughing and looking.
The Trans Am was as inspirational as it was aspirational.
These Pontiacs rewarded the lead-footed with a euphoric auditory symphony of engine and exhaust chat while providing pretty respectable motivation for the times. The appeal was simple. Nothing currently can mimic that.
Or can it? There is a reason many young males enjoy diesel pickups and have less affinity for docile, well-muffled engines. These pickups are the spiritual yet unintentional descendant of the F-body, providing stimulating tones that sooth raging hormones and emit torque that can be measured by the pull on one’s neck. It doesn’t take any advanced sociological studies to realize the appeal of these mildly modified pickups.
The anti-Everything Else phenomenon is quite alive although it takes different forms around the world.
Yet part of the discovery of this Trans Am, in the definitive color of black, included another sobering realization. As this Trans Am has grown old, so have I. Thankfully human years aren’t as quick and cruel as automotive years, but time still ravages everything nonetheless. This passage of time also includes the evolution of tastes.
Graduating high school in 1990, these Trans Am weren’t exactly new anymore, but weren’t dismissed as being old and out of style either despite the body style being introduced within a few years of our birth. Most anyone in my high school would have happily driven one to parade around the school parking lot and for blasting around pokey school busses on rural two-lane roads. Driving was a great thing as a teen, an experience that would have been heightened immeasurably by piloting a Trans Am (or Firebird) of any ilk.
Fast forward twenty-seven years and I’m now the one with a high schooler, one who isn’t being exposed to the shenanigans conducted on a school bus. While still not of driving age, it is evident she, like her contemporaries, isn’t chomping at the bit to drive. A recent inquiry revealed she’s too distracted with other interests and activities. Whereas I and my cohorts eagerly exploited any opportunity to drive at the sacrifice of other things, the tradition of anxiously awaiting driving privileges isn’t universally vibrant these days.
It also makes for some pretty boring parking lots as this was where I parked upon taking her to a school function recently. It’s evident I wasn’t the only chauffeur in attendance.
As most of these youngsters were born in the 2000 to 2005 range, any mental image of a Trans Am is likely of the more antiseptic and plastic cladded variety – if they even know what a Pontiac Trans Am is. How times have changed.
To co-opt an old movie title, it looks like Sad Times at Ridgemont High.
At this point, Mrs. Jason has heard these 1,300 words of middle-aged memories and philosophical musings, observing it isn’t the most abundant with technical details. While amused about the smoking tires, for whatever unfathomable reason she wasn’t thrilled to read about flying bras and bare breasts. To this I countered no other car has ever embodied these things as triumphantly and comprehensively as a black Trans Am.
On this, she could only agree.
More technical reading:
CC: Not Quite Screaming Chicken
Beautifully put – everything we need to know in just 1300 words.
Burt would approve.
These Firebirds are not really favorites of mine. The front end design just strikes me as 1 re-style too many. But, then I see an example that looks “showroom”, like the red one in the ad, and I figure it’s not so bad. This newer design is color-dependent.
A terrific first post for the year, Jason! Happy new year!
I don’t know if it was just me but I was getting some Joe Dennis vibes from your writing… I know enough about these Firebirds that a delightful, free-flowing anecdote or two about these is preferable to retreading through historical information I already know. Very enjoyable to read!
Thanks, Will! Happy New Year to you also.
Yes, in proofreading this, I did get a Joe Dennis-esque vibe from this also. But you’ve hit the nail on the head; we’ve covered a lot of cars over time and so many of us know an abundance of details on certain cars anyway, so why cover well-trodden ground? A Trans-Am is a car that just begs for a different take on things.
“A New Breed of Wow”
Shhhhhhh… Don’t tell anyone the cake under that frosting is largely unchanged since 1970.
Yes I’ll take a “Bandit Edition” please. It wasn’t hard to wake up the 403 with a few tweaks.
Living in Florida, I saw several of these ’79-’81 Firebirds with distorted and warped nosecones due to the intense sun and heat. The ’79 facelift was not an improvement over the good-looking ’77-’78 cars.
Great read and a great way to start the New Year. Had me laughing out loud in the best Shafer tradition.
