The late Roger Ebert wasn’t pulling punches when he called Smokey and the Bandit II, “a mess.” “There is no need for this movie,” the Pulitzer-winning Chicago Sun-Times film critic wrote in his 1980 review. “That’s true of most sequels, but it’s especially true of Smokey and the Bandit II, which is basically just the original movie, done again, not as well.
“Something similar could be said about one of the stars of that film: the turbo-charged 1980 Trans Am. It was basically the original 1977 Special Edition Trans Am, done again, but from a raw performance standpoint, not as well. Pontiac’s back was against the wall in ’80 as it faced new government fuel mileage standards that the T/A’s thumping 400-cu.in V-8 couldn’t comply with (any more than the Bandit could comply with Sheriff Justice).
So, the Excitement Division’s solution was to add a turbocharger to a carbureted 301-cu.in V-8 that was topped with some of the most restrictive cylinder heads ever bolted to a Trans Am engine. With a manual transmission and a low axle ratio, the little engine might have had a fighting chance, but the turbo’d 301 was paired only with an automatic and a 3.08:1 gear set. This was not a recipe for world-beating (or an Oscar-winning) performance. In California, the news was worse for Pontiac purists: Trans Ams in the Golden State were powered by a Chevrolet engine—the 305. Adding insult to injury, none of the V-8s could be paired with a manual transmission in ’80.
But just before the party ended, Pontiac served up one last round of the top-shelf stuff and called it “The 10th Anniversary Limited Edition” Trans Am. Along with its special paint treatment, graphics, wheels, and more, this ’79 Trans Am would be among the last offered with the “T/A 6.6” 400 engine. As a collectible car from the 1970s, the anniversary Trans Am stands out in terms of desirability and value. The 400 version, sold exclusively with a Borg-Warner Super T-10 four-speed manual, is the scarcest, and typically commands the most money.
Of the 7,500 anniversary cars built, a scant 1,817 had the 400/T-10 combo, while the remaining 5,683 were built with the “6.6 Litre” Oldsmobile 403 and a Turbo Hydra-Matic 350 automatic. Popular price guides tack on a premium for the 400 and four-speed powertrain pairing and currently value a 400, four-speed anniversary edition T/A at $30,000 on the low side, $96,000 on the high end, with an average of $57,000. All of the anniversary Trans Ams were loaded with virtually every option and stickered north of $10,000 when new. That was big money in 1979, but adjusted for inflation, amounts to about $38,000 today—right around the price of a new Chevrolet Camaro 1SS.