Echo’s Of Van Halen: 1979 Pontiac Trans Am

Update 12/13/2017 – This Trans Am has been relisted here on eBay and now has a BIN of $3,500.

From 10/26/2017 – This find takes me back to 1979, Van Halen on cassette playing “Dance the Night Away” and my brother-in-laws ’79 Pontiac Trans Am sucking down gas at $1 a gallon like Big Gulps on a hot day. This survivor, found here on eBay, still proudly sports all the right decals to bring back memories of punching it off the line and being the fastest car around. And man – of all the car’s I’ve driven, this one could throw your head back!

The get and go comes from a 403 cubic V8 (which about 15% of that year’s production featured) and guzzled about a gallon every 15 miles. You’ll have some transmission work, according to the seller, to get her back on the road – and after 9 years in storage getting this bird back in fighting condition will be a labor of love. But when you do, you’ll be staring at the open road over my favorite feature – that “Smokey and The Bandit” famous T/A 6.6 shaker scoop!

Although the owner only show’s us a glimpse of the interior, the dash seems complete with its glitzy silver fish scale instrument panel flanked in enough red plastic to make any disco fan happy, and original three spoke matching steering wheel. The floor boards look to be rust free, but patches show up around the T-top quite a bit.

Still, I’d love to see this survivor spread its wings again and hit the road, the rumble of the 403 at the stop light letting the world know its heritage is a bird of prey for sure. Don’t believe me? Just take a listen to this example here, and you’ll be a believer!


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  1. CCFisher

    Trans Ams with the Olds 403 should have a “6.6 Litre” decal on the shaker. The “T/A 6.6” was used with the Pontiac 400.

    • Rob

      Yep. I had one. 403 not a bad motor. A few tweaks and it hauled.

      • Zach

        I actually have one right now but somebody before me stuffed a big block olds 455 in there and boy does it scoot hits 60 in first gear at 5k and just keeps pulling

    • Oingo

      For sure but it does appear to have the olds 403 engine as evidenced by the oil filler tube location.

    • Supernova72

      I agree. T/A 6.6 400 motor is the good one. 403 is the station wagon motor. Nice find here

    • Grace C

      I still have my 79 with the original 403 in it..Love it..Had this car for 29 years now…have changed only the starter and brakes..Great car.

  2. Tony S

    We had a 403 in a station wagon. Reliable but otherwise meh.

    • Larry

      News flash! It was a wagon. Was it supposed to be anything other than, “meh”?

      • Mike W H

        well, we had a 455 in our 1968 Olds Vista Cruiser, and that thing hauled ass. Chirped the tires when changing gears. Beat a lot of ’57 Chevy’s.

  3. JW

    A coworker had a 78 Trans Am he bought new and because it was his only car he had to drive it year round in the Chicago area. I rode with him once and yes it was fast but when you hit a pot hole in our disastrous kept streets in the winter you could hear every piece of plastic cracking. IMHO they are either southern cars or summer cars only. If I had to have one it would have to be BLACK.

    • Rob

      Yes. I made the mistake of driving mine one winter and got stuck in a snow drift about a foot tall. (Anyone who grew up in the north knows a 12 inch drift ain’t nothin) Kept trying to get free but the damn car went sideways and slipped into a ditch. Had to be pulled out with a tractor. The guy who pulled me out said, “Boy, get yourself a truck and you won’t get stuck in 6 inches of snow” Moved to Florida a month later.

  4. Sidewinder

    Got so tired of beating those birds back in the day I got tired of runnin them.69 Nova,373’s with a t-10,didnt matter which engine was in it in,had both a built 350 and 396,ran 12:20’s with slicks with the small block.So much for Smokey and his bad boy bird.

    • Bill

      But at the end of the day, it was still just a Nova.

    • Ron

      Hey I love novas owned a few but trans am is so much nicer inside where you spend much of your time at. But novas are lighter if your going stoplight racing

      • Bill V Barber

        Loved my 1972 rallye Nova 350,
        Bright orange with the black decals and G60’s on her rear end 308’s three speed tranny.
        However, did not like the snow in Tennessee at all >> Oct 5, 1974, never forget that lol

    • DR Member

      …until the road turned.

  5. TMagda

    Had one of these new in ’79. 40% off sticker due to gas shortages, and it was late in the year. Awesome handling, fun car. 403 auto was a dog without help. Terrible build quality. Still loved it.

