(first posted 7/15/2016)
Published a year before “Smokey and the Bandit.” Fascinating that my Honda Fit will do 0-60 in only a half-second longer (and probably out-handle the TA), no mullet required. Ah, progress!
6 years earlier this same model would run 0-60 nearly 3 seconds faster with 55 cubic inches less. Progress from a nadir!
Because of this car and Farrah Fawcett there were an awful lot of preoccupied young men in 1976.
I am finding myself impressed that Pontiac took the time to certify a 49 state manual only 455. 8.4 seconds to 60 sounds slow today but what was faster than that in 1976. A few Corvettes and Duster 360s, perhaps a 280Z would be close.
Nice also that a Trans Am base price nosed under a Scirrocco at $4995. A pre 5 speed, pre fuel injection Scirrocco.
Amazing how far cars have come in 30 years. We now have four and six cylinders that produce more horsepower and better 0-60 times than this Trans Am’s massive V-8. And yet consumers are more spoiled than ever. I’ll leave it at that.
On a positive note, I am glad that GM kept producing the Firebird/Camaro in the mid-70’s. And we really have to thank Smokey & the Bandit for the surge in popularity, too.
Progress ,progress. But do not forget pre Nadir muscle cars like this had 100+ hp and 0-60 in 2 secs less. Primitive anti smog controls were akin to a runner jogging with a sock in his mouth… Choked..
Nice write up from a mag who disliked domestic cars unlike rivel C&D.
455 engine just $125 more but the radio was 100 bucks more?. . Nuts.Those were the days.
Tell you what I dare any one to do An EV Resto mod on these. . Be missing the point!.
I see automotive writers didn’t have to know anything about their subject even forty years ago. The Barracuda came before the Mustang. It didn’t follow all the other pony cars to market eventually.
I much prefer the look of the Esprit/Formula, a la Rockford. Also, 196.8 inches long? Good grief! They never seemed that large in person.
That’s even minutely larger than the 1975-79 Chevrolet Nova at 196.7″.
Naturally, no article about a 1976 Trans Am will be complete without this:
70s car chases were the best, actually that whole movie is excellent. The crash at the end looked like it hurt, I always got the impression the car was supposed to land up side down straight on the tracks, rather than half on the platform sending it in that violent spin. Miscalculation or not it sure was exciting!
Those decals on the TA were corny, they make the screaming chicken look positively subtle. The C10 is sweet though.
Greg Brady and a car chase with a three-on-the-tree?? Priceless !
That’s Ryan O’Neal trying to look tough.
In the directors cut Ryan went “Oh God! Oh man! Oh God! Oh man! Oh God! Oh man! Oh God! Oh man! Oh God!” for several minutes after the Trans Am sped away from the station.
My sister found out that Trans Ams were popular among USAF Academy cadets. Hot pilots are supposed to drive fast cars, so John Glenn was teased by fellow astronauts about his NSU Prinz.
There might be some confusion. Traditionally, pilots drove Corvettes, but during the mid-to-late seventies, the Corvette had some of the worst performing models, and I can see the Trans Am being more of a hot ticket ride at the time.
But Glenn was a Marine pilot who later became a NASA astronaut way before the Firebird Trans Am’s heyday in the seventies. Further, the reference to his being teased about his small car is probably from a passage in The Right Stuff. In the book, his Prinz was changed to a Nash Metropolitan. Even that’s kind of a stretch because military pay back then was quite low (even for officers) and, with families, it’s unlikely any of those guys had the money for fast cars of any sort. In fact, it was only when they became famous and all the Mercury 7 astronauts got sweetheart lease deals from a local Chevy dealer, Glenn chose an Impala station wagon instead of a Corvette. He later switched to Mercurys; there’s even a picture of him and his family in a Mercury convertible.
I suspect that the whole anecdote is a writer taking liberties with the truth (which Tom Wolfe was known to do). Glenn might have had an NSU Prinz, but it was probably from some prior tour of duty in Germany and he simply brought his car over with him when he returned to the states (which the military permitted to do quite cheaply). Wolfe combined that with Glenn choosing a station wagon rather than a Corvette. I’m sure he got razzed for that, but it doesn’t sound as good as Glenn driving a Nash Metropolitan and everyone else having a Corvette.