I desperately wanted a ’77 Trans Am when I was a kid (I wasn’t as big a fan of the ’79 facelift, though I give Pontiac credit for keeping the looks fresh). However, the late ’70s swagger aged badly and my tastes moved on–even though Pontiac tried to stick with the formula (I always thought the final Trans Ams looked borderline ridiculous). Still, seeing this car, even in its decrepit state, is like rediscovering a long lost favorite toy from childhood–you can instantly remember why you liked it, even if you don’t really want to play with it any more.
Seeing the period Pontiac ads reminds me how dismal their marketing was in the late 1970s and early 1980s. “More Pontiac excitement per Gallon” is dreadful, and the only thing worse was the American vs. import comparison campaign with the befuddled Japanese man questioning “what does Pontiac know that we don’t?” (answer: nothing!)
They did have something to learn about rustproofing at that point.
From the old Corollas I’ve seen over the years, by the second product generation at NUMMI, they had.
This ad is insulting to everyone involved, especially the reader. Also, I like how they almost hid the dog dish hub caps on the stripper Grand Prix.
I would have bought the Celica anyway and considered the $471 money well spent.
That is a wildly strange add. And it begs the question why a Grand Prix is the comparison point, and not the Sunbird. “Ohh, wait. Even we already know the Sunbird is trash” is all I take away here.
I cannot imagine a more perfect pairing of high school knuckleheads and this car. These were still new and cool when I was just out of high school, although they were on a downward slide in popularity by 1980.
Yes, these seemed to age quickly – likely, as you note, because of their status as used car of choice for the Beavises and Buttheads of the world. I love the condition of this one.
“perfect pairing of high school knuckleheads and this car.”
I was thinking the same thing, though less articulately, as I read this post. Being the same age as Mr. Shafer, a few of my co-knuckleheads in high school had Trans Ams, and the one I remember most was some kid who had a brown 6.6 Trans Am. I don’t remember his name, but I do remember his car’s demise.
One day (and I can’t imagine why) he took the car out on an icy weekend afternoon. Driving down a four-lane road near our house, he hit the gas hard on a straight portion of road, and the car violently spun out, hitting a high curb sideways and ending up with its axles broken. I never saw the car after that. I’m sure many Trans Ams met some variation of that chain of events.
One of my cousins (who was a poofy haired 80’s queen) turned down a marriage proposal from a guy who drove a blue Firebird Esprit.
She successfully held out for the guy with the black Trans Am.
Great early morning read, Jason. Nothing like an imagery-full story told well to put a car in proper context.
Thank you. Sometimes telling these stories is, for me, like a roulette wheel by not knowing how well it will land. But, if it means getting the right context, I’m going all in!
I graduated High School at peak muscle car, 1969, However A construction crew Chief in the Design Build firm where iwasDesign Chief had one of these, new, in 1980. God launch and actually a bit of trestosterone fueled fun, however, when he once followed me on some twisties from High Ridge Missouri, where Our offices were, to I-44 via Antire Road, His Black Bird has a devil of a time on the tight curves. Something my then new Audi 4000 took in stride. I knewhe was bugged when we got to the interstate and headed East, toward St. Louis and he floored it to pass me at speed….Nice display of acceleration.. which unfortunately also got the attention of a MHP officer. He was somewhat abashed the next day when he came in the office. I opted to not bring up the subject. However, he did. Seems the cop took pity and just gave him a warning. Upshot was, he had some new respect for my German sedan. everybody won.
Great write up Jason! Your point about how age changes opinion on these polarizing vehicles is dead on. As a kid, I lusted for a black and gold
Trans Am of the 77 to 81 variety. I never had one myself, but had lots seat time in my friend’s 80 TA which he and I had swapped a late 60s Pontiac 400 into. His car was a originally a 301 which was slower than my 82 Civic. The 403 version was automatic only, as I recall, but was torquey enough to be a decent performer for the times. These later 70s cars were never really about performance though; they just scream look at me, very much like a kid in a diesel pickup today. Now I prefer my vehicles to have more actual performance than gaudy appearances or noise. I have no desire to make my F150 or any of my cars louder. Faster, maybe….
