My Car Quest

May 16, 2022

The Ideal Car (For Me) – Pontiac Trans Am

by Wallace Wyss –

It’s funny–my education in exotic cars is beyond most casual enthusiasts–say like I remembered the Serenissima P538 that ran LeMans and wrote a story on it when it surfaced and sold for big dollars at auction.

I was even a barn finder for hire, traveling about the US and finding Bizzarrinis (three of them) Porsche 356s, Jag XJ120s, an Iso Grifo long nose. So I’m a wee bit embarrassed that, when I look back on American iron, the kind that I ran against on Woodward avenue back in the ’60s, I am inordinately fond of the Pontiac Trans Am.

Royal Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Bobcat

This was years before it became the star of Smokey and the Bandit. I think what I like about it is all of the following:

–The through the hood scoop. It’s like saying “We’ve got serious business here,” so serious we have to poke through the hood.

–The rear spoiler, full width, a serious rear spoiler.

–The honeycomb wheels, really artful though not lightweight. I have even seen some modern repros that are better than the original and more deep dish.

–The dashboard, whose face was engine turned swirling pattern caused originally by an electric drill with brushing effect on metal, into which was set a row of serious looking gauges.

–The flat steering wheel with drilled spokes. Very race car like.

–The functional side vents and the car emblems and badges.

Royal Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Bobcat

Royal Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Bobcat

I liked the ’70 1/2 body style but didn’t like it when they went to a wraparound rear window later on–it took away some of the “privacy” of the rear roof. (And I hated it when they changed the nose from the ’70 1/2 style).

And always the wheel well attached spoilers down low looked tacky. When they went for the gold background engine turned dash, gold pinstripes, bird on the hood, the kid in me liked it, the adult was embarrassed.

As an ad copywriter (I wrote the Z.18 ads that opposed it) I appreciated the great photography in the ’70 1/2 ads even though that new campaign shoved the duo of Van & Fitz, two great illustrators, out of Pontiac history. Oh they illustrated one ad but the cars they rendered was so realistically rendered, might as well have photography.

I only drove an early 70 1/2 once when Motor Trend had a test car. I took it out to the Ferrari Owners Club run through Decker Canyon in Malibu. At first I kept up with the P250, the GTO, and SWB coupes but after five minutes or so the power steering fluid boiled over and I realize the car was not a thoroughbred. But before that happened, I had the Ferraristi wondering “Who is that jerk chasing us in an American car?”

I appreciated Herb Adams, a Pontiac engineer, developed the car and then ran some regional races in a prototype. So it was “blooded in combat” y’might say. The T-tops I didn’t like at first, having found them annoying on my ’69 Corvette (if you don’t bag them they rub against each other and scratch). Now 50 years later I like they give you a Sedanca de Ville effect half way to convertible.

I was a bit shocked when in Trans Am racing they had to run Chevy V8s because the Pontiac engines couldn’t hang together. And I really want a small block if I ever get one even if it’s retrofit. I say “If” because though they made huge amounts of them many were crushed, rusted, burned, wrinkled, and tossed aside during the fuel crisis.

Now when I see one in primo condition I appreciate what it delivered–all the things I want in a sports car in one car. A car that cornered like a sports car. I even like the last generation with its too bulbous taillights like fly’s eyes. It has its own joie d’vie.

Royal Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Bobcat

Now that we are entering The Electric Changeover era I don’t think there will be anything electric that has the same combination of all the ingredients I like. And that part about the chief engineer racing one on his own nickel–will we see that with electric car engineers? I don’t think so….and I don’t think I’d be embarrassed to drive one anymore…

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss reports on cars on his radio show Autotalk, Thursdays on KUCR FM Riverside, CA.

 
 
 

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Photos compliments of Ken Phillips.

Summary
The Ideal Car (For Me) - Pontiac Trans Am
Article Name
The Ideal Car (For Me) - Pontiac Trans Am
Description
I only drove an early Pontiac Trans Am once when Motor Trend had a test car. I took it out to the Ferrari Owners Club run through Decker Canyon in Malibu.
Author

Comments

  1. Glenn Scott Krasner says

    Pontiac was always a great performance brand. I never understood why GM killed off Pontiac, yet kept Buick after the bankruptcy.
    Glenn in Brooklyn, NY.

    • Fred J Connolly says

      Ever look at Buick sales in China?

      • Glenn Krasner says

        Ever look at Buick sales in the US? The median age of a Buick owner here in the US must be at least 60, with current sales rivaling Oldsmobile when they shut that division down in 2005. They should have kept cranking out the goddamned Buicks in China, shut the US Buick division, and kept the Pontiac division alive cranking out sedans, coupes, and sports coupes like a new Firebird and Trans Am. Nobody has been excited about a Buick since the last Buick Nationals & Turbo Coupes in the 1980s. Glenn in Brooklyn, NY.

  2. Simon Vels says

    always also one ofmy favorite US build sportscar.
    Simon

  3. Rob Krantz says

    Agreed! Always loved the featured Trans Am. Yep, they ruined the roof line when they changed the rear window later on. We had a 1972 Camaro. Pretty tame mostly with a 350 V8 and column mounted shift automatic. At least I got my dad to go for the V8 instead of the V6! I had to beg him to get the V8! (he was not a car guy but thank God my mom liked cars!). Same body style of course as the Pontiacs, but the Trans Am and Z 28’s were the dream machines. I remember as a kid in Connecticut, before we moved to California, opening our mailbox and finding my new issue of Car & Driver with the redesigned 70 1/2 Camaro and Firebird on the cover! Though I don’t exactly remember my reaction, it was one of excitement for sure and I may have uttered “Oh my God” or something of the sort as I was so excited! It was one of those watershed moments for me as a car loving kid though. Another very clear memory was when our next door neighbor a couple of year before got a brand new ‘68 Corvette. I about went out of my mind as a 13 year old! What a design! Some great memories of some great cars.

  4. Richard Holmes says

    I’ve had more fun per buck in my three Fieros, one a Mera, than any cars I’ve ever owned. Would have had a Solstice, but didn’t fit. Loved Pontiacs!

  5. Robb Northrup says

    And for those reminiscing the glory days of Pontiac, I add my 1984 Fiero Spyder, converted by Automoda of San Marcos, CA (but incorporating my rear quarter design and roofline). The Super Duty four from Pontiac Racing certainly made this a fast car.

    Robb

  6. Robb Northrup says

    Here’s a shot of the engine with Dell’Orto Carbs

  7. Robb Northrup says

    Car is long gone. Wish I still had it.

  8. You should do a follow up article about the Silver Ghost Tempest that Herb built. Lot of after hours GM time spent on it.

  9. Matt CZECHURA says

    I have the exact TA in the pictures and just spoke with Ken Phillips about an hour ago. What a treat!

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