The Chevy Camaro bowed in late September of 1966, introducing GM’s new F-Body platform in the process. Five months later, Pontiac received its own F-Body platform model, the Pontiac Firebird. Both the Firebird and the Camaro were built to be direct competitors to the hugely successful Ford Mustang. In order to compete in the Trans Am racing series, the Trans Am Performance and Appearance package debuted in March of 1969. Only 689 hardtop and eight convertible Pontiac Trans Ams left the factory for the model year.
The Pontiac Trans Am would become the stuff of legend for the Excitement Division. The waning horsepower that marked the mid-1970s had a bright spot in the Trans Am 455 Super Duty, managing to make more power than the 454-powered 1974 Chevy Corvette. Trimmed in Starlight Black with gold pinstripes and Firebird hood decal, the 1977 Pontiac Trans Am that was arguably the star of Smokey and the Bandit drove T/A sales through the roof. Nearly 69,000 Trans Ams were sold in 1977, but the popularity of the movie pushed sales to 93,351 in 1978 and 117,078 in 1979, surpassing Camaro sales for the first time.
Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards effectively killed the 6.6-liter Pontiac Trans Am engine in 1979. The Excitement Division would have to find a more conservative performance option. Pontiac management balked at the idea of begging Chevrolet to provide Small Blocks for the T/A, and Big Blocks were verboten. Engineers decided to turbocharge the 301 (the engine measured 302 cubes, but Pontiac called it a 301 to differentiate it from Ford’s 302 engine). The new turbo 301 was different from the standard 301 introduced in 1977; the turbo had a fortified block, head gaskets and pistons were more robust, and it had a higher-pressure oil pump. The turbocharger was an electronically controlled Garrett TBO-305 sourced from Buick. It pushed nine PSI through a modified four-barrel Rochester Quadrajet carb. A knock sensor was added to retard ignition.
Horsepower for the new Pontiac Trans Am Turbo was rated at 210, with torque coming in at 345 pound-feet. The sole transmission choice was a three-speed automatic paired with a 3.08 rear gear. For years Pontiac had been underreporting the 6.6-liter’s horsepower at 220, when true output was closer to 260. This made the 210 horsepower from the Trans Am Turbo look great on paper, but testing told a different story. The loss of nearly fifty horsepower, combined with the automatic and the 3.08 gearing resulted in a disappointing 9.05-second zero-to-sixty and 17.02-second quarter mile time when tested by MotorTrend magazine.
Another change that came with the Pontiac Trans Am Turbo was the loss of the 6.6-liter engine’s shaker hood intake which was replaced by an offset hood bulge that accommodated the new turbo plumbing and air intake. On the backside of the hood bulge facing the driver was a turbo boost gauge comprised of a series of lights in a bar graph, with sections labeled “NORMAL”, “MEDIUM”, and “HIGH.” The lick of flame on the iconic Firebird hood decal was larger and pronounced than in previous years. The Pontiac Trans Am Turbo was selected to pace the Indianapolis 500 for 1980, piloted by Johnnie Parsons and Don Bailey. Nearly 51,000 Pontiac Trans Ams were produced for the 1980 model year, but only 5,700 of those were Indy 500 Pace Car Editions.
Our feature 1980 Pontiac Trans Am Turbo is an Indy 500 Pace Car Edition, showing a scant 10,000 miles on the odometer. It is highly original, finished in its factory Cameo White paint with gray trim. The interior is trimmed in oyster vinyl with gray and white cloth, and gray Firebirds embroidered in the door panels. This copy is equipped with T-tops, air conditioning, the WS6 Appearance Package, four-wheel power disc brakes, power steering, power windows, power locks, and an AM-FM stereo. Included in the sale are Pontiac Historic Society documents.
This extremely low-mile Pontiac Trans Am Turbo will cross the Mecum Auctions block at their Kissimmee, Florida event taking place January 4th through the 15th.