1980 Pontiac Grand Prix SJ coupe

Bring a Trailer offered an almost unique 1979 Grand Prix for auction recently. It had a four-speed manual transmission—quite rare in 1979 and no longer available in 1980. With only 858 miles on the odometer, this Grand Prix sold for $35,000.

… carries Grand Prix sportiness to the max

1980 was the final year for the SJ designation on Pontiac’s Grand Prix. SJ had been a Grand Prix equipment level since the first year of the second generation Grand Prix in 1969. By 1980, SJ indicated something like “moderately sporty.”

The 1980 Grand Prix returned to a vertical bar grille and featured new taillight lenses with “GP” logos. A three-speed automatic transmission became standard equipment on all Grand Prix models, and the two-barrel 4.9 liter/301 ci Pontiac V8 was replaced by a new 4.3 liter/265 ci V8 rated at 125 hp.

The SJ’s powertrain choices were slightly loftier. The standard non-California powertrain was a W72 170 bhp 4.9 liter/301 ci V8 with a four-barrel carburetor mated with a three-speed automatic transmission. California cars swapped in the LG4 150 bhp 5.0 liter/305 ci V8 with a four-barrel carburetor. 0-60 came in a little under 10 seconds in a car with a 3,291-pound curb weight—spritely for a personal luxury coupe in 1980. EPA fuel economy ratings for the non-California cars were 17 city/25 highway by the day’s standards. With an 18.1-gallon gas tank, an SJ‘s owner could expect a range of 310 to 340 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

With a base price of $6,219, standard exterior and mechanical equipment on all Grand Prix’s included dual rectangular headlamps, power steering, power front disc/rear drum brakes, and P195/75R14 tires (a size still readily available) on 14-inch wheels with hubcaps. Interior features included door pull straps, an inside hood release, and an electric quartz clock.

Grand Prix SJ page from the 1980 Pontiac brochure

For $7,295, the SJ added Custom finned wheel covers, body-color Sport mirrors, wide rocker panel moldings with extensions, accent stripes, and, of course, SJ identification to the exterior. Inside, SJ buyers got rally gages with clock and trip odometer, Lamp Group, and added acoustical insulation. SJ trim and upholstery included a Custom Sport steering wheel, a simulated brushed aluminum instrument panel, a Custom stitched-appearance instrument panel pad, Custom pedal trim plates, and SJ-specific front vinyl bucket seats.

Options and Production Numbers

Options were many—exterior options included two-tone paint in two different styles, cornering lamps, Soft Ray glass, a removable hatch roof, and a power sunroof (either glass or metal). Air conditioning (Custom or climate control), power door locks, and power windows were among the available interior options. Trim and upholstery options included Viscount leather front bucket seats with vinyl bolsters, a power driver’s seat, a tilt steering wheel, and a litter container.

Audio options included dual rear extended range speakers, two power antenna options, and six different stereo radios, including two 8-track tape choices, one cassette tape choice, one CB radio choice, and an ETR radio choice. A buyer looking to make their SJ as sporting as possible would have ordered 205/75R14 tires (which included the Rally Handling Package), Rally II wheels, and rally gages with an instrument panel tachometer (which required either the digital clock or the ETR radio).

Though the Grand Prix sold pretty well overall, the SJ did not—only 7,087 left dealer lots in the 1980 model year. This total meant that the SJ was a mere 6% of Grand Prix sales and hints strongly at why it was gone for the 1981 model year, with the new Grand Prix submodel being the Brougham. Pontiac would use the SJ designation on the sportiest versions of the compact Phoenix until the end of the 1984 model year.

The View From 2022

Grand Prix’s of this generation are not generally considered collector cars—Hagerty does not track any Grand Prix newer than 1977. These cars are sometimes available in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors. As we have seen, these Grand Prix’s also show up at auction.

Make mine Bordeaux Red, please.

Other Grand Prix models I have written about include the 1987 coupe and the 1988 coupe. I seem to like Pontiacs—have covered twelve other models over the last seven years.

1986 Pontiac Firebird SE hatchback coupe

“Comfort and function define every Firebird interior.”

