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High Quality Driver: 1981 Pontiac Trans Am

Too often, vintage muscle car builders obsess over the engine and don’t seemingly pay much attention to the other major systems that can impact actual driving enjoyment. I get it – these are straight line machines – but there’s no harm in making it handle a little better. The seller of this 1981 Pontiac Trans Am has not only addressed the suspension but has also tossed out the anemic 301 Turbo V8 for a much more robust 455 that’s been completely gone through and set up on a stock tune with the exception of a mild aftermarket cam. The paintwork appears to be in excellent shape, as do the decals and graphics, and this restomod Trans Am is listed here on craigslist for $20,900 in Miami.

The Trans Am may still say “Turbo” on the rear, but that engine is (thankfully) long gone. The 301 made OK numbers on paper, but a fire-breathing muscle car it was not. The 455 may not be an exotic choice, but it should certainly offer the Trans Am more usable power. The paintwork looks very good in photos, and the seller notes it’s a respray that’s about 20 years old. While I’m sure there are some flaws that are visible in person, those aren’t obvious in the photos which seemingly show a non-factory shade of blue paint coupled with matching decals and a large hood bird decal. The paint along the A-pillars and up onto the roof definitely isn’t factory, but I like the look.

The interior is clean if not exactly restored; that’s not a bad thing, as it says to me that this Trans Am was never in such a bad state that the cockpit ended up looking trashed. The seat upholstery appears to be in good order and the steering wheel actually looks darn near mint. The same goes for the door panels and the carpeting, which is protected by custom floormats. The dash doesn’t appear to be cracked either, and the seller notes that the transmission is a rebuilt 200R4 four-speed automatic. As an added bonus, the air conditioning blows cold and the seller notes the Pontiac has no problem sitting in the traffic in the Florida heat with the A/C on full blast and the temperature gauge staying right where it should.

Perhaps the most attractive feature of this car is the lengths to which the builder went to improve the chassis and the drivetrain. The engine is fitted with a four-core aluminum radiator, Edelbrock manifold and carburetor, and Flowmaster dual exhaust. The suspension has been completely gone through, and the Trans Am comes fully set up with BMR rear lowering leaf springs and Viking adjustable coilovers up front with polyurethane bushings. A full front suspension rebuild kit was sourced from Performance Suspension Technology, and the classic Turbine wheels appear to be in mint condition, mounted on new Cooper tires. A lot of money has been spent here, and seemingly in all the right places.


  1. Stevieg Member

    Very well done little hot rod. I would certainly enjoy beating the snot out of this pretty old bird!

    Like 8
  2. Stan

    Interesting effort. Like the turbo decals

    Like 3
  3. Moparman Member

    Everything in the interior looks good to me, EXCEPT the shifter! Personally, I just do not like this type. Sharp looking car w/ power to match otherwise. GLWTS!! :-)

    Like 15
  4. gene

    put back the 301 turbo!

    Like 1
  5. CJinSD

    If Car and Driver was ever to believe about anything, the Trans Ams of this era were among the best handling cars on the US market, and the best handling of any US brand car.

    Like 5
    • Frank Sumatra

      Except for the 1984 Corvette being the first American car to pull 1G on a skid pad test.

      Like 1
      • SteveTheD

        True, but unfortunately the 1984 Corvette wasn’t available in 1981.

        Like 3
  6. S

    I don’t think Pontiac did the blue accents on the roof like that – maybe that is part of the decal package he mentions in the ad – but I have to say, I like it! Overall looks well done to me!

    Like 3
  7. Roland Schoenke

    Love everything about it except the nose, I think they ruined the nose in ’79 – ’81 . Anyone know if a ’77 – ’78 nose will fit?

    • SteveTheD

      Yes, easily changed.

      Like 1
  8. phil64

    A TH200 with a 455 is certainly not a wise combo …

    Like 1
  9. mario perez

    it’s not a th200, it’s a 200r4 and very strong and reliable

    Like 1
  10. John Oliveri

    That shifter is terrible, and that 200 transmission would be history in 2 days with me, maybe a 700 R4 bit I’d like a nice 400 trani but gas mileage would suffer

  11. CenturyTurboCoupe

    It is a 200-4R. A 700-R4 would not bolt to a Pontiac 455 and without the original 301 turbo, this car is not worth the asking price.

  12. Glenn Senseny

    Interested. How much do you think it costs to ship to Delaware ? Do we use pay pal to protect from scam ? Video of it running ?

    • mario perez

      Glenn you can reach me at three zero five 741 eight 965 . for video and more info. I’m also the manager at RMC miami exotic and classic cars check out our website

      Like 1
  13. mario perez

    Glen you can call me , 305 seven four one 8965 , i can send you a video. and yes on paypal. you can also view the car in craigslist southflorida . i’m also the shop manager of RMC miami exotic and classic cars. check our website out.

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