4-Speed Loophole: 1981 Pontiac Trans Am

This car represents the last of the second generation Trans Ams. It had been produced for more than a decade, but new regulations were not kind to muscle cars and by the time this car was built, it was overweight and under powered. The big block was gone and the manual transmission was even at risk of extinction. Automatics were more efficient so both Pontiac engines (Turbo and N.A. 301) were so equipped. Luckily, there was a way to restore some of the sportiness before the car made its final bow. This T/A is listed here on eBay and the auction is ending today!

That ray of hope came in the form of a 4-speed manual transmission. Both engine options in 1981 were nothing to get too excited about. The base naturally aspirated 301 put out about 150 horsepower while the turbo charged version bumped it up to 200. That was decent at the time, but to really feel like you were going fast you needed to ring every ounce of power that you could out of that poor suffocated engine! As I mentioned, Pontiac couldn’t fit a 4-speed behind either of their engines, but there was an alternative in the GM parts bin…

The Chevrolet 305 was clean and efficient enough to qualify so in it went! Some Pontiac enthusiasts considered this blasphemy, but I’m sure the people who wanted to row their own gears were very pleased. That crowd must have been small though (as it is today) because there weren’t many of these made. The seller claims that only 1% of production came with a 4-speed, but from what I could find online, it was closer to 10%. That’s still not a lot though!

This Trans Am is ratty around the edges and needs some restoration work. If the seller’s claim about mileage (107k) and original paint are accurate then this looks like a perfect candidate for a project you can drive. New carpet and an upholstery kit would really clean up the interior and there are lots of performance parts available for the 305. It might not be as potent as its older brothers, but I bet you could have just as much fun for a lot less money. In fact, I’m tempted to jump in on this one myself!


  1. 68custom

    I think these were California only with the chevy motor? 305 was smogged up bad too! The 4speed is its saving grace!

    Like 1
    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Mortensen Staff

      68custom – From what I’ve read the 305 was a California only engine in 1980.

    • Brad howe

      Have a 81 owned it since 83 305 was a dog. Put in a 383 stroker. Hauls butt

  2. Matt Member

    Id throw some cragars on it, few upgrades here and there, nothing too much. All in all, a decent starting point for some one.

  3. SRyan

    Does anyone have production numbers for these? Seems rare but probably not valuable. Never knew it existed.

    Like 1
    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Mortensen Staff

      @SRyan – I linked to them right there in the 3rd paragraph.

  4. Tim

    I’d leave it looking 100% factory right down to the wheels. Then source out a 400 or 455 Pontiac motor.

  5. gregwnc

    Having had a few of these over the years, this could be a good deal if it can be picked anywhere near the current bid. Yes, the 305 is pretty weak, but as others have said, the manual helps a lot. If originality isn’t a concern, you could always go with a Pontiac drivetrain (400 or 455 4 spd). Or go modern with a crate motor and 6 spd. Either way, you’ll have a cool set of wheels, I’d be all over it if it was closer or I had room. Oh well…

  6. 86 Vette Convertible

    The big question I have is what tranny and rear are in that? Will it take any real torque if it was applied? Assuming they would, freshen up the interior, slide in a crate engine and go out and have some run. Save the existing parts if you ever want to convert it back.

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Mortensen Staff

      Looks like there were a couple rear end options so that would be a very good thing to ask the seller. Here’s more info on these cars: https://oldcarmemories.com/1981-pontiac-trans-am-5-0-liter-glimpse-into-the-future/

      • Joe V

        Only option for the 305 4spd
        Were 3.42’s
        And to correct the other guy the 305 T/A’s hit Cali in 1980 but in Automatic.
        The 1981 305 4spd was avail throughout the country

  7. Mike B

    Pep Boys seat covers, sleeveless tee shirt, let the hair down in the back & crank the Journey cassette. Pontiac; don’t stop believin’.

    Like 1
  8. Pat

    Why does everybody say Pontiac big block. They were all the same basic dimensions. Different crank journals but basically the same block.

  9. Daved N.

    Considering the astronomical prices that the 78-79 examples are at, even the ratty ones, this one may be a bargain. T-Tops and manual- enjoy it however you may- stock engine or go all out with a transplant!

  10. JW

    Drop a Pontiac 455 with a 4 speed in it and drive it. Use the 305 for your boat anchor.

  11. William Sanders

    Keep the 305 in the shed for originality, then call Bruce Fulper for a very nice Pontiac 400 to do that car the justice it deserves.

  12. Larry Q

    It’s gone!!

  13. Nrg8

    6350 dirt cheap! Had t-top interior damage, with uv and water. It looked like a great starting point. To the guys saying ditch the 305, and put on a Pontiac. Now you gotta source a bop bell housing, motor mounts, manifolds, modify exhaust, now are you gonna be able to shut that hood? Lots of nice built small block options with the same dimensions as a 305. Bolt right up,no fuss, no muss. No trying to buy parts from a Pontiac hoarder to get it rolling again. Just k.i.s.s. more money for interior, maybe paint etc.

    Like 1

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