For 1986, Pontiac offered three versions of its sporty Firebird—the base car, the SE, and the Trans Am. The SE was intended to be the most comfortable of the three versions (Pontiac stated that it possessed “a subtle sophistication”), and its $11,995 base price (about $30,500 in today’s dollars) slotted between the $9,279 base coupe and the $12,395 Trans Am.

The SE‘s standard engine was the 135 bhp LB8 2.8 liter V6 with fuel injection, while it’s only optional engine was the $400 155 bhp LG4 5.0 liter/305 ci v8 with a four-barrel carburetor (only Trans Ams could get fancier V8s). Both engines came standard with a five-speed manual and were offered with an optional four-speed automatic ($465). The V8 with the manual was the quickest (0-60 mph in about 9 seconds) and the fastest (top speed of about 131 mph) SE. EPA gas mileage ratings were 17 city/26 highway with the standard powertrain (15/24 by today’s standards). Interestingly, the V8 wasn’t significantly worse at 16 city/26 highway with the manual or at 17 city/25 highway with the automatic. With a relatively small 15.5-gallon gas tank, SE owners could expect a range of between 265 and 320 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

1986 base and SE Firebird versions from the Pontiac full-line brochure

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on all Firebirds included concealed rectangular quartz halogen headlamps, Sport mirrors, power steering, power front disc/rear drum brakes, and P215/65R15 tires on 15-inch wheels. Inside, a full-length console, reclining front bucket seats, cut pile carpeting, and a Delco-GM AM radio were standard.

Additional standard equipment on the SE included hood air louvers, black body side moldings, and 15-inch diamond spoke aluminum wheels. Inside, the Formula steering wheel, shift knob, and parking brake were all leather-wrapped. Luxury Trim Group included Custom front bucket seats, a Deluxe split folding rear seat, and Deluxe door trim. An interior roof console included sub-woofer controls if the subwoofer six-speaker system was ordered.

Optional exterior and mechanical equipment included a body color rear deck spoiler ($70), a hatch roof with removable glass panels, and power four wheel disc brakes ($179 and requiring the limited slip differential). Inside, Custom air conditioning (which required Soft Ray glass), power door locks, power windows, a six-way power driver’s seat, a tilt steering wheel, and five different radios were available. A loaded SE moved from comfortable to relatively luxurious by mid-1980s standards.

Like its Camaro Berlinetta cousin, the SE did not sell well—it was only 2% of overall Firebird sales in 1986. According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1986 Firebird SE with the V8 and the manual in #1/Concours condition is $13,200, with a far more normal #3/Good condition version going for $4,600.

Mid-1980s Trans Ams are always available in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors, but SEs rarely make an appearance—as I write this post, there are no third-generation Firebird SEs for sale on either site. I have not seen an SE in almost 20 years.

Other Firebird versions I have written about include the 1981 Trans Am coupe, the 1982 Trans Am hatchback coupe, the 1984 Trans Am 15th Anniversary Edition hatchback coupe, the 1985 Trans Am hatchback coupe, and the 1989 20th Anniversary Turbo Trans Am hatchback coupe. I should probably cover a Formula and a GTA at some point.

Make mine Midnight Blue over Silver, please.

1984 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am 15th Anniversary Edition hatchback coupe

I clearly remember a 15th Anniversary Edition Trans Am being displayed inside Marsh Pontiac’s small showroom on the Lincoln Highway in Ardmore, PA.

“… leaves the also-rans even further behind …”

1984 Trans Am press release
15th Anniversary Trans Am press materials

For 1984, Pontiac announced a special edition Trans Am to commemorate the Firebird sub-model’s 15th year.

The $3,499 15th Anniversary Edition featured white paint with blue graphics that hearkened back to the original 1969 Trans Am. Other exterior components included the Aero Package optional on normal Trans Ams and T-tops. Mechanical features included the LG9 HO 190 bhp 5.0 liter/305 ci V8 with a four-barrel carburetor, the WS6 special handling package, four-wheel power disc brakes, and P245/50R16 tires (a size still readily available) on 16 x 8 inch white hi-tech turbo aluminum wheels.

As had been true in many previous Trans Am special editions, the 15th Anniversary Edition Trans Am featured Recaro front bucket seats—these were leather with cloth inserts. Other interior features specific to the special edition included a white leather steering wheel and shifter knob. Standard equipment on all 1984 Trans Ams included sport mirrors, a rear deck spoiler, tungsten halogen headlamps, rally gauges, a console, and power steering.