“Further, the reference to his being teased about his small car is probably from a passage in The Right Stuff. In the book, his Prinz was changed to a Nash Metropolitan. ”
I am pretty sure the book says that John Glenn drives a Prinz. So I pulled my copy and here’s what he wrote:
“On weekends he would faithfully make his way home to his wife, Annie, and the Children in an ancient Prinz, a real beat up junker that was about four feet long and had perhaps forty horsepower, the sorriest-looking and most underpowered automobile still legally registered to any fighter pilot in America.”
If he was going home to see his wife and children, I don’t care if he rode a donkey. That’s better than driving a Corvette to meet and impress a mistress.
Didn’t Wolfe also write that someone wrote, “The sports car: hedge against male menopause” on one of the training blackboards?
Maybe Wolfe said Glenn drove a Metropolitan in an interview. I could have sworn I heard or read it somewhere. Maybe what he said was he couldn’t recall what kind of small car it was, but that it was something like a Nash Metropolitan.
Yeah, that’s it…
I only remembered that the Prinz was mentioned in the book because when I first read the book, I didn’t know what that car was (especially because IIRC, Wolfe doesn’t ever say it’s a NSU). Plus it’s one of my favourite books.
It was John Glenn who wrote that quote on the chalk board, but the title was from a readers digest article. I didn’t remember that one, I just googled it and the first result was in this book: Light This Candle: The Life and Times of Alan Shepard by Neal Thompson. I haven’t read it but it looks to be a good read.
Here’s the page with that line:
Reading the page, it also refreshed my memory about Chevrolet providing Corvettes to the Astronauts for $1 a year leases. I seem to recall Wolfe writing that most of those guys liked to drive fast cars, but they weren’t nearly as skilled behind the wheel as they were behind the stick.
Thanks for the clarification on the Mercury 7, their cars, and the link to ‘Light This Candle’. The available passages essentially seem to indicate, besides portions on Shepherd’s life before NASA, it goes into much greater detail of some of the things Wolfe had written about in ‘The Right Stuff’, which would, indeed, make it a good read for anyone who liked Wolfe’s book. I’ll have to see if I can find a copy.
I’m particularly intrigued by the fact that it was none other than Glenn who wrote the passage on the blackboard. I really think when Wolfe wrote about it, he made it sound like just the reverse, as if it was written by one of the others as a slam on Glenn’s much more conservative, straight-laced lifestyle. Of course, today, it’s Glenn who’s getting the last laugh as the last surviving member of the group.
Speaking of astronauts (six years later), it seems like it might be a good time for a “Cars of ‘For All Mankind.'”
In that case, I wanna know why Ed Baldwin’s driving a ’90-’92 Cadillac—composite headlamps, door-mount seatbelts, etc—in 1983. They made a zillion ’83alike (’80-’89) Cadillacs; it can’t possibly have been impossible to find one. “Eh, good enough” slop like that really mars (as it were) a show otherwise so excellent.
Yes, military guys sometimes brought cars purchased in Europe with them. One retired military guy living near us in the 1960’s had a Fiat station wagon. Another had a Multipla.
But from his Wikipedia bio Glenn was never stationed anywhere in Europe. A few thousand Prinzen were imported into the US in 1959 and 1960, but not officially after that. Here’s the likely story:
No explanation of the “why” though. But his Prinz was probably the first version. The second came out in 1961. So maybe one of these:
My ’73 Sport bug with it’s built 1835cc engine probably had similar performance to this car.
And you couldn’t get a new Firebird this “fast” in California.
Was fun to keep up with or even beat these cars with it around this time. Got followed home a couple of times with people wanting to see what was under the hood.
Today probably would have angry people trying to run the Beetle off the road for challenging them, back in the day I would get a “wow what a great running Bug, what do you have in it, etc”.
Not to incriminate myself but driving a modified 90s “grandma car” and surprising the occasional person in a much newer car intended for high performance, they still will pay compliment or ask those questions if given the chance.
I’m sure there are those insecure egos out there bitter that an old ugly car can in fact kick their high tech behinds, but for the most part real car guys are far far more civil than they get credit for. I get run off the road more often by CUVs driven by people with Bluetooth headsets.
Yeah these might be slow from the factory, but with some engine and exhaust mods they can be pretty quick. I think these are good looking cars and I would love to have one!
