How it Survived

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As people who know me already know, I own a bright orange – technically, Carousel Red – 1976 Trans-Am. I have owned it for a long time – some 30 years. It is not a concours-perfect restored show car. It is however in more or less the same overall condition it was in back in 1992, when I bought it at a now-defunct Oldsmobile dealership where some poor dude had traded it in on – god only knows – maybe a Bravada.

It was a one-owner, low miles car and all-original. By classic car evaluation standards, it would have qualified as a solid #2 car – meaning, one rung below a #1 car, which would be a car that appears as-new, with no apparent visual flaws such as chips or dings or faded anything and in mechanically-as-new operating condition, too.

The only way to possess a #1 car is to restore a #2 (or #3 or #4) car or to buy a #1 car, when it was a new car and keep it as new by never or almost-never driving it and keeping it stored in a garage where sun/weather will not age it.

My car is still a #2 car after all these years chiefly because shortly after I bought it, I bought a ’69 VW Squareback for $700 and drove it most of the time, while keeping the T/A out of the sun and weather. The Squareback is long gone, ruefully. It was an indomitable little rig that almost always ran, though it sometimes required a kick to the driver’s side rear quarter panel (to “re-set” the Bosch EFI system; VW was pretty much the first major car company to install EFI in mass-produced cars, way back in the late ’60s).

And I did not cringe when I saw the salt truck spreading sheetmetal death ahead of me. I loved that old VW but loved the fact that my TA wasn’t being eaten alive by rust even more. It still has almost no rust – excepting that slight paint-bubbling at the corner of the rear glass where water always got trapped and accelerated rust – even if the car was never driven in the salt.

This is nothing less than remarkable – as anyone who knows anything about cars from the ’70s and earlier already knows. They were just sort of slopped-together on the assembly line by indifferent UAW workers. Panel gaps and fitment issues that would result in a mass recall today (unless you’re Tesla) were typical back then. You were grateful if the paint job didn’t have someone’s thumb print in it.

From the factory.

The metal underneath the paint was generally good for about ten years or so – often, less – before it turned to iron oxide flakes. The Youf will not recall but those of us who were Youfs back then do. The only realistic way to prevent any car of that era from not rusting beyond salvation was to do to keep it off the road and keep it from getting wet.

This of course being paradoxical – even perverse – as regards machines that were built to be used. In rain – and snow. Most were. Which is why most aren’t around anymore. The handful that are are cars like my car, which was owned by someone who didn’t drive it much and (clearly) never, if ever, in the snow or rain. It was near pristine when I bought it more than 30 years ago – and even then, it was more than 16 years old. Well beyond the usual lifespan of cars like itself.

It is still nearly as pristine – less a few scuffs and dings acquired over the past 30 years as it was back in ’92. But only because I took care not to drive it much and never – ever – drove it in the rain, much less snow. I don’t even wash it except for once every five years or so – because water is death to those old cars. Instead, I use spray-bottle detailer, which gets the dust and grime off without getting water into the nooks and crannies.

It’s no longer perverse, either – because my car is no longer a conveyance, per se. It can convey me, of course – but that is not why I own it. I keep it because I like it. Because I like to drive it when it’s nice out. Because I like to look at it. And because it reminds me of what it used to be like, 30 years ago.

. . .

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27 COMMENTS

  1. I’m with you bro In 1979 I bought a 1969 Plymouth GTX convertible Sand beige Saddle interior 440hp automatic trans thru the console and black ragtop I was just getting ready to join the Marine Corp and I parked it In a garage it sat only being driven occasionally never seeing rain or snow 79000 original miles now I’m at 59 years old and shes getting ready to reemerge I’ve meticulously gone thru the whole car myself rebuilt everything with Nos or Oem parts shes still showing the original paint and interior still has that same great smell and brings me right back 2 wives 3 kids and 5 grandkids survived Cancer ( so far) and 3 spine surgeries still have the car no apologies or explanations necessary

