For those of us who are pretty much swamped during the summer season, but not the kind to close up shop in the winter, this is no time to kick back. Now is when we are supposed to get big projects done. I’m working on one that I hesitate to tell anybody about. It’s a 1980 Trans Am T-Top.
When I bought it, it was sitting on a cradle in one bay of a two-car garage in Saugus, with a missing axle and no wheels. The bay next to it was full of mismatched parts. So, the first part of the job was just cataloging what was there. Then there’s getting the transmission rebuilt and putting the engine and all the hydraulic and fuel lines back in.
I was hoping the whole project might take about a year, start to finish. But let’s not go there. That idea gets a laugh out of my dad. He still works in my Wellfleet shop with me, and if you ask him how long this is going to take, he’ll just say, “Years.”
Restoring a vintage car means spending a lot of time on the internet, where there’s a market for everything. Pontiac Trans Am parts are a whole niche. If I’m missing something, I’ll be able to find it out there. Except, that is, any performance parts for the engine.
The Trans Am came into production in 1969, at the end of the muscle car era. It had the kind of style that must have given Ford and Dodge night sweats.
In reality, the engine was not real powerful. It was a 4.9-liter, 301-cubic-inch V8. Pontiac went down a side road in 1980, working on a turbo-charged version that turned out to be big, but iffy.
I hadn’t even been born yet in 1980, the vintage of my car. I probably first saw the T-Top watching Smokey and the Bandit — Burt Reynolds’s wheels in the movie was a 1977 Trans Am.
Anyway, the T-Top offered the open-air attitude of a convertible, but the structure of a hard-top. You had to remove the roof panels on either side of the “T” and stash them in the trunk of the car to catch the breeze.
Once I get the suspension back together — that is, joints, shocks, bushings, springs, and brakes — then it’ll be about the body and interior details.
Some of those details are cool. The snowflake wheels are original. I’ve got the original steering wheel somewhere around here, and you can still see, though faintly, the firebird decal on the hood. Pontiac’s designers created it in 1970, though “The Screaming Chicken” didn’t appear on the hood until 1973.
Once or twice I’ve tried doing restorations for other people. It just doesn’t work. Inevitably, more time and money than you’ve planned starts to go into a project like this. It’s got to be a car you want.
It’s not a job, in other words — it’s a hobby. By which I mean, in some way it’s not really about ever being finished.