Only the top of the line engine was available with the 15th Anniversary Edition, but there was a choice of transmissions. A five-speed manual came standard, with an automatic being a $295 option. 0-60 came in less than seven seconds—two to three seconds better than it had been in 1982. Fuel economy ratings were 16 city/27 highway by 1984 standards (13/20 by today’s measures). With a smallish 13.3-gallon gas tank, a Trans Am owner could expect a range of 200 to 255 mikes with a 10% fuel reserve.

Options and Production Numbers

Trans Ams (even special editions ones) did not come loaded in 1984—by the time the 20th Anniversary Edition came around in 1989, that would no longer be so. Exterior and mechanical options included Soft-Ray tinted glass ($110), an electric rear window defogger ($140), and a limited slip differential ($95).

Interior options included air conditioning ($730), power windows ($215), a power antenna ($60), and a Delco AM/FM stereo cassette with a five-band graphic equalizer ($590). Upholstery and trim options included six-way power seats ($215 each), a tilt steering wheel ($110), luggage compartment trim ($110), and cloth floor mats ($20 front/$15 rear).

Pontiac built a symbolic 1,500 15th Anniversary Editions—500 with the five-speed manual and 1,000 with the automatic. Those 1,500 were a small part of the 55,374 total Trans Ams made in the 1984 model year, with those sales less than half of 128,304 Firebirds sold (Pontiac sold a lot of base Firebirds). Both the Trans Am numbers and the overall Firebird sales marked an eighties peak for Pontiac, with only 1980 and 1982 coming close.

The View From 2020

15th Anniversary Edition Trans Ams do attract some collector interest. According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 15th Anniversary Edition Trans Am with the five-speed in #1/Concours condition is $28,400, with a far more normal #3/Good condition version with an automatic going for $9,500. These Trans Ams are often available in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors, and they sometimes show up at auction.

Make mine White, please—it’s not like I have a choice.

I evidently can’t help myself with eighties Trans Ams; I’ve also written about the 1981, the 1982, the 1985, and the 1989 Turbo. I probably should write about the Formula and the S/E at some point—perhaps even the base car.

1982 Pontiac Phoenix SJ coupe

In this post, we’re once again revisiting interesting versions of mass-market eighties vehicles that just about nobody bought. This one is a sporty version of Pontiac’s X platform entry and means I have now treated every GM marque’s X car entry at least once.

… for people who absolutely love to drive.

For the 1982 model year, the sporty SJ version of Pontiac’s Phoenix compact became its own model, instead of the trim option it had been for the previous two years. Aside from being a specific model, the biggest news was almost certainly that the 2.8 liter High Output V6 was standard for the SJ.

That new standard engine was the GM corporate LH7 135 bhp 2.8 liter/173 ci V6 with a Rochester E2SE two-barrel carburetor. It was paired with either a standard four-speed manual or an optional three-speed automatic. With the manual, 0-60 came in about 9 seconds—respectable for 1982.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on all Phoenix coupes included body-color front and rear bumpers, front-wheel-drive, single rectangular halogen headlamps, rack-and-pinion steering, front disc/rear drum brakes, and 185/80R13 tires on 13-inch wheels with hubcaps. Inside, Pontiac included a full-width front seat, a Deluxe steering wheel, and a Delco-GM AM radio with dual front speakers.

The mid-range LJ coupe included custom wheel covers, additional acoustical insulation, a Luxury cushion steering wheel, and a full-width luxury notchback front seat with center armrest.

1982 SJ pages from the Pontiac Phoenix brochure
SJ pages from the 1982 Pontiac Phoenix brochure

For $8,723 (about $24,100 in today’s dollars), the top-of-the-line SJ coupe added two-tone paint and specific graphics, a front air dam, power brakes, power steering, a special suspension, and 205/70R13 tires (now essentially unavailable) on 13-inch cast-aluminum wheels. Inside, additional standard features for the SJ included gauges (rally cluster, clock, tachometer, and trip odometer), a Formula steering wheel, and bucket seats.

