It can be argued that there is no finer stage than Daytona if you are a NASCAR devotee, past or present. But if you aren't a NASCAR racer, pit crew member, or pace car driver, you can't get on the track! Fortunately for us, we were the latter ... sort of. After hours of talking to the right people, pushing the right buttons, and all-around arm twisting, I delivered Carter Chaplin and his 20th Anniversary Indy Pace Car Turbo Trans Am from the inner oval, where the Turkey Run Show and Swap was held, onto Daytona's storied blacktop.
Indianapolis and Daytona: These two stalwarts of motorsports are hallowed ground for racing legends and aficionados alike. Carter and I were taking it all in when, from a distance, we heard a raspy voice crackle, "Hey, you got 10 minutes!" Needless to say, the shoot was hurried, but we were grateful to be where few ever get to tread. One editor from another magazine said he's been trying to get on the track for the last 18 years but no dice so far.
Carter's 20th Anniversary TTA, as well as the other 1,554, were built not only to commemorate the twentieth year of Pontiac's flagship ponycar but also to pace the 73rd Indianapolis 500 on May 28, 1989. According to Pontiac Historic Services, the widely held belief that the TTA was the first pace car in the illustrious history of the Indy 500 that didn't need power modifications of any kind is true. The only modifications performed on the pace cars at Indianapolis for the 500 were the installation of strobe lights, two-way radios, and other safety equipment. In addition, the ABC broadcasting crew, including the venerable Bobby Unser, who drove the TTA that day, provided the first ever coverage via the newly created in-car race cams. This innovation provided the television audience with a view of the race at track level.
The two pace cars and the giveaway pace car for the winner were named after three California cities since they were built at the Van Nuys plant; Van Nuys, Beverly Hills, and Malibu. For purely promotional reasons, each were delivered to a different city, Los Angeles, Boston, and Miami, and were driven to Indianapolis by different press people along the way. Today, one of those pace cars is in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, and one is in the PMD car collection. The third was gifted to Emerson Fittipaldi, the winner of the '89 500, and is believed to have since been sold to a private collector.
Pontiac created an F-body-based supercar that followed in the performance footsteps of the G-body Regal T-Type, Grand National, and GNX programs. Initially, Pontiac engineers wanted to use an all-aluminum V-8 powerplant in the TTA. That plan never came to fruition, so the 3.8L Intercooled Buick Turbo V-6 engine was chosen. It was fitted with cylinder heads from the existing 3800 Series I V-6 of the Bonneville because of their increased clearance at the strut towers and superior flow. The block itself is very strong as its design was based on the Buick aluminum V-8, which required a Y-configuration (a very deep skirt) for durability when cast in the lightweight metal. Buick then cast the V-6 block in iron. By retaining the Y-block configuration of the aluminum design with two less cylinders, a strong foundation for the V-6 engine resulted.
A nodular-iron cross-drilled crank, 151mm-long cast rods, and hypereutectic pistons designed to work with new heads comprise the bottom end. The hydraulic roller cam features 192/196-degrees duration at .050 and .409/.434 lift with 1.65:1 rockers. Garrett's T-3 turbo provides a maximum of 16.5 psi boost through a GNX-based intercooler and into a 75.5mm MAF, 58mm throttle body, and aluminum intake manifold. Bosch 28 lb/hr injectors provide the fuel, and 1.71 intake valves introduce the mixture to the cylinders. The squeeze is put on at 8.0:1, crank trigger ignition lights it, and 1.49-inch exhaust valves release the combustion remains into specific headers and out a 2.5-inch exhaust system with a crossflow muffler. The engine was widely believed to be underrated at 250 hp.
This engine's power is transferred through a lockup torque converter and 200-4R four-speed automatic, which is specially calibrated with performance-optimized shift points to the 3.27 Borg-Warner rearend.
A plethora of aftermarket performance products are available for TTAs, and it is not uncommon to visit your local track and see an anniversary car in a modified state blister the quarter in the mid-to-low 12s or even the 11s.
Carter's and other TTAs also shine where the rubber meets the road. With gas-filled struts up front, coil springs all around, springs up front and and gas-filled shocks in the rear, 36mm front and 24mm rear stabilizer bars keep the cornering attitude flat. A 12.7:1 steering box promotes quick turns, P245/50ZR16 tires (Goodyear stock, Pirelli on this car) on 16x8 aluminum diamond-spoke wheels provide the stick, and 12-inch front and 11.7-inch rear 1LE brakes bring the 3,346-pound Pontiac to a stop.
