Riding in a high school friend’s 1981 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am made quite an impression
Kim Derrenkamp walked to school most of her life, so catching a ride to class was a rare treat — until May 1982, when everything changed.
“My posse of girlfriends and I had been walking to school together since the second grade,” says Kim, who grew up in a close-knit neighborhood just blocks from Our Lady of Angels High School, an all-girls school in Cincinnati, Ohio. “Then, during the last month of my senior year, my friend Jenny started dating a boy who drove a 1981 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Daytona Pace Car. It must have been love, because he let her drive it to school without him.”
Jenny began picking up her girlfriends for the short-but-sweet ride to school. “There were six of us in that awesome T/A,” Kim says. “We would put the J. Geils Band into the stereo cassette player and crank it up. Freeze Frame and Centerfold were blaring. Nobody in our town had seen anything like it.”
Kim says she was “star struck” by the Trans Am’s T-tops and turned-aluminum dashboard, the sound of the engine and the pure joy of cruising with her friends. Jenny eventually married her Trans-Am driving boyfriend. Kim got married too, as did the rest of her posse. The women have remained close, and they never forgot those rides in the Trans Am.
Kim finally bought a Firebird of her own in 2004, but she wasn’t able to enjoy it for long. “Life was more complicated at 40 than it was at 18,” she says. “Health problems took their toll on my family, and I found myself a middle-aged single mom with three kids, one income and a mortgage.” One day, fighting back tears, Kim was forced to part with the Trans Am.
But there is a happy ending. She sold the car to a friend, and he and his father performed a complete frame-off restoration, bringing it back to factory showroom condition. Along the way they discovered that it was the actual caution car used in the 1980 Indianapolis 500. “I don’t have any regrets,” Kim says. “This wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t sold it to the right people at the right time. I feel great that I’m part of the car’s history and the road that it traveled.”
Kim and her posse spent last year celebrating each other’s 50th birthdays, and Kim got a little nostalgic. It’s no wonder, then, that she bought another Trans Am, a 1979 model painted Sundance Yellow.
“Being with my friends, it’s like time stands still — ‘Freeze Frame.’ The music, the camaraderie, the friendship is still the same. The only thing missing besides our big hair was the car. It isn’t a special edition. It doesn’t even have T-tops. But it’s so familiar … the smell, the sound, the contour of the body, the bling. It’s true love again — just like in 1982.”