1981 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

Soul Survivor

1981 was the last year for the second-generation Firebird and thus also the last year for the second-generation Trans Am. With the third-generation cars on the way, Pontiac’s eleven-year-old F-car got only minor changes. The “screaming chicken” decal on the hood was now two colors, compared to the four color decal from 1979 and 1980. Not much could be done about the general lack of space efficiency (the EPA rated the Firebird as a subcompact car), the relatively high weight (about 3,300 pounds when the Mustang weighed about 2,800), and the fairly primitive technology.

The standard Trans Am powertrain was the L37 150 bhp 4.9 liter/301 cubic inch V8 with 4-barrel carburetor matched with an automatic. The only choice for Trans Am purchasers who wanted a manual transmission was the Chevrolet-built LG4 145 bhp 5.0 liter/305 cubic inch V8 with 4-barrel carburetor, but you did get a $147 credit.

The top engine was the $437 LU8 200 bhp 4.9 liter/301 cubic inch V8 with 4-barrel carburetor and turbocharger, which included a new hood-mounted boost gauge. A Turbo Trans Am would accelerate from 0-60 in a little over eight seconds. Fuel mileage was predictably bad—14 mpg by the standards of the day for the combination of the turbo engine and the automatic. With a 21-gallon fuel tank, Trans Am owners could expect to travel about 260 miles before refueling.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment included in the $8,322 base price of the Trans Am (about $24,300 in today’s dollars) included black accent grille and headlamp bezels, dual rectangular headlamps, wheel opening air deflectors, side-split tailpipe extensions, shaker hood, power brakes, and P225/70R15 blackwall tires on Rally II wheels. Inside, power steering, air conditioning, console, bright engine-turned dash plate, and rally gauges with tachometer were standard.

The Trans Am Special Edition package cost $735 additional—$1,430 bundled with t-tops. There was also a special edition of the Special Edition—the NASCAR Daytona 500 Pace Car, resplendent in oyster white with a black and red interior. It included the LU8 turbocharged engine, the WS6 special performance package, four wheel power disc brakes, and limited slip differential. Inside, the most notable upgrade from other Trans Ams was Recaro seats—among the best available from any manufacturer in 1981. All this extra content was a good thing, because the NASCAR Daytona 500 Pace Car listed for $12,257; about $35,700 in 2017 dollars.

Options available for included WS6 special performance package, limited slip differential, tungsten quartz halogen headlamps, white-lettered tires, cast aluminum wheels, four wheel power disc brakes, power antenna, electric rear window defroster, and custom bucket seats.

Firebird pages of the 1981 Pontiac brochure, linked for the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures pages.

Long neglected by the collector market and with most now used up, late second-generation Trans Ams in good or great shape are starting to get interesting numbers at auctions. A black and gold 1981 Trans Am went for $19,000 at Mecum’s May 2017 auction in Indianapolis. According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1981 Trans Am in #1 condition is $38,200. A more normal #3 condition version is valued at $13,600.

Make mine the black and gold Special Edition, of course. The NASCAR Daytona 500 Pace Car is tempting, if only for those Recaro seats.

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1985 Mazda RX-7 GSL-SE

This post was one of my first twenty in this blog, which I’ve updated to reflect both changes in my posting style and substantial improvements in available data. At this point, it’s changed enough to be considered a new post.

“… artfully appointed to raise the aesthetic pleasures of driving …”

The 1985 Mazda RX-7 GSL-SE was the last of the first generation RX-7s which had debuted in 1979, timing the market perfectly for a relatively low-priced and attractive sports car. At $7,195 when released, it hit an attractive price point and entered a market with few natural competitors for such a pure sports car.

Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection and more power had come in 1984 with the 13B Wankel 1.3 liter/80 cubic inch two-rotor engine. Power increased from 101 bhp to 135 bhp—respectable for a relatively lightweight (2,447 pounds) sports car and dropping 0-60 times more than a second to slightly under 8 seconds. Even with the five-speed manual transmission, mileage remained somewhat of the traditional rotary bugaboo that would eventually drive Mazda out of the rotary business. At 16 city/23 highway by the standards of the day, it was not as good as the Nissan/Datsun 300ZX (19/25) or the Toyota Celica Supra (20/24)—both of which had more power. Owners of a new RX-7 could expect to get about 290 miles of range from the 16.6-gallon fuel tank before starting to look for more gasoline.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on every 1985 RX-7 ($10,945 or approximately $25,500 in today’s dollars) included retractable headlamps, tinted glass, side window demisters, electric rear window defroster, and 185/70HR13 radial tires on 5 x 13-inch wheels. Inside, full gauges, reclining bucket seats with adjustable headrest, a full console with armrest, a digital quartz clock, and an AM/FM stereo radio with power antenna were standard.

