1 of 100: 1980 Pontiac Trans Am Indy 500 Festival Pace Car

Most Pontiac enthusiast are aware that the 1980 Pontiac Trans Am was selected as the pace car for the 1980 Indianapolis 500. There were 5,700 Indianapolis 500 Pace Cars produced and sold by Pontiac dealers. However, most enthusiasts are unaware that 100 of these specially appointed cars were used for the Indianapolis 500 festivities and received a special decal on the sail panel where a bird decal was normally applied. After 40 years, this car still has most of its original paint along with some dents and scratches that it has picked up along the way. The mechanical side of the car has been restored and someone has spent some money bringing this car back to life after sitting for a long time. This car is listed here on eBay with current bids just shy of $12,000. The car is located in Georgetown, Delaware and there are 5 days remaining in the auction.

Pontiac always seemed to be ahead of its competition in terms of performance and styling. While the venerable 220 hp W72 400 available just a year prior was gone. Pontiac broke new ground by introducing a turbocharged V8 engine in its Firebird. Designated the LU8, the 4.9 liter turbo engine was also available on the 1980-1981 Firebird Formula. The turbo 301 cubic inch V8 engine was rated at 210 horsepower and 345 lb-ft of torque. The LU8 was equipped with a Garrett TB305 turbo which forced air through a Rochester Quadrajet 4-barrel carburetor. Early road tests indicated a 1/4 mile time of 16.3 seconds which was almost 2 seconds slower than the W72 equipped Trans Am. However, owners wanting more performance could adjust the wastegate on the Turbo Trans Am up to 15 psi by adding alcohol or water injection. TTA Performance in Kenosha, Wisconsin specializes in waking up Turbo Trans Ams and Formulas.

The Indianapolis 500 edition Trans Am had a special oyster grey deluxe interior. All Turbo Trans Ams in 1980 and 1981 came with a GM Turbo 350 automatic transmission and 3.08 geared rear axle ratio. To my knowledge, all Indianapolis 500 Pace Cars were fully optioned with air conditioning, T-tops, cruise control, rear window defroster, HD 70 amp alternator, power windows and power locks. It made for a striking package that is attractive to this day.

This was 1980 and carburetors were still the primary fuel system but were just too antiquated to take full advantage of the forced air from a turbo. I own a 1981 Turbo Trans Am which has been modified with Holley Sniper fuel injection. I can tell  you from personal experience that had fuel injection been offered instead of the carburetor, the LU8 would have had much better driving characteristics. The fuel injection wakes up the low end responsiveness of this car. While this car has cracked paint and decals, it still looks great and if a survivor look is your preference, this is a unique car to own.


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  1. Tito Rhoads

    Such a dog back then— but fun to look at

    Like 5
  2. Steve Clinton

    Just in time for Festivas!

    Like 2
  3. Barry Johnson

    Great car and easy to get more performance from. I read TTA Performance Inc. just ran a 1/4 mile in the high 12s in one for their turbo TAs.

    Super special engine and time for American Muscle.

    Like 5
  4. joenywf64

    & i thought hood insulation was unavailable on 2nd gen t/a’s.

    • Barry Johnson

      All my ‘80 and ‘81 turbos have hood insulation and a heat shield.

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