The Trans Am has established itself as a permanent American icon. Production volume testifies that the Second-Gen Firebird was most popular with consumers. Its combination of beautiful styling, superb handling, and strong Pontiac V-8 performance makes Formulas and Trans Ams of this era highly coveted by collectors and performance traditionalists alike.
Living up to its hype wasn't always easy, though. For example, the standard engine for the '77 was the L78 400ci four-barrel. A compression ratio of just 7.6:1 and restrictive exhaust strangled the once-potent mill to a paltry 180hp rating, and when combined with a high-ratio rear axle, the performance flagship was a shadow of its former self. To regain some power, the W72 Performance Package became an extra-cost option on Firebird Formula and Trans Am models.
It included the new T/A 6.6 engine, which was rated at 200 hp-an amount equal to the last 455 of '76. It did so by using a specific Rochester Quadrajet carburetor and HEI distributor, an increased compression ratio, and a redesigned camshaft with unique valve timing. The package also included a tuned exhaust system and 3.23 gears, and it produced a Trans Am that could compete with virtually any new vehicle on American roadways.
Further camshaft timing and exhaust revisions gave the T/A 6.6 a boost to 220 hp for the '78 model year. To increase the Trans Am's performance prowess even more, Pontiac released the WS6 Suspension Package that same year, which included specific springs and shock absorbers, stiffer suspension bushings, a constant-ratio steering box, a larger rear sway bar, and 15x8-inch aluminum Snowflake wheels. Together, these packages took the Trans Am from what many already considered an excellent performer to exceptional, propelling it toward supercar status.
The proverbial writing was on the wall for large-cube engines. Pontiac discontinued its 350 after the '77, and General Motors decided that the Division no longer needed its 400 and planned to phase it out of production during the '78 model year. That left the short-deck 301 as Pontiac's only V-8, which remained in production through the '81.
In an attempt to maintain the Trans Am's strong performance image, Pontiac managed to stockpile several thousand 400ci blocks to use as T/A 6.6 engines in the '79 Trans Am. A buying frenzy erupted as news of the 400's discontinuance spread throughout the information pipeline. A total of 117,108 Trans Ams were built in that year and just 8,326 of them received the T/A 6.6 engine. The remainder received the Olds-built 403 or Pontiac 301.
The Trans Am's original No. 17059263 M4MV Rochester Quadrajet offers a maximum airflow cap
A High Energy Ignition (HEI) system was standard fare on all Pontiac models beginning in 1
Power brakes were standard equipment on the Trans Am, and this particular unit controls th
T/A 6.6 Anatomy
Essentially a carryover from the previous year, the '79 code-PWH T/A 6.6 was assembled using a No. XX481988 400 block, which featured a 4.12-inch bore. Its bottom end was filled with a 3.75-inch stroke cast-iron crankshaft, while cast-aluminum pistons on cast-iron connecting rods filled the cylinders. A 60-psi oil pump dispersed lubricant, and resided within a baffled six-quart oil pan.
A top each cylinder bank sat a No. 6X-4 cylinder head, which was otherwise associated with 350 engines. It featured 2.11/1.66-inch intake and exhaust valves, and combustion chambers that displace approximately 91 cc's, which bumped compression to 8.0:1. Though Pontiac never divulged the 0.050-inch duration specifications of the No. 402 hydraulic flat-tappet camshaft, independent testing shows it to be approximately 192/210 degrees, with 0.395/0.0400-inch gross valve lift with 1.5:1 ratio rocker arms.
Distributing the combustible air/fuel mixture from the 800-cfm, No. 17059263 Rochester Quadrajet carburetor was a No. 10003395 cast-iron four-barrel intake manifold with EGR. A pair of log-type exhaust manifolds routed spent gasses through a single catalytic converter and into a "Y" pipe and dual mufflers before it exited out a pair of chromed splitter tips. The net result of the effort was a rating of 220 hp at 4,000 rpm and 320 lb/ft of torque at 2,800 rpm.
A previous owner states that the T/A's roof and decklid were repainted by the dealer befor
Backing every T/A 6.6 engine throughout the '79 model year was an 11-inch clutch disc and pressure-plate assembly, and a Borg-Warner Super T10 four-speed manual transmission with a First-gear ratio of 2.43:1. Because the WS6 Suspension Package was required with the W72 Performance Package that year, all Firebirds equipped with the T/A 6.6 received a 10-bolt rear axle filled with a 3.23:1 ratio gear set, and new-for-the-year J65 rear disc brakes on either end.
While not stellar in today's world, the T/A 6.6 engine was a stout performer in its day, and it left an impression on most anyone who came in contact with it. Ray Krob of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was bitten by the Trans Am performance bug when his neighbor gave him a ride in his new Starlight Black '79 Trans Am. "It had the 400 four-speed and the car was very fast for its time. The experience in my neighbor's car inspired me to purchase my own," he says.
Ray headed straight for Joe Coker Pontiac in Midwest City, Oklahoma, and on the lot sat a new Atlantis Blue '79 Trans Am complete with the 400 engine and four-speed manual trans. "I always liked blue, and this one grabbed me. I was told that it was damaged in transit, but had been repaired, and I couldn't tell. It looked great, had the engine and transmission I wanted, and it was well optioned, so I bought it," he adds.
The Trans Am was driven daily for the first three years, and accumulated around 18,000 miles on its odometer. "I drove it regularly early on, and it became a garage queen after that," recalls Ray. "I always enjoyed driving it and it was always a good car. Then I purchased a new Mustang Cobra in the late '90s. I didn't really drive the T/A and could use the garage space, so I decided to sell it."
Discovering A Dream
There were guys like Ray who were old enough to purchase a new Trans Am, and then there were others who were too young to make such an acquisition, but always kept the dream alive. Frank Shead of Topeka, Kansas, is of the latter and he considers himself a true Trans Am fanatic. "I love Trans Ams," he says. "My house is filled with Trans Am memorabilia and die-cast models. I knew growing up that I'd own one someday."
While searching eBay in 1999, Frank happened across the auction for Ray's Atlantis Blue '79 Trans Am. "Light blue is my color and I always wanted a 400 four-speed. When this one popped up, I immediately fell in love with it. It had only 19,000 miles on it, was completely original, and was still in the possession of its first owner. I flew down to Oklahoma City, bought it, and drove it back to Topeka," he recalls.
Once home, Frank had to replace the Trans Am's original radiator because it leaked badly. "I added new Goodyear tires and replaced the original carpet with a reproduction from YearOne because it was worn in a couple of spots. The original paint had oxidized badly over the years, too, so I restored its luster using a good cleaner wax and polishing compound. It turned out great."
The Special Edition Trans Am's black-and-gold paint scheme was Frank's true love, and after a few years of owning the Atlantis Blue T/A, he decided that it was time for a change. "I found a freshly-restored Special Edition T/A for sale in Phoenix, so I regretfully decided to put the Atlantis Blue '79 on the market," he says.
Another Dream Fulfilled
Steve Basgall of Hays, Kansas, was also old enough to be caught up in the late-'70s Trans Am mystique. "Trans Ams were the car to own back then and I've always been attracted to them. I was in high school when they were hitting showroom floors and I dreamed of owning a 400ci four-speed back then, but was too young," the 44-year-old parcel-service driver says.
Under a mess of stamped steel and rubber lies a code-PWH T/A 6.6 engine. The $90 option ga
Full instrumentation and the Formula steering wheel were standard fare on the Trans Am. CD
The D55 Front Console was standard equipment by 1979, but the B18 Custom Interior in blue
When Steve became of age, he began the hunt for vehicles from his youth. "I liked Trans Ams, but Chevelles were my first love. I saw Frank's car for sale and seriously considered buying it, but we couldn't arrive at a figure, so I passed on it." That car always remained in the back of Steve's mind, however, and when Frank advertised it again, Steve couldn't pass a second time.
