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Faded Glory: 1981 Pontiac Turbo Trans Am

We appreciate Roger bringing this 1981 Pontiac Turbo Trans Am that is located near Carlsbad, California to our attention. Only 2,000 Daytona 500 Edition Turbo Trans Ams like this one were built in 1981.  Pontiac fans sometimes call this car the Recaro TA because each door handle has a sticker on it with this moniker. The car can be seen here on Craigslist for an asking price is $14,700.  The seller states that the car has 68,000 miles but the car has not had an easy life. The paint is cracked and pitted and the 15×8 wheels are curiously shiny metal when they should be painted white.

One of the special things about this car is its matching Recaro interior. The 1981 Daytona 500 Pace Car Turbo Trans Am was the only 2nd gen Trans Am to be fitted from the factory with Recaro seats. The dash looks good with no cracks and the red interior is not faded like many cars that have been left in the sun. I own a 55k mile version of this car. It is a fun car to drive especially since I sent it to www.TTAPerformance who specializes in making Turbo Trans Ams running like the should.

All 1981 Turbo Trans Ams were fitted with a 4.9-liter turbo engine, that was claimed to produce 200 horsepower, and an automatic transmission. TTA Performance dyno’d a stock turbo Trans Am and it generated only 170 net horsepower. It has been suggested that Pontiac turned down the boost on production cars to about 5 to 6 psi which may explain the difference in performance. TTA Performance’s Stage 1 modifications include a 2.5″ downpipe, increased boost (14 psi), water injection, free-flowing exhaust, cold air induction, and 1.65 rockers. This improves net horsepower ratings out of the 301 cubic inch V8 to about 240 horsepower and makes the car a respectable street performer. The rear end ratio was 3:08 on all Turbo Trans Ams.

One thing that is often overlooked about this car is that it was fully optioned and came with the famous WS6 suspension which included 4 wheel disc brakes. It was one of the best handling cars available in the US in 1981 and the last of the 2nd generation Trans Ams. With new tires and brakes, this car might only need paint to make it the looker that it once was from the factory. Over the years, I have owned 4 Turbo Trans Ams. My last two cars are TTA Performance modified which makes them a lot more fun to drive. Who else out there has had a Turbo Trans Am and appreciates the fire breathing Phoenix on the hood?


  1. poseur Member

    other than the letdown when the hood opens this is a pretty sweet car.
    never seen one of the interiors on these and was sure it was custom until i read the text.
    very cool setup.
    likely fun to drive too with the mods done but a 3:55 ish gear set would help a bunch

    Like 3
  2. Claudio

    Lower gears and a 4 speed or more auto trans would certainly improve the pleasure
    These were beautiful cars , the whole package just made it !

    Like 1
  3. r s

    All that work – induction, more boost, injection, exhaust etc. to end up with a car that couldn’t keep up with a new Camry V6. And what makes it special is mostly a gimmicky decor package.

    Only a nostalgia piece.

    Like 3
    • TimS

      Why does it matter whether it can keep up with a modern car? Someone’s going to own and/or drive it because they want an older car with a bit more power. They’re not going to care about a Camry.

      Like 11
    • SteveTheD

      r s – Only a fool would compare a 1981 vehicle to a new Camry V6 or any new vehicle.

      Like 11
      • SG

        Yeah, I recently made the mistake of posting about the power of a featured car versus my daily driver. I also spoke of the weight to power ratio & the fuel mileage. In the end I also explained that I still would have rather had the feature car, but some snot gobblin got hung up on the comparison & thought I was talking about how great my daily driver is. It’s not. It is an appliance with no soul. Sure, it is reliable, but any of these feature cars could be. It gets a little bit better gas mileage, but for daily driving to work or for groceries, who cares?
        Regarding speed, most roadways I know of are governed by speed limits. You can only go so fast.
        I promise to never make the comparison again!

        Like 0
  4. Barry

    I never understood making fun of turbo trans ams as gimmicky or screaming chickens. Unfortunately, we see it here and some of the moderators on the BJ auction as they describe TAs.

    I own five Turbos and they are faster than my Gen 2 z28s and irocs. They are faster than my C3 vette. The boost and exhaust mods TTA performance does makes them faster than my W72 400 trans ams.

    There are too many positives in car collecting to waste time putting other’s down.

    I do agree they have nostalgia, but that’s one of the things that makes car collecting a fun hobby.

    Like 12
    • CCFisher

      I have no issues with Turbo Trans Ams. In fact, I find them interesting from a technical standpoint. However, there is no denying that straight-line performance took a hit with the 301 turbo as compared to the 79 W72 400. As far as modifications go, a 79 400 can be upgraded with less effort and for less money than the 301 turbo. It’s not hard to understand why the turbo gets a bad rap, deserved or not.

      Like 1
  5. Kevin Lee

    Yeah, never got the screaming chicken thing. I found one of these in a wrecking yard in the early 80s. I bought the rear axle and put it in my ’74 Firebird,with the 350 and 4speed. With a porportioning valve, it was nice having 4 wheel discs. It ended up getting totaled when the ex took it on a cigarette run.🤬

    Like 3
  6. JimmyJ

    I wouldn’t want to modify the amount of boost in a carbureted car ,they never run right
    This is from someone who has boosted a Volvo 740 motor to 16lbs reliably
    It’s in my kids 240 wagon 5spd and he beats it mercifully!

    Like 1

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