'If you were alive in the late '70s, you knew what a Trans Am was, and you knew you wanted one. Or at least, you wanted to know someone who did. Pontiac's premiere ponycar offering for the time was long on flash and at times, short on substance, but the car's stellar image maintained its popularity straight until the dawning of the Knight Rider-era third gen. Late second-gen Trans Ams were definitely not the fastest Pontiac had ever offered, but they looked cool and had an inexplicable lure over the opposite sex, whichever that happened to be, attributes that could make anyone the envy of all their friends.
Today, the inevitable nostalgia that trails any icon by a couple decades is upon us, and the late second-gen TAs are now becoming collector cars demanding the kind of cash that used to buy big-block Chevelles and Road Runners. By now, most enthusiasts can recite the specs and options for musclecars of the glory days from memory, but knowledge of later Firebirds isn't nearly as commonly held. If you do know anything about these cars, you know they all could use a shot of adrenaline. We've taken a few pages to give a brief rundown of some '76-'81 TA facts and figures; we've also outlined some areas that could use improvement, along with sources for hardware. Don't worry about the cheese factor-it's now retro chic.
1976Odd as it was, as the '70s wore on and musclecar offerings dwindled and horsepower waned, the Trans Am was gaining popularity. The '76 Firebird maintained round headlights as most GM vehicles made the switch to rectangular, though it did receive slick new flexible bumper covers to replace the more rigid plastic covers on the '74-'75. Perhaps the most significant exterior feature was the first-time use of a black-with-gold paint scheme. Available only on the Pontiac 50th Anniversary Edition Trans Am, the black Bird included gold-toned Honeycomb wheels, a gold-toned engine-turned dash panel, and gold-spoke Formula steering wheel in addition to the gold pinstriping and gothic-style Trans Am graphics. This scheme was reportedly inspired by the John Player Special race cars of the '70s and would become a Trans Am signature for years to come.
Wheel choices remained between the classic stamped-steel Rally II and the poly-cast Honeycomb, both measuring 15x7. The 455 had been dropped for the '75 model but was resurrected midyear, allegedly in response to consumer outcry. It carried over to the '76, and a four-speed manual trans was mandatory with the big engine. Despite its size, the 455 made a disappointing 200 hp, and did so by only 3,500 rpm. The other option was a 180hp 400, available with either the four-speed or a TH350. The 8.5-inch 10-bolt rear found in nearly all second-gen F-cars was offered with gearsets from 2.41:1 to 3.23:1, all with Saf-T-Track limited-slip differential.
BrakesAll second-gen F-cars use 11-inch front disc brakes with single-piston calipers, while only '79-'81 WS-6 models have rear discs. Note that these use a specific master cylinder, proportioning valve, and parking-brake cable if you're picking the junkyards. Master Power Brakes offers a rear disc conversion kit similar to the factory WS-6 setup. Stainless Steel Brakes offers upgraded front and rear brakes in several stages. Baer can outfit a second-gen TA with aluminum PBR brakes similar to those found on C4 Corvettes and Cobra Mustangs with 12- or 13-inch rotors in front and 10- or 11-inchers in the rear. Remember that big-inch brakes require big-inch wheels, so the biggest offerings may not fit behind stock 15-inch rims.
More info:Baer Brake SystemsPhoenix, AZ602/233-1411baer.com
Master Power BrakesMooresville, NC888/351-8785mpbrakes.com
Stainless Steel Brakes Corp.Clarence, NY716/759-8666stainlesssteelbrakes.com