With strong head-turning appeal and a good parts supply, does the Pontiac Trans Am make a decent buy here in the UK today? We find out.
A “nice bit of KITT” was the pun-laden response from a colleague on seeing a photo of this Pontiac and for many the third-generation Trans Am will forever be associated with the iconic Knight Industries Two Thousand talking car which stole the limelight from The Hoff throughout the ’80s in the Knight Rider TV series.
Sharing its ‘F Body’ platform with the Chevrolet Camaro, the third-generation Firebird appeared in 1982 and although perhaps crude by European standards represented GM attempting to make a leap into a more efficient, technology-driven age. Some 230kg lighter than the outgoing model, it was also more aerodynamic and promised both performance and economy advantages.
Taking its name from the American sports car motorsport series the Trans-American Championship, the Trans Am was essentially a range-topping options package for the Firebird range, typically adding more power, equipment and styling features. In the case of this 1986 example, this meant the 5-litre Chevrolet V8 running a four-barrel Rochester carburettor for a heady total of 190bhp. No, that might not sound too much from an engine of that capacity but it is backed up by 240lb.ft of torque which gives the car a suitably muscled feel to match its soundtrack.
Naturally the iron Chevy motor drives the rear wheels and although a five-speed was offered, this example runs the four-speed GM box. The chassis layout is resolutely conventional, employing MacPherson struts up front and a coil-sprung live axle at the rear.
Compared to US muscle cars of a generation before, the Firebird is a more familiar size to European drivers, being only marginally wider than rivals like the Capri or Porsche 944, although it is some 50cm longer than both thanks largely to the generous overhangs at each end.
Whether the style is to your taste or not, it’s certainly a striking beast in white with the cross-spoke alloys, pop-up lights and that signature slit styling to the rear lights, even if the detailing is typically chunky in its execution close up.
Even more striking is the sound that greets you on firing up the V8 which will have even ardent haters of US cars nodding in approval. Despite a fortnight’s inactivity, it started immediately and settled to an even idle, with a surprisingly crisp throttle response.
The inside of the Firebird is rather less dramatic than the outside, offering full four seats and an unexpected link to the Rolls-Royce Camargue of all things in its gauges shaped to resemble light aircraft instrumentation.
We only had the chance for a short test run in the Pontiac Trans Am but first impressions showed it to be surprisingly capable. The decent torque means it’s usefully lively off the line and at higher speeds offers a relaxed gait which is more grand tourer than sports car, while the ride is soft by the standards of European sports coupes and makes the car a comfortable cruiser.
Having arrived here in 1989 at just three years old, the Trans Am we drove here spent some ten years in storage until being recommissioned late last year but has clearly been loved since it’s in remarkably presentable condition and clearly hasn’t seen much winter road salt in the hands of its two UK owners.
Showing just under 50,000 miles, it’s an intriguing beast and given the excellent parts supply for US cars, it promises to be a much easier ownership prospect than many alternatives with similar head-turning appeal.