Most notable part of the 76 isn’t the station wagon sourced 455 IMO, it’s those bumpers. The Firebird fared well compared to others in 74 & 75 but even they were still saddled with those ugly black rubber stoppers and rub strips. The clean seamless update for 76 was like suddenly it’s 1970 again. Nothing in the entire market in 76 had bumpers that were that well executed, well except maybe the Corvette(but I don’t know anyone who favors the droopy 74-79 rear end).
While the performance numbers from such a big engine are pretty sorry, to give Pontiac their due they came back in ’77 with a pretty decent version of the 400 that only got better in ’78. You could tell the difference on the shaker scoop, the station wagon mill was marked “6.6 liter” while the performance engine was marked “T/A 6.6”. There was a big difference between the 2. The T/A version couldn’t quite match the engines from the glory days but it was a decent runner and responded well to minor tweaks.
Probably the hottest generally available car you could buy in the late ’70s, though I would have ordered it in a Formula instead myself.
“The song is ended and in fact the musicians have packed up and gone home, but the melody is lingering on at Pontiac division”
I remember reading this article back in 1976. These words seemed so prophetic at the time. Car enthusiasts thought that the death knoll on the performance car had been rung forever.
My older brother bought a one year old ’76 Trans Am, and that was a fun car! Pontiac kept the faith and kept the T/A alive until it was reborn as a stormer in it’s last years. Now we have performance cars that were absolutely unthinkable thirty years ago. This is the new Golden Age. Enjoy it while it lasts!
I was stopped at a light in my ’74 Esprit yesterday, and next to me was a 403-powered ’79 Trans Am. How often these days do two cars that look so fast, but move so slowly, line up at a light? 🙂
This car in my opinion was pretty important at the time for keeping performance alive in a time when it was dead. Other than a Corvette, in 1976 there really wasn’t anything offered by the US automakers that was performance oriented and had decent performance (for the time).
Joe Oldham, of High Performance Cars magazine ripped on this car pretty badly when it was new. He was disappointed that the smogger 455 was so much slower than Ponchos of just few years before. In hindsight, he recently wrote a column in Hemmings Muscle Machines where he realized that he was unfair. The efforts the Pontiac Engineers at the time, specifically Tom Goad, were great considering the climate at GM, and the many new regulations of the time. FWIW, he got slightly better numbers from his T/A, 15.62 secs at 91 MPH. IMO, those were very good numbers for 1976, and probably the quickest car you could buy save an L82 Vette. Sure a Accord 4 cylinder can blow it’s doors off today, but it still doesn’t have that surge of low end big block torque.
Another good memory. I had just started reading car magazines around this time, and the only cars as quick or quicker than the Trans Am were (as noted above), Corvettes and 360-4bbl Dusters/Darts.
The Camaro Z28 would not reappear till 1977 (after taking 2 years off), and the 77 T/A dropped to 400, but was quicker. By 1979, even though the Malaise era was reaching is “nadir” (get it, Nadir = Nader, lol), Pontiac coaxed 220 hp out of the 400 T/A.
In 1979, for one year, Ford gave us the Fairmont 302 V8, AND Mustang 302 V8 with a 4spd.
1980-81 marked the bottom as even Corvettes were offered with emasculated 305 V8s….
The 1982 Mustang GT, 302 4speed, 157 hp, marked the turning point and the end of the malaise era for domestic performance. The Rabbit GTI the following year also helped.
I’ve never built or worked on any engine, but my understanding is that the Pontiac 400 AND 455 are not “big-blocks”, just bored/stroked Pontiac V8s, tracing their origins to the 326. Pontiac never had a “big block” motor, I thought.
Maybe some one can confirm.
That is correct; all traditional Pontiac blocks are the same physical size, from 326 (and probably earlier) to 455. There’s no differentiation between “big-block” and “small-block” as a result. Of course, those terms are sometimes vague anyway; for example, what’s a big-block Ford? An FE? A 385? How about a 400?
The Pontiac 265 and 301 apparently had a shorter deck height and some other differences, but they’re not exactly popular with motorheads anyway.
Other than the 265 and 301 misfits you mentioned above, all Pontiac V8’s were the same sized block from the 1955 287 to the 455. The main bearings did vary in size though from 2.5″ initially, then increased to 3.0″ in 1959 and remained there for all engines, except for the 421, 428 and 455’s which used large 3.25″ mains.
