Ruffle Some Feathers: 1979 Pontiac Trans Am

As I’ve said before on Barn Finds, I am a real fan of the Pontiac Trans Am. I accept that they don’t have the sheer muscle credentials of the Z28, but for some of we “more mature” individuals, it’s more about cruising along at times rather than shouting and tearing along. This particular Trans Am is for sale here on eBay. Blessed with a clear title and a stick shift, this one is located in Lincoln Nebraska with bidding up to $15,300 with the reserve unmet. Judging by my opening comments you probably think that I will love this particular car. Well, let’s unpack it and see if you see what I see.

Firstly let’s address the elephant in the room: This car is for sale by a dealer. Some people don’t like that. Me? I don’t care as long as they are honest and don’t misrepresent what they are selling. On initial inspection, this Trans Am appears to be in quite reasonable condition for a car that is rapidly approaching 40 years of age. There is a little bit of color mismatch on some surfaces (such as bumpers) but it would be quite easy to dismiss this as a result of fading over the decades. Given that the seller claims that the car has only clocked 16,599 miles, suddenly I’m not so sure.

This is where the alarm bells really start to ring for me. While the interior generally presents quite well, there are just enough things going on that make me wonder whether there should be an additional “1” in front of that claimed mileage. There seems to be more wear and discoloration on the seat-belt than I would expect from a car with such low use. But the rim of the steering wheel screams at me. Something just doesn’t add up to me.

A closer look at the wheel shows more clearly what I’m talking about. To my eyes that looks like the classic wear that you would expect at the 10-to-2 region of a wheel on a high mileage car. The other thing that rings alarms for me is the number of items that this dealer has replaced on this car. They include new brakes, fuel and brake lines, PS lines, radiator, heater core, 15×8 Snowflake Wheels, BF Goodrich Tires, carpet, package tray, and headliner. That indicates 1 of 2 possible scenarios to me. Either the mileage is wrong, or the car has been in storage and hasn’t been stored well.

At this point, you’ll probably look at this shot of the engine and think that I’m wrong. In isolation, this shot of the engine really does support the low mileage claims. That 400ci power-plant looks awfully nice. Everything looks clean as you would expect for a car like this. So obviously the underside is going to look just as good.

Sorry to disappoint, but to me, it doesn’t look that flash. It’s easy to pick out the new exhaust, along with fresh brake and fuel lines. However, the level of corrosion on the rear springs and diff housing is something of a concern to me. Having never physically crawled under a Trans Am of this vintage myself, I really have to ask the question of more knowledgeable people: Is that normal? Maybe I’m making mountains out of mole-hills, but this looks to me like either the mileage is wrong, or that it has been put into storage while it was wet.

This car is a complex one from my perspective. As a person who quite likes the Trans Am, this ticks a lot of boxes. A black car with a stick shift is pretty cool from where I stand. The issues that I have pointed out are enough to make me wonder whether this car is all that it makes out to be. Am I right to be suspicious, or am I just barking mad?

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Comments

  1. Steve R

    They are asking $32,900 on their website.

    Steve R

    3
    • Adam Clarke Adam Clarke Staff

      Thanks so much for that Steve R. I just looked and can see what you mean. This is the 2nd time in 24 hours that I’ve seen something like that. I was doing an article yesterday. The seller had their car advertised privately on Craigslist. I did my usual web search to compare prices an found the car also listed with a consignment seller for 50% more than the owner’s price. It really is a case of “buyer beware” out there.

      7
      • Steve R

        I’m used to looking at sellers other listing, you can often find good deals on related items that are hidden in plain sight.

        Unfortunately, I’ve seen a few sellers listing parts that probably came off of the car they are selling. While I’m at it I always look at a sellers completed listings, sometimes that shows the progression of an item and often gives an idea as to the reserve. I’ve even run across more than one seller that has changed their ad and eliminated pictures that showed rust or damage.

        I was surprised this seller was running concurrent listings, that’s unusual. i guess he has low expectations about selling this car via auction.

        Steve R

        2
  2. Rick

    Odometer rolled at least once, with a repaint at some point in it’s life. Far too much wear, fading and rust areas (really, the pedal arms too??) to have such low mileage. Unless, of course, this thing was underwater in Texas during the hurricane…

    29
  3. Ray Smith

    Regardless of how it looks unless there is a documented paper trail you have to assume the mileage is unknown and the car should be priced acordingly.

    12
  4. Matt

    To my eyes,the steering colisum.
    At the tilt lever,rust the sleeve under the steering wheel,rubber ring at the dash?
    Also the boot on shifter? You would think the inside at least would survive storage better then this

    1
  5. Martin

    someone traded that in and got next to nothing off a new one.

