1979 Pontiac Trans Am

10th Anniversary

Matt Garrett - Dallas Texas

My Trans Am Story

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1979 Pontiac Trans Am 10th Anniversary Y89 “X” Vin.    One of 116,535 Pontiac Trans Ams made for the highest production year on record to date.  Also one of “ONLY” 7500 10th Anniversary.   Ok…. Whooo hooo…   This car is not rare, there ain’t a darn thing rare about any 79 Trans Am.  Well possibly some of the stripped out 301 cars or something so undesirable its not funny, but in reality the word Rare and 1979 Trans Am cannot be used in the same sentence.  I hear all the time everywhere these days and I just laugh.   My god, they made 116,000+ of these cars in 1979!   Now rare to survive is actually pretty difficult considering the first owners of these cars.  Also these 1979 10th Anniversary cars are "sort" of rare, but not really in the terms of rare cars.    This is about the highest production most non rare car I have on my web site.  By a LONG mile.

Ok we have established the fact a 79 Trans Am is not rare.  However it just may be one of the coolest most iconic cars of all times though.  They were so cool they sold 116,000+ of them!   This does NOT even account for the lesser Firebird model.  This 116,000 # was for Trans Am only!  92,000 was the Firebird production.  That actually makes the Firebird rarer… But rare and desirable are two different things.   You figure with a whopping high body style production of over 200,000 units in one year, they would get the car right!  Well you are asking for way too much, but don’t forget these cars are cool.

This is my era, this is when I grew up hot rodding these cars.   I lived, ate, breathed and slept under the hood of these cars.  I also had GTOs prior to these cars.  Oh, they had more power according to spec #s, but in reality that was not really true as people never understood the HP measurement change in 1972… and still don’t today!    What the 79 TA offered, with the right options, was a muscle car that actually turned and stopped!   The automatics with the 2:73 rear ends would also see about 140MPH! It was a totally new concept that was setting the car world on fire.   The 79 Trans Am was actually a car that was sort of Aerodynamic and could extended the world past 1320 ft and all straight and level.   Forever this is all cars knew in America.  Now it took another decade+ for the “cordermile” crowd to get their mindset out of the ¼ mile mentality, but the car was really ahead of its time there.  

If you wanted to be cool, the 79 trans am was the car everyone was going after.  Then take a movie like Smoky and the Bandit, that added even more ready to “rock” drivers all wanting to get their hands on a TA of this era.   I wanted one of these 10th cars when I was younger but really never had one until the 90s before they got too expensive.   I had some regular 79s that were ok ones in the day.  They were just average affordable used cars that had been trashed prior and most were lacking the good suspension just as all the SD cars and prior trans ams with the higher HP specs never had anything good either.   The 79 was as good as it got in these 2nd Gen cars combining motor, brakes,  suspension and archaic aerodynamics all together.  It was really the only year as by 1980 they still had the good suspension in the right optioned cars but they lost the 400+ CID Engines down to 301s as the best thing offered.  We raced the tar out of these things 79s too.   We thought we were fast in the day!  Well actually for the day we were.   Because of that, there was probably not a 1979 Trans am bought new that did not leave the dealership sideways with the tires on fire.   I listened to the stories from dealership employees about the ones wrapped around light poles in front of the store the second they drove off by the wannabe Burt Reynolds of the day .   These cars were the king poop of the day and used hard and put up wet.   Yep that is all those restorations you see.  Trust me, they were treated like pure poop and are dolled up today for the rose colored glasses so many "price first" buyers wear.  This is great for sellers!

After the writing was on the wall about the 1980 models having a 301 CID motor only, etc. we thought it was the end of “fast” cars forever.  What we did not know is that production cars would actually get fast again at the end of the 80s, but with the dismal path they were taking in the late 70s and early 80s it seemed the end of times for the hot rods leaving the 79 TA the last production car with performance potential.  Because of this, many thought the 79 TA was going to be the ultimate car of all times because of the trends.  In the day, we went crazy with mods on these cars.  Rip the motors out and throw them away.  They were useless low cube boat anchors even at 400CID.  We went with 455s with 10:5:1 compression, comp 280H cams, hooker headers, 3:73 gears, nitrous plumed and hidden in the Pontiac intake valley.  A weekend in the salvage yard and 150 bucks would get you a 455 out of a 70 Bonneville.  Then we would put all the hot rod stuff we could bolt on the motor.  We were the king of the streets.  Little knowing that even the most pumped up 455 in one of these cars today is not really fast at all compared to real fast cars today.   “They don’t build them like they used to”   So they say.   Well they are right!  They build them much better now!   With that said comparing a 79 TA in performance to most modern cars is a laugh.  Even ones YOU do not consider to be fast.  A 300K mile 93 Northstar Cadillac you buy today for 2K will destroy one of these 79 TAs in every performance category you can imaging.  You may even drive a Northstar Cadillac today and with those rose colored glasses you are wearing right now might have you thinking these old TAs are so much more performance oriented than what you drive today.    Well I am here to tell you they aint.  And I am using a lightly modded 79 car too that still could not hold a candle to a clapped out 93 Cadillac Seville, much less a stock Trans Am.   But did I mention the 79 TA was cool?

