Saturday, January 11, 2020

1994 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am GT $100 rescue

Hardtop Grey Purple Metallic Trans Am was now mine, rat included.

Dirty bird rescue. I followed up an ad on Facebook Marketplace (more on that one later), which led me to a wooded lot with 100 old cars. Among them sat a 1994 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am GT in Grey Purple Metallic paint (Code 91U) sitting on only one wheel. Three corners of the Bird sat on dirt or chunks of concrete block. Despite the lack of rolling stock, and the less desirable LT1 engine (vs the LS1), I was quick to drag the old girl home for $100. Scrap price money. 

Back in 1994
25 years ago I couldn't afford the new Trans Ams near $24,000 price tag but I loved their swooping curves, 6-speed manual transmissions and powerful engines that validated their poor man's Corvette reputation. I sat in one of these fourth gen Birds when they were new on the showroom floor. Someday, I will own one of these, I thought. I told anyone who would listen to my soon-to-be college graduate/Trans Am owner life plan. I went for several test drives but couldn't pull the trigger. Instead, practical decision-making led me to a Chevy S-10 for my post-college transportation. Regret, and the truck's uncomfortable seats doomed my choice. This $100 Trans Am is my redemption!

Both in rough shape.
The hardtop Grey Purple Metallic 1994 Trans Am was now mine. Just add wheels and my dream is complete.

Walk around
The first thing I noticed was the seldom seen Grey Purple paint. Only 120 Trans Am GTs were built in this color. This is also a hardtop Trans Am GT, 1-of-2,302 hardtop GTs built for 1994. The GT performance package got you a 155 mph speedometer and 245/50R16 Z-rated tires. The combination of the GT package, hardtop and rare color means this was an unpopular choice when new but that means a collector may want to brag on the rarity of such a beast someday. 
  The glovebox holds the detailed RPO code sticker that includes the Y83 GT option code. Among this Trans Ams other options, G80 for Posi Traction, GU5 means 3.23 rear gear ratio, PW7 is the code for 16x8 alloy wheels and FE2 for the Suspension system/Ride handling package.

Under the hood a massive rats nest was not enough to deter me from buying the $100 Bird. LT1 power means 275 hp and 325 foot-pounds of torque.

What happened here?
This Bird has been sitting since 2006 according to the tag. During that time the driver's side window has been busted out and the three missing wheels walked to the nearest scrapyard to fetch about $30 bucks. Inside is a disaster area. A large critter had devoured the headliner material and built huge, overflowing nests inside the glovebox and under the hood. Dank water in the driver's seat and floorboard had formed the breeding ground for swamp monsters. The worst part was found in the console. It was an automatic! The horror.

A busted door glass allowed rain to ruin the driver's seat of the Trans Am.

Have wheels will travel
The first rule of junk cars is... wait, there are no rules with junk cars. But, having an extra set of wheels and tires is a good thing to have for times like these. I mounted my spare set of Rally II Pontiac wheels and "may-pop" tires onto the ’94 Bird. Lucky for us that the 5x4.75 inch bolt pattern fits a 1973 Trans Am and a 1994 Trans Am for the purpose of rolling the car onto a trailer. The rim offset is way wrong, so, the front tires rub when the wheels are turned more than a couple inches.

Rally II rims fit under the 4th gen bird as a temporary fix to roll it onto my car trailer.

Hauling home with a guest
I met the caretaker of the field of cars, Glen, at the lot for pick-up of my diamond-in-the-rough. He pulled it to the road through many mud holes with an old wrecker. My new winch made short work of the loading process, but the 3,400-lb Pontiac made the trip to my driveway with a secret passenger onboard. 
  I met him after I cleaned out his mess under the hood and as I was vacuuming out under the passenger's side of dash. The jumbo rat plopped onto the driver's side floorboard, with a thud, hopped onto the seat and leaped out the window. It was huge! And it moved fast! Like a squirrel.

Trap time
I found fresh green leaves and sticks under the hood a couple days later. This rat wasn't going to leave. I pulled out the seats and carpet and placed a giant, wooden mouse trap, loaded with peanut butter on the floor. The next morning the 7-inch long (11.5 inches. including tail) rat was found enjoying his last meal. Time to scrub this car down. 

A big nest was found in the glovebox.
Glovebox was also home to Mr. Rat. Packed full.

RPO codes sticker found under the nest in the glovebox.

What do we got here?
Time to see what this LT1 engine will do. I tossed in a hot battery and hit the key. Nothing. I crawled under the Bird with a screwdriver and jumped the starter solenoid. It turned over several times. Yes! This is getting good now. Then, I sprayed some starter fluid into the throttle body. Screwdriver in hand, I crawled under and got the engine to turn over and run for few seconds. No knocking! This old Bird might me worth fixing after all.
  Stay tuned. Will the $100 Trans Am be a keeper or a project/parts car for somebody else?

Jody Potter
— Junkyard Life: The Story Beneath the Rust

The extra wheels and tires were needed to move the junk T/A.
Ever wonder what white wall tires look like on a late model Trans Am?

1994 Bird lands in my driveway. Not the last, I hope.

13 years sitting in a wooded field will make a car look bad.
Before washing off the scum, a good vacuum job was needed.

Most panels are composite - not steel.
Plenty of composite parts on the 4th Gens. The steel quarter panel shows a fire extinguisher-sized dent.

A 1986 Nissan 300ZX parts car is loaded up for the scrap yard to make room for the latest Pontiac. My driveway junkyard is a glimpse of what Junkyard Life is about.

Grey Purple Metallic is an uncommon color on '94 models. Made more rare because it's on a hardtop GT model Trans Am.

Seats and carpet had to be yanked to clear out the years of yuck.

