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Thread: '75-'76 Trans Ams are cool!

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    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Jul 2006
    The Land of The Edentulites

    Cool '75-'76 Trans Ams are cool!

    I own a "forgotten year" second generation Trans Am.

    The early cars - 1970-73 especially - get lots of attention. And even people who aren't into Pontiacs (or muscle cars) know the '77-up models. They are synonymous with "Smokey & The Bandit" - and (unfortunately) disco.

    But what about the mid-year Trans-Ams? The ones that bridge the gap between the factory high-powered (and largely, emissions-free) TAs and the smog-era Disco Machines of the latter '70s?

    These cars - especially the '75-'76 models - are an interesting middle-ground between all-out performance and the more luxury-oriented, not-as-brutal later cars.

    Pontiac was still fleshing out the TA's handling, for instance - and it was during the mid-70s that things began to gel. While the superb WS6 package would not appear until the 1977 model year, the '75-76 TAs had been tweaked by Pontiac engineers to work with the then-new radial tires, which allowed for a softer ride without any loss of cornering prowess. Drive a '70 TA and a '75-'76 TA back to back and the differences are obvious. While the later cars may not have the all-out power, they are much more refined cars.

    The Trans-Am's RTS (Radial Tuned Suspension) system was one of the best-engineered suspension packages of the '70s.

    1975-76 was also a time for firsts (catalytic converters) and lasts (455 V-8, Honeycomb wheels, round headlights). After 1976, the biggest engine you could get in a Trans-Am was the 400. Not a bad engine by any means. But it was just a bored out Pontiac 326/350 and lacked the mountain motor status of the 7.4 liter 455, which represented an entirely different branch of the Pontiac engine's family tree. It descended from the 428/421 V-8s of the mid-late '60s and featured an extremely long stroke and torque output surpassed only by two other GM engines - Buick's 455 and the Cadillac 511.

    The 455 was only sold with the 4-speed manual during its final two years of availablity and in very limited numbers. But its presence on the list of possibilities gives the '75-'76 cars a gravitas the later cars lack.

    '76 was also, incidentally, the final year for American-style CID identifiers for what lurked under the hood. The shaker read "455 HO" (in '75), "455" (in '76) or "400" ('75-'76). From 1977 on it was "litres" (or "litres") which I never liked as much. It's ok (I guess) to buy a liter (or litre) of Vodka. But an American pushrod V-8 ought to measure itself in terms of cubic inches - because size (as opposed to volume) does matter.

    Also the final year for the unique Pontiac Honeycomb rim. To my knowledge, no other automaker ever produced such an unusual wheel. And I am not talking about the way it looked (which was cool in its own right - and based, according to designer Bill Porter, on the Buckminster Fuller "buckeyeballs" of physics fame). I'm talking about the way they were made.

    Pontiac developed a radical (for the era) and previously untried method of wheel-building they called "polycasting." What it meant was a steel rim formed the structural element, with a composite urethane material injection molded onto the facing to produce the ornamental part - the "honeycomb" lattice.

    These were not aluminum rims - even though they looked it. The idea was to produce a wheel that had the structure and toughness of a steel rim with the appearance of alloy. They really looked great, too. But they were also heavy. Which is why they were replaced in 1977 with the (aluminum) snowflake wheel. But the Honeycombs give the earlier cars a distinctive appearance - and a great story to tell people, too.

    Some don't like the shovelnose front end - which actually appeared in '74 but was fully developed by '76, by which time the awkward black rub strips had been replaced by a completely body-colored "bumperless" look.

    There are lots of subtle difference and detail, too. Many casual observers think the bodywork of second gen TAs (1970-1981) is mostly the same. They're wrong. Take, for example, a '76 vs. a '77 (and later) TA. The hoods are totally different (pleated vs. flat), not one front end piece interchanges, the front fenders are year specific and the rear quarters are different. So are the spoilers (and the trunk whale tale's end caps).

    The '77-up shaker is smaller - and purely ornamental. On the '76 (and '75-'74) TAs, the basic assembly was still the same as the factory functional Ram Air set-up on the '70-'73s - except for a block-off plate that was easily removed to allow fresh air in - and allow the roar of the Q-Jet's secondaries opening up to be heard far and wide. On the later cars, it's necessary to cut out a hole to make the scoop work - which of course permanently ruins the scoop.

    Inside, you still get the heavy-hitting 8,000 RPM tach, too (though the 160 mph speedo was gone by '75, replaced by a 100 mph unit).

    To my eye, the '75'-76 TAs look more "muscle car" - even though I'm the first to admit they are lacking in actual muscle, as delivered. A '78-'79 Trans-Am with the optional W72 ("T/A 6.6) 220 hp 400 is fiercer and faster than a stock '76 455 TA.

    But ah, the potential motive force that lurks inside the cavernous bores of that last-of-the line 455! Saw off the stock exhaust, add some Ram Air manifolds (or better, headers), jigger the Q-jet, dial up the timing and unblock the shaker scoop and things even up immediately.

    And it says "455" on the scoop - which is a coolness unto itself that "6.6 litres" will never equal.
    Last edited by Eric; 12-01-2008 at 09:15 AM.

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