Exterior and mechanical options for the SJ coupe included a removable glass sunroof, tinted glass, and a rear deck spoiler. Inside, Custom air conditioning, an electric rear window defogger, power door locks, power windows, a six-way power driver’s seat, a tilt steering wheel, and a Delco-GM AM/FM stereo with a cassette stereo tape player were among the many options available.

Of course, the SJ designation had been around a long-time and not just for Pontiac. Duesenberg had used SJ in the early 1930s to describe the supercharged versions of their spectacular cars. By 1969, Pontiac had started (shamelessly—no surprise) using SJ for the top-of-the-line version of their Grand Prix coupe. The SJ designation for the top-of-the-line Grand Prix continued through the 1980 model year.

Despite Pontiac’s evident efforts to market the Phoenix SJ, it simply did not sell. With 994 produced, it was less than 6% of Phoenix coupe sales, with the vast majority going to the base version. Obviously, Pontiac has other things going on in 1982, including the introduction of a brand new Firebird and Trans Am. Front-wheel-drive Phoenixes of any sort are now almost completely vanished from the nation’s roads, and they rarely show up in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds or eBay Motors.

Other X platform cars I have written about include the 1980 Chevrolet Citation hatchback sedan, the 1981 Chevrolet Citation X-11 hatchback coupe, the 1983 Buick Skylark T Type coupe, the 1984 Oldsmobile Omega sedan, and the 1985 Chevrolet Citation II hatchback sedan.

1984 Pontiac 2000 Sunbird S/E hatchback coupe

“One of the world’s most advanced production turbos”

For 1984, Pontiac’s top-of-the-line Sunbird S/E gained a new turbocharged motor along with a minor front-end revision and clear fog lamps.

The S/E‘s new engine was an LA5 150 bhp 1.8 liter/110 ci inline four with a Garrett turbocharger and fuel injection. It was paired with a standard four-speed manual gearbox, with a three-speed automatic optional for $320. With the standard powertrain, 0-60 came in about nine seconds—class-competitive in 1984. Fuel economy ratings were 25 city/36 highway by the standards of the day (20/26 by today’s standards). The Sunbird’s 13.5-gallon gas tank meant that owners could expect a range of 280 to 370 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on the $9,489 S/E hatchback coupe (about $24,200 in 2019 dollars) included two-tone paint, power steering, power front disc/rear drum brakes, a WS6 performance suspension, special chassis tuning, and Goodyear Eagle GT P205/60R14 tires (a size now only marginally available) mounted on attractive 14-inch “hi-tech turbo” cast-aluminum wheels. Inside, fully adjustable reclining front seats, a folding split-back rear seat, a three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel, rally gages, and a Delco-GM AM radio were included.

Exterior options included a power glass sunroof ($300) and a louvered rear sunshade ($199). Inside, custom air conditioning, electronic cruise control, and Lear Siegler bucket seats ($400) were available.

2000 Sunbird S/E pages from the 1984 Pontiac brochure, linked from Hans Tore Tangerud’s lov2xlr8 website.

Reviews of the new turbocharged configuration were positive—Popular Mechanics called it a “150-hp screamer.” 1984 Sunbirds did sell well—almost 170,000, but more than 80% of them were the base coupes and sedans, not the LE or the S/E. Sunbirds of this generation (1982-1994) are now almost completely vanished from the nation’s roads, and models other than the convertibles rarely show up in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds or eBay Motors.

I wrote about the last of the previous-generation Sunbird’s here. Other J platform cars I have covered this blog include the 1982 Cadillac Cimarron sedan, the 1988 Cadillac Cimarron sedan, and the 1986 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 coupe. I will not ignore Buick and Oldsmobile forever.

1987 Pontiac Grand Prix coupe

While dropping my parents off at church this Sunday morning, I saw a stock-appearing facelifted fourth-generation Grand Prix with two-tone paint out of the corner of my eye—heading west on the Lincoln Highway. As good a reason as any to finally complete this blog post that I’ve been working on for over six months.

“… a Pontiac classic …”

1987 marked the final model year for the G-body Grand Prix coupe—it would be replaced in 1988 by an all-new W-body front-wheel-drive model. Changes were few; the Grand Prix portion of Pontiac’s 1987 brochure emphasized a new sport steering wheel and new 45/55 seats for the LE.