    • Hi Robert,

      That’s a keeper! A good buddy of mine back in high school had a ’71 GTX (440/auto). It was the first car I ever drove that braked the tires on the 1-2 upshift…I remember it like it was yesterday – and that was 40 years ago…

      • My first car was a 1970 Hemi challenger didnt know what I had it was a retired strip car my brotherand best friend blew it up one night and I ended up parting the car out but I managed to hold on to the X Shes my baby I dated my first wife in this car and I have pics of my oldest daughter sitting on the fender at 7 years old she’s in her thirties now and an ER nurse what memories wish I could post some pics Thanks for the kind words

  2. I’ll never forget, embedded in my mind. 1979 I was just entering HS, and a rich kid in the neighborhood, and pretty cool kid, about 2-3 years older in HS just got a brandy new 1979 Z28. I was mesmerized by it. Had never seen a ‘new’ muscle car, if ya want to call it that for 1979. But we didn’t know much about power, etc… at 14 years old, but was it super cool.

    • Hi Chris,

      I owned basically the same car (1980 model) and it was super cool – and felt very fast, at the time. Mine had the “air induction” functional hood scoop, too. One of the best things about those cars was how easy – and cheap – it was to significantly increase the output of the factory 350 V8. Gut the stock exhaust manifolds and single Y-pipe exhaust and cat. Replace with headers and duals. That plus re-jetting the carb and some ignition timing fiddling was worth 20-30 horsepower. Replace the stock cam with a 270-ish degree cam and now you’re looking at a 50-plus horsepower gain and a genuinely quick ride!

  3. Eric, while I’ve never been a huge T/A fan…seeing the beauty of yours almost makes me want one! It’s always a treat to see the pics of it that you post on here- I can just imagine what it must be like in person! And the retro-fitted OD tranny only adds to it- a very practical mod. Well-done, my friend!

    • Thanks, Nunz!

      I love all muscle cars but the Trans-Am has always appealed to me most. I think part of it may be the way Pontiac told Uncle to screw off – by sneaking the SD-455 engine into production at just the moment in time when Uncle was beginning to outlaw such engines. The way Pontiac did that was by claiming the SD-455 was just another 455 (already “certified” by EPA) even though the only thing the SD-455 shared with the “certified” 455 was its displacement. It was a go-for-broke detuned race engine with specialty high-performance pars throughout – including the block and heads. This was in ’73-’74, mind. With mild tuning and slicks, an otherwise-stock ’73-74 TA with this engine could and would run a 12 second quarter mile.

      That plus the chicken… gotta love the ‘bird!

  4. One of my Cars and Coffee guys drove his 74 T/A with 37k miles down to visit us last Saturday, and it was so beautiful, and sounded,,Great! It made me miss my 72 formula 400 4 speed all over again,

    • Two of the greats, Michael!

      1974 – the last year before catalytic converters and the final year for the SD-455. 1972 – 455 HO and blue/white or white/blue and the same unadorned front and rear clips as the original 1970 cars. Just beautiful, they were.

  5. No More Cars

    “As Ivan Illich argues, social and ecological conversion demand economic and industrial inversion. People are going to have to find better ways to spend their time than making and driving cars. Let us reiterate our desire to rid ourselves, once and for all, of the most representative creation of capitalism and everything that is most foul, imbecilic and corrupt about it, as well as most thoroughly destructive of the possibilities for genuine ecological and social harmony. Down with Car Culture! Kill the Car!”

    There’s even more…

    “The car and car culture are integral to nearly every destructive pathology in modern capitalism. The more miles of road are built, the more all the interrelated, exponentially expanding ecological and social crises are manifest, from the mass extinction of species to atmospheric collapse. Not only oil wars and massive oil and chemical spills, but every ongoing, undramatic disaster can be linked to them….”

    Now you know where it all comes from.

    Pure unadulterated horseshit, just plain nonsense, all bunkum and bosh. Might as well close down all railroads, shipping across oceans, no more ships, airplanes are a nuisance, never should have been invented.