Still, I was young once, and I get it. I like the sound of a turbo diesel pulling an incline, and I still like the shape of these F bodies years later. I wouldn’t mind having one. But now I’d take it with the graphics-delete option.
To fond memories of screaming chickens and flying Tiffany’s!
Well done Jason.?
Tiffany sounds like a fun girl. Did you stay in touch?
I do know of her current whereabouts. She was, and I kid you not, a minister for a while.
That sounds reasonable, my wife’s college roommate the amateur dominatrix became a rabbi.
Back on topic, my neighbor has a similar vintage Z-28 in in his garage and I get a bit of nostalgia when he fires it up, as well as a powerful urge to dig my motorcycle out of hibernation so I can enjoy the boom of its peashooter mufflers.
There’s likely a proverb for this situation, but I’m not sure which.
Isn’t there a Tiffany in everyone’s circle of friends? A girl in my class was kind of an exhibitionist, too. Last I heard she was running a homeless mission in Cleveland somewhere…
This was the first thing I read in 2018. *Thank you*, Shafer!
Plurals shouldn’t have an apostrophe s:
Say what you want about the Cousin Eddie’s of the world
Excellent writing Jason. I turned 26 in 1979. Oh..! how I wanted a Trans Am, though not a Smokey and the Bandit version. With two small children, and a massive mortgage, it just wouldn’t work.
Good write-up! The ultimate late-’70s automotive statement, the T/A was the “it” car in ’79, the year I graduated from high school (you’re right about these cars being “old”). All show, not much go but still about as good as it got in the late malaise era. One or two “rich” kids at my high school had one and they were the envy of the school for sure.
At the large state university where I attended college the campus was virtually crawling with black & gold T/As, mostly driven by the many male Iranian students enrolled there. Why I don’t know but they sure dug black & gold T/As, all with the giant gauche screaming chicken decal on the hood.
Fortunately I didn’t have to feel much T/A envy at that point because the girl I dated starting my sophomore year in college shared a silver ’76 400 4-speed T/A with her older brother. I guess it worked out as we’ve been married now 34 years and she still puts up with my car addictions to this day.
Good write up, and a fair take on the Trans Am demographic. The late ’70s were good years here in Western Canada and these were the car of choice for young guys making a decent buck, as well as the Tiffanys of the world. I must confess to having a ’78 Esprit at one time with the “Bordello” velour interior in red. Mine was a factory 305 Chevy (replaced with a warmed over 350) with a Saginaw 4 speed, and it was a pretty good road car. It didn’t age well and was a menace to drive on BC’s winter highways though. Had a lot of fun with it, aged out and wouldn’t want another one.
I had to laugh at your assessment of what has replaced these cars with today’s young guys, almost every one I know either owns or badly wants the biggest lifted diesel 4×4 they can get. I wonder when that will fade and what the next testosterone mobile will be?
Well done Jason, great story!
One guy at my high school got at new ’76 TransAm for graduation, black and gold with the pukin’ chicken. Other than being young and male and of means, he fit the TA mold not at all, was a good student, good guy, and went on to be quite successful in medicine. But I’m guessing the TA eventually found someone a little less responsible.
I’m one of the few who really liked the 1979 refresh of the Firebird. As much as I liked the Smokey and the Bandit movie, Special Edition Trans Am overload in the late 1970’s was a real phenomenon. The silver 10th anniversary edition T/A that was released in 1979 was the anti-Burt T/A that folks like me wanted to see.
By the time I was in a financial position to drive a new car, these cars were definitely in the realm of the mullet wearing, gold chain, cigarette smoking guys I didn’t want to be associated with. A few years after that, they were demoted to beater status. I give credit to the guys that kept theirs in decent condition, few really saw them as little more than a means to an end.
The photos in the post remind me of what these cars looked like about 1986 or so. I’m kind of amazed it hasn’t been picked up by someone looking to fix one up…
I get the vibe that this is parked in front of the house of the person who drug it out from sitting under a tree in someone’s back yard and has returned it to a running and driving vehicle. The glass is clean all the way around with no moss growing in the rear window or T top trim and the white letters on the tires don’t show much signs of aging so presumably they aren’t that old.
Hopefully that is the case and this car is again on the upswing. No not my favorite F body but I can’t say it wouldn’t make a fun toy.