By 1985, the fancier RX-7s had slid well up-market—the GSL-SE‘s package’s price was $16,125 (about $37,600 in 2017 dollars; more than a loaded 2017 Miata MX-5 RF Grand Touring). Exterior and mechanical equipment on the GSL-SE included halogen headlamps, ventilated four wheel power disc brakes, power windows, electrically adjusted dual sideview mirrors, a removable steel sunroof, and “low profile” P205/60VR14 Pirelli P6 tires on 5.5 x 14-inch alloy wheels. Inside, every GSL-SE included air conditioning, cruise control, striped velour seats, and an electronically AM/FM stereo radio with a nine-band graphic equalizer and a separate auto reverse cassette player sitting below.

Optional equipment for the loaded GSL-SE was limited to a leather package which included leather seats, leather door trim, and a leather steering wheel.

I followed a first generation RX-7 for a while a few months ago, and I was struck by how small it looked—smaller than I remembered these cars as being. They were small, of course: 170 inches long (shorter than a modern Honda Civic coupe) and less than 50 inches tall.

RX-7s have fairly solid club support and maintain a reasonable presence in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors. According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1985 RX-7 in #1/Concours condition is $16,200, with a more normal #3/Good question going for $3,900. As I write this in August 2017, there’s a Sunrise Red 1984 GSL-SE with two-tone gray cloth seats, a manual transmission, and 89,000 miles asking $12,995. Make mine Sunbeam Silver Metallic, please—I think light silver works best on these cars.

1989 Chevrolet Celebrity Sedan

A co-worker of mine casually mentioned that he owns a beige 1989 Chevrolet Celebrity sedan. That’s enough for me to write a blog entry.

“contemporary front-drive technology”

For 1989, Chevrolet’s Celebrity mid-size sedans and wagons were little changed. The major news was that the five-speed manual transmission that (very) few bought was no longer available and that the coupe had been discontinued.

Standard power on the Celebrity remained the 98 bhp 2.5 liter Tech IV inline four with throttle-body fuel injection. The 125 bhp LB6 2.8 liter V6 with multi-port fuel injection was available for $610. A three-speed automatic transmission was standard on both engines, but buyers of the V6 could add a four-speed automatic for an additional $175.

With these two engines and curb weights in the 2,750 to 2,800-pound range, the Celebrity was not a fast car. 0-60 mph with the four was a little over 13 seconds, while V6 owners got to 60 mph about two seconds faster.

Mileage with the base four was 23 city/30 highway (21/28 by today’s standards) while owners of the top-of-the-line V6/four-speed automatic combination could expect 20 city/29 highway. With a 15.7-gallon fuel tank, Celebrity V6 drivers could expect a range of about 350 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

My colleague's 1989 Celebrity, prior to restoration.
My colleague’s 1989 Celebrity before restoration.

Standard equipment on the $11,495 Celebrity (about $23,400 in 2016 dollars) included power steering, power brakes, 14-inch wheels on P175/75R14 tires, and a Delco AM/FM stereo radio with digital clock. Adding the V6 and the four-speed automatic brought the price up to $12,280, or about $25,000 in today’s dollars.

By 1989, Chevrolet was moving to “Preferred Equipment Group” option packages as a way to reduce the number of equipment combinations. The Celebrity’s option packages were:

  1. Air conditioning, auxiliary lighting, exterior moldings, floor mats—($931 with the 2.5 liter inline four/$957 with the 2.8 liter V6)
  2. Air conditioning, auxiliary lighting, exterior moldings, floor mats, power door locks, gauge package, cruise control, tilt steering wheel, and intermittent windshield wipers—($1,565 with the 2.5 liter inline four/$1,591 with the 2.8 liter V6)
  3. Air conditioning, auxiliary lighting, exterior moldings, floor mats, power door locks, gauge package, cruise control, tilt steering wheel, and intermittent windshield wipers, sport remote mirrors, AM/FM stereo cassette with digital clock, power trunk opener, and power windows—($2,062 with the 2.5 liter inline four/$2,088 with the 2.8 liter V6)

Adding the Preferred Equipment Group 3 to a Celebrity with the V6 and the four-speed automatic brought the price all the way up to $14,368, or about $29,300 in today’s dollars—about what a well-equipped (1LT with leather) 2017 Chevrolet Malibu costs.

