|1979 PONTIAC T/A 10th Anniversary- Joseph Blandford|
Written by Double Dragon
Sunday, 30 October 2011 09:26
1979 PONTIAC T/A 10th Anniversary- Joseph Blandford
Photography and writing by and copyright D. S. Brown. GM and AMA documents copyright GM and AMA. See the article filed below this one about Jim Wangers' 84 mile 1979 Trans Am 10th Anniversary car for more details about the model and more detail pictures.
No one thinks of the Trans Am as a winter car. Back in the day none of the ponycars were considered a viable vehicle for snow and ice. Now with collectors buying these cars, storage in winter is mandatory. Ironically, the introduction dates for new models in Firebird/ Trans Am history recur in the winter. Each Firebird series of cars experienced their first drives in snow and ice on the way from the factory and onto the transport trucks. Obviously, when the Van Nuys factory in sunny California began producing Trans Ams later on, those cars escaped this fate.
The very first 1967 Firebird made (a white 326 convertible) rolled off the Lordstown, Ohio line in winter. The very first 1969 Trans Am was first available for sale in winter. The rebodied 1970 1/2 Firebirds were introduced in winter of 1970. In keeping with tradition, the Tenth Anniversary model Trans Am was released in winter. The third generation Birds were released January, 1982.
The winter pattern began because Firebird missed the September, 1966 introductory time slot when most 1967 cars hit the showrooms. If Pontiac head John DeLorean had his way there wouldn't have been a Firebird at all. We would have entered showrooms to see the Pontiac Banshee.
When the 1967 model year began, the market was already flooded with Mustang competitors. Everyone wanted a piece of the Mustang action. Chrysler had actually beaten the Mustang to market by a few days back in Spring of 1964 with the fastback Barracuda but it never caught on like the Ford did. The slow selling Barracuda clearly displayed its Valiant roots under the fastback roof graft. Chrysler reworked the 1967 Barracuda body as a unique vehicle as distant from the Valiant as the Ford Mustang was from the Fairlane. Simultaneously every other manufacturer was rushing to develop completely new cars for the booming class of cars called 'the ponycar'.
In September, 1966 Chevrolet and Mercury released 1967 model year Camaros and Cougars. Pontiac didn't have a ponycar ready because DeLorean was locked in a fight to bypass the ponycar market up until the final moments of Camaro production. Pontiac entered the ponycar wars at the last minute, quickly modifying the existing Camaro platform with Pontiac styling. Even getting it out in Feb, 1967 was a miracle considering how late they entered the ponycar wars.
Pontiac's head John DeLorean had engaged in a war of wills with the higher ups at GM trying to get a Pontiac two seat sports car into production called The Banshee. DeLorean was determined to release his pet project as a Corvette competitor, and didn't want a four seat ponycar compromise. Pontiac remained uninvolved with the development of the Camaro until GM management forced him to drop his Banshee project.
The last minute Firebird was a success when it debuted Feb 23, 1967. The 1969 Trans Am was first announced with the GTO Judge back in Dec, 1968 but the TA didn't become available until mid winter 1969. When the second generation Firebird appeared, it was released as a 1970 1/2 in Feb, 1970.
Whether by accident or design the 10th Anniversary Trans Am wasn't announced when the 1979 Pontiac model lineup information was released Sep 21, 1978 as shown below.
The Tenth Anniversary Trans Am (sometimes referred to as the TA/TA) was announced on Feb 1, 1979. Pontiac planned to build 7,500 of the special cars sequentially numbered. The 1979 Firebird line had been revised for 1979 with new cut out headlights above larger, lower air scoops up front and a full width tail light lens out back.
The TA/TA took the Trans Am package one step further, coming standard with the four wheel disc brakes and 15x8 aluminum finned wheels named "Air Flow Wheels" but commonly referred to as "Turbo Wheels". The 8 inch wheel width equaled the 8 inch wide Snowflakes mandated by the WS6 handling package on non 10th Anniversary Trans Ams. 'Regular' Trans Ams without the WS6 handling package were outfitted with 7 inch wide wheels (either Rally IIs or Snowflakes).