On the surface, I’m probably the antithesis of a TransAm owner. I grew up in a liberal college town and my dad was a literature professor, my first car was a Volvo 122S, and my first automotive purchase after graduating from college was an Alfetta sedan. But some seed was planted in 1978 when I drove my roommate’s TransAm, 400 (not 403) and 4 speed, with no T tops or big chicken decal. A low key silver one, no less. And three years later, when I was in town picking some parts for my Fiesta Showroom Stock racer, I spotted a burgundy TransAm, sans T tops or hood decal, prominently displayed at the local Pontiac store. I stopped, checked it out … and a few hours later had traded in my Scirocco for a 1981 TransAm with the one-year-in-California-only Chevy 305/4 speed combo with the WS6 package. My first new car, my first loan, my first (and last) V8. In fact my last 4 speed, as subsequent cars have been 5 speeds or automatics. My friends were shocked, my girlfriend was embarrassed to be seen in it. I autocrossed it, took it over the Sierra passes a few times and rattled some parts off on high-speed dirt road runs to Eastern Sierra hot springs. Eight months later gasoline popped over $1.25 a gallon and I traded it in on a new Honda Civic, at a huge loss. A few months ago I found an ’81 305/4 speed TA on Craigslist for about $20K. Looked in pretty decent shape, but it had T tops and the screaming chicken, so I decided to pass. You can’t go back. Here’s my TA just outside Yosemite in the spring of 1981, just after Tioga Pass opened. Note the huge panel gaps around the hood. In many ways the fit and finish were worse than my ’73 Vega,
Haha, this is the opposite of me – Mr Chrysler Land Yacht whose first new car was a VW GTI, which I sold after 2 years (at a moderate loss) in favor of a really nice 20 year old Fury III.
The heart wants what the heart wants. 🙂
I love the big accessory fog lamps, I wasn’t around in the era but judging from old magazines and movies(cannonball run) big square fog lamps seemed to be a must have performance item in the early 80s. They fit your car and the location perfectly!
I bought those for my Vega, which I bought in ’76, and installed them (the same pair, Bosch I think) on quite a few cars before leaving them on my ’86 Ranger when I sold it in ’95. The TA was actually quite a nice “grand touring” car for brisk driving on California’s back roads, but it was pretty gutless at altitude. And the mpg and tank range weren’t great.
I always considered myself a litter of kids and a steel plate in the head separated from being a real life cousin Eddie, so yes these Trans Ams are eminently cool to me.
It’s very true how badly they aged, GM lacquer paint at the time was just brutal for longevity, and made examples that weren’t religiously waxed and garage kept look like this in a matter of a few years. Buffing and polishing(which was the one positive about lacquer) was probably a bad idea since the various decals would get destroyed. I was fully car conscious by the mid 90s and Trans Ams were the most scarce of the second gen F bodies in the Chicago area by then, yet Camaros of the same vintage were relatively common – I watched smokey and the bandit when I was 4 years old, so early on these were favorite cars of mine, and it was exciting and memorable to see one. Camaros were a disappointment. – Rust should have wiped out both but I think the somewhat toned down details may have kept them a bit fresher in the Chi burbs through the 80s and 90s, and indeed the times I do remember seeing TAs were on trips to see my grandparents in the rural outskirts of Racine WI, and yes they looked as grizzled(or more) as this example
I think Diesel trucks being their replacement is a regional thing, namely in rural areas. Around here I’d say it’s WRX STIs that have taken the torch of the urban TA demographic.
Great start to the new year Jason!
As a ‘78 model myself, these were still pretty cool when I came of age in the early 90s. When I bought my first car as a new college grad in ‘98 I actually test drove the later plastic Trans Am and was totally disappointed. Even 20-year-old-GM-loving me could tell it was a piece of crap.
My online name is kinda autobiographical. Having graduated in 1985, these cars were cheap. Sadly, we were the generation that put most of these cars (and Camaros) into the ground. I blew up the 400 in my ’77 FireChicken. The yearly destruction of these cars on the strip was a bit sickening in retrospect. Yet still we found more. Until we became “adults” and went on to other things.