The most glamorous option for the Celebrity continued to be the $230 Eurosport package, which included the F41 sport suspension and 14-inch rally wheels on P195/75R14 tires. The exterior featured blacked out window trim and red center stripes on the protective rubber door and bumper molding; fender and trunk emblems were red rather than the standard chrome. Eurosports also featured unique red emblems on the interior door panels and dash and a black steering wheel.

Other optional equipment included two-tone paint ($55), aluminum wheels ($195), engine block heater ($20), cloth bucket seats with console ($257), and six-way power driver’s seat ($250).

1989 would end up being the last year for the Celebrity sedan—the wagon would soldier on for one more year. I think of these cars as honest but basic. Celebrities sometimes show up for sale in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds or on eBay Motors. I saw an early (1982-1985) coupe at an AACA show a few years ago. Make mine black, I think.

Other A-bodies in this blog:

1983 Pontiac 6000 STE sedan

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1985 Mercedes-Benz 300CD Turbo

For some reason, one of my local supermarkets often has interesting eighties cars. Today, there was a Mercedes-Benz 300CD Turbo casually parked among the crossovers—good enough reason for this blog entry.

A 1985 Mercedes-Benz 300D Turbo Coupe in Radnor, PA
An (I think) Champagne Metallic 1985 Mercedes-Benz 300CD Turbo in Radnor, PA

“A singular new achievement”

1985 was the last year for Mercedes-Benz’s mid-size W123 models—they would be followed by the substantially revised and very different looking W124 models in 1986.

For 1985, the 300CD Turbo powertrain continued to be the fuel-injected 125 bhp 3.0 liter five cylinder turbodiesel connected to a four-speed automatic transmission. At about 3,360 pounds, these were not fast cars—0-60 mph took about 15 seconds. Fuel economy was 22 city/25 highway by the standards of the day—19/23 by today’s standards. With the 21.1 gallon fuel tank, the driver of a 300CD could expect almost 450 miles of range with a 10% reserve.

Base price for the 300CD Turbo was a non-trivial $35,220—about $81,700 in today’s dollars. You did get a lot of standard equipment: power steering, power brakes, halogen headlamps, halogen fog lamps, and light alloy wheels were all included. Inside, power windows, power door locks, cruise control, intermittent windshield wipers, eight-way power front bucket seats, electronic climate control, and an AM/FM stereo with cassette player and power antenna were standard.

There were few options on the 300CD Turbo: leather upholstery and a power sunroof (optional at no extra cost) were available.

W123 models definitely have a following, especially the relatively rare coupes and the 300TD wagons. According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1985 300CD in #1/Concours condition is $16,900, with a more normal #3/Good condition car going for $8,400. 300CDs sometimes show up for sale in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors, often with mileage well over 200,000.

I like these coupes, with their smooth hardtop lines and their reasonable size. Make mine Astral Silver Metallic, I think.

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1985 Ford LTD LX

“Because Mr. Bondurant shouldn’t have all the fun.”

Late in the 1984 model year, Ford added a performance-oriented model to the LTD line. The LX was loosely based on a few sedans that Bob Bondurant had cobbled together for use at his high performance driving school.

The engine was Ford’s 165 bhp 302 cubic inch Windsor V8 with electronic fuel injection. The only transmission available was a four-speed automatic transmission. 0-60 came in a respectable 9 seconds—faster than the Dodge 600ES and competitive with the Pontiac 6000 STE. Mileage was 19 city/23 highway by the standards of the day (17/22 by today’s standards). With a 16 gallon fuel tank, range was about 300 miles with a 10% reserve.

For 1985, the LX wore the updated nose and tail that came along with all 1985 LTDs. Standard exterior and mechanical equipment in the $11,421 LX (about $26,500 in 2016 dollars) included quad rectangular halogen headlamps, power brakes, a Traction-Lok rear axle, a rear stabilizer bar, and P205/70HR Goodyear Eagle tires on 14-inch styled road wheels. Inside, dual power mirrors, lumbar-support bucket seats, a center console with a floor shifter for the transmission, brushed aluminum trim on the dash bezels, a special instrument cluster with tachometer, a Tripminder computer, and an AM radio with dual front speakers (ah, the glamor!) were included.

Options included cast aluminum wheels ($224), air conditioning ($743), power windows ($272), power locks ($213), and an electronic AM/FM stereo radio with cassette ($409).

Page from the 1985 LTD brochure, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochure pages.

Like some other interesting Ford performance cars from the 1980s, LTD LX’s did not sell well, with only 3,260 sold over the 1984 and 1985 model years (there would be no 1986 LX). Likely because of the limited production numbers, you rarely see them in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds or on eBay Motors.