The ironic thing about the “more desirable” Pontiac motor was the fact it had a really bad inherent rod bearing issue should you use the car pretty hard at higher RPMs.  I spun more bearings in Pontiac motors than I care to admit.  Then we went to the Guru engine builders of the day that had this correction, that correction, etc only to find out the ones out of the wrecking yard still lasted longer for 1/10th the price.    What is more ironic as all the hot rodders, including myself, (until I was finally enlightened)  loathed the Oldsmobile motor that Pontiac started putting in automatic Trans Ams of 77+.   We thought it a total joke.   “Oh, you got one of those cars… Ha Ha Ha.”       Well then some of the smarter guys realized if they put the 3:23 gear that was only on the 400/4 speed cars in the automatic cars, well the 403 just became a good bit faster than the 400 4 speed car in the almighty ¼ mile… the only race that seemed to matter.   Then just turn up the retarded timing on the 403 done on purpose for brand loyalty, it got even faster.  They could not have the Oldsmobile engine going faster and had to tune it so it would not!   Then get rid of the damn catalytic converter and some good mufflers, even faster.  Some bolt ons, even better.    Then the best thing of all even with the mods, the 403 did not break at all!  It was reliable as hell.   I watched one guy race one for over 200K miles like a mad man while all the Pontiac guys were changing motors constantly due to lower end failures.   I got to the point I could get a 455 Pontiac out of a TA or GTO in 30 mins as I had to do it so often from lower end failures.  I still hear those spun bearings in my nightmares today and wake up in a cold sweat knowing I will be changing another Pontiac motor.    Not only was I paying for this with money, it was blood, sweat and tears all for the brand loyalty to Pontiac.  I guess this is why they got rid of the Pontiac motor and that “undesirable” Olds was still around in its 307 form until 1989.  Oh yea, but the 79 Trans Am is still a cool car if I forgot to say that.

Anyway, the stories I could tell about my time in early GTOs then on to late 70s and early 80s Trans Ams would literally make you think I am a nutcase.  Well that is pretty much a fact, but that education in these cars was priceless to me.   I would not appreciate cars or have ½ the knowledge I do today if it were not for Pontiacs of this era.   Ironically I don’t own a car today with a Pontiac motor and I probably never will again.   The one I have here is an Oldsmobile and my 89 TA is a Chevy!  For me on the real Pontiac motor, been there done that, know the problems and don’t want to relive that!   I guess today all we use these cars for is to go from one part of the garage to the other, so a Pontiac motor could take that…. But why.

When I talk to people about cars from this era… I always here “I used to have a _ _ _ _ but I sold it.. Man, I wish I did not, its worth so much now”    Well that may be true but your rose colored glasses have you thinking the one you sold was like one of these perfect restorations today that are actually better than the car ever was new!    For me, I had some neat cars in those years I sold as many of us did.  However,  I don’t regret getting rid of any darn one of those cars I had in the day as we tore the crap out of them as they were punk kid street racer cars.   I am sure someone has restored one of mine somewhere and I know he still loves it, but good riddins!   I know these cars too well not to have one that is still brand new to be happy with it.   With that said, a really honest 1979 Trans am is not as easy to find as the internet may have you think.   Now there are a good amount of these 10th cars saved, but then again there are a good amount of these 10th cars that are not really honest cars either.  You have to consider that these cars were not all adult cars in 1979.  An adult laughed at these cars.  They thought “what a punk car, you think you are so cool in that Trash Can”     just as many of us probably see the younger generation hot rods today.  You really got “f-ed” with by the police if you had one of these cars in the day.   I remember my father not wanting me to bring mine around the house when I visited.    “Park that pile of crap down the street”   He was afraid the cops would just come by to mess with me because of it.  He was right and I still have late 70s and early 80s hot rodding tickets on record with many local law enforcement databases.  I still have a racing ticket on record in the very town I serve on the board of.  They don’t go away 30+ years later!   Most of these tickets I deserved, but many were simply because I had a punk kid car and got singled out for nothing.   One night around 1980 I was pulled over and issued a speeding ticket for 10 over the speed limit.  I said I was not speeding at all, this must be some mistake “sir”.  He said “no mistake at all son.  You are right, you were not speeding.  BUT YOU WILL BE”.  He was so right too.   So with a car with this type of history, you really better know these cars well before you go buy one on passion.  I can assure you, no 1979 trans am had an easy life with the exception of the few cars that were put away new and still are that like the one here.