The standard Grand Prix powertrain continued to be the LD5 110 bhp 3.8 liter/231 ci V6 with a two-barrel carburetor paired with a three-speed automatic. Optional engines included the LB4 140 bhp 4.3 liter/263 ci V6 with fuel injection ($200 and available with either a three-speed or a four-speed automatic) and the LG4 150 bhp 5.0 liter/305 ci V8 with a four-barrel carburetor ($590 and only available with a $175 four-speed automatic). With the V8, a Grand Prix owner could expect a 0-60 time of a little over nine seconds in a coupe with a shipping weight of 3,231 pounds.

Mileage wasn’t good with any engine/transmission combination: the best was the 4.3 liter/four-speed automatic combination with 19 city/26 highway (17/24 by today’s standards). Predictably, the V8 was the worst, at 17 city/24 highway—with a 13.6-gallon gas tank the owner of a V8 Grand Prix could expect a range of between 225 and 250 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Standard equipment on the $11,069 Grand Prix (about $25,300 in 2019 dollars) included power steering, power front disc/rear drum brakes, and P195/75R14 blackwall tires (a size still available thanks to Hankook and Kumho) on 14-inch wheels. General Motors was moving to option groups in the late eighties, and the base Grand Prix had two. Option Group I $1,313) included dual sport sideview mirrors, body side moldings, air conditioning with Soft Ray tinted glass, a tilt steering wheel that was also a luxury cushion steering wheel, and a Delco ETR AM/FM stereo radio. Option Group II ($1,867) added cruise control, lamp group, controlled cycle windshield wipers, power door locks, and power windows.

Moving up to the LE ($11,799) added dual sport sideview mirrors, 45/55 notchback seats in Pallex cloth, and a four-spoke sport steering wheel. For the LE, Option Group I ($1,844) included body side moldings, air conditioning with Soft Ray tinted glass, a tilt steering wheel, cruise control, lamp group, controlled cycle windshield wipers, power door locks, power windows, a visor vanity mirror, and a Delco ETR AM/FM stereo radio. Option Group II ($2,117) added halogen headlamps, a deck lid release, and a power driver’s seat, and made the visor vanity mirror illuminated.

The top-of-the-line Brougham ($12,519) added 45/55 notchback seats in Majestic cloth, power windows, special trim, and a luxury cushion steering wheel. Option Group I ($1,874) for the Brougham included body side moldings, air conditioning with Soft Ray tinted glass, a tilt steering wheel, a power driver’s seat, cruise control, lamp group, controlled cycle windshield wipers, power door locks, a visor vanity mirror, and a Delco ETR AM/FM stereo radio. Option Group II ($2,078) added halogen headlamps, cornering lamps, luggage compartment trim, a deck lid release, dual remote mirrors, and a dome reading lamp, and added illumination to the visor vanity mirror. A Brougham with Option Package 2, the V8, and the four-speed automatic came to a non-trivial $15,362 (about $35,100 in today’s dollars or about what a 2019 Buick Regal Avenir sedan goes for).

Individual exterior and mechanical options included a rally-tuned suspension ($50), a power sunroof ($925), a hatch roof with removable glass panels ($905), a power antenna ($70), two-tone paint ($205 to $295) and turbo-finned cast aluminum wheels ($246). Inside, you could get bucket seats with recliners and console ($292 with Ripple cloth in the base coupe, $69 with Pallex cloth in the LE, or $369 with leather in the LE), and a rally gauge cluster with tachometer ($153) along with a range of stereos up to a Delco ETR AM/FM stereo radio with cassette and graphic equalizer ($450).

Grand Prix page from the 1987 Pontiac brochure.

The 1987 Grand Prix did not sell well—sales were about 41% of the 1986 total, and, at 16,542, the typical Pontiac dealer sold more Grand Ams, 6000s, Bonnevilles, Sunbirds, Firebirds, and Fieros.

Evidently (based on my observation this morning) someone is saving these cars! Hagerty declines to value any Grand Prix after 1977, but this generation does come up for sale every once in a while in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds or on eBay Motors. As I write this in February 2019, there’s a 1985 Silver/Medium Gray two-tone Grand Prix LE with gray cloth notchback seats, a 3.8 liter/231 ci V6, an automatic, and 54,000 miles available for $12,900.

