The cars we loved.
As the Muscle car era was slowly being choked off by new emissions laws, manufacturers found creative ways to distinguish their performance cars when horsepower was compromised by the new regulations. Pontiac, who’s segment leading Trans-Am had one of the biggest displacement V8 available with the 455 HO (7.5 litres) was starting to feel the heat of bell bottom era carburetor strangulation.
To offset what would later be smaller power outputs, Pontiac toyed around with various novel paint schemes in an attempt to catch buyer’s eyes. One successful experiment became Pontiac’s highlight in the 1974 Chicago Auto Show. Long before there was ever a Smokey and The Bandit, a black and gold trimmed Trans-Am featured in Pontiac’s display sported a gold bird decal and gold 15in honeycomb wheels. The Trans-Am’s paint scheme was so popular, that Pontiac offered it as a special edition to commemorate the company’s 50th anniversary in 1976. Chevrolet may have beaten them to the punch with its Cosworth Vega in 1975, which featured a similar paint scheme on gold Panasport type wheels.
It’s a bit confusing to see this car marketed as a 50th anniversary edition, when by 1975, the Trans-Am was not even a full 10 years old. The 50th Anniversary car nevertheless was like any other loaded Trans-Am with the exception of it’s paint scheme and $1,500 price premium (over the standard car $5k MSRP). This transitional time was not the high point in Trans-Am performance, but the optional engine could get the job done. At 3750lbs. and about 200 hp from the optional 455 (the last year for this once legendary engine), the car had a less than optimal power to weight ratio. A 0 to 60 time of 8.4 seconds was considered good and was typical of performance cars of the era, even if it took 7.5 litres of V8 to reach it. For anyone in less of a hurry, there was always the standard L78 400 V8.
What made the 50th anniversary Trans-Am special was its gold accents (inside and out) and special Hurst Hatch T-Top. The special paint alone would be been enough to guarantee you a place in a small town bicentennial parade. Other features like a stereo 8 track player meant that you could play Fleetwood Mac’s Gold Dust Woman with some level of fidelity. There were 2,400 50th anniversary Trans-Ams built. Running changes meant that early runs were distinct in that they featured the leaky T-Top and some had a rare black chrome tail splitter. Both the T-Top and Splitter were dropped, so the bulk of the production run were without these items.
In the 1977 model year, a new front end design and a similar black and gold paint scheme would become part of the regular option package. After the success of the first Smokey and the bandit film in 1977, Pontiac began selling a version of the car similar to the one seen in the film – all inspired by the original 1976 50th Anniversary car.