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Pontiac Trans-AM

Published: 27th Apr 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

A very comfortable and inviting enough interior; well equiped if rather plastic orientated A very comfortable and inviting enough interior; well equiped if rather plastic orientated
Hurst shift kit is an aftermarket product and adds an even more sporting feel Hurst shift kit is an aftermarket product and adds an even more sporting feel
5.0-litre 305ci TPI V8 engine rated at 205bhp, the 350ci 5.7-litre engines were introduced in 1987. 5.0-litre 305ci TPI V8 engine rated at 205bhp, the 350ci 5.7-litre engines were introduced in 1987.
The third generation Trans-Am offers a spirited performance and excellent handling qualities The third generation Trans-Am offers a spirited performance and excellent handling qualities
The hugely macho Trans-Am styling looks great from any angle we reckon, the huge hatchback window is a distinctive feature The hugely macho Trans-Am styling looks great from any angle we reckon, the huge hatchback window is a distinctive feature
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What is a third generation Trans-Am?

Pontiac’s answer to the Ford Mustang, a powerful sporting coupe that was the top of the Firebird range built between 1982 to 1992 whose muscle car origins can be traced back to 1969. Similar to its cousin, GM’s enduring Fbodied Camaro, the Trans-Am retained the tried and tested basic layout of its predecessors with front engine, and rear wheel drive, but was smaller, lighter, and featured an all-new bodyshell.

With handling more atuned to European than USA tastes, large numbers of Trans-Ams found their way into the UK and there’s plenty of cars available on the secondhand market to choose from.

History

Introduced in 1982 the new generation Firebirds were available as a base model, Special Equipment or the Trans-Am, which originally got its name from the Sports Car Club of America’s Trans-American road race series. They featured full unitary construction, coil springs to the rear replaced cart springs and at the front were modified MacPherson struts. Engine options consisted of the lowly 90bhp fourcylinder, a V6, a carburated 305ci V8, or top of the range 155bhp 305ci V8 with Crossfire injection.Transmissions were a mix of four and five-speed manual and three or four-speed automatic.

With the Recaro seat option and the WS6 handling package which consisted of stiffer springs and dampers, larger sway bars, four wheel power disc brakes and LSD, the Trans-Am offered its driver a spirited performance. In 1985 the Trans-Am received a facelift with redesigned front and rear and the standard Aero Package included larger front and rear bumper extensions, side skirts and there was a new style rear spoiler available as an option.

The most powerful engine option available was the 5.0 litre 305ci HO V8 which in tuned port injection (TPI) format was rated at 205bhp. 1987 heralded the return of the 5.7 litre 350ci V8 engine which in TPI guise boasted 215bhp. The much more fuel efficient multiport injection (MPFI) arrived a year later in 1988 which also saw the reintroduction of the Formula name into the Firebird range. The Trans- Am was chosen as a Pace Car for the Indy 500 Race in 1989 and a limited edition model (approximately 1500 built) was offered to commemorate this event which also nicely coincided with the model’s 20th birthday. It was powered by a turbocharged Buick V6 engine with an impressive turn of speed, 0-60mph in less than six seconds and a rousing maximum of around 155mph.

In 1990 Firebirds featured yet another facelift and a driver’s airbag came as standard in 1991, one of the few cars in GM’s range at the time to offer this. Seen as an interim model, it was the last of the third generation Trans-Ams which were replaced with a totally new car in 1993.

Driving

Getting behind the wheel of a Trans-Am is a great experience, and totally different to its predecessor. These cars offer European sporting coupe style firm ride and taut handling qualities with a performance quick enough to satisfy most enthusiasts. Further tuning is relatively simple for TPI engines by fitting upgraded chips, intake and exhaust modifications, and these cars lend themselves well to suspension modifications for better handling.

However, cars fitted with a front disc and rear drum brake set-up tend to be more reliable than those with all round discs which are susceptible to rear calliper and handbrake seizure problems. Fitting Kevlar pads is a well known remedy for improved braking. Fuel economy is pretty good too with 20 plus mpg quite achievable and around 15-18mpg in town.

Prices

The good news is that third generation Trans-Ams are very affordable, with early cars costing in the region of £1500 - £3000. A 1986/89 car will be £4000 - £5000 and the last of the breed 1990/1992 will set you back £5000 - £6000, relatively inexpensive for a sports coupe that’s also reasonably economical too.

What To Look For

  • Rust can be a big issue with Trans-Ams which can manifest itself in all of the usual places, especially the rear wheel arches. Also check where the front floorpan joins the upright section of the inner sill in the left and right corners of the footwell, another
  • Tired hood and tailgate gas struts are a relative simple fix at £21.50 and £49.50 each to replace respectively. Ensure that the condition of the headlining is good; these are prone to droop in time with a complete new lining costing a hefty £235.
  • The 305ci and 350ci 5.7 litre engines will both look identical, but to tell the difference you need to look at the car’s VIN number. If the eighth letter on the number is an F, then it denotes the engine is 305ci. If it’s a number eight, then it’s a 350ci 5.7 litre V8 unit. Oil pressure at hot idle should not be less than 20psi and when driving should be around 30-45psi.
  • There were numerous problems with the 700R4 four-speed automatic transmission fitted to the early cars. A good test to check the efficiency of an auto transmission, apart from listening for obvious clonks and ensuring reasonably smooth changes, is to drive the car at 70mph when the rev counter should be showing around 2300rpm. If its registering higher at around 2700 3000rpm then there’s something amiss. The early five-speed manual transmissions could also be problematic and were notchy.
  • When driving straight ahead, if the car tends to track off to the left or right, and there’s play in the steering which needs correcting, it could indicate idler arm wear.
  • One of the single most expensive components on the car to replace is the fuel injection’s mass sensor which will cost £385. This device measures the amount of air going into the intake and works out the mixture to feed the fuel injectors. Signs of a faulty mass sensor will be difficult starting, erratic running and stalling. A replacement ECM on a service exchange basis will cost £180.
  • The engine management system amber warning light mounted on the instrument cluster will come on when the ignition is switched on. When the engine is running it should go out again. If it stays on, or comes on while you are driving there’s a fault with the engine management system, which will need investigating. If this light doesn’t flash at all, then someone may have tampered with it, or even removed the bulb…
  • Electric motors for the headlamps featured two-designs for 1982- 84, there was change for 1985 and again in 1987. New motors are not available for 1982-84 cars, nor can they be repaired. From 1985 the motors were fitted with separate relays and also a feed relay. From 1987 onwards they were fitted with a simplified control module, though if they go wrong they are dearer to replace!
  • Rear differentials can be prone to wear and tear with broken teeth on the crown wheel and pinion being common. It’s a similar story with the star and planetary gears on the LSD unit, which too will result in diff failure. Unfortunately second-hand diffs are rarely available nowadays.

Verdict

Modern muscle car with excellent performance and handling, that’s the appeal of this Trans-Am. Best buys will be later cars from 1987 onwards as they are better finished with more refined interiors. They are also fitted with the single serpentine drive belt which runs all the engine accessories and have higher amperage alternators. The desirable GTA offers special trim, badging, further options as standard, and attractive lacy-spoke 16-inch alloy wheels with polished rims. The limited edition 1989 Pace Cars will also be more sought after due to their rarity. Removable T-Tops provide the next best thing to convertible motoring for the summer months.



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