Monday, March 5, 2012

Project Junkyard dog Pontiac Trans Am - Rescue and recovery

Mothers warn children to stay away from “bad” cars. You know, rusty ones with busted windshields and sharp protruding edges that can cut you quicker than the saw blade on a Swiss Army pocket knife. These cars have existed unloved, neglected and unmercifully abused. They are always bathed in an uneven coat of gray or black primer. Visually unmatched by a sinister reputation as “most likely driven by a convicted felon to his next crime.” Bystanders murmur cautiously in the unfortunate event that one of those “bad” cars parks next to them at the supermarket. Pulling their trembling children close as they anxiously approach a car known to all gear heads simply as a Junkyard Dog. Somewhere a mom can be overheard saying, “You will go to not heaven if you ever drive a car like that!” That’s exactly why I had to have this Junkyard Dog 1980 Pontiac Trans Am. It was love at first sight.

This 1980 Pontiac Trans Am was in line for the car crusher.
The rescue
Late last year I spotted an abused late 1970s Trans Am wearing grey primer behind a chain link fence. It was in a sketchy neighborhood and the surrounding fence was topped by razor wire. The lot was used to store the “good” cars. The ones that the junk car buyer thought were worth saving instead of sending to the crusher. Several weeks later I saw a portable car crusher outside another storage lot owned by the same junk car buyer. He was clearing out his over stocked lot due to high scrap prices and lack of room. The same primered Trans Am was now parked in that lot! I had to act quick. A hasty deal was made and I had the ratty, Junkyard Dog T/A delivered to my house for a $1,000. 

Vintage slot mags, 14-inch rims up front and fat 15-inch rims on the rear, ride on the hubs of the junkyard Dog Trans Am.

The paper trail
I probably paid too much considering it was on the way to the car crusher but I let Firebird fever get the best of me. The junk car guy mentioned possibly selling it on ebay and he knew it was worth a grand. He baited me like a pro wheeler-dealer and I jumped on it. 

  The T/A had a 1975 model 400 Pontiac engine (not correct for 1980 T/As), with 6X heads under the hood, chrome valve covers and a new looking fuel pump. Just enough eye candy to distract my brain from making a smart decision about the T/A's title. I received no paper work in the junk man’s deal, so it was left up to me to track down the previous owner who sold it to the junk car buyer in order to get a title. I wasn’t concerned until the car hit the ground at my house and I had no proof of ownership. Stupid. Stupid. Learn from my mistake. No title, no deal. 

  Now it gets interesting. After a few dozen phone calls, because of an old lien against the vehicle, I tracked the Pontiac's former owner down.
I made a surprise visit to the gentleman who was in his early 70s. I explained my situation and the previous owner got tears in his eyes. He regretted selling the car to the junk car man and wanted to buy back his Trans Am. But he could only pay me what the junk car guy paid him – $150. We talked about his days hot rodding the T/A and he decided to sign the Trans Am over to me. “Whew!” Now I could get the papers in order and get to work.

That Camel Tan seat belt was part of the 1980 Trans Am's interior before it was used to secure the steering wheel by the junk car buyer.

Junk car man is in the money business
Save the cars worth saving. Crush the rest. It must be the mantra for people in the business of buying junk cars. They haul automotive eyesores away and give the former owner’s around $150. Easy money, for the junk car business. They can turn around and sell a 3,200 lb. car to a scrap metal recycler for around $400. The market price fluctuates but recently $12-to-$14 per 100 pounds is common.

Moisture found its way into the long-dormant Pontiac 400 engine, making a mess of the rocker arms.

Know what it’s worth - get to work
Before you get all fired up and decide to haul all the old cars out of junkyards to save them from neglect or worse, a date with the car crusher, consider the value of the car as a whole and the sum of its parts. Is it worth it? Are you willing to pay up and do the work required to drive a junkyard dog? So many cars, so little time.

  Do I want to keep the Junkyard Dog Trans Am or sell it to a new owner pining for a Second Gen Trans Am? I’ve got the JYD T/A in my driveway, now it’s time to put up or shut up. Can I get this mean machine back on the road? Stay tuned.

– Jody Potter,

Know of a junkyard I need to visit or want to send me photos and info about a junkyard? Send emails to

Junkyard Dog T/A does have chrome valve covers to hide the rusty valvetrain.

Leaky T-tops and Camel Tan Hobnail cloth rear seats.

This is the Junkyard Dog T/A’s good door panel. Power locks!

JYD Trans Am's flashy second-gen cigarette lighter has been heavily used but still remains in place.

Unloading the Trans Am without damaging the front spoiler... too late. It already had a split in the center.

In true Junkyard Dog form, the ’80 Trans Am has a driver's seat from another car. Check out the shaker hood scoop. It's riveted to the hood. Not the first time I’ve had one like this.

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Joe Marano said...

to me it look like a decent start for a project. how solid is the car? leaky T tops and tall grass do havoc to cars up hear!

Junkyard Life said...

It's got a couple drain holes made by Mother Nature in the corner of the footwells. Quarters and trunk are solid. Overall pretty decent/straight for the amount of abuse & neglect. More wrenches to turn before she's on the road. ;)

Joe Marano said...

Ya those rockers look like there is trubble in that engine! But solid quarters and trunk floor are a great start, floors are easy compared to them. i'm gessing the rear spring mounts are solid too. I had a 76 TA i picked up out of a field that all 4 corners of the spring pack were pocking threw the floor once i moved all the junk out of the way to see what i had, lol! i'll send you some pictures and the full story on the car but i don't want to swamp you since i've already sent you so much lol, but you'll like this ta it up your ally.