The 10th Anniversary Trans Am was really one of the best Trans Ams made to date still.  It had things no other Trans am could get.  The wide Turbo Alloy 15x8 Wheel was one of the items.   Seats and interior were way above any other Trans am.   The larger front and rear sway bars, the quicker ratio steering box, the rear disk brakes, the large 8.5” posi rear end.  The entire car was a whole level up from any other Trans Am prior as a total package.  It also cost a good 2K+ more than any other Trans Am too and was well over the scary $10,500.00 mark new!  That was a huge amount in the day, so really the only ones that were sold were to those few adults that somehow thought the car was cool, or bought for rich kids.  I was not one unfortunately but many kids out of the 7500 available examples were and many of those cars were all gone early on.  Many may be today the restorations being passed off as “original” too!    The 10th encompassed every available option, every available performance item.  This is what put it and other proper optioned 79 Trans Ams in a category no muscle car prior ever had.  Turning, top speed and stopping power!  Also, It was a damn good looking car….. did I mention cool tooJ   

There were no options just one choice on the 10th Anniversary car.  Do you want an automatic or a 4 speed?    That was it.    Well 5683 enlightened people bought the Oldsmobile 403 Version and 1817 bought the 400/4 speed version.  The very motor I mention that fell apart when raced hard.   Also if you have not driven a Borg Warner T10 transmission in your life, or have just put those  “rose colored” glasses back on, the 4 speeds drove like hell and had no overdrive with a 3:23 rear end.   I know tractor transmissions that shift better and top speed was limited from overgearing!   The autos were way more civil and the performance was proven to be really better with the average driver apples to apples.    Well the 1817 people that chose the 4 speeds were actually the smarter people today as their car is rarer today…. If they save it that is.  And if it’s not some doctored up muscle car dealer throw together “POS” documented joke I see so many of.   I laugh as I know what that car went through when it was young!   Whooo hoo..  But hey, its still a really cool car if I forgot to say so.

Anyway, the car I have here can be duplicated over and over in theory unlike many of my other cars I collect.   “I saw one JUST LIKE YOURS sell for 3000 bucks”   That “JUST LIKE YOURS” is my favorite line of all times when it comes to old cars.  The insults I could give back are so tempting.   Back to the 10th TA, there are a few good ones out there at any given time, all the time.  It’s just up to you to know what is real and what is not in terms of a truly original unmodified car vs one that has undergone a lot of restoration and is being passed off as low mile.   PHS documented is not going to tell you what you want to know other than the fact the car is a real 10th anniversary car.  No one is cloning these, it just too hard as the car is a totally different VIN than any regular TA, so that you can rule out.  Car fax did not exist when these cars were new, and truly original low mile cars retaining 100% original paint, etc are not as common as the internet and muscle car dealers may have you think.   If the car somehow survived all the mayhem it could have had from owners/drivers of the day, and if somehow the car was kept low mile and garaged, and if somehow someone actually took care of it…. Then its just the luck of the draw that the silver paint did not fall off the car.  The paint is pure crap in its worst form.  Even to the point Pontiac would repaint the car for free!   But guess how it looked then!   Done, gone, trashed and totaled.  If you look in my photos, you will see the Pontiac Bulletin that offered this.   I guess they made so many cars so fast for 79, the quality and prep work in the paint suffered immensely.  I saw these cars lose their paint in 1-2 years in many cases new.  It’s just a damn near miracle that some have survived with the paint in tack.  Mine is one of them, but it’s no 2011 Lexus paint job either, however it is about as good as I have seen looking at every 79 TA that comes in shows, mags, etc.  I have yet to see a better original, but I am also judging my own car here too.   Advice for those old trans am perspective buyers, these are a car you better know like the back of your hand before you buy one that is claimed to be original.… or just buy a restoration and know that is what you have and be totally happy as its probably better than the damn car was new or even mine.... just don't call it original though.

 On the other hand, out of all the muscle cars from the 60s and 70s, many of these 10th Anniversary cars can very well be the real thing.  A really honest no mile muscle car that actually survived without being bastardized!  They were expensive enough to ensure that not all of them were punk kid cars.  They were not black, so all the Burt Reynolds wannabees were not trashing them.  If the owner had over 10K to buy one of these, he most likely had a garage to park it in vs many of the lesser priced TAs that were never garaged and probably parked in dirt driveways, trailer parks, etc.   However many 10ths are just like all those old GTOs  I look at trying to find that one magic honest car that really does not exist.   All restorations, cad-magic painted brake boosters, painted motors, blacked out bottoms, doctored up everything that will flash at Barrett Jackson and in a photo but in reality is far from original.   Most of these cars have been played with and put back together many times over the years and claimed to be original.   Mine is the real deal, but certainly not the only one out there.   A 100 point $ 50,000 restoration will be far better in paint quality and fit and finish than any of the best originals of these cars were day 1.  But what I have here is original and it is nice.  It represents my youth, my car experiences, my rebellion, my passion, and my education on life itself.  I did not have nice cars like this when I was young, this one is WAY better than the ones I had then.  If I had one then, I would have ruined it.  As nice as it is, in reality its just another one of the 116,535 Trans Ams left over from when the world was a different place....1979.   These cars represent a lot of different things to many 100s of 1000s of people that owned 79 Trans Ams new and second hand and were part of the late 70s era..  And if I did not say so already........THESE ARE REALLY COOL CARS!

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