The 1982-1992 Pontiac Trans Am needs little introduction. It embodies the ‘80s as much as the DeLorean and MTV. For the uninitiated, the Trans Am is the top dog of the Firebird lineup. If you wanted all the flair, performance, and technology you had to go with the Trans Am. It was the real star of “Knight Rider” after all, sorry Hoff. While the Camaro was more popular at the time, the Trans Am better embodies everything that is cool from the era, like denim jackets, Van Halen (not Van Hagar), and wild hairstyles. And if you like Van Hagar, that’s okay. As our readers pointed out in the comments, Sammy Hagar wrote Trans Am in 1979, so he's good our book.
A brief history of third-generation T/A
The 1982 update to the Trans Am was a drastic one. Pontiac managed to shed a full 400 pounds from the outgoing 1981 as well as chop 11 inches in overall length. Pontiac traded the anemic 301 Poncho V-8 for the similarly poor performing 305 Chevy with optional, yawn inducing Cross-Fire injection. Where the Trans Am really started to gain its stride back was with the introduction of Tuned Port Injection. With the new multi-port EFI system, Pontiac was finally able to crest the 200 horsepower mark in 1985. Yes, the dark days of emissions-restricted power were beginning to fade. 1987 saw the introduction of the 350 in the Trans Am as well as the GTA package. The updated body work, louvers and snowflake wheels took an already good-looking car to downright badass, much like the fourth-generation WS6 cars would do years later. These small, muscular tweaks cemented the Trans Am’s bad boy image which still lasts today.
Building from the GTA’s success, the 1989 20th Anniversary model turned the dial up to 11. Not only was it equipped with all the GTA bells and whistles, but it received what is arguably the best engine from GM fitted to a car from the 80s, the turbocharged 3.8-liter V-6. Yup, the very same engine from the ‘87 GNX. With 250 hp, the 20th anniversary Trans Am became the most powerful Trans Am since the Super Duty 455 in 1974. This was probably the only time it was cooler to have a V-6 Firebird than a V-8 as well.
While not technically a Trans Am, the most exclusive and cool Firebird is undoubtedly the 1992 Firehawk built by SLP. Ed Hamburger’s New Jersey outfit juiced the TPI injected 350 up to an astounding 350 hp, tweaked the suspension, and added the Brembo brakes from the Ferrari F40 (on the competition model) to create one of the most insane and capable track weapons of the era. From humble beginnings. The 3rd-gen Trans Am rose like a Phoenix from the horsepower slump of the late ‘70s to become one of the coolest and iconic performance cars of the 1980s.
While these cars are most certainly a snapshot of an era, that doesn’t mean that they have fallen out of favor with collectors. Both the third-gen Trans Am and its Camaro sibling have been slowly creeping up in value over the past few years and there are no signs of that trend stopping. In the last four months, the Trans Am GTA gained 5 percent in value according to our data. Even then, decent examples are still only worth $10,000.
If we dig into who quoting demographics, it is no surprise that Trans Ams are most popular amongst Gen X-ers. Roughly 40 percent of the quotes received by Hagerty for a 82-92 Trans Am comes from that group. The real news is that Millennials are beginning to overtake Baby Boomers in activity. Both are hovering around 28 percent of quotes received. In the past year, activity for Boomers has dropped 2 percent over the past year while Millennials increased their share by 6 percent.
While no time is a bad time to buy a Trans Am, these cars don’t look like they will be any cheaper going forward. So, if you want the apex of 1980s cool go out and buy yourself a third-gen Trans Am. Do it before all the cool kids snatch them up, and you have to settle for a Fox-body Mustang like a dweeb.