The total package speaks volumes to the performance car market and the automotive world. It can make you giddy with its acceleration and offered some six-figure European supercars of the day the true meaning of the disclaimer "objects in mirror are closer than they appear."
Pontiac's TTA was the brainchild of Bill Owen at PMD, but the contract to outfit the TTA engine was given to PAS Engineering in Van Nuys, California, and the work took place in its 40,000-square-foot City of Industry facility. Once completed, the engines were shipped back to GM, installed in the cars, and then returned to PAS for a brief period of testing and quality-control checks before they were offered to the public for sale. Jeff Beitzel, who was the president of PAS, had his personal 20th Anniversary TTA (one of the 1,555) sent to ASC and made into a convertible. Today it's rumored to be owned by a private collector.
From the outside, the Anniversary car looks much like the '89 GTA. Of course, the TTA was available only in white (paint code 40) and options were limited to T-tops and leather interior. On the front-right and lower-left rocker panels toward the front of the doors are the "Indianapolis Motor Speedway" emblems. The "Turbo" emblems are located on the front fenders and taillight panel, and the "20th Anniversary" emblems are on the nose and sail panels. According to Jim Mattison at PHS, "My records show that 150 cars were sent to the Indianapolis Speedway for the event. However, a higher total count of TTAs may have been in attendance due to the possibility that Pontiac company cars were driven in by the key folks from PMD." Each of the 150 festival cars that ushered VIPs around Indy had their car number (assigned for the festival, not the production number) on the rear bumper cover behind the license plate. These cars were later sold to GM employees and the public.
Unlike the Buick GNX that has a prominent dash plaque proclaiming the build sequence, the TTA's interior accoutrements include only the turbo boost gauge on the dash cluster and "20th Anniversary" insignia on the passenger-side dash map-pocket. Of particular note to the true Pontiaddict are the spark plug wires of the TTA, which are embossed with the 20th Anniversary logo. This is the only Pontiac anniversary model to be outfitted as such.
Carter still maintains the original dealer 20th Anniversary key chain, embossed wner's manual and a letter of congratulations from PMD.
With a paltry 30,000 miles logged over the past decade and a half, Carter's Turbo Trans Am lives a true South Florida retirement lifestyle any northeasterner would envy. "The TTA was originally an investment vehicle that I really started to enjoy driving, and I only paid $12,000 for it," he said. It was a Florida car all of its pampered life as it was purchased in nearby Deltona in 1999. Suffice it to say, the limited production of these cars, their pedigree, and the rarity of documented low-mileage ones (like this one), make them coveted yet affordable collector's items. Carter's Turbo Trans Am has garnered two notable awards at the 1999 and 2001 West Palm Beach Autorama shows. For now, he is content to hold onto his beloved Trans Am.
For a brief moment, Daytona and Indy came together thanks to this pace car and the wrangling it took to get it on the oval. Though it only lasted a short time, it made the hair stand up on the backs of our necks thinking about the history that both places and this Pontiac represent, and we have the photos and this story to remember it.
Special thanks to Jim Mattison of Pontiac Historic Services, HPP contributors Don Keefe and Chris White, and www.89tta.com for insights toward the completion of this feature.
Pace Car Production
According to PHS's own Jim Mattison, in a memo dated June 21, 1999, Carter Chaplin of Boynton Beach, Florida, owns the 484th unit produced. The PHS memo categorized the 20th Anniversary production totals for Carter as well.
|Configuration/Trim Production |
|Hardtops w/cloth ||15 |
|Hardtops w/leather ||24 |
|T-tops w/cloth ||187 |
|T-tops w/leather ||1,324 |
|Preproduction hardtop w/leather ||1 |
|Preproduction T-top w/cloth ||4 |
|Total Production ||1,555 |
Note: Preproduction cars were mostly colors other than white.
Pace Car Performance
The official PMD media release on the '89 Turbo Trans Am lists the following statistics:
|Test ||Result |
|0-60 ||5.5 sec. |
|1/4-mile ||13.5 sec. |
|Braking 60 to 0 ||139 ft. |
|Lateral acceleration ||0.86 g |
|Weight to horsepower ratio ||13.4:1 |