1978 Pontiac Trans Am Special Edition - The Golden Magnet
Why Did This 20,620-Mile, Museum-Quality 1978 S/E Trans Am Get a $48,000 Restoration?
From the February, 2009 issue of High Performance Pontiac
By Thomas A. DeMauro
Photography by Chris Snyder
Did you ever think your Pontiac was simply a magnet for mechanical mayhem? Despite your best efforts, does it seem to attract carnal catastrophes? Jerry Clum had a couple Pontiacs like that. Strangely enough, he purchased them 23 years apart.
The first was in 1981, when after selling newspapers at a local racetrack, the 16-year-old Ohioan saved enough money for, and purchased, the T/A of his dreams--a '78 Solar Gold S/E with a 220-horse W72 400, a Turbo 350, and a WS6 suspension. As Jerry tells it, "My parents were very apprehensive about seeing their 16-year-old son in a 400ci monster of a vehicle, but they ignored their feelings due to the fact that they knew how hard I worked to purchase the car. As it turned out, their parental instincts were correct, as I totaled the S/E just six days after buying it." Sure, Jerry bought it from the insurance company for $850, rebuilt the T/A for about $2,200, and was back in business six months later, but gas prices, high insurance premiums and an Air Force enlistment forced the sale of the Pontiac within a year after repairs.
In the decades that followed, Jerry built a business and held title to 26 more cars, some of which would effortlessly eclipse the performance of his beloved '78. But none could fill the emotional void left by that first one. So, in 2002, the search began for another '78 S/E Trans Am.
After two years of chasing down leads, an Internet search on a Saturday morning in January 2004 resulted in locating a W72, four-speed-equipped Y88 time capsule with just 20,620 miles on it. Could Jerry Clum recapture his youth? A one-way plane ticket to Chicago and a $25,000 payment to the Volo Auto Museum and Jerry was 16 again. But he would soon realize that history would repeat itself in more ways than one.
"The car was as mint as I had ever seen," he says. "It was actually in better shape and had lower miles than the car I purchased 23 years earlier. It had been stored since 1990. There is no doubt in my mind that it would have been a survivor-class show winner. Not a scratch, all numbers matching, and extremely well documented with only one real owner, if you discount the dealer who flipped it to me rather quickly. Original Goodyear Polysteel tires were still on it, and even the extra set of keys were still in the original dealer leather key pouch, having never been used." Jerry admits the price was high, but he felt he had a real find on his hands. Now he had to get it home.
Over 500 miles separated him and the T/A from his Springfield, Ohio, residence and those 26-year-old tires were not the best bet for winter traction or high-speed safety. But Jerry was determined to have at least one cathartic time-travel experience with his wife--whom he met when he owned the first T/A--before hitting the show circuit. It was Sunday morning in Chicago, however, which limited tire store choices to one--the local Sears.
The counterman told the Clums the job would take about an hour, so they strolled the mall to pass the time. In that period, a weather front moved in to remind them that it was January--in Chicago. Six inches of snow fell in the blink of an eye, and the Clum's T/A had yet to enter the bay for the tire swap. "At this point I decided that, due to the weather, I would take the car back to the museum and have it shipped home, and my wife and I would fly to Ohio," Jerry says. "On the way out to my car, I saw something that immediately sent me into shock. The service tech had backed out my T/A without cleaning the several inches of snow off the windows, and he and another car collided. My Pontiac was left with a dent in the driver's door, exactly 11/2 hours after I handed over the check!"
Jerry had bought two Solar Gold S/E T/As 23 years apart, and both were wounded less than a week after taking ownership. With another lesson learned regarding service techs and Windy City snowstorms, he embarked on a quest to get his dented door repaired, which once again became a learning experience.
"A few days and 15 shops later, I discovered that very few shops even wanted to touch the car," he says. "The Solar Gold is almost impossible to match, and the stripes and decals that would have to be replaced in the area of the repair were not going to match the other untouched stripes and decals because the originals had somewhat faded over the years. The only way to get them to match was to replace all of them, which may require a total paint job." The problem was that POCI rules would place the T/A in the restored class after the paintwork was done and the stripes were replaced. Where it would be a drop-kick winner in the survivor class, it would not do nearly as well in the restored class with just new paint and graphics.
Reaching this crossroads, Jerry decided to take the plunge. After an exhaustive search for a shop that he felt comfortable with, he entrusted his T/A to Murphy's Classic Restorations in Dover, Ohio, for a body-off and used N.O.S. parts wherever possible in the process. Another $48,000 later and Jerry has a meticulously restored and slightly modified T/A that will take him down memory lane and will win at the shows, as evidenced by a First Place at the T/A Nats in 2004 in the Light Modified class. Would you believe, at the T/A Nats a spectator fell into the driver's door of his Golden Magnet and dented it? Regardless, Jerry made lemons into lemonade (bad cliche, I know) for the second time in his life regarding a '78 S/E T/A, and now he can enjoy the fruits of his and Murphy's Classic's labor (OK, bad pun, too).