Great write up- nice way to start the New Year. I graduated from HS in ’72, just when these cars were getting popular. My first exposure to a T/A in person was in college, in Switzerland or all places. The car was cool, the owner was an idiot (no nice way to say that). When I came back to the US to finish up my Degree, T/A’s were fairly common in the dorm parking lots. Again, it was the owner stereotype that made me never want one. I did wind up owning three F-cars, a ’77 LT, a ’88 IROC Convert, and a ’91 RS. Of the three, the ’91 was my favorite. Not especially fast (305/5 spd), but made all the right noises, and with the T-Tops off on a warm summer night, the car was magic. When the bodystyle changed, I lost interest. My next pony car was a ’01 Mustang GT.
I had a co-worker – Bill – back in the late 70’s who was a little older than I… he was a classmate of Steve Martin at Garden Grove High in Orange County, Ca., if I recall correctly. Anyways, Bill had a black TA that he was notorious for driving too fast, too many speeding tickets and a DUI or two. Then we heard about him rolling it up in Silverado Canyon. Thankfully, he hadn’t hurt anyone else, just himself, mainly cuts and severe bruises. We all awaited the TAs replacement… What color would the new TA be. A week later, Bill pulled up in his new gold Chevette, mag wheels all around. Sadly, a legend had died, but the snickering would live on.
Ah the 79-81 Trans-Am. The 79-81 models with the revised front end were my favorites of the 2nd generation. Looking at the production levels for 1979, it is clear that I was not the only one that loved the new front end.
To me it seemed like Pontiac wanted to keep this car looking fresh to the very end. The 1977-1978 and 1979-1981 refresh made the car look current. The Camaro with its round headlights looked dated by contrast.
As a person that was born in 1977, I grew up with the 82-92 3rd generation and like that generation better then the 2nd generation due to its sleek style, popup headlights and because it was KITT but I like the 77-81 era of the 2nd generation also.
I will agree with the folks that had no love of the 4th generation firebird. I owned one for a few years and it was a pile of shit
The Camaro design just seemed caught in limbo after 74, the rear end looked thoroughly modern by 77, with its wide tail lamps with amber turn signals(carried directly over to the third generation) but the nose looked busy and the round headlights just didn’t look fresh. I don’t mind them now, but when I was a kid I thought the 77-81 Camaro resembled an insect, it’s hard to believe it started life as the 1970 design.
The Firebird was the opposite, and arguably the 77-81s looked better resolved than the 70-76 did ever did. The 77-78 is my favorite, but I like the 79 in that it what was actually a very thorough update, with all new bumpers, taillights, nose, spoiler caps, and even a redesigned screaming chicken. 77s basically carried over every major change the 76 except for the flattened hood, diamond shaped shaker and of course the headlight/grilles(the lower bumper is aesthetically the same as 76)
I grew up with the 4th gen and didn’t like it, so I looked back to the second generation. I like the third generation ok though, but for all the stereotypes mentioned about these second gen cars, I think the third gen fits them and are simply harder to defend. Second gens had their weaknesses but they were revered by a mainstream car audience when new since they did actually set some performance standards for a while. Third gens (like most 80s+ GM products) became more about being an isolated loyalist to the brand/model, they had performance but lost the image, and the same qualities they had could be had elsewhere with better quality and even packaging from Japan
Well these were still rolling off the production lines when I was in HS so they weren’t showing up in the student parking lots. While I’m sure many would have loved to have one they were forced to “settle” for 1st gen Camaros and Firebirds. Of course the funny thing is if they were able to keep that 1st gen and keep it in reasonable shape it would be worth more than one of this generation.
One girl that I am friends on facebook did just that still owning the hand me down Firebird convertible she drove in HS. It had been her father’s car and he had kept it near perfect as did she all through HS. It did go through at least one repaint in the intervening years, but it looks much like it did in HS, including the Cragar S/S, according to the pics she has posted in recent years. All those owned by the guys at the time had a rapid decent in the hands of 16-18 year olds including a couple that were totaled.
“…strippers, redheads, girls named Tiffany…”
You need to post a warning with that video- DO NOT HOLD COFFEE OR OTHER BEVERAGE WHILE WATCHING. I’m still laughing….
