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Modified By Royal: 1971 Pontiac Trans Am 455 HO

The Pontiac Trans Am 455 HO was a rare beast in 1971 as only 2,116 of them were built; 1,231 of those came with automatic transmission. What differentiates this car further was that it was delivered to Royal Pontiac, a Michigan dealer known for performance modifications since the 1950s. This beautiful example is finished in Cameo White, with blue Trans Am stripes and a black interior, and has Royal Pontiac documentation to go with it. Offered by a non-Royal dealer in Pennington, New Jersey, this car is available here on eBay where bidding has reached $40,100, but not the reserve.

The second-generation Pontiac Firebird would debut well into the 1970 model season and would enjoy a 12-year run through 1981. The Trans Am would dominate as the Firebird’s top performance model and later would become a movie star of sorts through the Smokey & The Bandit franchise. To come up with the 455 HO (“High Output”), Pontiac used the cylinder heads and camshaft from the 345 hp Ram Air 400 and added the aluminum intake manifold from the 370 hp 400 Ram Air IV. The resulting horsepower was below either of the engines at 335 hp, but it had loads of torque.

Enter Royal Pontiac, started by racing aficionado Ace Wilson. Located in Royal Oak, Michigan, the shop began making performance modifications to Pontiacs as early as 1959. In conjunction with Pontiac engineers, Royal Pontiac prepared many of Pontiac’s test cars and fielded Royal’s own race team. This would lead them to offer high-performance combinations to the buying public. Many today think of Royal as to Pontiac as Yenko was to Chevrolet. The documentation provided by the Pontiac Historical Society (PHS) is said to certify this 1971 Trans Am as delivered by Pontiac to Royal in September 1970 and then sold by Royal the following month. We’re told this is one of the last Trans Am’s modified by Royal. These cars were considered “Royal Bobcats” and the appropriate badges were added.

Modifications to the car by Royal Pontiac likely included larger headers, a tuned Rochester carburetor, and a camshaft designed to increase valve lift and torque to an estimated 500 ft. lbs. This car has had the same owner for the last 40 years, so it likely hasn’t changed hands since Jimmy Carter was in office. It has its original 455 HO engine that was recently refreshed by Pontiac (is that another way of saying rebuilt or did it just receive a super-duper tune-up?). To go along the PHS paperwork, this car retains its original build sheet, but beyond that, other records have not been located.

The exterior is beautiful, not what you would expect for a hot rod with nearly 82,000 miles. There is no mention of a repaint and if you look hard you can find a small rock chip or two. The Honeycomb wheels that adorned the car are some of the best-looking wheels to ever come out of Detroit and look great on this Trans Am. The interior also reflects no mentionable flaws, but is that a factory 8-track tape deck mounted below the dashboard? I think I still have a few of those cartridges, but nothing to play them on now.

A nice 1971 Pontiac Firebird is worth $20-25,000. But the Trans Am 455 HO option will add considerably more because of its speed and rarity, and then the Royal factor likely adds even more. So, it’s not surprising to see that this car has gotten to $40,000 and it will probably go much higher before the dust settles. Thanks to the Pontiac Preservation Association and Trans Am World for background information.


  1. Avatar photo Moparman Member

    I can’t help it…my first thought upon seeing this beauty, was of the one that Jeff Bridges (w/ Clint Eastwood as a passenger) trashed in “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot”! GLWTA!! :-)

    Like 17
    • Avatar photo Tazman

      What a great movie that was and a great car tooI love those early 70’s T/A’s and this one is a beauty for sure

      Like 5
  2. Avatar photo Oilyhands

    It’s surely worth over $40K just to play the old 8 tracks…. and you get a car with it!

    Like 17
    • Avatar photo DSteele

      I had a BUNCH of 8 tracks. In 1988 I sold 181 of them for a dollar a piece. I couldn’t believe that people still listened to that medium,

      Who Knew

      Like 6
      • Avatar photo JoeNYWF64

        Oh how i wish i could send my weighs-nothing 2 GB 2 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ mp3 player(sorry Apple) & radio adapter back to myself in the 1960s -1980s. To avoid all the fumbling with cassettes, worn out songs, uneven balance, chewed up tape, aggravation finding the start of next song quickly, & every player i had that broke too soon. lol
        No menus on the player. It even has an external mechanical button for the 5 equalizer presets. Totally eyes free.
        Sorry Apple – again.

        Like 4
    • Avatar photo smokeymotors

      8 tracks are worthless unless you have a pack of matches to wedge under the tape then they work fine!

      Like 10
      • Avatar photo Bob ch

        I was thinking the same thing. I think I used popsicle sticks on mine

        Like 5
  3. Avatar photo jwzg

    Dang…that’s one I’d love to drive. Need $$$$ though. Can we put links to a GoFundMe on this site?