Make mine Dark Maroon Metallic, please.

Other rear-wheel drive G-platform (designated A-platform before 1982) cars I have written about include the 1984 Buick Regal Grand National coupe, the 1983 Chevrolet Malibu sedan, the 1981 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Sport Coupe, the 1981 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme coupe, and the 1980 Pontiac Grand Am coupe.

1988 Pontiac Grand Prix coupe

“… one of the most aerodynamic cars in the world.”

The Grand Prix was all new for 1988. Gone was the elderly G-body rear-wheel-drive (dating from 1978), replaced by an aerodynamic front-wheel drive W-body.

For 1988, the standard Grand Prix powertrain was the LB6 130 bhp 2.8 liter/173 ci V6 with fuel injection paired to a four-speed automatic (a five-speed manual was available). With a curb weight of 3,038 pounds, 0-60 took a little over 10 seconds with the standard powertrain. Mileage with the same powertrain was 20 city/29 highway by the standards of the day (18/26 by today’s standards). A 16.0-gallon fuel tank meant that a Grand Prix owner could expect a range of between 315 and 355 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

The 1988 Grand Prix came in base, LE, and SE forms. Standard exterior and mechanical equipment in the $12,539 base coupe (about $27,300 in today’s dollars) included composite halogen headlamps, dual sport mirrors, power steering, four-wheel power disc brakes, an independent rear suspension, and P195/75R14 tires (a size still available from multiple vendors) on 14 x 6 inch wheels with custom wheel covers. Inside, notchback front bench seats, an electronic digital speedometer, a glove box with a combination lock, and an AM/FM stereo radio were included.

Moving up a little to the $13,239 LE added power windows with illuminated switches, lamp group, 40/60 split reclining pallex cloth seats, rear folding armrest with pass through to the luggage compartment, and mechanical analog gauges with tachometer and trip odometer.

The top-of-the-line $15,249 SE (about $32,300 in 2018 dollars) added the Y99 Rally Tuned suspension, dual exhaust system, and P215/65R15 tires on 15-inch aluminum wheels and switched the standard transmission to a five-speed manual. Inside, air conditioning, leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel, cruise control, power cloth front bucket seats with three-position lumbar controls, and rear bucket seats were all part of the SE experience.

Options included power door locks, an electric rear window defogger, a power antenna, and a UX1 AM stereo/FM stereo radio with seek, scan, auto-reverse cassette, five-band graphic equalizer, and digital clock.

The 1988 Grand Prix was relatively well received—it was Motor Trend‘s Car of the Year, and Pontiac sold 86,357 cars in slightly over half a model year (sales only began in January 1988), which marked more than five times as many as the last of the G-body versions in 1987. For 1989, sales would top 136,000 and would stay over 100,000 for every year through 1995.

Grand Prix’s of this generation are rarely seen in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors. Sometimes you do see the ASC/McLaren or GTP versions, but rarely the “civilian” models.

Make mine red, please.

1985 Pontiac Grand Am coupe

“Introducing a brilliant new driver’s coupe”

The Grand Am name returned for the 1985 model year. Instead of the rear-wheel-drive coupe and sedan that it been in its previous two lives from 1973 to 1980 (with none in 1976 or 1977), it was now a front-wheel-drive coupe, part of GM’s N-body offerings. As such, it’s first relatives were the Buick Somerset Regal and the Oldsmobile Calais.

The standard powertrain on the Grand Am was GM’s Tech IV 92 bhp 2.5 liter/151 ci inline four with throttle-body fuel injection connected to a five-speed manual. For $560, optional power was a 125 bhp 3.0 liter/181 ci V6 with fuel injection which required the $425 automatic transmission (also available with the base engine). 0-60 times for early N-body cars are hard to come by, but were likely about 10.5 seconds for the standard powertrain and about 9.0 seconds for the V6/automatic combination—the 2,419 pound shipping weight helped. Mileage with the standard powertrain was rated at 24 city/34 highway by the standards of the day (21/31 by today’s standards). With the 13.6-gallon tank, Grand Am buyers could expect a range of 310 to 350 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on the $7,995 base coupe (about $19,100 in 2019 dollars) included power rack and pinion steering, power front disc brakes, and P185/80R13 tires (now a trailer size) on 13-inch wheels. Inside, reclining bucket seats and an integral floor console were included.

