Featured Classic

1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

For the most part, the late 70’s were the Bad Old Days, when it came to muscle cars.  Early in the decade, a squeeze play by energy and insurance interests combined to hit the muscle car market like a meteor.  Suddenly, the cars that ate the most fossil fuels turned into dinosaurs themselves, and you know what happened to them.  Muscle cars didn’t become extinct, exactly, but they certainly were an endangered species.  Most of the era’s prime specimens were destined to show up in museums and collections decades hence, like so many stuffed predators. 

If the pilot light wasn’t completely out by the late Seventies, it was turned down so low that you could barely see the light.  Pontiac was one of the few brands keeping the flame alive by building performance models. In the beginning of the decade, the 400 c.i.d. V-8 in the 1970 Firebird Trans Am was rated at 345 horsepower.  By 1979 - the year of our featured, Atlantis Blue ‘bird – the power rating of the top, available Trans Am motor was down to 220. Granted, the earlier number was a gross rating, and the latter was net. But, by any measure, time had taken its toll on muscle cars.  Most ’79 T/A’s packed the Olds 403 V-8, rated at 185 hp.  All of the year’s special, 10th edition Trans Am models were equipped with the 6.6L, 220 h.p. 400 (it was also available on standard T/A’s, like our featured car).  Mainstream Formula Firebirds got a 2v/150 h.p. version of the 301 c.i.d. V-8.  That motor would return under the hood of a limited run of Indy Pace Car edition.

​A face and tail lift for 1979 gave Firebirds from this era a distinctive look.  Quad headlights were relocated into recessed, rectangular pods. The lamps framed a wide, no-grille nose section, which replaced the former, tapered beak.  A fan tail spoiler on the rear deck showcased full-width taillights.  The lights had a blackout look, when not in use.  While Trans Am was selling more sizzle than steak by the late 70’s, it sure was still selling.  The looks remained hot, and in an age where all cars had lost a step, Trans Am was fleeter afoot than most.  In 1979 - years after most muscle nameplates had been put out to pasture - Pontiac sold over 117,000 Trans Ams.  That’s more TA’s than Pontiac sold from 1970-76 combined, and the highest, single year sales total of Firebird’s flagship in the car’s history.