Solving the Riddle of the Lost Trans Am Convertible
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 gilmorecarmuseum.org 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.