The cars we loved.
When GMs new F-Body cars were introduced in 1982, Chevrolet’s Camaro got most of the attention. Pontiac was brought into the project much later with very little input during the early design process. As a result, the Camaro appeared to be a much more evolved design. With the troubles besieging the auto industry at the time, it’s a wonder that the Camaro and Firebird made it to a third generation. Engine output was hampered by the double whammy of emissions and fuel economy standards that were forcing the switch to turbocharged 4 and 6 cylinders. The best that Pontiac could do with the then high-tech Cross-Fire Fuel injected V8 was 175 hp, a number that gradually rose with each year of the third generation Trans-Am. At more than 3,000lb. the Trans-Am was able to get to 60 mph in a respectable 8.5 seconds according to Motor Trend magazine in July 1983. Like all other F-Bodied cars, the Trans-Am featured independent front with a solid live axel rear suspension. Unlike any Camaro or SE Firebird, the Special Edition Trans-Am featured a beefed up WS6 handling package that included a larger front and rear anti-roll bars.
Even with mechanicals that were new and unproven and computer controlled engine modules in place, reliability seemed like the least of Pontiac’s problems as it struggled to find a way to distinguish its line topping Trans-Am from SE and base models. After all, both cars were available with the same V8 engine and had few cosmetic differences at first glance. Due to the development cycle of the F-Body Trans-Am and Pontiac’s late input into the design process, a quick solution was arrived at just in time for pace car duties at the Daytona 500 in 1983.
Only 2,500 Trans-Am Special Editions were built for the 1983 model year and even fewer of them featured the optional t-top. Most were fitted with a four-speed automatic transmission. What was special about the Special Edition car were the list of design add ons that would become standard fare in future Trans-Ams. The most noticable of the modifications were the styled white 15′ bowling ball styled wheels that matched the two toned paint scheme (white on top and dark grey on bottom). Some what obscured by the dark lower half of the car were closed off front fins, giving the car a futuristic sleeker appearance. The most attractive feature was the ground effects package that wrapped around the car, similar to the Camaro’s but not highlighted by grey paint (yet). The end effect was not only a hit with the public and press, it became the basis for every third gen TA afterwards. The effect was reproduced and refined somewhat in an equally rare 20th anniversary edition the following year, with it’s all white paint scheme on white specially styled turbine wheels.
Gradual changes were made to the Trans-Ams appearance, often for the better, but more importantly establishing the Trans-Ams identity vs. the SE and base Firebirds, not to mention the Camaro. By the late 80’s the Trans-Am had become the poster child of over the top open shirt post Disco style that appealed to middle-aged men and teenage boys with the return of screaming bird decals and two-tone paint jobs. The cycle corrected itself in 1993 with the introduction of the 4 th generation car .