Just 1,267 W72 400 four-speed...
Just 1,267 W72 400 four-speed Y88 Trans Ams were produced in 1978.
Thanks to the low mileage,...
Thanks to the low mileage, much of the original interior including the Lombardy velour seats were simply removed and stored for safekeeping during the resto and then reinstalled. However, the carpet was replaced, the dash pad was restored by Just Dashes, and the original AM/FM 8-track stereo was reconditioned. Note the gold tone on the dash and steering wheel spokes, and the gold bird on the horn button that were part of the S/E package.
Despite having a little over...
Despite having a little over 20,000 miles on the odometer, this S/E T/A was treated to a full resto by Matt Lawver at Murphy's Classic Restorations. Three coats of Diamont BASF urethane paint in Solar Gold were applied over three coats of block-sanded Diamont DP20 primer and one coat of DP 21 tinted sealer. After color sanding, three more coats of color were shot and again wet-sanded with 600-grit paper. Finally, four coats of Diamont DC92 clear were sprayed and progressively wet-sanded with 1,000- to 2,500-grit paper. The T-tops were produced by Fisher Body and are larger and better integrated into the roof than the Hurst Hatches used on Y82 black S/Es.
For 1978, the W72 T/A 400's...
For 1978, the W72 T/A 400's engine output increased to 220 hp. An 800-cfm Q-jet was bolted to a cast-iron dual-plane intake with restricted secondaries. The heads featured 2.11/1.66 valves actuated by 1.50:1 stamped-steel rockers. Cam specs may be 274/298-degrees duration with 0.374/0.406 lift (a cam part number change in 1978 may mean that cam specs were changed from 1977 but it has yet to be proven). The bottom end is comprised of two-bolt mains and cast crank, rods, and pistons. HEI provides the spark and log manifolds ferry exhaust fumes through a Y-pipe, a single cat, and twin resonators and tailpipes. Compression ratio is 8:1. This particular engine received a cosmetic resto, as a rebuild was not needed. Original hoses and wires remain--just the battery is non-stock.
Owner Jerry Clum decided to...
Owner Jerry Clum decided to use a bird and stripe kit from Phoenix Graphix, which was applied at Murphy's. The hood bird was a new design and used only on the Solar Gold T/As in 1978. Note the factory 225/70R15 Goodyear Poly Steel Radials mounted on the WS6's 15x8 Snowflake wheels (which are more polished than the factory look) for show duty.
Here's the reason for it all....
Here's the reason for it all. This parking lot mishap turned a survivor T/A into a damaged T/A.
ABOUT THE GOLD S/E OPTION
Here is some info gained from Pontiac paperwork provided by contributor Rocky Rotella. Believe it or not, the Gold Special Edition Trans Am was originally cancelled in Car Distribution Bulletin (CDB) 78-F-4 dated July 19, 1977. The Black S/E, UPC Y82 (with Hurst Hatches) was to continue, and the Black S/E, UPC Y84 (Fisher hatches) could be ordered but was on hold. Despite the cancellation of the Gold S/E, the code 50 Solar Gold paint was announced as available for Trans Ams in the August 1, 1977, CDB 78-F-6. It also stated that a new hood bird was designed to be used exclusively with the Gold Paint.
CDB 78-F-8 (October 5, 1977) announced that the Gold S/E (UPC Y88) will in fact replace the Black S/E (UPC Y84) in January 1978. Production to start January 2. Orders for Gold S/Es to be accepted beginning in November 1977.
According to that CDB, the Gold S/E Package includes:
- Solar Gold exterior with dark gold pinstriping
- Gold grille liners, instrument panel, and miscellaneous interior and exterior emblems
- Black taillamp housings and black windshield and backlite moldings
- Interior trim restricted to base or custom Camel Tan vinyl, cloth, or leather (leather was later canceled in CDB 78-F-14 November 30, 1977)
- Gold glass in Fisher hatches (CC1) with anodized gold moldings (gold moldings were later cancelled in CDB 78-F-10 October 17, 1977)
- Formula steering wheel in Camel Tan with gold spokes
- Gold 15x7 cast-aluminum wheels (NOTE: 15x8 gold cast-aluminum wheels when WS6 is ordered)
An October 6, 1977, memo to zone managers states again that the Black S/Es will be replaced with the Gold S/Es and that dealers need to be made aware of the changes. It also mentions a contract with Hurst to produce a certain number of cars with its hatches (Y82). Once the contract is fulfilled, Y84 production will begin. Dealers are encouraged to solicit Y82 orders for the next 30 days.
