Heartbreaking – and Heartwarming

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I came across something on YouTube that brought back memories of a car I once owned – and which someone else just found.

Well, he found one just like it.

In a Texas field, left to rot – a 1976 Trans-Am. Similar to my current Trans-Am but identical to the one I used to own, a long time ago.

The prototype for what became the most famous – and very common – Trans-Am of all.

A 1976 Limited Edition 50th Anniversary Trans-Am.

These were the cars that served as the thematic basis for the Smokey & The Bandit movie cars, which generated Trans-Am fever across the country back in 1977.

Mark that – 1977.

That was the year the movie came out – and it featured a back and gold ’77 Trans-Am (several actually, as the filming of the stunts in the movie cost at least five Trans-Ams their lives, according to reports).

But it was the ’76 LE 50th Anniversary car which inspired the movie cars.

It featured a paint scheme that first appeared two years earlier, at the Chicago Auto Show. On display at the Pontiac stand was a 1974 Trans-Am decked out in black metalflake paint, with gold stripes and gold “Trans Am” lettering in gothic German fonts. This car also had an SD-455 V8 under its hood.

The SD was the very last true high-performance V8 of the muscle car era, which pretty much ended the following year (1975) when catalytic converters ended the party for good. No more choppy cams, big valve heads and headers.

But paint palettes hadn’t yet been outlawed by Uncle and Pontiac knew they had a good looker on their hands. 1976 was also Pontiac’s Jubilee Year – its 50th anniversary – and cause for a new party.

So the black and gold colors were draped over a 1976 Trans-Am. And while Pontiac couldn’t slip an SD-455 under the hood, it was still possible to get a 455 in there. Just a few of the very last of them.

There weren’t many – all were left over from 1975 and Pontiac wasn’t making any more new ones.  They weren’t high-performance, either; just 200 horsepower out of 7.5 liters and the big V8 was basically the same V8 used in appliances such as the Bonneville and Safari wagon.

But it was still a 455 – which was 150-plus cubic inches bigger than any V8 you could get in a Chevy – which had foolishly cancelled the Z28 Camaro after 1974 – and offered nothing larger in even the Corvette.

It was sold only with the 4-speed manual transmission, too – as part of a performance package that also got you 3.23 gears in the rear axle.

You could also get that drivetrain in a regular ’76 TA, too – like my current ’76 (which is Carousel Red, a wonderfully lurid orange-pumpkin redddish color).

But the LE 50th Anniversary cars – especially the ones with the 455/4-speed – were doubly rare. Of the 2,590 total 50th Anniversary cars made,  only 110 cars had the big V8 (a 400 V8 was standard) and the Hurst T-tops, which were a short-lived option due to dealing/leaking problems but were nonetheless the first Trans-Ams to come with T-tops as a factory option.

The ’76s were also the last TAs to come with single round headlights – the ’77s got the four square ones – and the polycast Honeycomb wheels, which were gold-painted exclusively with the 50th Anniversary cars, as were the headlight bezels and grilles and the famous engine-turned prismatic dashboard inside the car.

I had one one of these – until its life was ended by a guy in an old van who ran a light and T-boned it to vehicular Valhalla. I still have the shaker, which hangs in my garage – looking down on my current TA, the ’76 Carousel Orange – aka The Great Pumpkin.

My ’76 LE was a beater compared with my current ’76 but it was special and I had some good times in that car.

Today, it would be a very valuable car – as he guy who found the car in the Texas field pointed out. Restored, a ’76 LE 50th Anniversary car with the 455 and T-tops might go for six figures – right there with an SD-455 car from the earlier years.

Rarity, as always,makes it so. And, historicity.

They will never make cars like that again – not until after the Great Re-Set, at any rate. Which probably none f us now living will be alive to see.

But it was nice to see someone find – and rescue – another ’76 LE 50th, of which there probably aren’t more than 50 or so left and maybe less.

It will be as heartwarming to see this one brought back to its full glory as it was heartbreaking to leave the remains of my T-boned ’76 at the salvage yard all those years ago.

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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12 COMMENTS

  1. As far as the Great Re-set goes, I take comfort in knowing that no one in Russia in 1980 had any idea that their Great Re-set was coming in 10 years. Nor did anyone in Iran in 1970.

    Great Re-sets tend to come out of thin air, when no one, especially the elites, expect them, and are started by what seems to be inconsequential incidents.

    We’ve got all the powder…all we need is the spark.

  2. The biggest heartbreak is that the younger generations who are true believers have been priced out of bringing these cars back to life by the gold chained, thick skulled Mecum/Barrett-Jackson “investor” types. Rather than terrorizing the populace on Main Street, this car will only fire up for trips across the auction block.

    I was approached by one of these types at a local gas/beer/lottery/everything except SERVICE station recently inquiring whether I would be willing to sell him the 64, AKA Sanford, as “C10’s are hot right now”. I politely informed him that my truck was perfectly content as a driver and didn’t need to be set .001″ from the ground on airbags, and the old 230 was just fine and more reliable than an EFI LS motor. The poor investor walked away nonplussed at my stubborn refusal to walk away from my personal comfort zone in exchange for a “sweet deal” in which he gave me approximately 15% of what some other gold chained meatball might pay for it.

    Just because the thought is in my head now, I’m going to go load the Comet up with a fresh tank of 110 octane Torco and hit the highway for a bit to cleanse my thoughts. This weekend is the local “historic home tour”, so we might see how some investors like hearing a big cam singing through open headers on a car that they cannot have. I’ll even leave the shoe polished tech inspection numbers on the windows from last weekend.

