Indy Pace Car! 1980 Pontiac Turbo Trans Am

This Pontiac Trans Am may be based on the Firebird but it looks more like a snowbird in this opening shot. This version of Pontiac’s F-body Trans Am was getting long in the tooth, and quite a bit slower, by 1980 but it was still a sales hit and received the honor of being selected as the pace car for that year’s Indianapolis 500 race. And now for your review, is this Salina Arizona based, 1980 Turbo Trans Am commemorative Indianapolis 500 pace car edition. It is available, here on craigslist for $6,000. Thanks to Pat L. for this tip!

In 1980, Pontiac continued with the controversial soft nose that it introduced on the ’79 model. I refer to it as controversial because it summons up emotions, some love it and some hate it. Wherever your allegiance lies, it is very recognizable. Also notable for 1980, was the introduction of a turbocharged engine, an arrangement designed to coax a bit more power from Pontiac’s diminutive, second year 301 CI V8 engine. Total Firebird production for 1980 reached about 107K copies with 5,700 wearing the Indy 500 livery.

The seller’s story on this car is lengthy, he states, “I planned to finish restoring it but I have a couple of other projects and the upper AZ winters are taking a toll on her“. So this sounds like an outside car and it is starting to look like it. It actually presents itself OK but the repainted finish is peeling in places, surface rust has started, and the famous “screaming eagle” hood decal is minus many of its feathers. What isn’t peeling has gone a bit flat but is still presentable. The fairings and spoilers, a Trans Am stand-by, are remarkably uninjured appearing though the seller has a replacement right side rear spoiler end piece. There is no evidence of crash damage and the body panels and add-ons align up pretty well, something that F-bodies of this era are not necessarily known for.

Under the hood is a 210 net HP, 301 CI, turbocharged V8 Pontiac engine. I defined it as a “Pontiac” engine because there were Chevrolet V8’s of similar size offered too. The seller describes this 82K mile engine as one that “pulls strong” through its Turbo-Hydramatic 350, three-speed manual automatic transmission.  He has performed some improvements including a rebuilt carburetor and new plugs and wires but the EGR system and the coolant vacuum lines for the turbo plenum have been removed, an item that affects cold-weather starting and warmup. Regarding this Trans Am’s operating prowess, the seller states, “I took it for a 50-mile drive a week ago and it ran very well“. Of note, the engine is not original to this car, it is a dealer replacement.

The interior shows itself to be in pretty good nick. The driver’s seat side bolster upholstery is starting to fail and the dash pad is split in at least two different places but the rest of it, including the instrument panel and carpet, check out as OK. There are auxiliary gauges mounted below the driver’s side dash to supplant two non-working originals,  and there is an add-on electric switch that has been attached to the console storage slot – not sure what that does. Apparently, some of the instrument panel lights, and the A/C, are no longer working but there is a partially working, original Delco radio still in place.

The listing for this car is pretty thorough as the seller goes to lengths to explain its strengths and weaknesses. He’s also firm on his $6,000 price. Is this Trans Am worth its modest price? Hard to say specifically as some may feel that additional value is warranted due to the Indy 500 tie-in where others could care less. The decision is probably based more on one’s desire for a late second-gen, turbocharged Trans Am. This Pontiac pony-car is pretty cheap in the scheme of things but is it cheap enough?

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  1. FordGuy1972 FordGuy1972 Member

    I don’t care what anybody says; that front end is ugly. Overall, the car is pretty tired and worn but the price isn’t outrageous. I’m sure someone will want it but it’s not for me; that front end design turns me off.

    Like 7
  2. alphasud Member

    I agree with Fordguy. The price is right for this T/A and with some modern upgrades to the forced induction one could really improve the performance. With the pictures being taken on fresh snow what is the seller suggesting? Perhaps we have ourselves a Snowbird!

    Like 5
  3. Sherminator

    Isn’t that electric switch by the console the power windows control? I seem to remember it was located there in my friends old Trans Am

    Like 1
    • Ralph

      These had a switch under the radio that turned the turbo lights in the hood scoop on and off.