The four wheel discs were optional on other Firebirds. The special wheels didn't become available on other models at all until they were released as an option the following year for 1980 Firebirds.
The 10th Anniversary TA had a two tone charcoal/ silver paint scheme and a larger hood bird which flowed right off the hood across the fender tops. The photo below shows how the sticker was continued past the hood line. Also interesting to note here is how well this factory original application lines up. At this time, seams and gaps were pretty sloppy at GM, particularly on high volume cars like the Trans Am. In 1979, the TA accounted for half of all Firebird sales. When you pump out 115,000 Trans Ams annually you get squeaky, rattling examples. It's likely that the 10th Anniversary package cars were given more attention on the line.
The silver theme was repeated inside the car with silver door panels, rear seat center featuring sewn in 10th Anniversary Bird logos. Note that the center of the seat is actually the driveshaft hump with carpeting.
The red pinstripe was picked up with red lit gauges. The automatic cars had a small insert of engine turned aluminum applique in the console to match the dash.
All TA/TAs had a full option load included standard in the package. The luxury items are surprising for a Trans Am: leather interior, lamp group, vanity mirror in passenger visor, power steering, power door locks, power windows, remote deck lid release, pulse cycle windshield wipers, signal seeking AM/FM stereo with 8 track and power antenna, air conditioning, extra sound insulation, and T tops with silver tinted hatches. Cruise control was available only with the automatic transmission.
The performance options included standard in the package were power four wheel disc brakes, heavy duty battery, halogen lights, tilt steering, WS6 suspension, and aluminum wheels.
The TA/TA is a product of the times and like the last year Collector Edition 1982 Corvettes the silver interior and exterior colors and stripe stickers are permanently associated with the end of the Disco era. The musclecars of the 1970s took the 'stripes and scoops' of the 1960s musclecars as far as possible and merged them with the new aesthetics of the late 1970s. 1960s cars used primary colors and chrome. Paint schemes in the 1970s leaned towards tertiary colors, matte black trim, multi tone paint and stickers.
The appearance was exaggerated, and many lamented the fact that spoilers, spats and stripes adorned cars that were often significantly slower than their predecessors. A quick glance through the available engines as listed in the AMA stat sheet below confirms that most of the engine/ axle combinations were painfully lacking compared to the glory days of the 1960s and the 1990s revival leading to the ultra fast current muscle cars of the 2000s.
The 301 4 barrel listed above is rated at a mere 135 HP running through an automatic and 2.41 axle. The car itself wasn't as bad as the stats make it sound. A buddy of mine owned one of these cars. It was a 1979 Firebird Formula that he bought as a used car just to get around town in the late 1980s. The car was very nimble through corners and had a terrific ride- not too harsh but very firm and controlled. The little 301 four barrel was great on gas and made the front end feel light and responsive. Although it was by no means a fast car, it ran well and in town didn't feel anemic. It didn't suffer from the muffled delayed agonizingly slow response of some smog small blocks of the time period.
This same setup created the balance of handling and power that won the day for the Trans Am in a Sep 1979 CAR AND DRIVER competition between the T/A, Camaro Z28, Corvette L88, Capri and Phoenix. The T/A with 90 pounds less weight over the front wheels courtesy of the light 301 beat out the other cars, even the Corvette. WORLD CARS 1979 says this engine was good for 103 MPH top speed with a four speed and 3.08 axle and 15 MPG. The original EPA window sticker on a 4 speed 301 was 15 MPG City and 24 Hwy. The new revised EPA system rated it lower at 14/27 MPG.
Adding one of the big blocks to that car would be just enough to qualify it as quick; not 1960s fast, but respectable at least. The big blocks of course come at the cost of deducting a bit from the handling and a lot from the mileage figures.