I know that a big-block 454 is large enough that you couldn’t get Power Steering in a Corvette, whereas it was available on the 350 (small-block).
So big blocks are take up more space in my mind.
The 265 and 301 were late 70s GM creations to eke out an extra mpg or 2. Not so sure they worked that well.
By the early 70s, other than the 307 variant of the Chevy, all the GM V8 engines started at 350 ci.
Then, after the fuel embargo, GM downsized them. IMO, most of them were duds as far as performance was concerned…the Olds 260, Chevy 262, and Pontiac 265 were the worst.
In 1976 Chevy, er, GM, dropped the 262 and brought out the 305. That worked the best out of all GMs small V8s.
The Pontiac 301 was second best.
The Olds 260 may have been smooth and troublefree, but it was anemic, and probably got only 1, maybe 2 mpg better than the 350 in mixed driving.
The Chevy 305 2-bbl really didn’t lose much to the 350 2-bbl variant.
Eventually GM wised up and came up with a 307 variant of the Olds in 1980 or 81 I think.
They also dumbed down, with a 4.3 V8, or 265, that I thought was a Chevy, but it makes more sense that it would be a variant of the Pontiac engine (Chevy had already built a 262).
Of course, after 1977, GM acknowledged that it used various engines from various divisions–but it had been doing so before.
Our 75 Pontiac Ventura (Nova) had an Olds 260 V8. Only 5 hp more than the standard 250 Chevy 6–but our car proved very reliable by absolute standards–and really good by 70s standards.
“They also dumbed down, with a 4.3 V8, or 265, that I thought was a Chevy, but it makes more sense that it would be a variant of the Pontiac engine (Chevy had already built a 262).”
I believe you are thinking of the 267 Chevrolet V8, which was a different engine that the short lived 262 V8. The 267 used a 3.5″ bore and a 3.48″ stroke making it almost perfectly square.
Yes, you are correct Bill, it WAS a 267!
Aaron referred to a “265”, and I remembered the short-lived 4.3 V8 that really was a 267.
I assumed it was a Pontiac because if GM/Chev had gone down the 262 road, why create a “265” (or 267).
But apparently they did.
So, is 265 a typo, or was there really a 265 variant?
My 70s GM small V8 list
1974: Old 350, Chev 350, Pont 350, Buick 350
1975-80: Olds 260 from Olds 350,
1975L Chev 262 from Chev 350
1976-1998 Chev 305 from Chev 350
1977-early 80s? Pont 301 from Pont 350
1981-mid/late 80s? Olds 307 from Olds 350
1980-early/mid 80s? Chev 267 from Chev 305
265? Not sure where that came from.
In any case, by the early 90s, Chev 305 & 350 were the GM V8s, the other ones had been discontinued.
The 265 was a Pontiac V8, unrelated to the Chevrolet 262 or 267. The 265 used the same “short deck” block as the 301 Pontiac, but had a smaller 3.75″ bore and the same 3.00″ stroke. These bore and stokes were the same as the original 265 Chevrolet from 1955. This Pontiac engine was only made 1980-81 and ended up in a lot of BOP cars, typically A-bodies.
The 267 Chevy was introduced in 1979 and lasted until 1982. The 307 Olds was introduced in 1980. The 262 was used in 1975 and 1976.
Then to add to the confusion, GM had the 4.3L L99 V8 as a base engine for the Chevrolet Caprice for 1994-96. This engine actually displaced 263 cubic inches, as it used the 305 bore 3.736″ and a 3.00″ stroke.
These 2nd generation Trans Ams are better than money in the bank- they were less than $7K new, good ones are in the $50-125K range now depending on originality, year and engine. They get a hell of a lot more looks than newer cars, and parts are plentiful. I’ve owned a ’76 400 auto, and ’78 SE WS6 / W72 4-speed car, both were great cars, stock and fun to drive.
Nostalgia sold these cars then, and today. They were rarely as amazing as nostalgia made them seem. The review shouldn’t have open many wallets. My mother had these and I used to call them bimbo cars, bought for looks.
As Mr. Chips said in that famous book ‘Goodbye Mr. Chips’-‘A Wurlitzer? I thought that was a sausage’.
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