Saturday, December 7, 2019

1975 Pontiac Catalina 2-door with a for sale sign


Found for sale in Mulga, Alabama in front of a tire store.

Goose chase.
Not all wild goose chases result in disappointment. Sometimes they go rather well. When JYL got the call that there was a garage find we might like. It was for sure a mid-1970’s Pontiac. The tipster indicated it may be a Grand Prix. We might be borderline obsessed with Pontiac Grand Prixs. It might be 45 minutes away. Do we chance it? Heck yes, we do!

A tan colored half vinyl top on the 1975 Catalina.
1975 Pontiac Catalina's clean lines and huge quarter panels wrap around to the squared off tail lights.

Holy Mother Goose 
  Armed with some vague directions and a few landmarks, this tip turned out to be very true. It was a 1975 Pontiac Catalina! Oh, what a Catalina it was too. It was a beautiful car that was well taken care of since new. The original owner’s wife decided it was time to go to other hands.

New Goose 
  During the fall of 1974, the new 1975 full-size line-up was proudly displayed at Brownell Pontiac in Birmingham, Alabama. In that row of Bonnevilles, Safaris, Grand Ams and Grand Prixs sat Emma Goose – this beautiful Catalina.


The saddle interior looks new. No cracks, splits, tears. Signs of a low-mile garage queen.


Emma Goose
  So what is Emma Goose exactly? She is a 1975 Pontiac Catalina in Oxford Brown with Saddle interior. She is propelled by an appropriate Pontiac 350 and the expected automatic transmission. Emma Goose was moderately optioned, saving money on certain features and a little spendy on others. A bench seat covered in the previously mentioned code 63V Saddle interior-one of the most beautiful colors they could have matched with the regal Oxford Brown (Code 59) exterior. A trivial fun fact is that Oxford Brown was not shown on most factory sales literature. Why? Because in 1975 it was ONLY on the Catalina! Making Emma a rare goose indeed.


Radial Tuned Suspension emblem is mounted above the radio.
AM/FM 8-track stereo serves up the tunes in the 1975 Pontiac Catalina. Note the Radial Tuned Suspension emblem mounted above the radio.

Counting on Emma

  How many options can you spot? We spotted the Cordova vinyl top and the Rally II wheels – those were not free. We also noticed the air conditioning. Don’t think for a second that we missed the AM/FM stereo with the optional 8-track tape player! Emma rocks! She even had the famous RTS badge (Radial Tuned Suspension) on the dash.
  This Catalina presented itself so well that we really didn’t miss the options not checked. Not present were power windows, cruise control, power seats, extra-cost material called Morrokide or even a 4-barrel carburetor. We didn’t care. We loved this car.

  So Catalina fans, what did we miss? A low-mile, garage find, straight from the original owner in preserved condition. This car was amazing enough. Our goose was cooked! We were feeling lucky just to be near it. Junkyard Life sincerely hopes this incredible Pontiac finds a great new home to keep up the preservation and the life it deserves. How great is it to be reassured that these treasures are still out there? We would say…very!

Ron Kidd
— Junkyard Life: The Story Beneath the Rust


A grandma-fresh garage find.
$7,000 on the sign in window. This pristine brown beauty was found in Mulga, Alabama in front of a tire store.


Catalina Disclaimers and Fun Facts

  • The name “Catalina” first appeared on Pontiac’s top of the line Chieftain series in 1950. The most expensive in the 1950 Pontiac line was a Catalina.
  • By 1959 property values went down considerably and the name remained on the entry level, lower optioned, lower price cars. A demotion that never affected Pontiac loyalty. Buyers loved the name Catalina, despite the fact it was now the least expensive in that line of Pontiacs.
  • Some sources say Catalina is Spanish for the name Catherine.
  • Other sources claim the word “catalina” is a Greek word meaning pure. This makes sense for the base model association.
  • Some indicate “catalina” is a type of balance wheel, named for St. Catherine whom had a dire experience with such a wheel.
  • Junkyard Life writer Ron Kidd was sure a Catalina was a commercial fishing boat. He will still try to tell you that it is. Other staff members thought it was named after Catalina Island. (Discalimer: We don’t really know.)

This Pontiac Catalina is one-of-40,657 2-door hardtops built for ’75 model year. 

Brownell Pontiac dealer emblem on trunk lid.

100 mph speedometer in the round gauge that sits next to clock on dash.

66,359 miles on odometer of ’75 Pontiac Catalina.

Six distinct grille elements mimic the six outline shapes on the tail lights. Design details that add bonus points for the discriminating collector.

Style, class and determination. The face on this Pontiac Catalina captivates.

Rallys II wheels and white wall tires on the 1975 Pontiac Catalina. Radials beacame standard equipment in 1975.

Large quarter windows keep blind spots away when merging in the big Poncho.





Under hood shot of the all original engine.
A Pontiac 350 engine powers the 1975 Catalina.