With hindsight, we can recognize that these cars were more balanced performers than the 1960s musclecars. They still had some zip which combined with better handling and braking to produce overall performance unlike the one dimensional straight line rocket ships of the 1960s. As for looks, the classic era 1960s musclecars relied on clean styling lines and bold colors which hold up better today than the late 1970s look. Proof of this is found in the current batch of retro musclecars which visually reference 1960s or early 1970s cars. The current musclecars have taken the best of both worlds to create visually pleasing and fully balanced performance packages.
The Tenth Anniversary Trans Am ends the 1970s as a summary of all that was good and bad about this decade of muscle car remnants. The T/A had terrific handling and brakes and adequate power. The Olds 403 had decent torque and at 185 HP enough horsepower to retain some quickness. Pontiac used up the last of the 6.6 Pontiac built 400 engines this year. These 220 HP engines squeezed every bit of horsepower out of the smogged out carburetor engines of this time period.
Soon computer controlled fuel injection engines would equal 1960s ETs and eventually eclipse the earlier muscle cars, but for 1979 getting 220 HP out of any engine was a sheer miracle. The driving experience of this car at the time was unrivaled by anything in its price class. Car magazines praised it as one of the best handling cars period, regardless of price.
On the downside, the pinnacle of T/A performance for 1979 was a 4,000 pound car with 220 HP. The typical 403 example usually found on the streets would be running 185 HP. 1960s musclecars were lighter with a lot more power. Everyone looked back at their high compression catalytic free true dual exhaust, big jet, huge valve engines as the high water mark which this car fails to live up to. The other problem with the TA/TA is that it went so far with the styling that cliches and jokes about the Trans Am were inescapable. But for anything other than straight line performance, this car was miles away in handling and braking.
Collecting seemed to have hit a nerve everywhere in the late 1970s and early 1980s. To use one example, comic book collecting became huge. Back issues were getting very expensive because mothers the world over had thrown out comic books and paper drives in the war destroyed many more. Those old comics were not only classic issues, but in short supply. Collectors bought up new comics erroneously believing they would instantly inflate in value like the classics. Comic companies issued enormous print runs of first issues marked "Collectors' First Issue!" Guys would buy ten copies and keep them in Mylar plastic with the expectation of a huge return.
This process also occurred with cars. The seriously valuable collector cars of the musclecar era weren't recognized as such at the time they came out. As they rose in value, manufacturers created 'collectible cars' in the form of commemorative vehicles. Buyers hoarded these cars in the hopes that they too would escalate in value. People bought up the last 1976 Cadillac Eldorado convertibles and the 1978 Corvette Pace Cars. So, not surprisingly, when the 10th Anniversary Trans Am came out people drove them sparingly or even stored them unused.
The 'collector status' of the manufacturers contrived collectibles never really materialized. The expectation of collector status had a side benefit however. The storage and low miles status of the cars that were saved for decades ensures that the cars are now valuable as historical pieces. With the shift to originality as the highest value in car collecting, unrestored untouched original cars are collectible for this reason alone.
Now that decades have passed, people who bought the later model Trans Ams as cheap fun drivers are starting to regard them as collector cars in their own right. The bodies are similar to the classic 1970-72 cars. The 1973 and 1974 Firebirds have bumper additions that were handled quite expertly. These Firebirds and the Corvettes of the time integrated the five MPH bumpers skillfully enough that they are exempted from the 'accepted cutoff date' of 1972 for most muscle cars.
Most collectors see 1970 as the end of performance because of the compression drop over at GM in 1971 which was adopted industry wide in 1972. These cars all retained classic styling, but in 1973 things got hairy with the 5 MPH bumpers. When GTOs went from Endura soft nose stylish front ends to giant 'railway tie' bumpers the line was drawn in the sand for many car collectors. Same over at Ford. Chrysler ponycars managed to slip under the radar a little better with black rubber bumper extenders.