Brilliant! The engineer’s mind at work.
A high school friend with an overly generous parent was given a new ’76 T/A, black/gold plus screaming chicken hood, and with the 455 and 4 speed. I think it was some sort of anniversary edition. I got to drive it several times. Even though by that time the big motor had been gelded, at the time it was a thrill.
Those short-lived late 70s fad wheel arch flares integrating into a front air dam, reminded me so much of Elvis and his flared pants at the time. Each of the four domestic manufacturers attached these unsightly appendages to their tape strip muscle cars. As the late 70s AMX, Roadrunner, Trans AM, and King Cobra all featured them.
And the automotive equivalent…
The Trans Am used those from inception in 1970, and there is merit aerodynamically since the lower body tumblehome is so extreme that the tire treads are effectively in the direct path of the air without them. All modern cars are like this actually, but with nearly flattened sides without the need for faring, but on some cars you’ll still see it used for the same effect, such as on the SRT hellcat(albeit black and more utilitarian in design).
Cool find and write up!
Somehow this 79 TA ended up with 77 wheels. There is definitely a following for these today. An example in excellent condition will bring a pretty penny and there are people restoring them. Even this CC is probably worth more than one might think if it has a solid body.
As an elementary age kid in this era, the closest I ever got to owning one was the Yatming (Matchbox style) Rocky II car. Probably my all time favorite Matchbox car for playing with. Lot of scale miles on that car! I still have it and it still has the best playability even though it looks like the Matchbox equivalent of the subject car. (By playability I mean it has a perfectly sprung little suspension, it’s loose and body leans in turns easily, it will take a jump and land on its wheels and the wheels are worn just right that if I press down on the hood scoop on a hard surface, it sounds like a V8 engine!)
Actually those snowflake wheels were available on the 79-81, and were also used on B bodies in the same years. I believe they were the optional wheel above the standard Rally II 5 spokes. Thee wheel you might be thinking of was a different snowflake wheel introduced in 1978 with a pronounced “lip” but was only available on the WS6 package. There was also the Turbo wheel of course, which started on the 79 10th anniversary and used on the Turbo TA WS6 in 80-81.
Funny you should mention Rocky II, because his Trans Am was actually a non-WS6 with the flat snowflakes as well
Yes, for those of us in the know back then, the extra 1″ width of the 8″ wide WS6 wheels was a giveaway that this was the hot version. My ’81 had the Turbo wheels which were standard on WS6 cars by then, I think, and we’re also 8″ wide. Even with 8″ wide rims which is still fairly wide by today’s standards the tires were mere 225/70’s, on 15″ rims of course. I think only the TRX tires on Fords were a lower profile (for the domestics) in that era. Other features unique to the WS6 were a faster steering ratio and urethane sway bar bushings, and I think larger diameter bars front and rear. Oh, and the California 305’s were not fitted with chrome exhaust tips. I would have taken them off if mine had come with them.
I was in HS just a couple of years earlier, so I’m sure there were a few of these F bodies around, but I really don’t remember them. Our parking lot in Mid Michigan had soooo many Cutlasses.
Cutlasses and Chevelles were the two dominant cars in my HS parking lot. There were two Roadrunners, a 383 that was my cousin’s former car, and a ’69 with a 440 in it that sounded fantastic and was easily the quickest car on the lot. There was a friend of mine who had a nice looking yellow Charger, but it was a sad 318 two barrelled car that was just total disappointment, performance wise.There was a really nice blue ’69 Camaro with a built up 327, a couple of Novas, both real strippers with a six and not much in options. And one blue Trans-Am. A kid whose grandfather owned a bunch of car dealerships got it about 20 minutes after he got it his license in ’72. He had it until the middle ’80’s when his brother wrecked it. The engine came out and went into a red ’79 that he still has, dead in his garage. It’s in good shape as it was never driven in the snow, but the engine tossed a rod and he can’t get the money together to get it going as he has a kid with major health issues that lives with them. I tried to buy it from him a few years ago, but he refused, hoping to get it running for his son. I don’t think it’s ever going to happen,
My parents generously gifted me an ’85 Monte Carlo SS, my dream car at the time. I didn’t have it long, totaled and gone quickly. My next car was a lesser car, an ’81 Grand Prix, with the 231 V6. The car was nice but S L O W .