Manual window cranks for the passenger in the ’75 Catalina.

The Catalina could fool people into thinking this was a time machine. One loaded with options like air, AM/FM stereo with 8-track.



Got a classic car in your driveway? Send us details!  Send emails to Jody Potter at junkyardbull@gmail.com and Ron Kidd at Kidd403@bellsouth.net.


Sunday, November 10, 2019

1979 Pontiac Trans Am Rescue


A bird in the hand is way better! Have you considered that our treasured dream cars are rapidly becoming endangered species? Cars we could have bought even 20 years ago in decent shape are disappearing. Junkyard Life speaks to a high number of enthusiast with reverse buyer’s remorse… 
  “Why didn’t I buy a Trans Am 20 years ago?
  Combine that thought with modern sticker shock. We are paying more for whatever is left of whatever Pontiac carcass we can find. Rust waits for no one, especially us. The combination of the effects of time and rising prices due to glamorized auctions geared toward very deep pockets have taken these cars out of the hands of most of us.


New owner, Carl Brownbridge, holds the keys to a rough but worthy one-owner 1979 Pontiac Trans Am.

Well, meet our new best friend Carl Brownbridge. This 19-year-old is somehow immune to the powerful effects of physics and economics. He did it! He set out to find a late 1970s Pontiac Trans Am (in good shape) and he made it happen. Tenacity paid off rather quickly when he set his search on Bird Watch 2019. 

Check out what he found and all the reasons we have to be jealous. A 1979 Pontiac Trans Am 301 Hardtop in (kind of) a rare color with a very rich history! Can you believe Carl is only the second owner? At his age? Owner number two of a 1979 TA? With full documentation and a new lease on life, Carl let us take a closer look.  


Silver paint, worn thin, gave way to surface rust on the top of the T/A.

Dig in!
After we exchanged pleasantries with this disco Bird, we got to know it a little better. We actually became very acquainted when Carl let us disassemble the back seat in our quest for the factory build sheet. Sometimes referred to as “the body broadcast sheet”-this coveted piece of paper went down the assembly line with the car as it morphed into the finished product that a lucky owner was to soon be cruising in. We found it hiding in the usual location for most GM F-bodies. Behind the back seat in the upright section. 
  “Carl, I have some good news for you.” 
  I confirmed the build sheet was still in place for the excited new owner.


Factory build sheet still tucked behind back seat of the 1979 Pontiac Trans Am.


What the build sheet could not tell us
The story the build sheet could not tell us was that the original owner got this Pontiac brand new for his 16th birthday! What a present that must have been! Can you imagine? It really did mean something to him, because he kept the car until very recently selling it to Carl. We also found an inscription from 1979 on a keep sake under the back seat. 


Engraved memento found under back seat of 1979 T/A.
It reads "Michael 9-6-79."



What did the build sheet tell us?
This Bird was delivered to Brownell Pontiac in Birmingham, Alabama in paint code 15 Platinum. Intended to be more of a long term car than a rumbling street fighter, this Bird served duty with a 301 4-bbl Pontiac motor. This was a new power plant for 1979, allowing a third engine option for the sporty Trans Am. When equipped with a 2:73 rear gear, this car would move it down the road and not max out the gas card.    


301-V8 under the shaker on the 1979 T/A.

No tunes
According to the grail, this Pontiac was ordered with no radio whatsoever.
That in itself is not too unusual. Dealers and customers didn’t mind this so much because they intended to rock their own systems provided by the aftermarket. What usually happened in cases such as this, most cars were equipped with a provision to easily install such melody makers as the dealer or customer saw fit. This car was not. They were like Patty LaBelle when it came to wiring up the driving music — own their own. 


Unmistakable second gen Trans Am instrument cluster.

How was it optioned?
Like most cars randomly put together by Pontiac, moderately. Tilt wheel, but no cruise. It has the deluxe lighting option that shines a light on the floor, the trunk and the console. However, it doesn’t have the deluxe map light. It came with standard black vinyl interior that looks really great against the silver. It had a positive traction rear differential (G80) as most Trans Ams of that era came with. 


1979 brought a restyled nose to the Pontiac Firebird lineup.

Decal option?
The Trans Am currently does not have a hood bird, although it was indeed born with one according to the sacred build sheet. Ah, the build sheet. A cavalcade of information all crammed on one beautiful sheet of paper. Carl’s car was subject to a partial repaint at some point and the graphics were left off. The Bird is mostly straight, despite having suffered some slight side damage somewhere along the way. It has great floor pans and the louvers that we used to hate made us eat our words when we saw the level of protection they provided against the harsh Alabama sun over the years. We are envious of the great condition the interior panels including the dash. Some Carls have all the luck.

The truly great thing we learned on this find is that these cars are still out there. Carl focused and then he found the Bird he wanted. He paid what we would have paid when these cars were more plentiful. His enthusiasm is contagious and we can’t wait to see how this project rewards Carl and gives the silver Bird a new lease on life!