    • Hi El Guapo –

      I sympathize with this sentiment; I could not afford my TA today – as a middle-aged guy – if I had to go out and buy one like it now. If I were the same age today as I was when I did buy it, back in the early ’90s, forget about it. “Number 2” condition cars like mine with the equipment mine has are in the $20k-up range now.

      It’s sad.

      But, it’s also attrition.

      Finding a car from that era – even ones like mine, which were built in fairly large numbers – in solid driver condition is difficult, unless you have at least $8-10k or so to spend. Cash, because no one is going to finance a 40-year-old beater.

      Which puts such cars out of reach for most high school/college-age people.

      • TO be fair, when I was 18, finding a mint ’55 Chevy or ’49 Ford Deluxe would have likewise been out of my price range, which is comparable to today’s kids and the “classic” hot rods.

        What’s sad is that too many lads are being raised by their mothers only, and only seeing their “Baby Daddies” on the weekends for trips to Disneyland or something like that. They don’t grow up holding the goddamned flashlight or clamping a fuel line, and therefore don’t pick up how to keep the Family Truckster going w/o “paying the guy”. Most spend their idle hours playing Warcraft or watching reruns of Game of Thrones. It’s goddamned pathetic. I guess Preston Tucker’s “prophecy” of what would happen when the Government and the big corporations got in bed with each and stifled competition and innovation has sadly come to fruition.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djMYTM1p318

    • Akin to your Chevy (yep, the ol’ 230, unhobbled by “Smaug” controls, could get it around ‘jes fine, but if you had a 292, you got some torque that would rival a Chevy Small block or even the original “Big Block”, the 348 with the flat cylinder heads.

      On the same note, what I’d give to find a pre-1976 Ford P/U (for now, smog not required in CA) with a 300 Six…bulletproof, and loads and load of TORQUE, even if strangled by breathing through that Motorcraft or Carter YF one barrel carb.

      A Dodge of similar vintage with the 225 Slant Six, as those things were long stroked and likewise put out serious torque, works as well. Best to get a Power Wagon 2-speed rear end and put a New Process 4-speed, or, if you just gotta keep it “on the tree”, get A745 gears, which were intended for the larger Mopars that had standard shift, they’ll keep the RPMs down on the highway.

      • Douglas, I recall checking a book out of the library in early 1969 with articles and illustrations of turbocharged gasoline engines. I can’t recall right now the guy who did a great deal of turbocharging but his young counterpart produced a lot of them. One such example was the 292 Chevy. In turbocharged mode it made a buttload of torque and would propel a big Chevy faster than V 8’s of the time. Gale Banks was a pioneer also of turbocharging American cars and produced some stunning results.

        Since I grew up in a trucking family I knew turbo’s were the wave of the future. To my shame, I have yet to build a turbo engine. I hope someday to change that.

        • Hi Eight,

          As a Pontiac guy, I have always wanted to explore the potential of the 301 – which was supposed to have been Pontiac’s V8 of the ’80s but got cancelled by GM. With a low-pressure/blow-through turbo it made 210 hp and a stout 345-ish ft.-lbs. of torque. With some massaging – especially with EFI – it probably could have made 300-320 hp without too much trouble and given Buick’s 3.8 V6 a run for its money!

          But the thing I’d really to do is turbo a 455 – and install it in a very stock-looking ’80 Daytona 500 Pace Car TA. The 455 – with its long stroke – is already made for torque. With 12 or so lbs. of boost, one could probably coax 600-plus ft.-lbs. out of one.

          And that’d be lots of fun!

          • eric, I’m guessing that engine would produce 600 hp without that much boost. Just “building” a N/A engine I’ve seen many over 600 hp.

            Probably 500 hp on a turbo would have so much torque you wouldn’t care about 600 hp any longer.

            I’d bet the only thing needed to keep it running right would be a set of Copperhead gaskets since that head has 1/2″ bolts although only 10 of them but that wouldn’t be a factor I’d doubt. Probably something akin to ARP bolts, or even better, studs would have you a fairly bulletproof engine without getting into double digit boost.

            Those dual turbo kits for SBC’s make scary power and get drag cars well down into the lower 9’s and even lower if you want to push it.

            I keep up with these guys on YT that bought a Gen IV I think it was ‘Vette. It now has twin turbo’s with a big intercooler via it’s own coolant. It’s wicked fast and the bugs aren’t even worked out. It’s currently running mid 8’s at over 160 in the quarter. I’m waiting for these guys to get “Ruby” down into the 7’s.

          • Just reread your comment. 600 lb. ft. of torque wouldn’t require much boost at all on a 455. Check out this link. I started taking Hot Rod back in 1960 and did so till about 20 years ago when it went online. I still read it because they’re still doing the same thing they’ve done since it’s start or my introduction anyway. Here’s a good article on building a 455.

            https://www.hotrod.com/articles/455ci-engines/

            • Hiya Eight!

              I’ve had some experience with Pontiac’s big V8 (they all look the same externally, but the 428/455 has a longer stroke than the 326/350/389/400). These will make 450-plus ft.-bs. with a mild cam and no turbo.

              With a turbo, it’d be . . . entertaining!

              • eric, I’ve “massaged” fenders, narrowed frames along with tubbing and deleted inner fenders to get enough tire on a car to get the proper traction needed.

                That would be the case of a fairly aggressive cam and a turbo with 12lb.s of boost on a T/A. You could see a distinct difference in the body. It’s not a bad look at all but it’s not a stock look either. If you had a good enough intercooler that amount of boost would be a huge amount of air.

                A lot of people might not notice but those fenders stuck out would get your attention immediately.

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