    6
  6. Scott Tait

    Anyone consider the odometer isn’t the original to this car?.. price seems to high for a high mileage TA

    7
  7. Steve R

    The steering wheel by itself isn’t a good indicator of mileage. That wheel never held up well to use and exposure to the sun. They have been hard to find in good shape since at least the late-80’s and I live in an area with a temperate climate with lots of cloud cover through late mornings. It’s possible the car was driven everyday to work and didn’t accumulate many miles, there are plenty of people that live a couple of miles from work. The problem with the seller is he hasn’t documented the mileage, it’s up to him to provide more evidence than just a picture of the speedometer, especially when the price is tied to the claim.

    8
  8. Rob

    No muscle credentials? I dunno, the T/A beat the pants off of the Z28 in both acceleration and handling all the way since 1969. The T/A kept a 455 through 1976, and then the 400 through ‘79, then the 4.9 turbo through ‘81(it wasn’t great, but a way to keep HP up) The Z car was incredible in it’s original iteration with the 302, but then the best they ever got was an old dog 350.

    17
    • 68custom

      Your calling the new for 1970 LT-1 a dog? Clearly you don’t know much about then. Like the block has four bolt mains and a tuftrited and forged steel crank. Forged pistons with 11 to 1 compression ratio. Big solid lifter cam and 2.02 intake and 1.60 exhaust valves and a dual point distributor. They were a little tamer by 73 but still, hardly a dog! Not that the early T/As were tame but a 70 Z-28 could run with the big dogs!
      Nice car, BTW and the real pontiac motor a four speed plus it lookss like a WS-6 so its as hot as you could get for 79

      4
      • Brent

        Comparing a ’70 LT-1 to car almost 10 years newer really isn’t even a comparison. In 1979, the W-87 equipped T/A’s and Formulas were the highest horsepower cars you could get from Detroit. A Z-28 from the same year was rated a full 50 horsepower less, and the torque was even farther away.

        13
  9. Big Chris

    This Company really does produce the Best Trans Am’s around!

    1
  10. Robbie R.

    I follow the TA market pretty closely, and also am a member of several TA groups on FB. RAMC isn’t really a “dealer”, they’re one of the top refurb shops in the U.S. for 2nd gen TAs (and other old muscle). I can’t speak for their claims about mileage or anything else on this particular car, but I’ll say that they generally have a good rep in their industry from what I have personally heard.

    5
  11. NEAL STAMPLEY

    People are always lying and trying to scam! The car has more miles on it than advertised. Real cars people and especially Pontiac guys know what to look for.

    3
  12. Rock On

    I have owned four second generation Camaro Z28s and still have one in the garage. Chevrolet splits the exhaust at the catalytic converter and makes it into a dual exhaust with dual resonators and tailpipes. I find it odd that this car only has a single exhaust.

    10
    • Dante Michael Gentile

      Yes! I was watching this. I have a 79 TA WS6 400 4sp Rear Disc Brakes I have owned since 82. I too was curious about the exhaust system. After the cat there is a y pipe two mufflers 1 on each side and then straight to the splitters behind each reat wheel.

  13. ElectricPics

    A classic sign of odometer tampering is misaligned digits as this example has and taken with the wear and overall condition I’d say it’s far from genuine.

    9
  14. Maynard Reed Jr

    Not sure if the mileage is real or not but pretty sure the 400 is chevy blue instead of pontiac blue. I’m only judging the color by the 455 in my trans am which my not be correct. Nice car just the same.

    2
    • Anthony in RI

      I agree, not the original Pontiac blue on the engine block

      2
  15. Robert Sabatini

    The ’79 T/A WS6 400 Pontiac I owned had an exhaust system similar to the Z28. If you look at the driver side floor pan, you can see where an exhaust pipe had been rubbing the underside. I don’t know why the original exhaust configuration changed, but the exhaust currently in the car looks relatively newer than the rest of the underside. Much like my own T/A, this is a non-A/C car! My T/A would absolutely dust my brother’s ’80 Z28, which was also a 4-speed, non-AC car. I had 32,000 miles on my T/A and the steering wheel looked brand new, as I believe this car might have 116,000 plus miles on it.

    2
  16. Larry q

    Rode hard and put up wet…rust on the springs..rear end..and eyeball the shocks. With only 16 17K you shouldn’t see surface rust

  17. David O

    Had a 78 T/A and my Uncle had a 79 T/A, odometers only went to 99,999 the back to 00000, but the numbers didn’t line up so well after roll over. In order too hold trade in value, it was very simple too reach up under the dash and unsrew the odometer cable ( or was it a spring clip) from back of speedo and drive using the tach for your speedo as well. Could have been done on this car as well because this car has more miles on it than shown. I always check the pedals out for excessive wear.

