Sunday, February 16, 2020

1976 Pontiac Catalina: low price, full style, grandma or gangster?

A greenhouse to envy or a home to sun worshippers? No, a 1976 Pontiac.

Another Catalina! We love Pontiacs. We love weird window glass. We love unique and classy chariots of Pontiac fame. So how is it that after all these years we overlooked the beauty and styling cues of the 1976 Pontiac Catalina? Well, we did until Jody and I stumbled upon this forgotten full-size classic in the parking lot of Vintage Garage in Harpersville, Alabama.

From that point on, smitten by the luxury appointments and the overall “wow” factor that Pontiac lovers know so well. The factory options fit their place in this Catalina eloquently. The big Poncho two-door was just layed out so well.

You know what we didn’t know well? This entire car. It occurred to us that we had seen very few of them even though the greenhouse glass had us at “hello.” We still don’t know much about these Catalinas, being just recently smitten. As the world turns, the collector car circles seem to have forgotten about this one. It is a fine fine day for a reunion.

Four flat tires and weeds growing through parking lot cracks around car.
Weeds and flat tires can't keep us away from this 1976 Pontiac Catalina 2-door in light blue with white vinyl top.

Eight is enough

Code “P” in the VIN tells us that there is Pontiac motor waiting for us. The 165 horsepower Pontiac 350 was not what we expected. Really, we were betting on a 400 Pontiac. The next safe bet would be the 455 Pontiac, seeing that it was the last year available and if you were to find one, it would be nestled between the fenders of a full-size luxury car. 

Don’t let that discourage you from enjoying the rest of this Pontiac. The 350-V8 was indeed a hardworking powerplant that has a following of sorts. So, maybe it had to work a little harder than larger engines, but it did it. This discarded little brother of the larger engines was indeed a great and long lasting engine. You would be surprised at the enthusiasm this seemingly forgotten engine enjoys today.

A small quarter window meets the back edge of the door glass.

Sunny in there?
A good roof designer is valuable. The Pontiac design team that dreamed up these wild windows was a hero to all fans of strange automobile glass. Dig the aerodynamic rear window design. Fall in love with the rear quarter windows. Fall in love quickly, because they could disappear with the push of a button… that's right… POWER rear quarter glass! 

1976 Pontiac literature refers to this as a “hardtop” but it seems to us this conflicts somewhat with the idea that this could have been a sedan. Junkyard Life loves odd car roofs. We are not sure we would call this design a “hardtop” by definition. We are only sure that we love it. 

Tri-spoke Pontiac steering wheel in view as we peek through the glass.
Driver's seat cover has seen better days but is still cover in original white vinyl. 1970s big clock/100mph speedo combo gauges.

Options: Whatcha want, Shorty?
It appears whoever ordered up this car went wild checking options… or did they? We learned many things came standard on this car. It was not hard to get many of the goodies that made day-to-day life enjoyable. Power everything, tilt this, cruise that, 15-inch wheels with what Pontiac called the “Deluxe” wheel cover. *(Fun fact warning: This hubcap was available across the Pontiac line, except on the Sunbird and Astre. Basically anything that had a 15-inch wheel except the Trans Am. When the exclusive Grand Prix was ordered with this wheel cover, it was the same hubcap but with a “GP” logo on it.) The 1976 Pontiac brochure also makes mention of a power pedal extension available in all full-size models to make the vertically challenged more comfortable. Oddly, NOT available in a full-size station wagon.

Much like late-1960s Cadillac coupes, these windows slide side-to-side.
A power window switch in the back seat tells us that those power quarter windows ramp up the "wow" factor on this Catalina. They slide side-to-side.

Final thoughts
We found a unique Pontiac that is seldom found on the road or in the junkyard. A 1976 Pontiac Catalina in a two door with amazing glass! This color (Athena Blue) suits it well and has a subtle, yet powerful presence. We have learned a lot about Catalinas here at Junkyard Life recently (Emma Goose) and it is safe to say… we dig them! This example has fallen into the right hands and will be something to behold once again. We certainly hope so!

Ron Kidd
— Junkyard Life: The Story Beneath the Rust

(Editor’s Note: Ron finds a way to work a Grand Prix into everything, doesn’t he?)

Need some Vitamin D? Crawl up onto the hat rack and stretch out in the sunshine.

Pontiac used variations of wide, 3-line tail lights for many years on big, small and performance vehicles.

Big 1976 cars often landed in demolition derbies. This one has survived with super stout bumpers intact.

Montgomery, Alabama dealership emblem reveals a lot about this 44-year-old Pontiac. Now in Harpersville, sitting just 75 miles away from where it was bought new.

A cool white interior color was needed in a car with this much glass. It looks original, and I could almost make out either 102k or 82k on the odometer.

Sun-bleached paint turns to rust on the top surfaces of the trunk lid of the 1976 Pontiac Catalina. Just a big Cat lying in the sun. Grandma and the gangsters would be envious.

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

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