23,300 Original Miles: 1981 Pontiac Trans Am

There are some cars that, when you see the first photos of them, you just know it’s a survivor. It could be a combination of factors, from how the paint seems clean but not too shiny; the glass appears to all be the same clarity; the wheels and tires are originals and / or period-correct; and in the case of a Pontiac Trans Am, the screaming eagle on the hood is still right where it should be, with no evidence of being a cheap aftermarket sticker. This 1981 Pontiac Trans Am is said to be a low mileage specimen with just one owner prior to the seller, and is listed here on craigslist with just over 23,000 miles and an asking price of $29,900.

This is believed to be a mostly original paint example, and the bodywork appears to be correct as well, with the Trans Am-specific spats and spoilers all accounted for. The only major detail that isn’t according to factory specs is the drivetrain, which features an engine swap that likely made this Pontiac far more enjoyable to drive; more on that in the next paragraph. The Trans Am-specific wheels remain in excellent condition, but I’d be sorely tempted to upgrade to the larger snowflakes offered for sale by SnowflakeWheels.com. OEM looks with a far better stance – truly the best of both words.

Now, as mentioned, the drivetrain is not numbers matching. The previous owner wisely got rid of the standard 301, and swapped in the more powerful Oldsmobile-derived 403. At the time, it didn’t really matter which option you chose, as all muscle cars were seemingly caught in the malaise era penalty box of low output engines. But the 403 was still an upgrade over the standard 301, making a healthy 185 b.h.p. and 320 lb.-ft. of torque. The seller doesn’t mention any modifications, and it doesn’t look like from the pictures that much been altered from stock. But on any number of web forums, there’s enthusiasts who will vouch for how easy it is to wake up the 403 with different heads, cams, and 3.73 gears.

The interior is another clue that this Trans Am hasn’t been driven all that much, and the seller reiterates that when you do drive this car, it feels just as you’d expect a low mileage survivor to feel. It’s loaded up with power windows, locks, and cold air conditioning. The seller reports that all of the gauges still work, even the clock, and that the original T-top covers are included as well. While the engine swap may turn potential buyers off who are seeking a numbers-matching example, it seems to me that this is a low mileage survivor of a desirable car that’s already had the heavy lifting of an engine swap performed – but you’re going to pay for a time-capsule-grade example like this.

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  1. Moparman Member

    If I were in the market, I’d be all over this one! The engine swap appears to have been well done, and like Jeff, I’d go for the wider Snowflake wheels. This one’s a beauty! GLWTS!! :-)

    Like 5
    • Geoff

      I am a Mopar guy also but have a few Pontiac friends and since it says 6.6 liter on the Shaker that means it came with the 403 if it just says 6.6 it would be the Pontiac 400 not the olds 403. So that is the original engine as far as I can tell.

      Like 3
      • Duke Boykin

        Wrong. “6.6 Liter” meant an Olds 403, “6.6 T/A” meant a Pontiac 400.

      • Geoff Ferron

        Duke Boykin, The example pictured above clearly has 6.6 litre on the shaker so the 403 Olds is correct as I stated.

      • Phil

        The 81 TA offered a 4.9 l turbo automatic or the 5.0l 4bbl Hurst 6.6 not available in 1981

  2. Big_Fun Member

    I don’t get why, when the car already had all of the Pontiac accessories from the 301 cid right there, a Pontiac 400 or 455 wasn’t swapped in.
    Must have found a complete 403 ready to drop in…

    Like 6
    • Steve R

      You are so right. A friends family bought a Turbocharged 301 Trans Am new, it puked a motor shortly there after. Rather than have the dealer install a warranty replacement they went with a performance built 455 Pontiac. They were lucky, shortly after the engine went in California changed their smog laws making it illegal from that point forward to install an older engine into a newer body.

      Steve R

      Like 5
  3. Byron

    No it’s not original. 1979 was the last year that either the 403 olds or the 400 Pontiac were offered. The only available engines in 1981 were the 4.9 liter 301 Pontiac engine, which only came with an automatic transmission and the 5.0 liter 305 Chevy engine which came with the four speed equipped cars. So this car would have had the 301 and when they switched the engine they also changed the shaker graphics to match as well.

    Like 8
  4. Raymond W Smith

    The engine swap doesn’t turn me off as much as the dealer added body side moldings that are pop riveted on. I understand the reasoning back in the day but no easy fix without ruining what appears to be beautiful original paint.

    Like 1
  5. kbrian2001@yahoo.com

    Its not everyday that you see an engine compartment as clean as this one on a T/A. I love the tan interior. This is one amazing preserved car.

  6. Pedro Rivera

    The Olds 403 was only availble from 1977 to 1979. In 1980-81 they were available only with 301 (turbo or non-turbo) and 305.

  7. Kevin

    If I upgraded it,it would be Pontiac 400 all the way,the 403 was decent, but prone to overheating, the 400 Pontiac engines were way more durable and buildable, the 301 was junk,and early 305 chevies were total dogs also.

    Like 1
  8. roland

    That split headlight and front bumper redesign for ’79 was so ugly. I’d see if I could put a 77 or 78 bumper on. And the gold is equally ugly. I like the blue one on an earlier burn finds.

  9. BB

    Nice 123,000 mile car, original 23,000 miles I doubt it! Good old 5 digit odo’s has made millions of ultra low mileage cars out there that are no way near that. I also noticed that one turd of an engine was swapped with another turd, Pontiac 400 or 455 would be way better suited.

    Like 1
  10. Don Eladio

    t/a 101:

    301 = junk
    403 = junk
    305 = junk

    400 = not junk
    455 = not junk

    Like 2
  11. J Holmes


  12. gene

    Are you open to offers or is this your bottom line

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