The TRX vs. The TA

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The ’21 Ram TRX I am test-driving this week has more than three times as much horsepower (702) as the 455 V8 in my ’76 Trans-Am made when it was new (200).

It also weighs nearly twice as much – 6,396 pounds vs. about 3,800 pounds –  and still runs the quarter mile three full seconds faster than my TA did when it was new, in the low 12s vs. the mid-15s (which today is in the same ballpark as a four cylinder family sedan’s performance).

It also out-handles and out-brakes it, while getting about the same gas mileage carrying five people and being able to pull a trailer, carrying my TA.

Plus go fast in the rain – and off-road, seriously – things my TA dare not attempt, lightly.

The TRX has a heated, Alcantara suede-covered steering wheel. A 19-speaker audio rig – as compared with the two speaker, AM/FM radio my TA came with (plus the 8-track). The rear seats are heated – and there’s more room back there than inside my TA,  period.

Plus the trunk.

The TRX – even has a functional hood scoop, which my TA didn’t until I made it so.

It can do a four-wheel burnout.

I love my TA but I have fallen in love with this thing. It combines in a single vehicle the fury of two ’70 Hemi-powered Chargers, the comfort of a new 300 sedan, the room of an old Fury III station wagon and the field-implement strength and unstoppability of a tracked CAT earth mover. It is also guaranteed to send Greta Thundberg running in tears to her psychiatrists’s couch.

Everyone should have one.

But aye, there’s the rub.

The one downside of the new vs. the old.

The cost.

My TA – which was top-of-the-line back in ’76 and loaded with practically every option – cost less than $6,000 – which is about $27,000 in today’s Venezuelan dollars.

The new TRX costs $70,000 – to start – in today’s dollars. Plus tax, as Elvis used to say – which is probably a sum sufficient to have bought my ’76 TA back in ’76.

My loaded test truck stickered out just over $87,000 – which means only a lucky few will ever be able to own one. Back in ’76, a performance car like my TA was affordable. It cost the equivalent of what a new base trim Challenger with the V6 sells for today.

It’s why it was made in numbers that would boggle today – for a specialty car:

46,704 of them. That’s Trans-Ams, not counting other Firebirds.

Ram will build just a fraction of that number of TRXs – because only a fraction of the population can afford a TRX. But also because Ram can’t afford to build too many of them – because of the effect of the TRX’s gas mileage (10 city, 14 highway) on its “corporate average” fuel economy (CAFE) score.

This is the regulatory legerdemain requiring all the vehicles made by every car company to “comply” with ever-upticking MPG minimums, currently in the mid-30s on the way to the 50s.

Or else. 

Which makes it harder – because more expensive, via “gas guzzler” fines applied generally – to sell not just the TRX but also standard Ram trucks.

Such considerations were non-issues in 1976, when there were no CAFE “standards” and thus, a performance car with a huge V8 could be built relatively inexpensively and bought in mass quantity. Those too young to remember will have no memory of the time when V8 powered Trans-Ams, Camaros and Mustangs were as common as tattoos on people under 30 are today.

It’s a poor substitute.

The high water mark came in 1978-79, when Pontiac (RIP) was selling in excess of 200,000 Firebirds annually, with about 50 percent of them being Trans-Ams with 6.6 liter V8s.

That could be repeated today – and then some – were it not for the existence of CAFE. Ram could probably offer a less-loaded version of the TRX, even. One without the heated suede Alcantara steering wheel and the 19 speaker audio system – and the monster truck off-road equipment – but with the essential  element, the supercharged 6.2 liter V8.

Bring it down to around $50,000 – or even less, which could also be done. It was done – in the pre-CAFE era. Car companies would offer just the engine and the related go-fast peripherals in a “de-contented” version of the top-of-the-line. A good example of this being the Pontiac Formula Firebird, which had the Trans-Am’s engine but not the gaudy cosmetics and sans the additional features the more expensive Trans-Am came with that didn’t make it any faster.

Plymouth (also RIP) did the same with models like the GTX. The point of it at ll being to build – and sell – as many of these things as the market wanted.

Ram built the TRX to the hilt because it had to – because it can only sell a few. Because of the government, which applies the stick to make sure only a few are built and that the few that make it through the gantlet are for-the-flush only.