Only Firebird and Corvette actually absorbed the new bumpers into the original car design. The Trans Am had another secret weapon that insulated it from being labeled 'post muscle car'. The halo effect of the Super Duty engine shone down on all 1973 and 1974 Firebirds.
In 1975 once the catalytic convertor and fake dual exhausts (two into one, then out into two tailpipes) hit it was truly the death of the muscle car across the boards. Now the only muscle car over 400 cubes was the Firebird. That was the last vestige of the super car left and the last of the 6.6 engines built ended up in the 1979 Trans Ams. So that final gasp of the big block muscle car formula, even in neutered form confers collectible status onto the 1979 T/A four speed 6.6.
The OOCC 10th Anniversary Trans Am fell into the new wave of intentional collecting going on in 1979 and had to wait quite awhile before it gained collector status for real. The first owner of this car, Jeff Blandford took possession at 400 miles and only put 11,900 miles on the car taking the total mileage to 12,336 miles. He stored the car the entire time he owned it, thus keeping it pristine in the process.
The OOCC T/A falls into the ONE OWNER category since its only been titled to one person, despite having a 'limbo' period in 1979 when no one technically owned it. The less desirable later year Trans Am has come into its own, and the four speed 6.6 takes this car into definite one owner collector car status.
The story begins back at the car dealerships where speculation and demand had created a mini version of the 1978 Corvette Pace Car fever all over again. No one could buy a 10th Anniversary TA/TA for list price. Dealers competed to get one as a prestige showroom piece. This particular Trans Am was delivered to the Terry Shaver Pontiac Inc. car dealership, in Highland, Indiana. To see a story about this dealer, check the DEALERSHIPS section of this website.
The OOCC Trans Am was being driven by the wife of the owner of the dealership and was sold as a 'demo' to its first owner, Jeff Blandford with 400 miles on the odometer. Jeff took possession on Oct. 14, 1980. Up until that point the car existed in the twilight zone as a dealer demo car.
This isn't the longest case of an untitled 1979 TA/TA car floating about. See the story about Kitterman Motor Co. in the DEALERSHIPS section of this website. The Kitterman dealership had a showroom floor 1979 Tenth Anniversary Trans Am that didn't sell until 2011! Interestingly, that 6.7 mile car didn't appear too much different in photos than this lightly used 12,000 mile example.
This is partly explained by the fact that photos obscure some imperfections. But, it's a fact that cars really don't show their age right away. A story from the 1960s illustrates this phenomenon quite well. A lawyer bought a 'brand new' Buick and experienced brake failure. Investigation proved that the car was a demo with a turned back odometer. It had 12,000 miles on it at the time of sale as a 'new car'. It seems that the first 10,000 miles of use on a car don't leave much of a mark on its appearance.
Below is a shot of the OOCC Trans Am driver's seat. The leather hasn't developed cracks and the silver hasn't become muddied. However, take a look at the driver's seat in the 1979 Trans Am 10th Anniversary car owned by Jim Wangers in the article below this one. His mileage is at a crazy low of 84 miles and you'll note that the slight crinkling in Joseph's seat hasn't begun yet in Jim's car.
The appearance of the OOCC Trans Am seems to be factory fresh. Jeff didn't put noticeable wear on his T/A. He was a savvy kid who recognized the great combination of options provided standard on the 10th Anniversary package. He also assumed that the car would escalate in value, particularly due to the rare engine transmission combo.
Despite being in the know, back in 1980 Jeff couldn't buy or title the car of his dreams. Jeff wasn't old enough to qualify for the necessary loan. He needed his father to sign for him. The car was titled to his father Joseph Blandford of Schererville, Indiana. The car remains titled to his father and is still a one owner car at the time Volo Auto Museum and Sales took the car on consignment in summer 2009.