Make mine Medium Charcoal Metallic, please.

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1988 Cadillac Cimarron

This afternoon I was walking in the University City portion of Philadelphia and I saw a later Cadillac Cimarron driving towards me in surprisingly good shape. As good a reason as any to finally complete this blog entry.

“… built for those who consider driving a sporty pastime.”

It is an article of faith in the automotive world that General Motors often finally gets a car right just before killing it. Examples that spring to mind are the last of the Pontiac Fieros and the last of the Cadillac Allantes. However, in the case of the Cadillac Cimarron, all GM was able to do was make it less awful and embarrassing.

The only engine available for 1988 was the 125 bhp LB6 2.8 liter V6 with multi-port fuel injection. When paired with the standard five-speed manual transmission, mileage was 20 city/29 highway by the standards of the day (18/27 by today’s standards). A three-speed automatic transmission was optional and rated at 20 city/27 highway. 0-60 in the 2,800-pound car came in about 9.5 seconds with the manual transmission and about 10.5 seconds with the automatic transmission.

The $16,071 base price (about $33,500 in today’s dollars) included standard exterior and mechanical features such as power brakes, power steering, power mirrors, intermittent windshield wipers, and 13-inch aluminum wheels. Air conditioning, leather seating areas, a leather steering wheel, a tachometer, and an AM/FM stereo radio with four speakers were all standard in the interior.

Options included a sunroof, cruise control, power door locks, power windows, six-way power seat, tilt steering wheel, and the Delco-GM Bose Symphony Sound System.

Exterior styling that was at least somewhat more differentiated from the Chevrolet Cavalier sedan than the earliest Cimmarons had been. A more aggressive and distinctive grille had been added in 1984, the front end had been lengthened in 1985, and ribbed lower body cladding had appeared in 1986.

Page from the 1988 Cadillac brochure, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochure’s section.

By 1988, sales of the Cimarron had completely collapsed. After a first year peak of almost 26,000 unit sold in the 1982 model year, sales dropped to a sad 6,454 in the Cimarron’s final model year.

I have yet to see a Cimarron at a serious antique car show—they’re treated by Cadillac folks like Ford folks treat the Mustang II from the 1970s—but I’m betting some intrepid soul will save one and bring it back for judging. You occasionally see them for sale in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors: as I write this in June 2015, there’s a Glacier Blue 1987 Cimarron with a Dark Blue leather interior and 11,300 miles listed on Hemmings for $14,900.

1987 Chevrolet Chevette CS Sedan

My wife and I were taking a walk early this Saturday morning and passed a Chevrolet Chevette parked at the end of our street. Reason enough to finally complete this blog entry.

“… one of America’s best known cars …”

1987 was the final year for the rather antiquated rear wheel drive Chevette—in North America, at least. The 1.8 liter diesel engine was no more, but otherwise little was changed from 1986.

The only engine available was the L17 1.6 liter inline four with two-barrel carburetor and 65 bhp, but you did have a choice of transmission: the standard four-speed manual, an optional three-speed automatic ($450), or an optional five-speed manual ($75). Mileage with the standard transmission was 28 city/34 highway by the standards of the day (24/31 by today’s standards). With the 12.2 gallon fuel tank, Chevette owners could expect a 340 mile range with a 10% reserve. Predictably, 0-60 mph took a little under 16 long seconds.

The Chevette was a small car, classified by the EPA as a sub-compact. Curb weight for the sedan was 2,137 pounds, with a 97.3 inch wheelbase, a 164.9 inch overall length, a 61.8 inch width, and a 52.8 inch height.

The truly “base” Chevette had been gone since 1985, but standard equipment was spare even on the supposedly upmarket CS. For your $5,495 base price (about $11,400 in 2015 dollars), you got four doors, a rear hatch with a single strut, rack and pinion steering, front disc and rear drum brakes, and P155/80R13 tires on 13-inch by 5-inch steel wheels. Inside, there were vinyl front bucket seats and vinyl rear bench seats, along with a floor console.

Because the standard equipment was so spare, there were actually a lot of options. Optional exterior and mechanical equipment included power brakes ($105), power steering ($225), an engine block heater ($20), and a custom exterior package ($154). Inside, the buyer could add air conditioning ($675), a tilt steering column ($125), custom cloth bucket seats ($130), a rear defogger ($145), and an AM/FM stereo radio ($119).

Despite being on its last legs, Chevrolet still sold a little over 20,000 Chevette sedans in 1987, along with slightly more than 26,000 coupes. Chevettes rarely show up in either the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds or on eBay Motors.