Reader Question: Classic Firebird?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Bill asks: I listen to you on KMED and sometimes the David Knight show. I share your affinity for the Firebird, I had a 70 Esprit as a teenager but always wanted a Trans Am. In recent years I bought and sold a C6 and C7 Corvette thinking these are the cars I always wanted just to be disappointed with them. (The info sys on the C7 was terrible). So I’m very close to purchasing a 70 T/A its a serious amount of money it isn’t a 455 with matching numbers going for over a 100K. A 400 is fine for me but the one my wife and I like has had frame up restoration which includes rear quarter panels. I’ve never owned a resto if done correctly is there anything I should be concerned with, i.e. safety and resell value? It doesn’t have matching numbers but has a stack of receipts and Pontiac Historical Services, I’ve never heard of this organization are they legitimate?

My reply: You came to the right place… in the nick of time!

In 1970 all Trans-Ams came with 400s – the RA III 400 or the RA IV. The 455 HO replaced the 400 as the TA’s standard engine in 1971. So the 400 is the correct engine for 1970 – which is really important as regards the value of the car. This should be verified by checking the stampings on the block/heads and comparing with the VIN on the cowl.

1970 – being the first year for the second generation Firebird – is a very collectible year.

The car will be even more so if it is a four-speed car. If it turns out it has the RA IV, it is a six-figure car.

Only two color schemes were offered: White with a blue stripe or blue with a white stripe. 1970 is also the only year for the 12 bolt rear axle. Later models used a lighter duty 10 bolt.

Pontiac Historic Services (PHS) is an excellent service for confirming “numbers” and so on.  I recommend them highly. But I also recommend having someone who knows these cars go over the one you are looking at before you buy it.

There is a big market in well-done “tribute” cars – i.e., a fake Trans-Am that looks like a real one. Even if it is meticulous recreation, it is not worth nearly as much as an authentic/factory-built (and “correct”) Trans Am.

Hence, it is critical to have the provenance of the car established by an expert as these cars are very expensive now and that value is hugely dependent upon their authenticity – even more so than their condition. This includes such things as “correct” intake manifold and carburetor, etc.

I would also want to assure myself that all bodywork – if any – was done competently, that the frame is straight and panel alignment good. Find out who/which shop did the work and investigate everything.

The RA III 400 is a very “streetable” engine for the era. It has a relatively mild hydraulic cam and a Quadrajet four barrel carb. It is however a high compression engine and needs the highest octane gas you can get. If the car hasn’t been built to deal with ethanol-laced gas, all fuel system components should be updated to that end and the carb adjusted (re-jetted richer). Cliff Ruggles can help with the necessary parts.

The much more rare RA IV, on the other hand, is an animal. A great investment but a terrible car to drive on the street.

Otherwise, these cars drive remarkably “modern” –  and easy to drive. With a few important caveats. The brakes are terrible by modern standards. Be sure you take time to get used to their limits. Same goes for traction. These cars ride on 15×7 wheels and are very easy to get sideways.

Once you get used to that, they are big fun!

Please send (via email or here) as many details about this car as you can and I will all I can to help you with your purchase!

. . .

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

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