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.
The timeless styling and popularity of Second-Gen Trans Ams still stands strong today. “Pe
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 cabin remains startlingly factory-issue. Other than the front seating surfaces and hea
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.
WS6 buyers received additional frame bracing, a bigger rear sway bar, urethane bushings, a
Engine-turned dash bezels are most associated with Second-Gen Trans Ams but have appeared
One of the most expensive options for ’78 was this UP6 AM/FM stereo radio with integrated
With the exterior looking like it should, Blevins turned its attention to the interior. As with the undercarriage, everything that was in excellent condition was cleaned and reinstalled, most notably the carpet and weatherstripping. The code-19B deluxe cloth buckets were showing wear, so NOS upholstery was stitched by Chance Blevins to bring the front thrones back to like-new condition He also replaced the headliner; other than those three items, the rest of the interior is completely undefiled and original.
The stock-appearing engine bay hides a secret—the factory block now displaces 461 cubes, a
Under the hood, however, some things are decidedly not original. Jerry Kolbuss of Pine Hill Machine in Bainbridge, Georgia, filled the code-X7 400 block with Keith Black forged flat-tops, wrapped with Total Seal rings and connected to Eagle H-beam rods clamped to the throws of an Eagle stroker crank sourced from Butler Performance. The T/A's engine now displaces 461 cubes.
An 068 cam actuates the valvetrain to the tune of 212-/225-degrees duration at 0.449-/0.448-inch lift. The original HEI distributor handles ignition duties, but has been recurved to further complement the modified powerplant. Total timing is set at 34 degrees, all in by 2,500 rpm. The voltage travels through reproduction 8mm wires to ACDelco plugs, which light off the big bang.
Providing the volatile mix is the original 800-cfm Quadrajet, rebuilt and recolored to look and function better than new. The original intake is still present, although massaged for more flow and port-matched to the 6X(4) heads, which have received extensive porting and polishing to complement the cam. A set of 2.11-/1.77-inch stainless valves seal the deal and milling the heads' surface results in a healthy 9.65:1 compression ratio. Reproduction D-port Ram Air III headers scavenge the fumes and send them aft through a Pypes 2.5-inch, mandrel-bent, F-body exhaust system with crossover.
Model-year ’78 Trans Ams are most easily identified from the rear by the new spoiler decal
Shifting is via the original Turbo 350 automatic, which was reworked by Mike Helton of Nationwide Transmission in Tallahassee. The driveshaft is original, right down to the U-joints, and spins the G80 Safe-T-Track axle filled with the original 3.23 gearset. The combo makes enough torque to put a smile on Ray's face whenever he squeezes the throttle, but not enough to scatter the 36-year-old factory parts. With the exception of the exhaust manifolds, everything looks bone stock.
Ray's Trans Am may lack the popular S/E and T-top options, but it's equipped with just about everything else: power windows, cruise control, air conditioning, controlled-cycle wipers, rear window defrost, tilt steering, and the aforementioned WS6 performance package. Not to be completely left out of the Bandit craze, the Trans Am is also fitted with the UP6 AM/FM Stereo/40-channel CB radio.
According to Ray, "The CB has never been used. When I called Arnie about the car, he told me he never used it and that the antenna stayed in the trunk the entire time he had it." Along with the T/A's paperwork, Ray received the CB owner's manual featuring a temporary broadcast permit that has never been completed. It may be the rarest part of the car!
Ray drives the Trans Am a couple times a month, and it always stirs up a crowd wherever it goes. "Everyone from kids to people in their 90s know a black Trans Am," reports Ray. "It seems like everybody grew up in one!"
Car-show judges like the T/A, too. It took its class at the 2013 World of Wheels in New Orleans, and then backed it up with Best of Show finishes at the Cruizin' the Delta event in New Orleans and the 29th Annual Trans Am Nationals in Dayton, Ohio.
Ray stays in touch with Arnie and keeps him abreast of the T/A's status and show victories, much to the delight of the original owner. Arnie started out wanting a '78 Firebird Esprit; Ray set out to own a full-fledged '77 S/E Trans Am. Both men wound up owning the same Starlight Black '78 T/A that, to each of them, is as good as gold.