But what if there was no regulatory punishment to serve as a deterrent to building as many such vehicles as could be sold?

It’s Greta’s worst nightmare – and the best dream I ever had, almost.

 . . . 

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36 COMMENTS

  1. Eric,
    No doubt, the Ram is fast and shit, but fuck that! I’d rather be driving the T/A! If the rain and snow is over for the year, I’d be driving the T/A, daily! It’s like my 120hp ’65 Bug, even during the rainy season, (fun as hell on wet pavement), daily driver! Enjoy your T/A!!! ( I have a combo in my mind for 170hp for my bug)

  2. Eric is right about higher trims to increase the profit on any vehicle. My 2020 F150 XL was $31k. Same truck, dressed out, etc. (“king ranch” or such) is easily $50k. Same.exact.powertrain. Same idea goes for Eric’s test truck.

  3. If I had $90k to blow on a new vehicle, I doubt I would be looking at Crapslers. I don’t care how powerful and traditional their engines are; they’re still second-rate junk.

  4. What a timely article to something I saw recently that made me think of Eric…

    I was driving on the interstate and was passed by a Ram truck towing a trailer with a SatB black TA on it. Even had Bandit on the tag. Truck was painted black just like the TA and in the same lettering as the Trans Am, it said Rams Am on the back of the tailgate. I thought it was clever.

    Dunno the provenance of the black TA he was towing, but it was a nice specimen even if it wasn’t a movie used vehicle. Also saw an Orange Barchetta about a month ago. Now I know why Eric holds onto his after checking one out in an auto parts parking lot.

    Curious, since it is a truck, how much can those 700 ponies tow?

    • Hi J,

      The TRX is rated to tow 8,100 lbs. – which is less (a lot) than the maximum rated capacity of the ordinary Ram 1500, which is just shy of 13,000 lbs. – but it’s still sufficient to pull a trailered TA!

      Part of the reason for the TRX’s lower rating probably has to do with its specific off-road/4WD equipment.

      • One of the reasons we never saw ‘car’ engines going in trucks was because their blocks couldn’t handle towing duties. We all have said, “why don’t they put that great engine in their truck?” So I’m guessing that this engine was never envisioned to go in a truck and therefore it’s block is not up to snuff for heavy towing. But, smart FCA people said “how do we do this?”. Just my theory.
        Now you would think that with 700HP+ it’s tough enough, but that’s not how today’s engineering works. It’s all computer designed and they plug in the numbers of torque, moment, twist, etc.. they want the block to handle, no more, no less.
        If ya make some assumptions, their 6.2 and 6.4 engines were supposedly all derived from their mass market engine the 5.7. So they ‘build up’ the 5.7 and I guarantee compromised were made.

        • Ummm, they have a 6.4L truck engine, it is standard in the 2500 and 3500 heavy duty trucks. Also, one of the original Hemi’s (1958) was a 392.

          • They also had an 8L (or so) truck V10 in the past. Unless you had an SRT-10 badge, though, it wasn’t the Viper engine.

            Going further back (and looking at another company), the GMC motorhomes of the ’70s were powered by Oldsmobile 455s and 403s…but not exactly the same engine you would’ve gotten in a Toronado or Ninety Eight of the time. I know Olds put (at minimum) a different camshaft in engines destined for motorhome installation, and I just read that they got stronger crankshafts too (forged, not cast).

          • yes, but when they put the 6.4L in the 2500+, around ’17, they made the block thicker. This same stronger block also then went in the ’17+ chargers/challengers.
            As I said prior, it’s my ‘theory’ on the blown 6.2 700+ hp engine that something is just not strong enough to handle heavy towing duties. It’s possible it has something to do with the drivetrain, but I doubt it. It’s just physics, you don’t make 700+ HP without compromises.

            • Guise, Guise,
              Remember though: Towing capacity usually has more to do with the axle rating, brakes and tire size than with the injun.

              For instance: Two otherwise identical F250’s with the same engines and trannies, but one may have a full-floating rear axle and the other a semi-floating, and the two trucks will have different GVWR’s and thus even greater difference in towing capacity.

              Engine has little effect on actual rating/capacity (but can have a large effect on performance and durability)….it’s just that the weaker engines are usually associated with the lighter-duty trucks because they are put in the ones with less capacity since the purchasers of ones intended for towing likely wouldn’t want them, and they wouldn’t be practical for such applications.

              • Absolutely could be the suspension on the TRX that downgrades it’s tow rating. I find it hard to believe though that the TRX’s suspension hard parts are significantly different than the standard 1500. I think Eric said 2″ lift? maybe it’s just that? That the lift makes a little less stable towing heavy? Don’t know. Again, my engine being the limiting factor is just a theory……….

                • Hi Chris,

                  I think it’s the coil spring rear end plus the 2 inch lift; the rear would (I suspect) tend to “squat” too much under a really heavy (9,000-plus pounds) load…

                  • I think you two nailed it, Chris and Eric!
                    ‘Cause 10% of the trailer’s weight will be on the tongue- so the at the hitch, we’re looking at the truck supporting 900 lbs vs. 1300 lbs. -a 400 lb. difference, which would be substnatial on coil springs and with a lift. Not that that is the only factor in tow rating…but just that alone is usrely enough to make the difference between the two iterations of the truck.

      • I get that off road equipment as well as engineering towards fun was the purpose of this truck.

        However; it is still a corvette-truck. Why not just buy the Corvette or a used Viper, Hellcat, etc? Maybe with the money one can save vs this behemoth, one can rent a truck for the few moments one actually needs a truck.

        • Seriously though, who the hell’s gonna go off-roading in an $83K truck? Scratch the paint or put a few chips or dings in it, and it’s a couple of grand to fix, and you’ve just lost a few more grand in depreciated value……

  5. I wonder what a comparison of the margins would look like? My guess is that even with all the gingerbread the TRX would come out slightly ahead. Until you factor in the SG&A expenses like feeding the pension plan, the employees health care plan, the money laundering to avoid taxes, paying off senators, etc. Then the TA wins hands-down.

    Of course the pension plan and healthcare plan are for “the workers” right? Except that the pension plan goes into the big investment banks and the healthcare plan isn’t something that gets much use by the actual employees.

    • Methinks they’ve forgotten Henry Ford’s example: Make something that the average American can afford, and you’ll have a virtually unlimited market. These [non]car companies today seem to be limiting their own markets more and more by pandering to what only a few can afford*, and to the fools who can’t afford ’em, but will buy ‘en anyway, on over-extended credit…..but of course THEY will not be repeat customers.

      [*=Most who could truly afford ’em have more sense than to spend such sums on short-lived quickly-depreciating assets. Of the rich people I know/have known, virtually all drive old or salvage car…never new…and never costing anywhere near even a third of what that TRX costs as equipped- ‘cept for one guy I know who recently bought a new $70K Ram…only because he’s now old and has cancer. And he had to trade it in within months for another, ’cause the damned thing had numerous problems already that they wouldn’t fix)

  6. ‘Ram built the TRX to the hilt because it had to – because it can only sell a few.’ — EP

    … mirroring a common strategy in the Depression, when few other than the wealthy could still afford new cars. Cadillac went way upscale with its 452 cubic inch V16 in 1930, continuing to sell it throughout the 1930s.

    Likewise, in an NYC commuter suburb which launched in 1928 with modest houses catering to young families, the final blocks built in 1932 featured large, finely-detailed mansions targeted to wealthy cash buyers, after mass unemployment wiped out mortgage-dependent salaried buyers.

    $120 billion a month of thin-air Venezuelan dollars prestidigitated by con-man-with-a-badge Jerome ‘John Law’ Powell inures exclusively to the benefit of plutocrats who are positioned to prosper mightily even as public finances are shattered beyond repair.

    One day in a funky ‘hood in the Bronx, I pointed out to my Japanese colleague Mr Abe some luxurious houses atop a nearby ridge, separated from the ghetto by a steep slope. Mild-mannered Mr Abe shocked me by growling, ‘If I lived down here … I would ATTACK!’ with a mad kamikaze glint in his brown eyes.

    What is it that finally lights the fuse on popular rage? John Law Powell seems determined to find out, at considerable risk to his own fragile personage should the public finally diagnose the true nature of his malicious depredations. My advice: don’t bike to work like Pete Buttitwitch, Mr Powell.

  7. Well….this article went a different way than I was expecting. I thought you were going to say something to the effect that despite the horsepower of the T R(e)X, the T/A is actually more pleasant to drive, if for no other reason that it isn’t festooned with all of the encumbrances; that there is more actual metal; some actual connection to the road via the steering wheel; the mechanical simplicity, etc.
    These modern vehicles just hold no interest for me. 19 speakers in a space smaller than a bathroom? What’s the point? A selling point….but where will this this real-estate priced vehicle be in 10 years when the software is no longer supported, or the computer no longer available (even used, due to it’s specificness and rarity)?
    I can understand the speed; I mean, I love my ’00 Excursion with the V-10, which can effortlessly shoot up to 100MPH- but I never would have bought that truck new. It’s got a lot of those encumbrances, like heated seats….and I don’t even know whether they actually work or not- ditto the cruise control, -’cause in the 5 years I’ve owned the beast, I’ve never attempted to use such things…I just drive the damned thing…I don’t use it as a spa. 🙂
    Hell, if someone stole the leather seats and swapped in vinyl ones, I doubt I’d notice. Instead of all of this garbage, I would choose a real metal steering column and dashboard, a manual transmission, etc. (Thank goodness, at least it still has actual keyed locks on the front doors and tailgate and ignition!).
    I could get away with driving a ’67 Fairlane wagon 99.5% of the time, and be perfectly happy and just as functional, and get twice the MPGs or better…but it’d be a “crime” to build the ’67 Fairlane today…..

    • haha Nunzio, I was expecting the same thing. I’m guessing Eric got caught off guard after he drove it. I felt the same thing when I drove my 1st new ram (wholly crap this thing is good).
      And to your point, it’s just to each their own.
      Cars are tools to me. I want/need the best tool to do the job(s) I want them too.
      I would be perfectly happy in a late 60’s, or early 70’s boat, but here’s the catch. It would need to be new so I could do my job. The tool I need. They don’t exist, so I get to pick my poison.
      And they don’t cost that much, to me relative, because I don’t finance them, and role them over while they are still worth something. Again, just a tool. I’ve always believed that it costs money to drive, and I still stand by that premise.
      I agree 100% with all the new tech being a major problem down the road, and I do feel sorry for those getting these vehicles say 10 years later.

      • Ah, yeah, Chris- I do “get” that. I mean like if I were a traveling salesman of something [Errrr, they probably call it something like: “Outside product placement representatove” now…] sure, you just pick up a comfy capable new vehicle and drive the wheels off of it, and then trade it in in two or three years with 180K miles on it- Pretty much the only thing that makes sense for someone in that kind of position. The sad thing is, that even if you’re making good money, that still eats up a lot of money…and one’s choices are getting more and more limited these days.
        Want a rather plain but nice sedan with a big trunk and only the options you might actually use? Good luck! They don’t make such things anymore. Me? Yeah, I’d rather drive a truck anyway….but if I had to do a lot of driving, I’m sure the MPG would suddenly become an issue.

        • Yup. I’ve run the numbers. Works for me.
          Sadly, there are no practical large sedans anymore. My favorites have been 90’s Caprices and Park Ave’s. I would buy these with 100K on them for peanuts and run them for another 50-100K, and do it again and again. So after the larger sedans went away I went to trucks as a lot did. I did not enjoy the rough riding though, but as a provider, husband and father, I thought it responsible to drive big in my very dangerous road conditions. I lived on the road, and my ‘percent’ of getting in trouble was high. I’ve given some of those experiences here in the past. So I think I’ve had about 15 trucks, and they kept getting better and better, but still road rough. And why I recently experimented with a 300, cause getting old sucks and the jarring of the trucks on my rust belt roads was taking a toll on me. I really enjoyed it, but then I drove the new Ram and I couldn’t believe it road better than the 300.

          • Ha! I was thinking of those Caprices when I wrote my above post! Same here; I do like the safety of being in a large, heavy vehicle with an actual (and heavy) frame! Not sure about the newer trucks, but I know compared to the trucks of the 70’s and 80’s, the later generations ride like Cadillacs [Cadillacs from the days when they were something!)- Although that may not be true of the late model ones….as I remember selling my ’92 Town Car to a neighbor back in ’01, because it rode a lot better than his ’96!
            I love getting vehicles that were owned by guys like you- they’re always in great shape, ’cause the highway driving and good maintenance is tantamount to moving the decimal point on the odometer one place to the left!

            • Yeah, pretty easy to tell, a 3-4 year old car with 100K on it. That’s how I used to buy too. Now I’m the guy putting on the first 80K.

              • I bought a 3 year-old Econoline van with 240K miles on it for $4500; Used it to move from NY to KY, and continued to drive it for the next 15 years (Being my only vehicle for the first 9 or so of those years)…never gave me a day’s trouble- best vehicle I’ve ever owned- everything worked. And the guy I sold it to hopped in and drove it Indiana. (From here in southern KY)

    • Maybe some of us actually have a bathroom smaller than the TRX and your Excursion. Did such a thought ever cross your mind? Or has your privilege blinded you? We get it Mr. “I got a V10” Nunz. You’re so frickin practical. You’re the coolest guy here because you have more cylinders than everyone else. Why don’t you do something useful and use your superior rig to tow a boat or save a beached whale or something? Maybe you can tow a camper and convert it or the third row into a small apartment and then collect rental income from some millennial slave. That way you can be really cool and practical, and have a mobile home and bathroom. And then you can humble-brag about the heated seats, cruise control, and mobile apartment you have but don’t even use, because you’re too busy being so practical, and have no need for such features.

      And since you hate leather seats so much, why don’t you donate them back to the farm where they came from, so less animals have to die so you can pretend to not want such luxuries. Or at least give them to me, someone who has to make due with a vinyl office chair and small bathroom. Ridiculous.

        • The new Andy Rooney…..jin… 😀

          (I shall reply after I eat my privileged spaghetti (Whole-wheat ya know!)

          He just wants me to save beached whales so that he’ll have a potential dating pool. (The last time I did that, they complained- but once they were back in the water and away from my plow, they had no complaints- ‘least I didn’t hear any.)

      • What the hell is wrong with you Bradonjin? Sorry to break it to you, but there is always going to be people with more and less than you. There is/was no reason for you to attack someone.
        Nunz was giving his opinion of Eric’s review based on his life’s experiences, what he likes and doesn’t, as does everyone else on here.

        • Thanks, Chris!
          Can you believe that “guy”? Talking to the owner of a [Insert Thurston Howell III voice here] 2000 Excursion, with power windows!
          I think I’m gonna have to [switch to Don Corleon voice] pay that guy a visit. Yep! I’m putting the wheels back on my “house” right now and getting ready to hook it up to said Excursion, and I’ve already written a letter saying “Forward Nunzio’s welfare check to: Care of: Mr. Bran D. Jin. 123 Inbred Way, Bumblefuck, USA!

        • Chris, I was initially just joking with Nunz. But he had to go and make things personal. He comments about my dating prospects… and then he went and publicly posted my address. He’s just a terrible guy. He probably is the one that beaches the whales himself. Then he makes heated leather seats out of them. And if that doesn’t kill them, his carbon-spewing V10 will certainly finish them all off.

          No, I meant every word.

  8. Good article Eric. And why I now own two of these, albeit with just the 5.7l. One of them replaced my beloved 300 V8, because the Ram actually rides better, I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t witness it myself.
    I miss the 300’s trunk, where I could put useful work stuff. While the pickups rear seat area is ridiculously large (and actually has semi-reclining rear seats, wow), there just isn’t near the storage room under the rear seat. I am trying to workup a solution. Thinking maybe some kind of soft organizer in the middle floor. I also miss the 300S’s seat side bolsters that kept you solid around corners. The Ram’s seats are the best pickup seat I can remember, they just need a little more side bolsters, not sure how to fix that.
    I never put two and two together about why this engine was not avail. in lower trims and you enlightened me. They can’t sell more due to bureaucracy. Thanks. I wonder if that’s coming to the very popular 5.7?

  9. Hey Eric – Quite a few posts recently ! You seem to be working awfully hard given you have this beast in your drive…..

    As this is the ideal ride to disappear into the wilderness to avoid the craziness around – part of me thought we’d never hear from you again !!

  10. Good luck getting that that TRX for $87 k. Every dealer in business will mark up that price at least $20k or more. So if I were to ever get one, it would have to be a scale model to match my budget.

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