    On and on ad infinitum, it just never stops, the urge to control others is ever present and a clear and present danger.

    The cognitive dissonance is off the charts.

    Lenin drove a Rolls-Royce.

  6. Yep, my Monte Carlo is a keeper. That sucker was designed from new to rust out. She’s all good now but not when I bought her, plugged and with an engine miss. It’s a bit of a Garage Queen now as it’s spent most of it’s life in a garage out of the sunlight after I bought it in the 80’s. Sadly the wrong year to ever be valuable but she’s still got her original 454 and the rest of the drivetrain, albeit modified.

    • Hi Landru,

      If your car is an original 455 car it will most definitely become valuable. Hell, it already is! Even the “smogged” big blocks of the early ’70s are getting desirable – because they’re already scarce – and because no cars like them will be built again.

  7. How much longer to us who own classics have until the motor-law is enacted? The Bite-me pedophile and the green Marxists will get the sellouts with an R to eventually copulate into outlawing our cars. I’m keeping my Red Barchetta in my barn and will run it as an outlaw when the day comes.
    “Who said we were terrorists.”-Hans Gruber

    • If/when there is hyper inflation there might be more upside to the collectible car market.

      I am getting worried this might be close to the top of the market and government/leftist/globalists could regulate these cars off the road, then no market, no bid = scrap/total loss..

      If the globalists win we will own nothing and be happier.

  8. Sometimes I do wonder how awesome cars would be today with all the modern advances such as better suspensions, brakes, and metal that doesnt rust, and yes awesome sound systems – less all the fuckery we dont want that degrades over time and just is there to monitor and control us…

    • Hi Nasir,

      I do, too!

      So much so that I have made a few discrete upgrades to my old Trans-Am, such as an overdrive transmission – which lets me cruise at 75 with the engine turning just over 2,000 RPM, even with 3.90 gears in the axle. I have thought about upgrading to four wheel disc brakes and would – if it were feasible – widen my stock 15×7 wheels to 15×8 to get more rubber on the road (without altering the stock appearance).

      Tom Woods and I were talking about all this stuff on the radio the other day; that – among other things – there could and should be $10,000 economy cars that average 60-70 MPG and are just as well-built as a new Corolla… and would be, were it not for the government.

      • Ironically, such vehicles at these prices and high MPG`s do exist.
        But you must go to China, India, and other 3rd world countries where Governments fuckery has not yet completely ruined the free markets ability to give customers what they want.

    • Same experience here with the Chevy. My first brand new car was a 78 Nova, within two to three years, front and rear quarters and rocker panel were completely rotted away. But that was nothing compared to the 83 Datsun I bought after that. That thing turned into dust after a couple years!

  9. I remember the new car couldn’t be driven much until it was Ziebarted. Then getting in trouble for pulling off the drips that were hanging off the rocker panels and having a “car booger” battle.

    It’s all fun and games until you get tar in your sister’s hair…

    • RE: “Ziebarted”

      A brand new 84 Grand Prix, Ziebarted to the max, it rusted from the inside, out. The company denied a payout, saying they only covered rust from the outside, in.

      Who woulda thunk it?

  10. They’re using *way* more salt on the roads around Boston than usual. The cynic in me wonders if they’re being encouraged to do so in an effort to get as many cars off the road as possible.

  11. American cars in the 1970s were so poorly put together that my father would describe his idea for a “squeak shop” where devices would move a stationary car in various ways while a technician inside found and fixed the unintended noises.

    • Hi Barry,

      Yup! But that was part of the charm, eh? You will probably recall that in those days (unlike these days) cars were individuals – even when brand-new. Each one slightly different than its brothers because each was put together largely by human hands rather than robots. If the day before your car reached his station, the guy working it went on a bender and came to work hung over… it would show, literally.

      In your new car.

    • The ‘75 Dodge Dart I bought new had a strange noise coming from the right rear wheel. When I pulled it to check it out I found a lug nut loose inside the brake drum. Guess the guy had an extra one in his hand and just stuck it in there.

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