The LE (starting at $8,495 or about $20,200 in today’s dollars) included “substantial body side moldings,” upgraded front bucket seats with adjustable headrests, deluxe door trim, and a fold-down rear seat armrest.

Options included rally tuned suspension ($50) and cruise control ($175). A Driver’s Package was also available, which included 215/60R14 Goodyear Eagle GT radials (a size available thanks to BFGoodrich and Riken) on 14-inch turbo cast aluminum wheels, “sport-tuned” front and rear stabilizers, and a Driver Information Center.

I think these were handsome cars, especially with those turbo cast aluminum wheels—Pontiac had great wheel designs in the eighties. Like many America cars of the era that aren’t considered to be collectible, they have essentially vanished despite over 82,000 sold in 1985 alone. They’re invisible in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors and are hard to find anywhere.

Make mine Red, please.

1985 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am hatchback coupe

Every year I do a retro CD for the holidays that goes to friends and family. Whatever expertise in popular music that I do have is from the eighties, so I go forward one year in that decade—that means that this year I’m doing 1988. There’s a story behind every year’s CD, and this one involved a 1985 Trans Am. So, I decided I would draw a 1985 Trans Am dashboard and thus this blog post.

“The most serious piece of machinery we put on the road.”

Updates for the 1985 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am included a restyled nose with built-in fog lamps, new taillights, fake hood louvers replacing the traditional power bulge, and full rocker and quarter panel extensions. A new WS6 suspension package was made available for the Trans Am, which included gas pressurized shocks and 16-inch wheels with P245/50VR16 Goodyear “Gatorback” tires for a $664 price tag. Inside, all gages now had graph patterned backgrounds, and a new UT4 “Touch-Control” optional stereo was available.

1985 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am dashboard.

For 1985, the standard Trans Am powertrain was a 165 bhp 5.0 liter/305 ci V8 with a Rochester four-barrel carburetor paired with a five-speed manual transmission. The top of the line engine was the $695 LB9 fuel injected 5.0 liter/305 ci V8, with 205 bhp—but that was only available with a four-speed automatic transmission, yielding a zero to sixty time of about 7.5 seconds. If you wanted the five-speed manual transmission, the best engine choice available on the Trans Am was the 190 bhp H.O. V8 with a four-barrel carburetor.

Mileage with the standard powertrain was 15 city/24 highway by the standards of the day (14/22 by 2022 standards). With a 15.9-gallon fuel tank, a Trans Am owner could expect a range of between 255 and 280 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on the $11,113 Trans Am (about $29,300 in today’s dollars and close to what a base 2022 Camaro costs) included power brakes (front disc/rear drum), hidden electronically-controlled halogen headlamps, dual sport mirrors, an all-glass rear hatch, a rear deck lid spoiler, and P215/65R15 steel-belted radial tires (still a readily available size) on “deep-dish” 15 x 7 wheels. Inside, reclining front bucket seats and side window defoggers were included.

Options included T-tops ($825), a louvered rear sunshield ($210), air conditioning ($630), Recaro bucket seats ($636), and cruise control ($175).

The 1985 Trans Am sold reasonably well, with 44,028 sold—about 46% of total Firebird sales. Third-generation Firebirds have a strong following, and 1985 Trans Ams make regular appearances in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors. As I update this post in December 2018, there’s a Blaze Red 1985 with 4,400 miles for sale for $24,900. According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1985 Trans Am with the LB9 in #1/Concours condition is $23,800, with a far more typical #3/Good car going for $9,500.

Please make mine Black, please—I think.

Updated December 2021.

1981 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am coupe

“Soul Survivor”

1981 was the last year for the second-generation Firebird and thus also the final 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 ci V8 with a four-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 ci V8 with a four-barrel carburetor, but you did get a $147 credit.

The top engine was the $437 LU8 200 bhp 4.9 liter/301 ci V8 with four-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 (a size still readily available) 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 the Trans AM included the 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/Concours condition is $38,200. A more normal #3/Good 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.