The 1979 Pontiac Trans Am

"It will not pass this way again". Car & Driver cited these seemingly prophetic words concerning the 1979 Trans Am in the January '79 issue. The handwriting was on the wall. The last Pontiac 400's were built up in 1978 and the tooling disbanded. There would only be a handful of the 220 hp motors to go around and all were to be mated to four speeds. The new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) ruling had taken effect, and it required far too many low profit Sunbirds to counteract the huge dent the big-motor Trans Am's put into the average. Yes, it will not pass this way again.

Already the T/A was having a major clipping performed on its proud feathers. For the first time in history, a small-inch engine was now available, the lightweight 301 cid Pontiac engine could substituted (for a mere $195.00 credit) for the base 403 Olds. The aforementioned 220 hp 400 cubic inch Pontiac remained as an option. But next year, there would be no big motors, only the 301.

But if you have to go down, then go down in style, and the exterior enhancements certainly added to the style. A new beak was fitted, laying back the nose at a 22-degree angle from the "Batmobile's" 16-degree angle for better aerodynamics. The Trans Am became a "bottom breather", picking up some fresh air for cooling at the bumper grilles, the reamining amount from underneath the front bumper. The traditional grille between the headlamps was gone, replaced by a pair mounted in the bumper pad extensions. The grilles were in a matte black and contained the turn signal/park lamp lenses in the upper outer corners. The now common four rectangular headlamps were each set in deep recesses, surrounded by low gloss bezels. The Pontiac crest continued to reside in the center of the front fascia.

In addition to the styling change, a bright spot to the front end restyle was a deeper front spoiler, now made of a flexible material rather than the hard plastic of the '77-78's. The change in material made it a bit more friendly to curb stones and parking lot dips. The spoiler actually was responsible for a major portion of the cooling air which was channelled to the radiator. Larger wheel air deflectors (or spats) were fitted, blending with the new spoiler.

Chrome was out in the automotive styling circles, so all of the previous bright work around the windows was now painted in a low gloss black. This changed the look dramaticly, making the car appear more aggressive; at least until the paint started to peel. Then you had a mess. But at least this was an easy fix with a spray can, some steel wool, and masking tape.

Moving to the rear of the car, the changes to the front of the car were echoed. The license plate was moved from the traditional pocket between the tail lamps to a recess within the bumper cover. A pair of pads grew out from each side of the bumper cover to replicate the look of the front. The rear spoiler was larger and more squared off at the bottom of each corner piece.

The most drastic and best looking change to the rear had to be the tail lamp assemblies. The lamps now stretched corner to corner, with a hinged fuel filler door in the center. While this may seem enough of a change, the big news was that the tail lamps had a "blacked out" look; at least until the lights were activated, then the red was proudly broadcast. For 1979, this was major cool! Lesser Firebirds (excluding Formula's) had the same tail lamp layout, but made do with traditional red lenses.

Here are three on ebay this week here in Michigan.

For more details on the history of the 1979 Pontiac Trans Am, visit Gary Lisk's Trans Am Resource

No comments: