The hood bird is from an '80 Trans Am because owner Gary Firch liked the fact that it had
As you would expect, by the '81 model year, Pontiac had the Second-Gen styling, suspension, and brakes dialed in. The WS6 was the cream of the auto-industry's handling crop, and with a 1.25-inch sway bar up front paired with a 0.750-inch bar in the rear, 14:1 constant-ratio high-effort steering, specific springs, bushings, and shocks, and four-wheel disc brakes, even like-era Corvette owners had to take notice of the Pontiac's handling prowess.
Adding to those attributes were new low-drag brakes and a quick take-up master cylinder made of aluminum with a plastic fluid reservoir, which cut weight over the cast-iron unit and improved brake pedal feel. Even the A/C compressor was redesigned to a shorter unit that cut a few more pounds off the front end.
With all of this going for it, why did the '81 T/A only sell 33,493 units after selling 117,108 units in 1979? Here are a few reasons-lack of power, very modest changes to differentiate it from the '79 and '80 models, and never-ending hype regarding the soon-to-come '82 models.
While the top engine choice, the Turbo 301, debuted in '80 at 210 hp (200 hp in '81) making a statement on paper by only dropping 10 hp from the '79 W72 400's rating, on the street and at the dragstrip, the 301 couldn't match the numbers of its older, bigger brother. What was to blame? First, was its high sensitivity to the octane of pump gas, which resulted in detonation in some cases that was discussed in a few magazine road tests. Second, there was no manual trans available with the 301 Turbo, while the '79 400 couldn't be had without one. Third, the rear gear was a 3.08, where the 400 enjoyed a 3.23 set. The final blow came in the form of a sit-back-and-wait mentality of consumers due to the speculation regarding how great the '82 Trans Am was going to be. Many decided to wait for the '82 instead of buying what was a 12-year-old model by '81, which hadn't had any major body revisions since '79.
What most don't realize, but Gary Firch did, is that the '80-'81 WS6 T/As are great starting points for a Pontiac project. The styling is classic, the chassis and brakes perform very well in stock form, and all the Pontiac really needs is an injection of power to be a very comfortable cruiser or even a terror at the track.
"My Trans Am runs great on the street or the strip, thanks to modern technology," Gary say
A gold Arrowhead adorns the SE T/As.
It looks like a stock '81 SE T/A, right? Not so fast-this one has 505 cubes and runs high
In 1993, Gary, an assembly line worker at the John Deere plant in Moline, Illinois, decided to take his 8-year-old son Jeff along to Geneseo Motors in Geneseo, Illinois, to have his '91 GMC pickup serviced. While waiting, Jeff spotted the SE T/A on the used-car lot. "I looked it over, test drove it, and bought it that same day," Gary says. The 26,725-mile 301 Turbo WS6 suspended '81 Y84, "was in very good original condition."Being an SE, of course, the Norwood, Ohio, built T/A was loaded with options such as T-tops, power windows and door locks, custom interior, door-edge guards, pulse wipers, A/C, cruise control, tilt steering column, radio-suppression package, and more, yet it was radio-delete.
Before we get into the resto work and mods done to this T/A, it's important to note that Gary is a Pontiac guy who likes to do his own work. In fact, in the early '80s at just 22 years old, he built a '67 Firebird 400 with a 462, a 6-71 Dyers blower, and a four-speed. "I built the engine and repainted the car and did nearly all the work myself," he recalls. The result was so good that the Pontiac was featured in the April '84 issue of Auto Buff magazine (now defunct). It was also a multiple show winner for many years before Gary sold it in 1994.
It shouldn't surprise you that Gary built the engine himself. After driving it a while with the stock 301 Turbo, an ailment surfaced. "It wasn't fast enough for me," he says. The cure was a 505ci IA II engine package from Butler Performance, featuring a 4.35 bore and a 4.25-inch stroke. Fuel is delivered from the 110-gph Holley electric pump through a regulator set at 7 psi. A Holley 950 HP #80/#82 jetted carb delivers the mixture to the Butler race-ported (321/233 cfm at 0.700 lift) 87cc E-heads and 2.11-inch intake valves via a Moroso carb spacer and a port-matched Performer RPM intake. The Comp 248/254-degrees-duration-at-0.050 hydraulic-roller cam with a 112-degree LSA directs the valves via Comp roller lifters, pushrods, and triple springs, and Lunati 1.65:1 roller rockers lift them 0.605/0.623-inch.
Once the mixture is in the chambers, the Ohio race-prepped forged crank, Eagle 6.800-inch H-beam forged rods, and Ross forged pistons wrapped in Total Seal gapless rings put the squeeze on to the tune of 10.8:1 compression. A Hypertech distributor conspires with a Crane Hi-6 ignition box, MSD coil, Moroso 8mm wires, and Champion race series plugs to light the fire at 36 degrees before TDC (all-in by 2,500 rpm).
The twist is put to the crank and through the TCI 3,500-rpm-stall, 10-inch converter; Hayden-cooled race-prepped TCI Turbo 400 trans; rebalanced driveshaft; and 3.73 Richmond-geared, 10-bolt GM Posi rear and Moser axles. Combustion remains evactuate via the 1.77-inch Ferrea exhaust valves and 2-inch-diameter primary Hooker Super Comp ceramic headers with 3.5-inch collectors. The pulses travel through a 3.5-inch-diameter RARE X-type crossover to Xlerator mufflers and 2.5-inch tailpipes.
A Melling oil pump, drawing crude from a Canton pan, keeps the engine lubricated, and a Milodon scraper keeps oil whip from the crank to a minimum.
Mileage remains low at 50,650.
You'd think a 505ci engine with race-ported heads and strong hydraulic roller cam would be
The code 64B Camel Tan Custom Cloth interior is original except for the carpet, which came
Gary did the bodywork, repainted his '81 SE, and applied the reproduction Phoenix Graphix decals himself. The body was relieved of its factory paint with a gel stripper and imperfections were fixed; then Gary applied five coats of John Deere primer sealer and block-sanded until the body was straight. Next, he shot six coats of Dupont Centari acrylic enamel, choosing to go single-stage and not add clear. Wet-sanding with 1,000-1,500-grit paper followed, as did buffing and polishing with 3M compound and Finessing it III Machine Glaze.
All of factory wear items were replaced and CE subframe connectors, Monroe shocks, and Lakewood traction bars were added. Quad City Springs provided new springs, and the four-wheel disc brakes were rebuilt as well.
On The Road And The Track
With all that newfound power under the hood, the T/A feels like a different car. Gary relates, "Acceleration is instant, the rearend settles down, the nose comes up, and the car launches in a straight line. The g-forces push me back in the seat under acceleration, and the WS6 suspension hugs winding roads with firm control." What's Gary's favorite moment behind the wheel? "Getting into a street race with a Firehawk and quickly defeating it."
On the show field, the SE T/A has taken multiple First Place trophies and earned 275 points of a possible 300 at a regional POCI event. In 2009, the season kicked off for the SE T/A with a Second Place in the SE Modified class at the Trans Am Nats, and two Best of Shows followed. By the end of the season, it had racked up 14 First Place wins at 18 car shows, including one in the Modified Class at the Indian Uprising in St. Charles, Illinois, which "draws over 400 top-notch Pontiacs," according to Gary.
On the strip, it's very quick for what appears to be a stock street car. At a 4,005-pound race weight (3,780-pound curb weight) with a half tank of BP 93 octane mixed with 105 octane E85, and 12 psi in the 26x10.5x15 M/T slicks, Gary launches the T/A at 2,000 rpm and shifts at 5,800 rpm. The result is a 1.50 60-foot time and a 10.83 e.t. at 124.64 mph.
Though he has already outfitted his Pontiac with an SFI-approved flexplate and driveshaft loop, we hope a rollbar and other safety equipment requiredfor the 10s is added if he decides to visit the track again.
The code-N89 15x7.5-inch Turbo wheels were restored and now roll with 225-70R15 Firestone
The turbo boost lights were removed from the back of the hood bulge and a screen was insta
This Bird emblem is only found on '81 cars.
"I've always wanted to own an SE T/A because it's just a great looking Pontiac," Gary says. "Burt Reynolds made it famous and my SE is a crowd favorite at the shows I attend. I've been building, driving, racing, and restoring Trans Ams for over 30 years and have owned 13 Pontiacs, yet I still enjoy going to car shows and putting my T/A on display because it gives me a feeling of pride. When someone asks me who restored this car I can say, 'I did.'"
That DIY attitude and starting with a Pontiac that was factory equipped with fantastic styling and a top shelf suspension and braking system has enabled Gary to enjoy his SE T/A without having to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner to finance it.