Solv­ing the Rid­dle of the Lost Trans Am Con­vert­ible

Muscle Car Review - - Contents - By Tim Costello

Solv­ing the rid­dle of the lost Trans Am con­vert­ible

Grow­ing up in the Mo­tor City, the mere men­tion of the name “Trans Am” brought ex­cite­ment to a young boy’s heart. My fa­ther used to take me down to our lo­cal deal­er­ship, Woody Pon­tiac in Ham­tramck, which al­ways had a great se­lec­tion of hot Pon­ti­acs. Can you imag­ine it be­ing March 1969, and the lo­cal sales­man tells you about this great new car just re­leased from Gen­eral Mo­tors, the Trans Am? For just un­der $750 you could up­grade your nor­mal Fire­bird to leg­endary sta­tus.

That first year a mere 689 Trans Am hard­tops were built. Even rarer are the con­vert­ibles, as only eight were made. These cars launched a gen­er­a­tion of per­for­mance that lasted up un­til 2002, when the last Trans Am rolled off the assem­bly line

All of the Trans Am con­vert­ibles were built at the Nor­wood, Ohio, assem­bly plant and pro­duced in Cameo Ivory with Try­rol Blue stripes, with a spe­cial Ram Air hood and sig­na­ture deck­lid spoiler. They were all pow­ered by a 400 H.O. en­gine with Ram Air III cylinder heads and topped by a four­bar­rel Quadra­jet car­bu­re­tor. The mo­tor was rated at 335 hp at 5,000 rpm. Buy­ers had a choice of trans­mis­sions, ei­ther a

M20 four-speed man­ual or Turbo 400 au­to­matic. Of the eight con­vert­ibles, four of the cars were or­dered with four-speeds and other four au­to­mat­ics. The in­te­ri­ors mixed it up a bit, with six cars or­dered with blue up­hol­stery, one black, and the other parch­ment. Of the batch, five had white tops, while three re­ceived blue. Three of the eight were ex­ported to Canada.

In 2014, the Mus­cle Car and Corvette Na­tion­als (MCACN) cel­e­brated the Trans Am’s 45th an­niver­sary with a spe­cial con­vert­ible

ex­hibit. Six of the orig­i­nal eight pro­duced were on dis­play at the show, and the sev­enth one was dis­played the fol­low­ing year by Me­cum Auc­tions. Dur­ing the 2014 show, there was a lot of con­ver­sa­tion about the lost last car. There were ru­mors that the car was in Hawaii, or was shipped out to the West Coast, but no one was sure. Did it even still ex­ist?

Car col­lec­tor Rick Mahoney had long been search­ing for that missing eighth con­vert­ible. He had owned the one in the Me­cum booth, and af­ter see­ing all the cars to­gether at MCACN, he de­cided to see if he could ac­cel­er­ate the search for the eighth car. He em­ployed the help of sev­eral pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tors, and within a short amount of time the last owner was lo­cated in Michi­gan. Rick made a call to him, but he was less than en­thu­si­as­tic to speak with him about the car.

Af­ter about a month the guy called Rick back. Ap­par­ently the owner’s fa­ther was part of the orig­i­nal de­sign team that cre­ated the first gen­er­a­tion of Fire­birds. He had a soft spot for the car, but knew that the car needed a ton of work, so he gave Rick the op­por­tu­nity to come and look at

“He em­ployed the help of sev­eral pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tors “

it. Rick con­tacted Scott Tie­mann of Su­per­car Spe­cial­ties in Port­land, Michi­gan, to go check the car out for him.

It was one of the four-speed cars, with a blue in­te­rior, power top, and rally gauge clus­ter. But un­like the other seven, it was not or­dered with a con­sole, mak­ing it one of a kind. It was de­liv­ered to Southpark Mo­tors in Ed­mon­ton, Al­berta, Canada, where it spent most of the first cou­ple years of it life. Then the car crossed back into the United States, hav­ing been sold to a new owner in up­state New York.

The car saw hard use, as most per­for­mance cars of the time did. An ac­ci­dent dam­aged the car, and it was re­paired, only to be dam­aged again in 1973. The in­surance com­pany didn’t want to fix the car, so it was sent to a sal­vage yard in New York.

It laid dor­mant there un­til it made the trip back across the border, hav­ing been sold to another yard in Canada. It con­tin­ued to sit there for al­most another decade un­til the mid 1990s, when it was pur­chased by the owner in Michi­gan.

Upon ar­riv­ing, Scott in­spected the car to make sure it was the real deal. The owner pulled off the cover, and as you could imag­ine, the car had seen bet­ter days.

