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Frame Job: 1971 Pontiac Trans Am


A few days ago, we featured a BMW 2002 Tii on Copart, which had many of us confused as to what the actual issue was with the car. That’s the trouble with Copart classics, as it’s sometimes difficult to discern whether a project vehicle has been in flood or simply neglected. You can ocassionally get lucky and Copart will tell you what went wrong, but not always. In the case of this 1971 Pontiac Trans Am here on Copart, the ugliness is a bit more readily apparent, as this example was sent to a salvage facility with a bent frame. Thanks to Barn Finds reader Michael K. for this find!


When running the Trans Am’s VIN through a decoding site, it does show as being a true TA car. Though it is located at a Copart facility in Rochester, New York, the Trans Am bears a Florida registration. This could mean the car has somehow changed hands through various insurance agencies and salvage lots, or more likely, it formerly belonged to snowbird who kept the vehicle registered in Florida to enjoy the lower taxes levied on vehicles in the Sunshine State (one of the many reasons I’d like to relocate there). The interior is driver-quality at best, and that’s not a bad thing for a cheap project. If it weren’t for the frame damage, we’d be calling this the ultimate survivor.


1971 was a big year for the Trans Am, as the famed 455 made its debut. Although lower compression numbers were quickly becoming a reality, this engine still churned out healthy horsepower and torque numbers. While it’s no Super Duty, this engine and a manual transmission remains a desirable combination. Obviously, one of the big risks of buying a car from Copart is not knowing the health of various mechanical systems, and worse for this car is we don’t know how the frame damage occurred. From this photo and others, I see no obvious evidence of a hard hit – do any of you see any clues either in the engine bay or along the body that might tell us what happened?


There were only two color options for the ’71 model, and this one appears to wear its original Lucerne Blue and white stripe combination. It could be an older repaint, but it certainly appears consistently weathered enough that it could be original. There’s currently a bid of $1,800, but the seller has set a reserve which hasn’t been met. In the photo above, I wonder if the door that’s ajar is indicative of the frame damage underneath. How would you approach this Copart project: is it worth taking a chance on, or are there too many questions that make the risks unappealing? If you are considering it, either an in-person viewing or hiring an inspection service is definitely recommended.


  1. wagon master

    Scary from Copart! Most of their cars have been moved via forklifts causing additional unknown damage.

    Like 1
  2. Dirty Dingus McGee

    Being as the body IS the frame it would need a PPI. The next to last photo seems to show some damage to the rocker panel so perhaps it’s nothing too bad. However given the value of these, it’s surprising that it would be written off as a total. Must be some other damage that isn’t in the photos.

    Like 0
  3. nessy

    As a past buyer at both Copart and IAA auctions, most of the cars to be truthful are shot. Anything really worthwhile is put aside for the guys who run the places. With that said, if this is a true T/A, rusty or not, flooded or not, wrecked or not, it’s a high dollar car, worth looking into. The other problem with buying at these salvage auctions is the hidden fees you will find after buying a car. It’s often hundreds of dollars more so be ready for that. You also have to be a dealer or at least know a dealer who will bring you in. They also charge non dealer “guests” a hefty fee, just for walking through their gate. The car looks tempting but the location is a major turnoff. Nothing but issues at salvage auctions. I know first hand.

    Like 1
    • Julles

      I have been to Copart many times with Van and since we tend to be chatty people we usually strike up conversations with the employees and they know us now. We asked them specifically about buying cars and goods that Copart sells and they told us that Copart has a policy that no employee is allowed to buy anything from copart. I was told if they find out that you got a family member or friend to buy it for you that it was automatic grounds for firing. They have started selling cars from individuals lately and they have had some nice cars on there lately. They just sold a really pretty XKE last week and they have 2 very nice MK 9’s and a 1973 XJ6 that are in beautiful shape. So with Copart you have to either look at the car yourself or hire someone to check it out for you which is anywhere from $50.00 to $200.00 depending on the level of expertise and Copart keeps lists of the people who do this service. Copart makes me crazy on a regular basis and it took me about two years to learn all the ins and outs of them but you can still get a really good deal there if you are looking and watching prices at least weekly. Oh also we are the non-professional member and we just keep about $1000 on escrow with them. It allows us to bid up to $10,000. on any car and we can get a same day refund any time we choose and have no yearly membership fee. They hit you with the fees when you buy but they have a list on line of the percentages. Also we can buy in only certain states like Texas and Georgia without a license. If we find one we like in a state that needs a license we have to get a broker which Copart has lists of and they charge a fee based on the price of the car. Hope this info helps.

      Like 1
  4. JamestownMike

    The front lower valance is pushed in. I suspect it has undercarriage damage AS WELL as the driver rocker panel damage.

    Like 0
  5. boxdin

    Now that’s a mystery. Someone has to go check this car out and determine frame damage ! I suppose copart is going to err on the side of caution and say even small items could be “frame damage” to protect from liability issues down the road.
    I love these early Trans Ams, I’d buy it knowing that a good frame guy can fix damn near anything.

    Like 0
  6. nighttrainx03

    I agree with Nessy a 100%. As a dealer I have been buying and selling thru copart for may years. You ever decide to buy there make sure you do your homework because you will get burned on this old stuff. I know I learned my lesson the hard way and I only had myself to blame for not doing the proper foot work. And I will bet this car will get bid to a point there will be no fun left, they always do.

