By 1974, 5,000-plus-pound family cars were suddenly as impractical as the ol’ muscle car had been to newlyweds holding a freshly printed mortgage and a newborn baby just a few years earlier. Detuned as they were, the large-displacement—still a prevalent means of motivation within the market segment-remained incredibly thirsty. As a result, Pontiac’s full-size output fell to just under 145,500 cars in 1975, and only 137,216 were sold a year later.
Suffice it to say, Detroit needed a diet, and the automakers knew it well in advance thanks in large part to looming federal mandates. At GM, the first to be first slimmed down were the 1977 model-year full-size cars. Among them was Pontiac’s flagship station wagon—the Grand Safari.
The downsized wagon’s chassis was reduced from 127 inches to a svelte 115.9 inches. Much of the basic architecture, however, carried over from the previous generation: independent coil spring front suspension, rear leaf-sprung suspension, power steering, and power front disc brakes. Also included as a standard were FR78-15 radial tires that provided sure-footed control in all driving conditions.
The redesigned chassis cradled an equally new 5.0-liter (301-cu.in.) V-8 engine. It was more than the division’s new “economy” powerplant; rated for a rather capable 135 horsepower, the block, crankshaft, cylinder heads, and intake manifold—collectively—weighed 136 pounds less than the 350-cu.in. V-8. Factory literature touted the availability of a “new 6.6 litre (400/403 CID) V-8” on the Grand Safari’s option chart—technically a carryover engine revamped for ’77—that was rated for 180 or 200 hp. Californians could have opted for the 170-hp 350. A Turbo Hydra-Matic automatic was the only transmission available.
“Considering our choices, I think the Trans Am has the best chance of getting finished,” my son Tommy commented while we were shooting photos in the driveway for a Hemmings Daily article this past week.
He was right, given the decrepit condition of our other vintage projects. The T/A has been nestled in the garage since we moved to Western Pennsylvania in 2003. Its bodywork, paint, and graphics were completed about a year before. For those who are doing the math, that’s 19 years ago, which is embarrassing to admit to myself, let alone all who will read this. To put that fact into more painful perspective, Tommy was about a year old when this car came out of the restoration shop. He’s 20 now.
Longtime readers already know that I got the T/A (along with a pile of parts for my 1967 GTO) in the early 1990s, in trade for my 1969 Judge that needed work. The ‘Bird served as a daily driver for several years, and during that time I swapped in a four-speed. Its body was later restored at Melvin Benzaquen’s Classic Restoration Enterprises in New York State. The process was covered though a series of articles published in a now-defunct magazine I edited called High Performance Pontiac.
We know that the 1960s were full of horsepower hijinks, but did you know that manufacturers sometimes fibbed about the size of their engines? Indeed, that burbling V-8 in your beloved classic may actually not measure up to its promised displacement. We rooted out five of the worst offenders.
Available from mid-1963 to mid-1968, the 427 was Ford’s crowning achievement in the 1960s, carrying the torch during Ford’s “Total Performance” reign of global competition. However, to American enthusiasts, the 427 is best known for powering Fords and Mercurys to success on the drag strip and in NASCAR. The FE-series engine was introduced at the same time as Ford’s semi-fastback roofline for the Galaxie 500 and Galaxie 500/XL (as well as Mercury’s Marauder sub-series), and the silhouette’s aerodynamic advantages helped maximize the engine’s performance on the banked ovals. The street 427 was available with either a single or pair of four-barrel carburetors for 410 or 425 horsepower, respectively. Several thousand 427s were built through 1964, with popularity falling drastically in 1965, the last year of big Mercury; in its swan-song year of 1967, the 427 was installed in 89 full-size Fords.
The Pick of the Day transported motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel, the former owner claims
The Pick of the Day, a rare 1968 Pontiac Bonneville ambulance, is an oddball relic of motorsport history. Now a half-century old, the emergency vehicle was used at Phoenix International Raceway in Arizona, where it transported many famous drivers after various stunts on the 1-mile oval, according to the Denver, Colorado, dealer advertising the ambulance on ClassicCars.com.
Among them was the world’s most-famous motorcycle stunt rider, Evel Knievel, who was probably better known for his crashes than his successful jumps. The Pontiac ambulance apparently transported Knievel after some mishap, as the story goes from the previous owner of the Pontiac.
There’s no documentation regarding the Knievel connection, the dealer notes, but it does make for a good story.
At the peak of the muscle car era, the 1970 Pontiac GTO offered an innovative driver-controlled exhaust that boosted performance—and ruffled feathers.
The Vacuum Operated Exhaust (VOE), initiated by a stealthy pull on a dash-mounted control, activated flaps on both mufflers that bypassed the stock exhaust routing and opened the gates to twice the sound and improved air flow. In concert with the Pontiac Ram Air induction system, the VOE delivered additional, measurable power. But it was pulled from the options list almost immediately as GM conformed to legal requirements in several states. (That was the official reason anyway. Unofficially, it was doomed by internal politics).
This is the rarest car that I’ve never heard of. It’s a 1985 Pontiac Tojan and they were made to basically give Ferrari the ol’ one-two right in the kisser. They are incredibly rare with reports of around 150 of them being made between 1985 and 1991. They are not a kit car, they were a factory-produced monster, made from an F-body Firebird by Knudsen Manufacturing in Omaha
The 1982-1992 Pontiac Trans Am needs little introduction. It embodies the ‘80s as much as the DeLorean and MTV. For the uninitiated, the Trans Am is the top dog of the Firebird lineup. If you wanted all the flair, performance, and technology you had to go with the Trans Am. It was the real star of “Knight Rider” after all, sorry Hoff. While the Camaro was more popular at the time, the Trans Am better embodies everything that is cool from the era, like denim jackets, Van Halen (not Van Hagar), and wild hairstyles. And if you like Van Hagar, that’s okay. As our readers pointed out in the comments, Sammy Hagar wrote Trans Am in 1979, so he’s good our book.
Watch another great Hagerty engine rebuild with Davin
We told Davin we got him a gift, all he had to do was open the boxes. Inside was a gearhead’s ultimate greasy-hands LEGO set. A Pontiac 389 V-8 split up about just as far as one can be, with extra parts mixed in for a good measure of confusion. If anyone was going to get this engine back to its Tri-Power glory, our resident wrench would be the one to do it.
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