Car Distribution Bulletin 78-F-14 dated November 30, 1977, announced the price for the Y88 package would remain the same as Y82 and Y84, at $1,259.
|IN THE CODES |
|Item ||Code/Casting |
|W72 400 Engine (Man. Trans.) ||WC |
|Heads ||6X |
|Intake Manifold ||10003395 |
|Carburetor ||17058263 |
|Distributor ||1103315 |
|Cam ||10003402 |
|Transmission: Super T-10 ||ZT |
|Rear: Safe-T-Track, 3.42:1 ||2PY |
|Paint: Solar Gold ||50 |
|Upholstery: Camel Tan Deluxe ||62B1 |
|15x8 Snowflake Wheels: Gold ||JF |
ABOUT THE RESTORATION
"I'm not sure how many idiots like me have ever put $73,000 into a Trans Am, but it's a damn fine car now," owner Jerry Clum told HPP. The following photos illustrate some of the restoration process on this T/A. For the most part, Murphy's restored it to appear as it did when they took it apart. Since mileage was low, much body, drivetrain, and chassis info could be documented. Some of what you see may not agree with the norms of chassis finishes discussed in the hobby. This is partially due to the fact that all surfaces that were supposed to remain bare metal from the factory were painted to preserve the look and ward off rust. In a few areas, however, the T/A is admittedly overrestored per the owner's wishes. These include the lack of overspray in the cowl area, body color--keyed floor pans, and wheels that are more polished than stock. This restoration was completed in just six months because the owner had to it have ready in time for the T/A Nats. According to Mark Murphy of Murphy's Classic Restorations, "This Pontiac was easier to restore than one that is completely rusted out, of course. But you still have to attend to every nut and bolt regardless of the car's original condition. Combine that with the amount of photo documentation that we did and the tight time frame and you have a challenge. Careful planning was key to getting the job completed on time, and I'm very pleased with the results."
With the front clip removed,...
With the front clip removed, we see proof that even low-mile Pontiacs that were stored get dirty. You can see traces of the factory primer with gold overspray on the outside edges of the firewall. Also note the flash-chromed valve covers that were part of the W72 package.
What Trans Am owner in the...
What Trans Am owner in the rust belt wouldn't kill for floorpans like these? I guess pampering does have its privileges. Note the rubber plug in the doorjamb, evidence of an earlier rustproofing. The plugs were removed and the holes were repaired and painted during the restoration.
Now This is a complete teardown....
Now This is a complete teardown. The crossbars in the door openings help maintain rigidity of the shell while it's on the rotisserie.
That bare-metal rear quarter-panel...
That bare-metal rear quarter-panel is a feast for the eyes for anyone who has ever owned a Second-Gen Bird. Except for a small spot at the front of the wheelwell, it has no bodywork done to it. We can see the roof seam has been smoothed, and the jambs are edged with primer. Mark also told us that factory waves were removed from the body (i.e. upper doors) and panel alignment was improved upon.
Here, the body is edged and...
Here, the body is edged and reassembled--painting will follow. Mark Murphy explained that he edges in body color and then assembles the body prior to painting any car with metallic to ensure continuity of metallic flow out from panel to panel.
In the engine compartment,...
In the engine compartment, DuPont Imron in semigloss black was used, the cowl and fenders have been edged in color, and the glass has been reinstalled. Polyurethane bushings have replaced rubber in the suspension but the factory ball joints were retained--you can just see the rivets of the upper balljoints in this photo. Factory rivets get drilled out to remove the old balljoints and the new ones are installed with bolts and nuts, thus losing the stock appearance. So if you see a Pontiac with riveted upper balljoints, it may be a low-mileage piece (or it's really overdue for a rebuild).
The front suspension was restored...
The front suspension was restored per the teardown photos taken. Exceptions are the aftermarket shocks and endlinks, and finishes applied to the stabilizer bar, tie-rod sleeves, and springs to replicate a natural metal appearance. The blue bolt heads were replicated as well.
The Safe-T-Track rear was...
The Safe-T-Track rear was detailed with an as-cast-appearing centersection and semigloss black axle tubes. Gears inside are factory-installed 3.42s. Edelbrock shocks are used. Painted to look natural along with its brackets is the rear stabilizer bar, which measures 0.75 inch and is part of the WS6 package. The gas tank is natural and appears to be galvanized steel.