    Like 1
  7. ags290

    There is an old saying in the car business: “Not all cars at the auction have problems, but all problem cars go to the auction.” Buyer Beware on this one

    Like 1

    No frame on this car ad it’s a unibody. I suspect rot. Bid is $5500

    Like 0
  9. Alan (Michigan)

    Maybe somebody did a “Bandit” style jump with the car. That type of over-enthusiasm nearly always results in a kinked unibody.

    Like 0
  10. Roselandpete

    Looks like trouble.

    Like 0
  11. RollerD

    These cars are worth a lot of money, it will be bought and restored.

    Like 0
  12. Cleric

    I always liked this style, but as a salvage title it’s tainted. I’d get it cheap, find a solid-but-gutted 2d-gen F-body chassis, and move all of the T/A parts over to it. Then, I’d enjoy it as a DD.

    Like 1
  13. JamestownMike

    The standard manual transmission for a 71 TA was a 3 speed manual. The optional manual transmission was the 4 speed. Wonder which one it has? It’s a non-AC car too.

    Like 0
  14. wagon master

    Notice the scrape mark under the driver rocker. Forklift maybe or sideways up a curb?

    Like 0
  15. james burton

    you guys keep saying no frame, unibody car an so on. these cars have a front bolt on frame clip. thats what rodders used to replace early front frames on old cars to update them to power disk brakes, power steering, late modle power, and tilt wheel plus air con. would use the hole wiring harness. problely kinked the body at the bolt points so bad you can’t fix

    Like 1
  16. Van

    I’ve been watching this car and it’s been though the auction three times. I think the reserve is 18,500.
    Looking at the car I’d be surprised if any frame damage wasn’t repairable.
    Why is it a savage title? I’d love someone to explain this. Copart regularly sells cars with damage far below the cars value. I always thought total meant damage almost or more than a cars value.
    A 455 HO had either a turbo 400 or Muncie 4 speed.
    In Georgia I could drive the car with a bill of sail only.
    If I had the cash it would already be mine.
    we baught the D-type sight unseen, because it was easy to see the engine was worth more than we paid.
    If you want a Rolls Royce go check them out now, several cars from 1960 through 1980.
    Copart provides as little information as possible to avoid misrepresentation. It’s amazing to see a collector car with no mention of engine options or matching nubers.

    Like 0
    • Dave Wright

      “Salvage titles” are a purely bureaucratic invention. They have nothing to do with anything practical or scientific. It depends on how the paperwork is handled. Some insurance companies brand (label Salvage) titles if they paid out a loss or “totaled” a car. I have seen many stolen cars that were never damaged get salvage titles simply because the insurance company paid out for the loss before it was recovered for instance . Some do not. Some sales places a brand on titles as a practice on every sale no matter what thinking it will insulate them from liability from any possible future problem. A salvage title has nothing to do with any damage or condition of a vehicle.

      Like 0
      • Dave Wright

        Also, some states place Salvage on any car that has been lein saled……some do not regardless of any damage.

        Like 0
      • Van

        Thanks for the clarification.
        If lawyers sold cars we would all be walking

        Like 1
  17. Julles

    Most states have different rules about salvage cars. Some states don’t have any special titles. Some people are crooked enough that they cycle cars through those states to wash the salvage out of the title. In Georgia, they have gotten so strict on rebuilt titles that it is a herculean effort to get a title. We have been in title limbo for 5 months now with our rebuilt title. The thing to do is only get a salvage title if you plan to do the work yourself, document every little thing, and plan to keep it for your own pleasure because it will be hard to sell. That’s what we did with our Corvette C6 ($10,000) which needed an easy repair of a tie rod, back hatch and rear fender. It is perfect now but we can’t drive it until we get the title back. Ugh!

    Like 0
  18. SquirrleyGig

    Looks to me like a bent “unibody / sub-frame”? I don’t know if the drivers door is not closed all the way or if the frame / unibody alignment is tweeked? The drivers door glass looks tight @ the top (from the pic angle), but the mid door, it appears, has major alignment issues! Then look @ the passenger side hood photo. Definitely a “gap” issue from the A pillar towards the front of the hood, all the way to the drivers side front. The lines just don’t equate. Forklift or “Bandit” style attempt @ jumping over Buford T. Justice? That’s what I have too say

    Like 0
  19. Van

    The hood alignment could just be from a worn hood hinge. A worn door hinge could explain the door fit.

    Like 0
  20. Van

    Lastly, many many cars at copart have bent frames but that is not disclosed in the information.

    Like 0
  21. Mike Williams

    If it has a bent frame, it likely has a bent tub as well.

    Like 0
  22. rich voss

    I love cars, in general, and my first love of racing was at drag strips. The thing I immediately noticed on this T/A were the non-stock rear spring hangers. They can be for “show” to just “jack-up” the rear to give it a more aggressive stance, or to fit a different than stock rear-end and racing slicks. This car may have “possibly” pulled a “wheelie” and came down way too hard, or gone off the road in a “non-sanctioned” event of speed. Have seen worse than “bent frames” result in those activities.

    Like 0
  23. JamestownMike

    Bidding is pre-bid to $6,500.

    Like 0

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