In the spring of 1978, Pontiac was on a roll. Television character Jim Rockford drove a Firebird into America's living rooms every Friday night on The Rockford Files, and everybody had Trans Am fever after watching the Bandit evade ol' Buford T. Justice the previous summer. Firebird was a star and those who didn't have one wanted one, whether they were old enough to drive or not.

Pontiac was cranking Firebirds out of two plants as fast as it could and eager buyers snapped them up immediately. One of those buyers, Arnie Hansen, walked into Century Pontiac of Beaverton, Oregon, looking for a Firebird like Rockford's. The salesman replied, "Have you seen the black Trans Am in the showroom?" Mr. Hansen bought the Blackbird on the spot.

More than 2,700 miles away in Louisiana, 10-year-old Ray Burlette was enamored with the girls next door: One was a '76 50th Anniversary Trans Am, the other a '77 S/E T/A, both owned by his 17-year-old neighbor. The sensual lines of the onyx Pontiacs captivated Ray, despite being a half-dozen years away from obtaining his driver's license. He vowed to have a black Trans Am of his own one day.

Years passed. Ray got his license, started a successful landscaping business, and got serious about finding the right Trans Am. Meanwhile, Arnie's '78 T/A changed hands. No fewer than four fine Firebirds found their way to Ray's driveway, but leaky T-tops, squeaks, rattles, and sloppy clutches soured the ownership experience, so he sold them.

Ray considered abandoning his search until a chance stop in Tallahassee during a Florida vacation connected him with Scott Warmack of Trans Am Depot. As Ray described his ideal T/A, Scott knew he had the perfect car: a well-optioned, Starlight Black WS6 '78 Trans Am powered by the desirable W-72 400/automatic powertrain. Ray was immediately smitten with the T/A's original condition and made the purchase, but with an unusual proviso—Ray asked Scott to perform a preservation restoration on the car as if Scott was doing it for himself.

"I really trusted Scott to be the expert and do the car right," Ray says. "I didn't want him to say, 'I wanted to do the car this way, but Ray wouldn't let me.'"

The Trans Am was disassembled and great care was taken not to disturb the intact factory markings and finishes wherever possible. Originality abounds underneath Ray's Blackbird. The underside of the floor and firewall were cleaned, and a protective wax coating was applied to preserve the ELPO coating applied by the factory 36 years ago. The components that left the factory bare have been painted either silver or cast-iron gray to closely approximate their original appearance.

The stock WS6 suspension remains largely factory issue as well. Serviceable suspension parts such as springs, control arms, and hardware were cleaned, painted, and reinstalled. The original ball joints are still retained by the factory-installed rivets. The axle, driveshaft, and frame, however, had their identifying marks and paint daubs replaced.

To keep pace with the T/A's rejuvenated underpinnings, the thin factory-applied Starlight Black paint needed help. Blevins Auto in Brooksville, Florida, handled the bodywork and did a masterful job keeping the T/A from waving as it goes by. All of the factory-installed sheetmetal panels remain—only the ill-fitting front fascia was replaced.

The original finish was carefully sanded down to bare metal, and any imperfections were bumped, smoothed, and filled in preparation for the DuPont Chroma primer and sealer, followed by three coats of black base under three coats of clear. Decals were applied to the T/A's flanks, and after a brief discussion, Ray and Scott agreed it would be a mistake to apply S/E pinstriping to the standard-issue Starlight Black T/A. Complementing the flawless black paint is a date-coded reproduction windshield and side glass to replace the pitted and scratched originals.