An Obsession throughout many Decades
I was a child of the 70's, I admit it. Born at the very dawn of that decade, I
saw the multitude of horsepower-deprived decal-engineered cars roam the streets
replacing the tire-shredders of the 60's. Horsepower was out, posing was in.
And what better car to pose in than one sporting a huge hood-wide flaming bird
Ridicule it all you want, but at this very moment I doubt there is anyone out
there that won't remember the Firebird Trans Am the moment someone mentions a
flaming bird image on a car hood. Now that's marketing! An image like this was
just what a car needed to achieve total notoriety and ultimately the automotive
equivalent of immortality. A young car nut at 2 years of age, I distinctly
remember being awoken by the sound of a thundering Pontiac V8 in a white '73
Trans Am, the signature hood bird decal forever associated with Pontiac's pony
car (the market term for a long hood/short rear personal sports coupe).
The Trans Am began life as a high-performance specialty model in Pontiac's Firebird
lineup in mid 1969, meant to pay homage to the popular SCCA race series of the same
name. Not many were sold that first year, but the Trans Am returned as a Firebird
offering when the car was totally redesigned for 1970.
This second generation of Firebird (1970-1981) was heavily influenced by such
exotics as the Ferrari. The swoopy styling and flowing lines resulted in a very
attractive sports coupe but high gas prices, high insurance, and economic woes meant
the car would initially not sell well. The Firebird's sister car, the Chevrolet Camaro,
lost its high-performance model (the Z/28) for the 1975 model year but luckily the Firebird kept
its Trans Am. It was pretty much (with the exception of the Corvette) the only high performance
North American sports coupe available in the mid 70's, and this certainly had an effect
on sales, which rose steadily throughout the mid-to-late 70's.
Now, by the early 80's, I had begun to lose interest in cars (the streets were clogged
with econo cars such as Dodge Omnis and little Honda Civics). The Firebird was redesigned
for the 1982 model year and I initially thought it was pretty boring... the Trans Am no longer
had a hood bird (it would return later in a modified form) and the car did not emit the same
image I was so accustomed to. Adolescence for me also meant my attention was focused on other
The television show Knight Rider managed to rekindle my interest in Trans Ams somewhat. The
arrival of a cool brand new car in the family (the 1985 Pontiac Parisienne described elsewhere)
also helped foster my newfound car mania. But nothing prepared me for the absolute
head-over-heels obsession that was to overcome me one lazy Saturday afternoon in October 1986
when I saw the Burt Reynolds film "Smokey and the Bandit" on television.
See that Special Edition Trans Am in the bottom corner?
I literally freaked. I grabbed the first available blank tape I could get my hands on and
taped what was left of the movie. Over the next few months I would literally wear a groove
on that tape from so frequent viewings. The engine sounds from the movie played over and
over in my head. I began to collect Pontiac-related magazines for any possible snippet of
info or picture pertaining to Trans Ams, specifically the 1977-1978 model which was featured
in the movie (see the bottom corner of the cassette sleeve above). For years I obsessed about
one day owning that model of Trans Am, and I just couldn't get the image of that front
end out of my mind!
Family and friends tried to dissuade me from pursuing such a foolish quest, saying that
most of those cars were probably abused and worn down to the bone by aggressive owners.
They were mostly right... as the years went by, I began to see these cars look more and
more run down and eventually I ceased to see them anywhere at all! By then, the economic
realities of undertaking a University engineering degree pretty much sealed my fate, and my
fervor eventually cooled off. Also important to note is that the new high performance
Trans Am variant (the GTA) had been out several years and I was fairly mesmerized by that
car instead, being much newer and more technologically advanced.
...but I always did keep the '77-'78 Trans Ams in a special place in my heart.