By this time car collectors had re evaluated the later year Trans Ams and the last of the big blocks were now collectible in their own right, not just because they were time capsule cars. This car was now truly a one owner collector car.
The Trans Am remained in all original condition during Jeff's ownership right down to the factory tires with three exceptions. Jeff had to replace the brake master cylinder and he also replaced the cigarette lighter. The third item changed is the only deviation from stock made to the car. The factory 8 track was switched out in favor of a Pioneer cassette player, the top technology back in 1980. This was a typical Day Two upgrade of the time.
When the TA/TA was consigned in 2009 Volo performed a detailed inspection. The seldom used Trans Am was perfect except for the alternator which had to be replaced bringing the number of changes from stock to four.
As shown above this Trans Am has the four speed which is hooked to a 3.23 posi and the most powerful engine available for the 1979 Trans Am, the Pontiac built 6.6. The "6.6 T/A" badges on the shaker hood scoop seen below indicated the Pontiac 400 instead of the Olds 403 which was badged as "6.6 Litres". Pontiac introduced the use of Litres for engine sizing back on the 6.5 Litre badges used on the first 1964 GTO.
Pontiac already had established a tradition of naming their cars after famous race courses. Many of the race names were derived from European courses. Pontiac delved further into 'European flavour' by progressing beyond names to technology. The Pontiac Sprint OHC six cylinder high performance package fell in step with the European emphasis on efficient 6 cylinder engines instead of brute USA V8 power. Mercury followed suite in 1967 with the Cougar which mimicked the Jaguar. The big block Cougars were designated with a 6.5 Litre tag.
Back in 1979 the 6.6's 220 HP was impressive. Years of catalytic convertors and leaned out carburetor settings had lowered everyone's expectations for the current crop of paper tiger muscle cars. The 400s installed into these 1979 Firebirds were leftovers from 1978 when production ceased and they were just being used up. This was the end of the line for big block engines. The 400 can be compared to the more commonly found 403 Olds engine in the AMA specs below.
HEMMINGS MUSCLE MACHINES compared a pair of well maintained Trans Ams containing a 403 in one and a 400 in the other. HMM didn't find as much difference as might be expected. Partly this is explained by the fact that street launches are relying on torque and both engines are well matched at the low end. It's only when fully winding out an engine that horsepower kicks in. There was also some disparity between use and mileage of the two cars.
WORLD CARS 1979 says the Olds 403 Olds Trans Am with automatic and 2.41 axle has a top speed of 112 MPH and gets 14 MPG at 67 MPH with a medium load over a varied run. They said the "6.6" 400 with 4 speed and 3.23 axle was good for 118 MPH and 12 MPG. Once again, the WORLD CARS figure seems conservative. Even though CAR AND DRIVER in Jan 1979 ignored the 5000 RPM tachometer redline, it seems doubtful that they found an extra 14 MPH in a mere 400 RPMS when they managed to pull 132 mph out of a 220 HP T/A while revving at 5400 rpm.
CAR AND DRIVER did agree with WORLD CARS that the 220 HP T/A was good for 12 MPG which also matches the EPA City rating. The EPA rated the 6.6 at 17 Hwy MPG. Interestingly, the 403 Olds hooked up with auto had an EPA of 14 City which agreed with the WORLD CARS overall figure of 14. The EPA rated the Olds at 19 MPG Hwy.
The generally accepted figure for the 6.6 down the quarter mile is around what CAR AND DRIVER attained: 15.3 at 96.6. A flat 15 seconds was barely respectable by 1960s supercar standards and anything slower than that was out of the game. The numbers are however very impressive for the era it was competing in.
UPDATE: The T/A is no longer for sale. Jeff's Trans Am has been sold by Volo Auto Museum and Sales and now has been taken possession of by its second owner. It was titled as a one owner car to Jeff's father Joseph Blandford for 30+ years.
|Last Updated ( Tuesday, 30 April 2013 13:53 )|