    Like 8
    • Avatar photo Tazman

      LOL!! That be funny if enough people donated for you to get it that would be cool

      Like 1
  4. Avatar photo redwagon

    Auction closed this morning at 8:17AM. Someone made a damn good offer.

    Like 3
    • Avatar photo Brad

      Did it get sold?

      Like 1
  5. Avatar photo Arby

    The chicken was just a baby when this car came out.

    Like 3
  6. Avatar photo Troy s

    Really sharp Trans Am, good year for it too. I guess I’ll have to research what Royal Pontiac would have, or could have done to a ’71 TA, it had been 7 years since they built the 421 GTO’s for the press, although it remained closed mouth for years and years. Ha, if Pontiac had one thing on their side it was master marketing.
    Like these without the bird on steroids hood…..Lucerne blue and its perfect.

    Like 7
    • Avatar photo ptcheshire

      Headers, Cam and Royal modified 800 cfm Q-Jet. No H.P. rating but over 500 pounds of torque.

      Like 4
  7. Avatar photo Skorzeny

    IMHO, the most beautiful car ever made in US, the ‘70-‘73. And I don’t even like white…

    Like 6
    • Avatar photo JoeNYWF64

      I STILL don’t understand why the blue with white stripe color was not the overwhelming choice. Rarely seen!
      As is 1 with a red interior.
      Most i think got the blue interior.
      Those wheels actually are heavier than rally 2’s.
      Notice the very small subdued decals, especially on the fenders. Compare that to the disco “Macho T/A” decals.

      Like 5
  8. Avatar photo Terry

    If I’m not mistaken, this car brought mid-40s at Mecum a few months ago and no-saled……….

    Like 2
  9. Avatar photo Marshall King

    I had a guy on my route ( I am a retired letter carrier with USPS) that had a 71, but not the HO. It was gorgeous.! He sold it 3 years ago for a little over 50K! These Birds are starting to increase in value and, to me, are some of the best looking cars. One of my favorites is the 73 SD455 in Brewster Green, but wouldn’t turn down any color combos!

    Like 5
  10. Avatar photo bikefixr

    WHY is this a “barn find”? Why not just publish the entire US Dealer inventory or the Barret catalog?

    Like 3
  11. Avatar photo Rick Rothermel

    Ace Wilson closed his Royal Pontiac
    Dealership by the time the ’70 models came out. Royal tuner Milt Schornack and John DeLoreans brother George operated Royal Automotive and owned the Royal
    Automotive marketing operation after Wilson left. That Royal was not a dealership.

    Like 6
    • Avatar photo paul

      I remember the sign up there that said Ace Wilson’s Royal Pontiac. I don’t remember when it was changed but the Dealership sold Pontiacs for many years after the 70’s

      Like 4
  12. Avatar photo Tom S.

    If you lived through the glory days of 8-track tapes, you might recall needing to keep a matchbook handy to wedge under one corner of the cartridge so that it would play correctly. Beautiful car. The small back window gives a much cleaner appearance than the big window on later models.

    Like 7
  13. Avatar photo Paul Trickett

    I grew up in Royal Oak and my Jr High school was right next door. I spent many days drooling over the cool GTO’s on the other side of the fence. By the time this Trans Am was built I had already sold my Buick GS and was driving a Z28 but my younger brother got the Pontiac bug and ended up with a rare 73 Trans Am SD455 with 4 speed. That was the only car he ever owned that could beat me on the top end of a race :o)

    Like 6
  14. Avatar photo EL Puko
  15. Avatar photo Cerno

    Absolutely the king when it comes to turning and going real fast !!! The car needs to be a 4 gear stick to ultimately enjoy to the max !! I had the pleasure of experiences with the exact car with a M21 it was quick . Got The looks everywhere you felt like the mayor at times . I didn’t like the people following me home and I live in a good area .

    Like 1
  16. Avatar photo George Mattar

    Far superior to the GTO in handling. My best friend in college had a 72 TA 455. Very few made. Big GM strike in 72.

    Like 2
  17. Avatar photo Steve S

    I have always wanted a 70 through 73 trans am with the 455 ho or 455 sd with a 4 speed manual transmission instead of the automatic transmission.

    Like 1
    • Avatar photo Paul

      You do know that there were less than 300 4 spd 455SD cars made in 73 don’t you ? I saw one at Barrett Jackson 2 winters ago and it went for BIG $$$$$

      Like 0
  18. Avatar photo JOHN

    I have yet to find a car like this in my barn! I must not be looking hard enough, cause that is one sweet barn find?

    Like 3
  19. Avatar photo 455RAIV

    Besides this 1971 455HO T/A Royal Automotive was Home Base for Jim Wangers Blackbird RA IV 455 1968 Firebird which was Detroits Fastest Street Machine in the early 70’s – Beat the Fastest Hemi a # of times :)

    Like 0

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