By 1978 it was becoming evident to William “Bill” Porter—then Chief Designer, Advanced 1 Studio, and former Pontiac Chief Designer -- that the Second-Gen Trans Am, which was born in his Pontiac Studio, was a milestone car.
Bill enjoyed an exciting and varied career beginning with a 1957 summer internship at General Motors Styling. Working his way up through the ranks of GM Design, he ultimately held many executive positions over the next four decades. He retired from the General in 1996.
Bill had always wanted the Second-Gen T/A to feature functional Ram Air via twin scoops, i
Bill’s Pontiac highlights include the ’62 Big-Car grille details, the ’63 coke-bottle shape and tailpanel, the ’68 GTO/LeMans/Tempest body theme, the ’70½-’73 Firebird/Trans Am, the ’73 Pontiac A-body, the Honeycomb wheel, and preproduction Trans Am hood-bird designs.
Of course, the Second-Gen Trans Am stands out in his mind. “I finally woke up to the fact that the ’70½-’73 Trans Am was the most significant car I had worked on,” he tells HPP. “I drove lots of cars at Pontiac, but at the time I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. In later years, I started looking back and it dawned on me that the ’70-’73 T/A was as significant as the ’68 GTO for which I had designed the basic body theme -- a monocoque shell form with elliptical pressure bulges over the wheels. So I started looking for a Trans Am since I hadn’t kept one, which was dumb.”
Seeking out a low-mileage example in Brewster Green, Bill soon realized that even in 1978, Brewster Green ’73 T/A -- and low-mileage ’70½-’73 T/As in any color -- were becoming scarce. Finally, he located this Buccaneer Red ’73 in the Clarkston, Michigan, area north of Pontiac. It had the standard 250-horse 455 D-port engine, a Turbo 400 trans, a 3.08:1 Safe-T-Track rear, and A/C, among other options. With just 30,000 miles on the odometer and a $3,000 price tag, he couldn’t pass it up.
“One thing it was missing,” Bill laments, “was Honeycomb wheels. Since I had designed them, sharing the patent with Maurice ‘Bud’ Chandler, a designer in Pontiac Studio, I decided to install them and change the tires to radials from bias-plies. The T/A looked and drove much better with the new wheel/tire combo.”
Bill enjoyed his Trans Am for several years, but storage was a problem. “My old house in Birmingham, Michigan, had a terrible garage with a leaking roof, so I parked the T/A outside for years with a car cover over it. By the late-’90s, I began to feel that the Pontiac needed to be restored.”
Having had a very serious heart attack in 1987, Bill stopped smoking and drinking, and became a vegetarian. “It was a real wakeup call. I changed my whole lifestyle and began following Dr. Dean Ornish’s programs.” Bill’s health issues ultimately led to the T/As resurrection.
“For many years after my heart attack, I was in a cardiac-maintenance program conducted by Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. In 1998 or 1999 I met a fellow, and in a casual conversation he said, ‘My son Jim restores cars.’ A week or two later he told me, ‘Jim restored a Packard that won the Meadowbrook Concours.’ I was impressed, so I asked for his phone number.”
“Once I connected with Jim Nicholson, I had to wait quite a while before he could work on my Trans Am because he was finishing another car, and he only did one at a time.”
Beginning in 2000, Jim performed a complete rotisserie restoration on the T/A in his White Lake Township, Michigan, garage. Over the next two years, he handled the body and paint; chassis rebuild; and removing, cleaning, and reinstalling the original interior. Details on the resto are few, unfortunately, because Jim has since passed away.
The original 455 D-port engine was sent to Dan Jensen in Portland, Michigan, for a cam swap. Dan removed the factory 067 cam -- which boasts 273/289 degrees duration with 0.410/0.413 lift -- and installed in its place an 068 cam with 288/302-degrees duration and 0.414/0.413 lift with 1.50-ratio rockers. Since the engine still had less than 35,000 miles on it, a rebuild wasn’t deemed necessary, so Dan resealed the engine, stripped the outside, and repainted and detailed it. Upon its return to Jim, he reinstalled it in the T/A.
The restoration afforded Bill the opportunity to make a change in the T/A’s appearance that he had desired for the Second-Gen body three decades before. He installed a Formula hood and the Ram Air air cleaner in place of the Shaker hood. “It was the hood I wanted on the ’70½ T/A originally, and it’s functionally superior to the Shaker,” he says. “Pontiac Engineers Bill Collins and Herb Adams sold DeLorean on the Shaker before I had the opportunity to sell him on the Formula hood.”
Another issue Bill’s design staff faced regarding the Shaker was integrating it into the T/A’s design. “One of the main motifs on the Firebird hood was the raised center element, and the hole for the Shaker simply cut it up. At first I tried to split it around the scoop, and it just didn’t work, so we had to let it interrupt the raised element.”