    1
  18. Troy s

    The modern day large single exhaust system probably works better than the original, but I’m not seeing a catalytic converter at all, which would be a must here where I live in CA. High Flo cat would be an improvement over the old GM pellet style converter any way. Nice car, but I wonder if anything else is “missing” in relation to smog.

    1
  19. Rock On

    Smog equipment has a habit of going missing between inspections. Don’t ask me how I know.

    3
    • Troy s

      Ha ha! Oh, I think most of us here know already, guilty as charged. Just so long as it can be mysteriously discovered and replaced when necessary. 💲👮

      1
  20. Derald Rine

    Dont go bashing the z28’s, few cars you could get in the late 70’s and early 80’s that had V8’s and the looks.

    3
  21. Lance

    Here in MN it don’t take long to get that kind of rust under the car if it’s parked a couple yrs and the grass grows under it with high humidity they can look like that but it don’t go deep wire brush and gone no time.oh the drivers side seat belt looks out of sorts also.

  22. Comet

    Lots of red flags. The inner fenders look brand new, shiny fender shims in some places, etc, etc. Can anyone explain how a steering wheel adjustment lever and the base of the shifter get rusty? I know panel fit wasn’t job one at GM in the 70 & 80’s, but come on, look at how the front bumper fits. My guess is that this car is pieced together and polished up for a quick flip. I just can’t see how a car with 16000 miles would reflect this amount of wear and neglect.

  23. PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

    This ad seems to be aimed at the guy who always wanted one and now can afford it. They are trying to hook the guy who doesn’t know a lot about the underlying clues, just wants a shiny new toy.

  24. Timmy

    Car probably has 16k very hard unmaintained miles,stop light to stop light city drag racing,tire burning miles.Crashed early in life parked and forgotten,leaking t-roofs account for interior rust package and need for new carpets,sun cooked steering wheel thanks to t- roofs.At some point in time tires rotted away leaving car sinking into mud that never dried due to a t/a blocking sun and wind from solidifying the earth’s crust below,this explains metal lines disintegrating below said car.At some point owner saw one sell at Barrett properly stored untouched and original sell big and remembered having one like it.Then upon removal from its temporary tomb spent a chunk to resurrect it only to find out motor was locked solid,hence a fresh rebuild.At this point he has a neat car for his collection but no profit on this girl,some how title shows clean,no accidents reported.Also dealer invoice on this car new was about 5300,retail sticker w/o Ac 8900

    1
  25. Rob M.

    Had a 79 myself back in the day. Loved that car. So did wifey. Would love to have another but this one is way out of reach. And that rust…..

  26. Michael

    For a survivor car with less than 17k, this is the part that scares me:

    “It has a rebuilt engine by our expert staff here at RAMC. New Wheels, Tires, Interior updates like carpet, headliner, package tray. Mechanical systems like Brakes, Cooling system, Heater core and more were all installed New. Quite honestly, the list of NEW items on this car is endless.”

    Why would a 17k-mile survivor need a rebuilt engine, among other things?

    1
    • Miguel

      It survived, but on life support, maybe.

      People have odd definitions of simple words these days.

      All of my cars are survivors, as they still exist, but they are not in particularly good condition.

  27. W9BAG Member

    Nothing about the new parts on this car alarm me. It’s called preventative maintenance. My 1985 Grand Marquis had over $3K in maintenance before buying it. The seller was quite meticulous. Even the motor mounts, trans mounts, all brake components (save for the brake pedal) were replaced. The engine was removed to replace the 32 year old main seal ! A/C converted to 134a. Although the car had less than 8K miles, he wanted it to be reliable. Nothing wrong buying a car that has been properly maintained.

  28. Pete

    I agree the mileage claim to be sketchy. If you look at the seal around the hood air intake it is worn really badly for only 16K miles, 116K miles is more accurate with some sprucing up along the way. This car is 50/50. Half new half old.

    1
  29. Joe

    Having owned about 8 Firebirds over the years, I love this car. May not be pristine, definitely has an additional 100k on the odometer but this would an excellent daily driver and having a complete decent looking driver is just a plus. If much rather have this for the price of a V6 Camaro.

  30. T Mel

    I agree with those leaning towards the extra 100,000 miles probably being on this example, but I couldn’t disagree more with those who talk about misaligned odometer digits as evidence. I’ve owned several of these T/As all the way back to when they were very close to new. Some had high mileage, some had very low mileage, but ALL the cars that sat for years without much use had “slow” odometer digits, as did the high mileage cars, but not until they had high mileage on them. In other words, age, and/or use both eventually lead to “misaligned” digits. Therefore, from what I’ve seen with these birds, digit alignment cannot be relied on as an indication of true mileage.

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