    • OKCPhil

      Oh man the build quality was so poor. I had a 75 in NJ that I bought in 85 and it was 50% rust. I rolled it 3 months after purchase and then bought a 79 Camaro which was junk already. Everything was breaking off or just failing. The doors sag and the door pull rips off and then the center console cover splits. The carpet is about a millimeter thick. The old 305 engine was junk when new. I sold it for $100 just to get it off my parents driveway when I went into the USAF.
      But I’d still buy another 75 or earlier Formula with the WS6 package 400 or 455 and a 4 speed. Still a cool car and honestly fast.

      • Jim

        You bought a 10 year old car in New Jersey that was 50% rust? I’m shocked! What 10 year old car in New Jersey isn’t full of rust? Do you think was a Trans am only issue? This isn’t build quality, it’s called salt and metal. The fact that you rolled it tells us that taking good care of a car is not your strong suit.

      • Scott

        I like the early ones too, but unfortunately the ws6 option didn’t appear until 1979.

      • OKCPhil

        Hey Jim- I was 17 when I got that car and I rolled it over trying to not kill someone’s German Sheppard on a country road going less than the speed limit but due to the wet conditions the car lost traction and went off the side of the road. Sometimes it’s not how you treat a car that causes an accident but lack of driving experience and road conditions. I’m a little older now so I just kill the dog instead and submit my insurance claim. It was an $800 Firebird……good car to wreck. Still a crap quality car. I am also generalizing over the mid to late 70s Camaro/Firebird line since we all had them back then and constantly searched junk yards for parts.

        Thanks Scott- Funny but up until now I always thought my friend’s ’76 Formula with a 400/4 barrel/4 speed was a WS6 but nope. He wrecked that car running from the cops on the same back roads I rolled mine on. Sussex County NJ. Beautiful back then and probably really nice now. Such a fast, low, brutal car and so awesome. I think he paid $2500.

      • Dan

        1978 was first year of ws6 just to clarify earlier guys comment..

    • Robert

      The 403 olds was an outstanding engine. It had a 455 crank, so it made great bottom end torque so you could have driveability on the highway without killing it. When they were properly maintained and running the way they were made to, they were the fastest cars of their day. I have to disagree about build quality. For the 70’s it was actually quite good. The problem was that most original owners beat them to death, so buying them used usually meant you started with problems someonelse create through abuse.

      • marty parker

        The 403 did not have a 455 crank. 455 was 4.25″ stroke while the 403 was 3.385″. The 68-69 400CI engine had the 4.25″ stroke, same as 455.

      • HARDBALL

        @Robert & @Marty…the 403 does have a 3.385 stroke but the hot ticket is to turn down the mains on the 455 Olds (4.25 stroke) and drop it into the 403 block with custom pistons using raised pin height to compensate. With the aluminum Edelbrock heads you will have a motor with some “real grunt”! By the way, that isn’t a “fishscale” dash, it is simulated engine turned aluminum.

      • Jay C Calk

        I bought a brand new one in 1979. It was a great car. With premium gas it got 23 mpg. Ran great. I gutted the cat and set the timing a little higher and opened the gas on the carb about a 1/4 turn and open the air about a half turn. This was done with a vac gauge to get the most vac. Ran good for me.

      • Marty Parker

        Putting a 455 crank in a 403 block sounds good on paper but is not possible. To do this would require raising the pin height almost an inch, when the 403 is already a shorter deck block. Could somebody please give me the name of the company that sells these pistons.

  6. 408 interceptor

    403 was a great street engine that reacted very well to performance upgrades, just don’t overdo it because the bottom end wasn’t very strong. Replacing the six rubber body mounts that connect the subframe to the body with solid pieces and adding subframe connectors will go a long way to firm up a car that had horrible structural integrity.

    • Grace C

      Ive never had a problem with my 403, I had the starter changed that’s about it besides that it runs perfectly I’ve had it for like 29 years it’s a keeper I still love driving it and i love the power of it you either get a good 403 or you get a really bad one I got a great one so I’m not complaining about mine. I got mine after I saw the Bandit movie probably like most people LOL

  7. Dick Johnson

    Every Iranian ‘prince’ in our small college town had a Trans Am. 90% were black/ gold Smokey and the Bandit cars as the white chickens weren’t perceived as being manly enough.