Grey Purple Metallic 1994 Trans Am.
Photos don't do this color justice. I imagine this paint color looked sharp when it was new.

Hate to see a car get scrapped but the T/A was worth the spot in the driveway.

Fourth Gen Trans Ams (1993-2002) look fast sitting still.
Even in this condition.

Back seat is rough but better that the damaged front seat. This car has felt the brunt of living with a busted window in the woods.
Windows caked with years of tree sap and dirt.
155 mph speedometer in 1994 Pontiac Trans Am GT has busted lens.

Tequila in a 2-liter bottle of Mountain Dew? Trans Am trash pile.

Washed and mean looking 1994 Pontiac Trans Am GT looks better every minute.

Got a junk car story? We want to know it. Send us details! Send emails to Jody Potter at

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Cars in Yards: Grandma's 1972 Chevy Caprice big block, 4-door hardtop

Grill view of rusty 1972 Caprice

Big Block Grandma Car. Often we dream of coming across that elusive automotive unicorn. You know the one. Seems like every town has an urban legend about an awesome, big block-powered, grandmother car still in the hands of the original family simply because the head matriarch grew too old to drive it. We've heard that one too. Now we have proof that such a car exists! We were passing through a small industrial town on our way home from Tennessee when some locals at a gas station provided a tip (or myth?) that led to such a treasure. Putting on my famous Junkyard Life press hat* we followed the leads. And that rumor proved to be true when discovering this awesome 1972 Chevrolet Caprice four-door hardtop with a 402 engine waiting for us under the hood. Big Block power!

1972 Caprice still owned by original owner's family. Big block, 4-door hardtop.

Two Grannies!
Only a slight twist to this story of a grandmother buying a car and eventually having to relinquish the driving to someone else. This Caprice was owned by BOTH grandmothers of the current owner. That's right! One grandmother, on the mother’s side sold the Caprice to a grandmother on the father’s side somewhere along the way.

We had questions. For starters, who inspired Granny #1 to buy such a well-optioned Chevrolet with the (almost) biggest engine one could have in 1972? Was this Grandmother like the one Jan and Dean told us about? Did she want the 402 big block with dual exhaust or was it optioned on the car when she first saw it? Would the other engines just not do?

Original Dusk Gray paint is a memory. 

Well, the answer was very simple. This was a former Cadillac owner that had very high standards. This Caprice had power windows and a power seat. That alone would not do it. Deluxe cloth interior and a huge engine was what it would take to satisfy a Cadillac customer that would very gladly drive a little further for a luxurious automobile. Chevrolet better pony up if they wanted her business. This Caprice finished in Dusk Gray (code 18) with a vinyl top won the sale and several years later, our hearts. Go, Granny, go!

Deluxe cloth interior, power seat, power locks, A/C.

Low miles
"See the USA in Your Chevrolet" was the Chevy marketing slogan at the time. In this case, not much of the USA was covered by granny. The slogan should have been:
See Church, the Grocery Store, Bridge Club and Menial Errands in Your Chevrolet” **
That would have been a better advertising campaign in this case. The Caprice was very local, which was a good thing with an engine that large. Seeing the USA would cost a fortune at 10-12 MPG. The 48-year-old Caprice has 87k miles. 

Under hood engine decal proclaims "402 CU. IN. 4BBL CARB."

"400" emblem mounted to aluminum trip on Caprice fender.

Show me yours

So it was true. The car was real. The story was great. The family is still in possession of this really interesting car. Now we need to know your legends and want to learn the story behind them. If you think there is an element of truth to the local legends that you've heard about in your town, let us know! Junkyard Life loves to find them and remind each other to cherish them.

Ron Kidd
— Junkyard Life: The Story Beneath the Rust

Power window switches signal luxury in 1972.

Power seat in a big block ’72 Caprice.

Caprice Fun Facts:
  • In 1970, Chevrolet offered a color on the Caprice called Shadow Gray. It was Code 17. Previous, there was not a gray hue listed in the vast array of color Chevrolet offered.
  • The 396 big block received a factory overbore in 1970, thus making it into the 402. 
  • They never made a 402 emblem (that we know of) so when you see a Caprice with a 400 emblem on the lower fender…surprise! It could be the small block 400 or the big block 402.
  • The four door hard-top with no dividing post was still considered the lap of luxury by 1972. Despite that, buyers knew that as cool as it was to have all four windows disappear when rolled down, eventually they would be plagued with the famous whistle sound as the car reached highway speeds.
  • The Caprice was offered with a factory dual exhaust system. 
  • The Cadillac owner was the target audience for the Caprice. The Chevrolet had a much better sticker price and some car magazines of the day actually preferred the Caprice. The one compared to the Caddy had a 454. 

Editor’s Notes:
*This is Ron’s last warning about that ridiculous 1940’s newspaper reporter hat. “Press”? Really?

** “See Church, the Grocery Store, Bridge Club and Menial Errands in Your Chevrolet” is why Ron got fired from the automotive ad agency. Chevrolet may still have a restraining order. 

A/C hoses cross the front of big block 402 engine.

Detail of Dusk Gray paint in door jamb.

Toasty fender on bottom edge of driver's side.

Parked for decades in the dirt, the metal under hood has felt the wrath of moisture damage from the ground.

Caprice emblem adorns rusty decklid.

The shape of big Chevys in 1972 rusting in peace.

Thrifty man's Cadillac? - a loaded 1972 Caprice.

Buried up to the hubcap. This Caprice hasn't moved in years.

Deluxe cloth seats with small headrests.

Lighter, fake wood, AM/FM. Perfect.

1972 Caprice hood ornament is a beauty in silver and gold. Silver Fleur de lis on a gold shield.

Got a great car story? We want to know it. Send us details! Send emails to Jody Potter at and Ron Kidd at