1989 Pontiac 20th Anniversary Turbo Firebird Trans Am

For the fourth of July, here’s some eighties American iron.

“The Only Modification It Needed To Pace The Indy 500 Was A Decal.”

For 1989, there was big news in the Pontiac camp with the release of the 20th Anniversary Turbo Firebird Trans Am, which was essentially a Trans AM GTA coupe with a special engine option and some specific trim elements.

Rated at 250 bhp but actually making about 300 bhp, the LC2 3.8 liter sequential fuel injected turbocharged and intercooled V6 was teamed with the 200-4R four speed automatic transmission. Mileage was 16 city/24 highway by the standards of the day (15/22 by today’s standards) and nobody cared. What they did care about was the acceleration—Car & Driver managed to achieve a 4.6 second 0-60 time (Pontiac had claimed 5.5 seconds) and a top speed of 153 mph. At least in power, the third generation Trans Am had come a long way from 1982

For $31,198 (about $59,900 in 2014 dollars) 20th Anniversary Turbo Firebird Trans Am buyers got all the Trans Am GTA exterior and mechanical equipment which included four wheel disc brakes, fog lamps, special performance suspension, a rear limited slip axle, and 245/50-VR16 tires mounted on gold 16 x 8 diamond-spoke aluminum wheels. Turbo Trans Am-specific additions included larger brake rotors and softer front springs. The only color available was white with Turbo Trans Am emblems on the fenders and 20th emblems on the nose and rear pillars.

1989 Pontiac Firebird brochure cover, courtesy of Flickr user Alden Jewell.
1989 Pontiac Firebird brochure cover, courtesy of Flickr user Alden Jewell.

Inside, standard GTA equipment included power door locks, power windows, power mirrors, power antenna, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, rear window defroster, and remote deck release. Turbo Trans Am owners also got a turbo-boost gauge inside the tachometer face.

Pontiac built a total of 1,550 Turbo Trans Ams for sale (there were another 5 test cars), with 85% of them being t-tops with a leather interior (buyers could order a cloth interior and/or the hardtop, but few did).

Unlike many other eighties cars, Turbo Trans Ams hold their value just fine. According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1989 20th Anniversary Turbo Trans Am in #1 condition is an astounding $47,700. A more “normal” #3 condition example is valued at $20,700. Turbo Trans Ams often come up for sale in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds. As I write this in July 2014, there’s one with 835 miles advertised for $31,500.

1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

“From sabre-like nose to rakish tale the Trans Am is a brilliant orchestration of aerodynamic function.”

It is hard now to remember how new and wildly aerodynamic the 1982 Firebird Trans Am looked when it debuted. It suddenly made every other American car (and more than a few European ones) look like they were standing still.

The Trans Am didn’t just look aerodynamic, either: the drag coefficient of .323 is still respectable even in 2013. Pontiac’s choice of pop-up headlights (over the Camaro’s open headlights) and careful airflow tuning yielded an impressive result.

Unfortunately, the mechanicals did not come close to backing up the looks. The top of the line engine for the Trans Am was the LU9 “Crossfire” throttle-body injected 305 cubic inch V8, with 165 bhp—and that was only available with a three-speed automatic transmission, yielding about a nine second zero to sixty time (Motor Trend managed to do it in 8.89 seconds). If you wanted the four-speed manual transmission, the best engine choice available on the Trans Am was the base LG4 V8 with 145 bhp—and approximately ten seconds from 0 to 60 mph.

These performance issues did not, however, prevent Pontiac from implying the world in their commercials.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on the $9,658 Trans Am (about $21,500 in today’s dollars) included hidden electronically-controlled halogen headlamps, an all glass rear hatch, and a rear decklid spoiler. Inside, reclining bucket seats were included.

Third-generation Firebirds have a strong following and 1982 Trans Ams make regular appearances in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds. As I write this in November 2013, there’s an LU9-equipped car with 28,000 miles for sale for $15,000. According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for an 1982 Trans Am in #1 condition is $12,600.

Please make mine Black, but I think I’d hold out for the 1983 and its 5-speed manual transmission/190 bhp L69 HO engine combination.