FWIW, you could still get a 400 in a 1979 Firebird. The catch was it had to be the most expensive Silver Anniversary Trans Am, and you had to take a 4-speed with it. As one might imagine, the vast majority of the last year for the big-block Trans Am were the Olds 403/auto combination. In effect, GM was winding down the inventory of remaining big-block engines in anticipation of its elimination for 1980 in lieu of the unlamented turbo 301.
While the 400 4-speed was had limited availability, non-anniversary ’79 T/A’s also received this combo. There were somewhere between 8600-8800 4000’s installed in Firebirds, with about 8300 going to T/A’s and the rest went into Formulas.
A non-anniversary, 1979 Firebird with a 400/4-speed sounds like it would be one rare bird. In fact, it seems somewhat reminiscent of certain low-production Mopars where you would get the Hemi if you ordered a 4-speed and a 440 if you went with the automatic.
Yeah, I don’t know the numbers, but not very common at all. Most I have seen were WS6 cars. Do a google search and some will pop up. Here is one:
IIRC, the 400 cars had “T/A 6.6” on the shaker hood scoop, while the 403 Olds cars simply said, “6.6 LITRE”.
Was this the case with the 78s as well? My Dad actually changed the shaker decal on his from 6.6 litre to the TA 6.6. His was an automatic 403. I was under the impression the shaker decals denoted transmission choice, or were all 4-speeds 400s, and all automatics 403?
You are partially correct. The 400 only came with a 4 speed, but you could get it in any Trans am or Formula. Also, there is no such thing as a big block or small block Pontiac engine. They are all the same block demensions. Cubic inch is determined purely by bore and stroke. The 403 is also not a big block. It is actually an Olds 350R with a 455 crank. It is a small block. The 403 is a low end torque motor because of the stroke of the big crank.
In the 70s, I was attending a second rate state university in western Michigan. As was the case with GearheadDave’s campus, Whatsamatta U’s Engineering school was full of Iranian students.
In 78 I knew a girl that was attending that university who was a fair complected, blue eyed, natural blonde. The Iranians were constantly hitting on her. She would mimic the Iranian accent as she recited their inevitable opening line “hello blondie, I drive Trans Am.”
A coworker of mine, some 20 years younger than I, was telling me about when she and her husband were newly weds, As he was backing down the driveway to head to work, she would pull her top up and flash him through the window. Her name is also Tiffany.
…a pretty sobering realization – this car is old.
Same realization I have when watching a 70s episode of The Bob Newhart Show” with it’s Chicago street scenes in the credits and the street traffic in an ep of “Columbo”. Those cars, which don’t seem so archaic to me, are now older than the seemingly ancient Model A Ford that was a climb toy at a playground in the Irish Hills in the early 60s.
Hey Jason, I really enjoy the CC-Clue Game.
If there’s a way to open it up to us readers posting clues, that would be great fun …….. altho it would probably get out of control in a hurry.
Anyway, to give it a try — here’s my clue & hint:
Maybe it *IS* your father’s ……..
Great post Jason, and I can definitely relate to your story about the T/A’s. For the longest time, I couldn’t get past these as being the ultimate mullet-mobile beater hot rod. As time has gone on, I have softened and I actually like them now. It’s nice to see an unmolested original Firebird these days. All of the T/As from this era bring seem to bring ridiculous money now a days.
My father-in-law bought an ’80 T/A with a 305 Chev Auto (Canadian), black and gold brand new in 1980. At that time, it was a different demographic driving them, and they were still a pretty cool car. It did seem to date quickly though and he didn’t hang on to it long before he traded it in for something more family friendly.
I never understood the allure of these cars…seemed like something public school kids drove. I went to a fancy-schmancy Jesuit high school and there were more 7-series BMWs and S-Class MBs than Camaros and Trans Ams.
I will tell you we went through the Norwood GM plant with the cub scouts when I was about 8 years old, and they were cranking out black T/As that day…that was pretty slick. Something tells me they wouldn’t allow tours by little kids in an assembly plant today.