Car Video: Oversteer
1977-1981 Pontiac Trans Am: One of the Last Survivors of the Muscle Car Era Is a Bargain
After spending a week driving around this 1978 Pontiac Trans Am, and having a blast making the video posted above, I'm totally shocked that I can find nice ones so cheaply. When you compare the Trans Am to other famous movie cars and muscle cars, it doesn't make any sense.
For those unfamiliar, this later Trans Am was a central character in the hit movie "Smokey and the Bandit," which was the second-highest-grossing movie of 1977 (behind the first "Star Wars"). Movie stars Burt Reynolds and Sally Field looked like they were having so much fun outsmarting the police on a cross-country bootlegging run that virtually everyone who watched the movie walked out of the theater wanting to buy a Trans Am. This was no joke, as Pontiac reported selling twice as many cars after the movie's release.
Included in this Trans Am craze were both of my parents, each of whom drove one in high school and college -- and they loved them. My mother recalls weeping when my father surprised her with a brand-new 1984 Chevrolet Corvette -- because she would miss her Trans Am so much.
Fast-forward more than 30 years, and you'd think many people of my parents' generation would feel nostalgic about this car and its movie appearance -- and that they'd want to buy one of these. This happened about a decade ago with '60s-era muscle cars, sending prices through the roof. But so far, there appears to be no movement on Trans Ams -- or on much of anything else from this era.
You can find nice-driving 1977-1981 Trans Ams priced in the teens, with excellent examples offered in the $20,000 to low-$30,000 range. To compare, a 1968 Mustang Fastback -- like the one from the movie "Bullitt" -- sells for twice that. A prime-era Mopar-- like a 1970 Challenger similar to the one in the movie "Vanishing Point" -- can bring six figures.
Sure, the Challenger and Mustang Fastback are scarcer -- but they were still mass-produced by the tens of thousands, with plenty available for sale today. And sure, the Trans Am certainly could've used some extra horsepower by the late '70s due to emissions regulations, but it was only a second off the reported 0-to-60 times from the late-'60s Mustang 390 or Challenger 440. In the handling and braking department, the Trans Am benefits from being a decade newer, and it usually comes with most of the modern conveniences the older muscle cars often lack.
One might argue the Bandit-era Trans Am just isn't old enough yet, but I don't think that's the case, either. Consider another famous movie car, the Delorean from the early '80s, which has skyrocketed in price in recent years -- despite having a fiberglass frame and an underpowered French-built motor.
So will the 1977-1981 Trans Am ever get its day in the sun? I'm not sure, but if I were muscle-car shopping, this would be at the top of my list. With all its over-the-top styling and noise, it was the most fun vintage muscle car that I've driven to date -- and the most livable. I'd get a lot more enjoyment at legal speeds with this over a modern muscle car -- and I'd never have to worry about the performance capabilities of the car exceeding my own driving abilities.
Tyler Hoover went broke after 10 years in the car business and now sells hamburgers to support his fleet of needy cars. He lives in Wichita, Kansas.