25 August 2005

Restoration Tale: 1976 Pontiac Trans Am

So how does a long-time Mopar nut wind up owning a Pontiac Trans Am? First you have a friend who buys a 1974 T/A, but doesn't quite possess the “know how” or the proper tools to work on it. Of course I wound up being the wrench man on that 1974 Trans Am. I didn't mind though, as he was always willing to lend a hand if I needed spare set when I was working on my car. One thing led to another and a different friend of mine also bought himself a Trans Am, a 1975 model. He was better able to handle work on his T/A, possessing the necessary tools as well as the ability to use them. However, as he had also helped me out with my car projects, I often helped him when he needed an extra pair of hands. All this assisting did pay off. For one thing, I had the chance to probe a vehicle other than my own, decide if I liked it and yet wasn't stuck with it if I didn't.

I caught the bug and soon decided I wanted my own Trans Am. After some searching, and with the help of my friend, I came across a "carousel red" 1976 model in October 1981. The car had low mileage for its age at 49,000, and the body was in fair condition. Upon finishing my inspection of the car, I discussed price with its owner. At first the owner was asking a rather high price, considering it had rot in the bottom of both quarters and needed new hoses, belts, a thorough scrub job of the interior, and some upholstery work on the front seats. After some negotiation over what was or wasn't in need of repair/replacement, the car’s owner came down to a price I felt was reasonable: $3,300.

I took care of the mechanical repairs immediately, (hoses, belts, a new battery tray), and then pressed my Trans Am into daily service so I could get back to finishing a restoration project that was in the works.

Not content to leave things alone, and with a little persuasion from my friend, I soon decided to engage in some amateur bodywork. What started out as a minor effort on just my T/A turned into a bit more. A few friends decided that while the garage was open and tools were available, why not work on their cars too. By the time all was said and done, I had five additional vehicles scattered about the driveway and street with my car along side the garage. We all took turns helping each other out, and by around 10:00 p.m. one night, we had finished all of our projects. Good thing I had understanding neighbors. The bodywork was amateur, but it was an improvement over what the car had looked like before. The professional job would have to wait until I could scrape up the money.

It was 1987 when I began to realize that I needed to get serious about saving my money for bodywork, having blown a godly sum souping up the engine. I also expended some of my funds on suspension upgrades in the form of urethane bushings in the shock mounts, and front and rear sway bars. Finally, there was that nice set of gas shocks. Thus, by the time I’d be able to save the money for the bodywork, my Trans Am would have to endure 10 years of service. Of course ten years of New Jersey winters with gobs of road salt eroded major portions of my car's structure. Some additional quick and dirty bodywork jobs kept things looking good on the surface, but the bondo was beginning to become the major component of the car. In addition, there was the growing problem of floor rot.

Of course there was another development that impacted my progress on saving money for the Trans Am bodywork. I started dating a young lady in late 1987. This isn’t to say she had any problem with my plans for my Trans Am. As a matter of fact, this young lady I was dating, who later became my wife, said "she always wanted to date a guy with one of those sports cars.” I often wonder if that's why she married me... Anyway, given my tendencies to show off the Trans Am’s cornering abilities, I think it's a miracle she married me at all. So progress toward saving for body restoration slowed again. Oh well, I did get the girl, and she liked the car.

Finally, on August 12, 1991, one day after my wedding, my Trans Am went into V & F Autobody in Metuchen, New Jersey. I visited my car periodically over the next two months, both to check on its progress and to authorize any additional work. It seems that each time a panel was removed, more rot was hiding. By the time the job was done, the only body panels that were completely original were the hood, roof and decklid. Every other major panel had either been partially or completely replaced.

Looking better than it had after the numerous intermediate bondo jobs I had done, I took my toy home. The body shop's work got rave reviews from all, even Dad. About a year later I added a nice new set of wheels, which unfortunately dad was no longer here to give his review on them. I also upgraded the stereo.

Now my Trans Am leads a life of quiet semi-retirement, only coming out of its snug garage on sunny days for shows, parades, and the occasional test blast after whatever work has, shall we say, given rise to the need for a test blast.

There is one extra detail but I haven't quite figured out how to fix. In June 1993, my wife and I became proud parents. This little boy, now 10 years old, has decided he will have my Trans Am when he grows up. He seems quite determined to make good on his promise, if you can consider the fact he calls his pedal car his Trans Am any indication of his interest in the big car. When the time comes, I figure if I crazy glue the car to the garage floor that will slow him a little. If that doesn't work, I'll try praying.

For more restoration tidbits, visit: bencar.freeyellow.com/76TAPage.html.

– Ben Deutschman

2 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Steve Reed Brick NJ November 24, 2013 at 21:48
    Hey Ben, Great story..thanks for sharing....
  • 2
    Dave Cruikshank Reading PA May 28, 2015 at 00:37
    Great story, I'm always impressed with someone who wholes onto a car for a long time and finally gets it the way they wanted it. Makes me long for the 70 Mach-1 351-C Hurst 4 speed I had. I did a semi restoration on it with my dad. We painted it in the garage and final body spray in the back yard. Unfortunately I sold it for a child safe Saab when my daughter was born 30 years ago. I went 25 years without a muscle car. Then when our daughter was married 5 years ago, and for my 50th birthday I got a 96 SVT Cobra Mustang. It's a sunny day only car, and was the same for the first owner. So even though it's 19 years old, in many ways it's like new, especially underneath. Always loved Trans Ams, on my bucket list of cars to own, especially since I turned 16 in 76. One lucky kid in town had a Bandit car for his first car, and he didn't pay for it. I guess I was always envious. Anyway, when your son turns 14, buy a project car you can both work on. That way he learns the ins and outs of his car, and learns what it actually cost in time, so he will respect it, and you keep your baby.

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