It had ex­ten­sive dam­age to the front and rear from the 1973 ac­ci­dent, but was very fix­able by to­day’s stan­dards. Since it had been sit­ting for years in sal­vage yards, some of the pieces were missing. The orig­i­nal mo­tor was long gone, but the trans­mis­sion and rearend were still in place.

Scott pulled back the heater box to re­veal the stamp­ings on the firewall and checked un­der the cowl as well. Ev­ery­thing proved that this was the lost Trans Am con­vert­ible. He con­tacted Rick to tell him the good news, and Rick then spent the next six months ne­go­ti­at­ing a price for the car. Once the deal was done, Scott loaded the car and piles of parts into a trailer and headed back to his shop.

Af­ter mak­ing an in­ven­tory of the parts, Scott started the restora­tion process. Lots of new and N.O.S. pieces were or­dered, but when­ever pos­si­ble, orig­i­nal parts that could be saved were re­stored. More than 1,000 hours went into the metal work alone, and there were cer­tainly chal­lenges along the way.

When the body came back from the me­dia blaster, it was very ap­par­ent that the years sit­ting in muddy sal­vage yards did not help the car. The floor pan had to be re­moved, as did both quar­ter-pan­els. Af­ter the new sheet­metal was welded in, the car was placed on a ro­tis­serie and sanded and blocked un­til straight.

The hood that came with the car was a bit rough, so another used one was sourced. Af­ter look­ing at the sourced hood, Scott and his crew de­ter­mined that the in­ner struc­ture wasn’t quite like the orig­i­nal. So they drilled out the fresh hood’s spot welds and then mated the new hood to the orig­i­nal in­ner struc­ture. The fi­nal re­sult is much closer to the way the car rolled off the assem­bly line.

There were a few pieces of the orig­i­nal top ma­te­rial left on the con­vert­ible frame, and both the ma­te­rial and the frame were blue, which was ab­so­lutely orig­i­nal to the car. But the un­der­sides of the af­ter­mar­ket tops that were avail­able were black. Rick

“These cars launched a gen­er­a­tion of per­for­mance”

asked a large con­vert­ible top man­u­fac­turer in the North­east if it could match the orig­i­nal ma­te­rial. The com­pany agreed, but to do so it would have to pur­chase and cus­tom-dye enough yardage for ap­prox­i­mately 25 to 35 con­vert­ible tops. Rick re­luc­tantly agreed, so his car would be au­then­tic. And now all the other blue-top Trans Am con­vert­ibles will have the cor­rect tops, as he con­tacted all the own­ers and sup­plied tops to them. He has a few spares, too, just in case.

“The car had seen bet­ter days”

Af­ter a year and half of work, the “Lost” Trans Am made its de­but at the 2016 MCACN. Rick would like to thank Scott Tie­mann, Dan Farr, Tim Fish, and Randy Jensen of Su­per­car Spe­cial­ties for the in­cred­i­ble restora­tion.

n Rick re­ceived these photos from another Pon­tiac en­thu­si­ast who was also search­ing for the car. The tipoff that this was the car was the blue in­te­rior and blue top com­bi­na­tion. In the 1970s, raised-white-let­ter tires and slot­ted wheels were a must on...

n The spe­cial ex­hibit of Trans Am con­vert­ibles at the 2014 MCACN show prompted Rick Mahoney to ramp up his search for the “lost” eighth T/A drop-top.

n Since the orig­i­nal en­gine was missing, Scott Tie­mann sourced a date-code-cor­rect block and re­built it us­ing fresh and N.O.S. com­po­nents. The paint process is in­ter­est­ing: Each com­po­nent is cleaned, and any im­per­fec­tions are filled and sealed with...

n Af­ter­mar­ket top ma­te­rial is avail­able for Trans Ams with blue tops, but it’s not cor­rect—it’s black on the un­der­side where it’s sup­posed to be blue. Rick con­tracted with a top maker to re­pro­duce the ma­te­rial cor­rectly but wound up with more tops than...

Trans Am rear spoil­ers were not al­ways the best qual­ity. They tended to warp from the sun and not fit the body prop­erly. To fix this, it was sec­tioned and steel rods were in­serted into it to give it strength.

n One of the things that makes this Trans Am con­vert­ible unique is that it was the only four-speed built with­out a cen­ter con­sole. To re­store the seats, an orig­i­nal bolt of N.O.S. blue ma­te­rial was lo­cated by SMS Auto Fab­rics. It was sent to Leg­endary...

Missed it at MCACN? The Trans Am con­vert­ible is on dis­play at the Gil­more Car Mu­seum in Hick­ory Cor­ners, Michi­gan, in a dis­play called, “Born to Per­form: The Era of the Mus­cle Car.” Log onto gilmore­car­mu­ for more info.

The cen­ter gauge clus­ter has never been re­stored. The unit was still in such good con­di­tion that it was just cleaned and put back into place.

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