The Trans Am remained in Steve's possession for the next couple of years, but his love for Chevelles intervened. "I owned an authentic '70 LS6 car when I was younger and had the chance to buy it back," he says. "That meant that the T/A had to go. I listed it in the classifieds section of the Classical Pontiac website, and Steve Schappaugh of Lincoln, Nebraska, responded immediately."
"I bought the Trans Am from Frank in 2006 with just over 26,000 miles on it," says Steve. "It was still very clean and well preserved, but the original mufflers needed to be replaced. I wasn't content with generic aftermarket replacements, so I searched until I could find the genuine article. I also spent about 100 hours polishing the original Snowflake wheels."
Brad noticed that there were a few minor blemishes in the cloth of the front-seat cushions, so he located N.O.S. Hobnail material to replace those panels. "They were small, but I'm a perfectionist. I also cleaned the interior, detailed the engine compartment and undercarriage, and had the original carburetor rebuilt and tuned up. The car is in outstanding condition inside and out, and all of its equipment works as it should. It looks and runs great," he exclaims.
The WS6 Special Performance Package added $434 to a Trans Am's price tag, and included the
This Atlantis Blue T/A remained with its original owner for 20 years, and it then changed hands several times in a relatively short period. Each owner yearned for a Trans Am T/A 6.6 engine and four-speed manual transmission, and this particular '79 fulfilled each dream. With more than 8,000 made that year, there is any number to choose from on the market at any given time. Few are as original and well preserved as this example, however, and that's what gives this Trans Am its distinctive character.
Reliving One's Youth
Schappaugh says he, too, has always been drawn to '79 400 four-speed Trans Ams. "I bought a 10th Anniversary and a black-and-gold Special Edition new back then, and have always had a soft spot for them," the 54-year old electrical-utility engineer admits. "The WS6 cars handle great, and those with 400 four-speeds are just fun to drive. I've owned at least six others over the years, and when I saw this original '79 for sale, I was immediately interested."
Brad tells HPP that the Trans Am has now found a permanent home and that he has no intentions to ever part with it. He plans to continue giving it the same level of care each of its previous owners had, but admits that he plans to drive it often. "I won't add an excessive amount of mileage, but this Trans Am is just too nice not to enjoy!" After having sat in the driver seat and put a few miles on this car during our photo shoot, Brad has no argument from HPP!
Basgall and Schappaugh made arrangements to meet at a central-Kansas car show the next day. "The show was about 250 miles away from me and my trailer was in use. I knew it'd sell quickly if it was as clean as I'd been told," Schappaugh recollects. "Steve told me that it was very roadworthy, so I figured if I bought it I could drive it back, or if I had doubts, pay for it and return with the trailer when I could."
Sliding behind the Trans Am's Formula steering wheel gave Steve a chance to relive his youth. "The unmodified 400 still gave the feel of a large-cube engine under the hood, but acceleration was modest. The car handled extremely well, however," he says. "It put a smile on my face every time I drove it. It made me think about how impressed I was with the WS6 suspension when I bought my first '79."
Schappaugh's love for low-mile '79 Trans Ams got the best of him, however, when another 400ci four-speed came into his life, forcing him to sell the Atlantis Blue car. "I found a Nocturne Blue '79 T/A with just 15,000 miles on it, and it was far too original for me to pass up. I had one Trans Am too many in my collection and had to let this one go to make from for it, so I called Scott Warmack at Trans Am Depot in Tallahassee, Florida, and sold it to him."
Finding A Permanent Home
The T/A wasn't at Trans Am Depot long before Pontiac collector Brad Damico of Brooksville, Florida, learned of its availability. "I collect low-mile '77 to '79 Trans Ams and those with W72 Performance- and WS6 Suspension-packages appeal most to me," says Brad. "I saw this one advertised by Trans Am Depot in early 2009. It was very clean and very original and thought it was a good value for the price. I bought it quickly."
A total of 8,326 Trans Ams received the T/A 6.6 engine during the '79 model year, and this
The D53 Hood Decal was a $95 option. Gold decals were chosen as the accent color.
This particular Shaker design was introduced for '77, and it was completely sealed during