      Like 1
      • Jon karll

        Nope! That switch is located in front of the storage box on the console

  4. Pontiac Baby

    Its a good price and a canvas to fix. The parts seem all there. I would’ve loved some underneath pictures of sub frame snd pans.

    I would put back white and boost engibe power with subtle mods but keep drive train original (block and trans )

    A shift kit and stahl converter and performance exhaust 3” pipes etc etc.

    Then off to the races baby 😉

    Like 2
  5. Fred

    A few simple adjustments (adjust for more boost, add 1.65 rockers, better exhaust) and it will wake it up. Add a 3:73 rear and an overdrive tranny or 5 speed and it will be fun to drive

  6. rustyvet

    This would be a fun car to bring back astatically. Reminds me of the early FI corvettes, the FI unit was usually taken off and left sitting on the shelf because it was too complicated for the average mechanic to tinker with. Those cars are highly collectible now. This one is cool but not 6k cool with a replacement motor, maybe 2,500 if I had nothing better to do.

    • rustyvet


      Like 2
  7. Todd Zuercher

    I had to do a double-check on the location as I’ve lived in AZ for almost 43 years now and had never heard of Salina.

    • glenn hilpert

      He probably meant Sedona?

      • Todd Zuercher

        It’s actually Salina. It’s a town up on the Rez near Chinle, which explains why I wasn’t familiar with it.

        Like 1
  8. John B

    “Turbo hydromatic manuel 3 speed transmission “. Is there such a thing?

    Like 1
    • Jim ODonnell Staff

      No, my mistake, I was thinking automatic and wrote “manual”. Fixed now.


      Like 2
  9. glenn hilpert

    I’m still not sure to go ahead and buy a 1981 base Trans Am, non-turbo. Has 96K original miles and the motor and trans were re-built last year. Car was the dark Maroon color originally but needs a full paint job. Dash has a few cracks, seats need some help etc; As soon as the car was listed for sale, owner notified me and said there were leaks(fluid), all over and was going to have a mechanic check it out. That was 2 weeks ago and no response. Owner is a young kid moving over to Hawaii and doesn’t want to take the car. Has an automatic with the Honeycomb wheels. He is asking $4800.00 until all the leaks began. Any thoughts on this one versus this 80 Turbo?

    • Ten50boy

      Owned a handful of T/A’s. All small block 5.7 cars, varying years. I would be ok at $4800 if it’s very straight and no rust plus no evident accident repairs. The interior work isn’t cheap. The dash is an absolute pain to do right. Finding a used replacement in good shape isn’t easy. Plan on pulling the “rebuilt” motor and trans for the minimum of resealing. It’s a great project, but you’ll double your price before paint. Be wary. Spend a few more dollars and find one that isn’t leaking from all over.

      • glenn hilpert

        Thanks for the info. Body is straight with very little rust. Owner is having his mechanic check to see where the leaks are and who also re-built the motor and trans. I have an upholstery guy who is excellent and very reasonable. My big problem is will the car pass those ridiculous smog tests. We’ll see what he says on the leaks. Again, thanks for the info.

  10. rustyvet

    lol aesthetically*

    Like 2
  11. John Oliveri

    Basically better w the Pontiac in it than a Chevy 305, 6500 isn’t a bad # for an honest car, check the floor boards and rockers

    Like 1
  12. Jon karll

    Nope! That switch is located in front of the storage box on the console

  13. JoeNYWF64

    Wonder if it got stuck there – terrible car in the snow.
    Unless it has studs on the tires.
    Salt is the kiss of death on this gen’s body – rain is bad enough.
    A ’70-73 nose would go good with that rear end.
    I wonder how many they would have sold with THAT combo.

    • Gary Cole

      I had a 77 front end on my 79 Formula Firebird and it looked good I really like that front end

    • RH

      Pretty sure it’s not stuck in 2″ of snow, and as far as being terrible in the snow, untrue. I drove one for years in the winter, mid ’80’s in Wyoming. Just have to have a little common sense, a little driving knowledge and skill.

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