Reader Question: TA Buying Follow-up?

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

Guy writes: We went to have a look at the ’76 Trans-Am we’re considering on Saturday morning; not great weather for looking at cars as it was raining but after having a good look around it we think that we are going to go for it. It is going to be for my wife who is a big American car fan and used to have her own ‘a 67 Impala , but had to give that up when she moved down from Yorkshire to be with me in Norfolk so it is bit like payback to her in a way.

Ok so here it is , a yellow 400 T/A no T tops , but rust free with it being a California car, a few dings around the body, needs new fuzzies on both windows as well as rubber seals on the outside of the window as they are all cracked and perished. The phoenix is faded and looks to have some rust spots under the decal itself and the panel under  the car that joins left to right and is some kind of spoiler I think that goes under the radiator is missing altogether. Looks a little saggy at the back but apart from that kinda looks ok. The bloke wants £13,000 – which is not out of the way for a car like that over here , so will have a chat with him again today and see if we can do a deal. All in all we are going to need some bits including the side badges and nose badge , shocks , etc. The interior is black vinyl and is good , glass is good and boot floor is rust free, so there you have it!

My reply: I’m something of an authority on second generation (1970-81) TAs and the ’76 model in particular, having owned several. A few things come to mind that you may be interested to know:

1976 was a transition year as well as the first – and final – year for a number of TA features. For example, it was the first year you could order T-tops as a factory option, though these were made by Hurst not Fisher and were only available with the 50th Anniversary Limited Edition (black and gold, with German-style lettering) cars. The Hurst tops are smaller than the Fisher tops and were notoriously prone to leaking – so it’s probably good your car hasn’t got them!

1976 was also the last you could buy a 455 V8 and the last year for the polycast Honeycomb wheels; in 1977 these were replaced as the TA’s optional wheels by the alloy Snowflake type. The ’76 (and ’77) came standard with Rally II wheels.

’76 was also the just about the last year for the deep blue metallic engine paint pictured above (a few early ’77s had this color but then transitioned to a corporate baby blue non-metallic).

As mentioned in my earlier post, ’76 was also the final year for the old-style shaker scoop, which was larger than the ’77-up scoop as well as much easier to make functional, by simply removing the bolted-on block-off plate.

The ’76 TA has a one-year-only front clip. Also a unique to this year lower valance panel – the piece your car is apparently missing.

The good news is you can get replacements from sources such as AMES Performance Engineering and Year One, among others. Decals are also readily available. You may want to have your car’s history researched and documented by Pontiac Historic Services (PHS). For a small fee, they will tell you which of the two plants your car was built at, the options it had and where it was sold, along with other neat details.

Your car has the standard 400 and three-speed TH350 automatic; it probably has 2.73 gears in the rear. These versions aren’t screamers but are ver pleasant drivers as the Pontiac 400, though down on horsepower that year, still made abundant torque. If you want a little more pep without serious modifications or expense, consider the following upgrades:

Replace the rear gears with 3.23 gears.

Replace the horrid factory exhaust (which is a single exhaust with two outlets that chokes the engine) with a proper dual exhaust. Even if you must use cats, two high-flow units vs. the one GM pellet unit will really wake the car up.

Open up the shaker, as described.

Have someone who knows how tune the carb and ignition for maximum performance.

These mods will make the car much quicker and a lot more fun without hurting drivability at all.

You and your wife are in for a treat!

. . .

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8 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for your help , very informative .
    We will be doing some of these jobs very soon , and once all this cv19 virus thing is over the shows will start and we can get out and about with it . Forgot to mention we already of have an American car which we purchased from a company called World Wide Vintage Autos in Colorado , a beautiful 58 Impala , that we use when ever we can .
    The ‘bird will have some company in the garage when we bring it home .
    Thanks again for your valued reply
    Guy and Tracey 🙂

  2. +1000 on not getting T-tops
    They weaken the already weak unibody and increase chassis flex. I would strongly advise getting subframe connectors as well.
    Have a good look at the rear leaves and subframe, seen many where the leaf springs push up into the trunk and it was mentioned that the rear was “saggy”.
    $13k is too much for a car that has issues.
    caveat emptor

    • thanks for that , all seems good in that department as I was warned on this issue and other nasty rust hot spots so putting down to weak rear springs .
      Yours
      GUY

      • Hi Guy!

        I forgot to mention that Goldenrod Yellow is a fairly rare color (like Carousel Red). Does your car have the Honeycomb or Rally II wheels?

    • And there are some aftermarket parts for strengthening the car that help a lot. I used to know who made the various ones but that’s been long ago.

      One great thing is that engine already has HEI and it’s easy to find someone who can adjust it for the engine you are running. It makes enough difference to have this cheap mod done. And for those naysayers out there, if you can find someone to run you a couple 3″ exhaust pipes with adjustable mufflers you can really turn it on. Of course for me, a change to the top end would be a must as would mating all the intake ports and hogging them out a little around the vales too. It’s easy to get all that information and do it yourself which I have done and it works very well for better flow. After all, it’s nothing but an air compressor. If you want to keep the stock look on wheels there are the 8″ GM wheels that hold a much larger tire than the stock wheels. But using a different wheel(and tire size)on the front and rear is the best thing for performance. Finding the right backspacing and widest wheel for both ends is easily found. The tire dealer I used to use had all those charts so you could decide how you wanted to go. As long as you keep the originals, I see no harm in using the newest, bestest thing out there.

      • Amen, Eight!

        I’ll also add: Second-gen F cars have a bolt on front subframe with six main rubber biscuits; the originals – made of rubber – are certainly compressed/deformed/cracked or partially decomposed by now. Replacing them with polyurethane biscuits will really tighten the car up. This is one of the first to-do things after taking home a ’70-81 Firebird or Camaro…

        • eric, I was happy to find the WS6 front end parts fit my El Camino. A friend who worked at a dealership ordered them for me(he’d just bought a new 72TA 455 and installed those right off)and installed them. I drove it down the street and realized it felt like it had a different steering gearbox. The first curbed curve I came up on I ran up on the curve. Yep, it was a lot faster. I noticed too that it made it corner flatter since that that Elco was a tow package, it was pretty tight anyway. I used some coil-over shocks on the rear and it was really tight and had a minimal roll front and rear. That was one old Lead Sled.

          Be careful of what you buy. I bought a set of Centerline racing wheels and polished them along with the highest speed rated Pirelli made and had the tires rounded and that was my second mistake. I could have changed tires to a different brand wheels but sold them to a friend with a Z 28. The Centerlines weren’t rated for the weight of the Elco and I hadn’t even thought to look. The tires were barely on the edge of weight rating.

          I later installed some dry pavement Pirelli’s with the highest speed rating.

        • Good advice Eric.
          A full cage would also add (mucho) stiffness to the chassis but it would be a shame to F up a nice driver that way.

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