    A big problem; these princes didn’t believe that they needed driver’s licenses, insurance, or rear shocks that damped out the tail oscillations. Tire tread < 1/64" negated buying street slicks.

    The 'drivers' tried to grow a Burt Reynolds moustache, and developed a high pitch laugh like Burt used to have.

    A LOT more to the story, but I don't want to do further damage to international relations.

  8. Dan

    1978 was first year of ws6 just to clarify earlier guys comment..

  9. T Mel

    Okay, it’s clearly not a survivor. The decals are not original and have been switched. Maybe after the whole car was repainted. Either way, no longer a survivor at that point.
    Also, might want to check your math or source, about 85% of Trans Am production in ’79 had the 403 not 15%.
    The W72 400 had 220 hp in ’79 and 323 gears, definitely faster than the 185 hp 403 with 272s out back.
    Need some fact checkers over there at BFs.

    • 408 interceptor

      Both my 79 TA’s have the 403 with 2.41 rear gears which I think was standard.

  10. Rob S.

    Funny story about these 403’s. I worked at a ford dealership where our transmission guy had T/A with a 403. I raced him with a new 85 GT and blew his doors off. He he was pissed for a month! These were heavy cars and couldn’t compete in the 80’s. Their time was short and found themselves out gunned and heavy in a time of light weight muscle. Cool car but was obviously out gunned. He knew he was doomed and tried to build a 455 but it was too late. The age of the light weight muscle car was in control. All he could do was pull his T tops off and scrounge for any girl that would settle for a T top T/A. All the hot girls wanted a guy with a mustang GT!

  11. Jubjub

    Wouldn’t that be echos of Sammy Hagar!

    “We’ll go out ridin’ in my 6.6
    Bypass the city, head straight for the sticks…”

  12. Henry Drake

    Sounds like some of you guys should be proofing these articles for Barn Finds. Good to hear the facts.

  13. Poptheclutch

    I don’t think it has the right decal on the hood. Looks more like a 77 or 78 bird.

  14. JimmyJ

    Is it just me or does this look like not a bad deal.
    Body looks decent but don’t the back ends rust off from underneath?

  15. 66 stingray

    I hunted for GT Mustangs with my Corvette and outran Z-28s and Trans ams never had no problem out running any of them then or now.


    Most of these comments are nearly 2 months old…Wife had a 403 in a ’77 Buick Electra 225. The first year of the slimmed down Buicks. Still about 5k #’s. Typical Buick, needed to blow on the windshield to get going BUT about 70 mph when you gassed it, hold on…I had a ’74 L82 Vette and always wanted to roll them off at 60 but she wouldn’t do it.

  17. Henryfrederick

    I bought a red 75 trans am in 1988 from a used car dealer. It was a 400, 4spd. No rust. Nice black velour interior. Crager mags. Traded in a 77 cutlass and paid 1400. Bucks. Sold it 2yrs later for 1200. When I bought a 74 corvette project. Wished I kept the t.a. gonna finish the restoration on my 71 cuda within the next yr. Paid 15k for it 7yrs ago. Needed everything. Thankfully I can do all the work myself. How things have changed. I love the hobby.

  18. Moparman1123

    Just saw this BF and thought I would comment…
    Being a Mopar guy(first car was 71 Challenger R/T 340, 4 spd B5 blue), after graduating college and looking to buy my first new car, there was nothing coming out of Chrysler that was appealing to me so I bought a brand new 79 Trans-am, Nocturne Blue with light blue vinyl interior, special ordered with no T-tops(leaked and rattled), no chicken on the hood and with the W72 Pontiac 400 and B-W Super T-10 4 speed and WS6 handling package that included 4-wheel disc brakes(first year offered). Shortly after buying it I put Koni adjustable shocks on it and wider rubber. This car handled very well. I left everything under the hood stock. I bought it with the radio delete option and put my own killer sound system in it. Paid $7,823 for it.
    The build quality was marginal. I could see the gray primer through the paint on the trunk lid that had to get re-painted and the seat belt locking mechanisms rattled like hell so I took them apart and disabled them. Nobody wore seat belts back then, until a few months after disabling, my gf (and future wife) gets in the car and puts the disabled seat belt on. The next day it was enabled (and mine too. I loved this car, losts of really fast entrance and exit ramps. Heres a pic.

    Btw…I raced a 79 T/A auto with the 403 on I-280 in NJ and beat it handily

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