Ron Kidd
— Junkyard Life: The Story Beneath the Rust




Junkyard Life’s 1979 Trans Am Fun Facts
  • Debut of 301-V8 engine option for the Trans Am.

  • Last year for the 400 W72 Pontiac motor. Interestingly, that motor could only be had with a 4-speed.

  • Nose change in 1979 would be used through 1981.

  • First year for the tail lights to run across the middle of the car, with the middle fuel door hidden in the lights.

  • First year for the bright light switch to be located on the turn signal stalk. Previous to 1979, they were located on the floor.

  • First year for blacked out window trim. Only it was not prepped properly at the factory. The customer drove off the lot with black trim, only to have chrome eight months later.

  • 1979 was an anniversary year for the Trans Am. It was commemorated with the beautiful 10th Anniversary Edition. However, as it was the silver anniversary, most silver Trans Ams around today are anniversary editions. This is what makes Carl’s car so cool. A silver (Code 15 Platinum) non-anniversary Trans Am is seldom seen.

  • By 1979 it was becoming more difficult to special order a Trans Am. Dealers would much rather swap with another dealer to realize your Firebird dreams. Some people report having to put down a significant deposit and then pay a note on a car they didn’t have for several months. “Or we can get you this one today…” 

  • Most 1979 Trans Ams sold were of the 403 automatic persuasion. This would also be the last year for them. Engines only got smaller from there. 


Editors Note: We give credit to Ron for writing this article and not working in the phrase “Bird Delete” just to bug Scott Scheel of ‘Smoke Signals’ magazine. Our good friend Scott and Ron have argued this point for years. Scott says the famous hood bird was an RPO option, therefore there is no such thing as “bird delete.” Ron claims that most Trans Ams had them, and it was easier to get one with a hood bird and a buyer had to go somewhat out of his way to not have one. Plus, Ron says it is just easier to say “bird delete” than it is to describe a Trans Am with all graphics, sans the hood bird. These guys can go on and on...  



15x7 snowflake wheels with original, round, steel center caps.

The big hood covers a lot of real estate in the Trans Am engine bay.

Aftermarket power antenna added in trunk.

Rear seats in superb condition thanks to the louvers shading them.

Black back seat area in nearly new condition.

All the lights work on this 1979 Trans Am. 

Bird-less hood still looks good.

Seat covers hide the original front bucket seats.

Carl cranks up his "new-to-him" 1979 T/A.

Ron Kidd climbs inside the T/A for some seat time.

Aftermarket equalizer installed in the glovebox.

Tunes provided by the aftermarket on this radio-delete T/A.

If a Trans Am is on your bucket list get one soon, the prices are climbing.

Original compact spare still in trunk.

Full length Firebird tail lights were new design for 1979 models.


Got a classic car in your driveway? Send us details!  Send emails to Jody Potter at junkyardbull@gmail.com and Ron Kidd at Kidd403@bellsouth.net.


Friday, October 25, 2019

Making Ford Thunderbirds fly with turbos: Swapping a 2.3 into a 2002-2005 T-Bird



Retro Modern Boost. I admitted to myself and other staff members of Junkyard Life that I am indeed a Thunderbird fan. I really love to read about the 1983-1988 Turbo Coupes with their unique powertrains. Before I came out of the Thunderbird closet, I almost bought one one of the Turbo Coupes. That is what first started my infatuation with Ford’s versatile intermediate and forced a deeper dig into the history of the Thunderbird.

“Versatile” may not be the right way to describe Thunderbirds. Their evolution is unlike any car’s history. First introduced as a two seat sports car in 1955. The stylish, 3,000-pound car ballooned to nearly 5,000 pounds by the mid-1970s. The Thunderbird went from nimble and sporty, competing with the Corvette for buyers, to a really big, luxury cruiser. It was not the same animal. 



In 1987 the 2.3-liter turbocharged four cylinder received an intercooler and revised engine control, boosting output to 190 horsepower and 240-lbs.ft. of torque on Thunderbirds with the five-speed manual transmission.
(Photo by Joe Bays)

Return to roots minus the engine
But after many design changes and during in the infancy of the “throw back” designs (Volkswagen Beetle-1997, Dodge Challenger-2009, Chevrolet Camaro-2010) Ford brought it back! Yes! The sporty Thunderbird was back! A two-seater – stylish, and it was a sports car with a clear vision of the Thunderbird versus Corvette origins! Only one little thing. They forgot to put an engine in it.

Well, it had an engine. It was just not fun or strong and would not fare well at any American red light war. I thought it would only be a matter of time before the famed 5.0 would find its way under their hoods and give Camaro a run for its money. Later I had the same thought with the introduction of the Coyote motor. A new Coyote motor in a tiny Thunderbird? Bring on King Corvette! Now the blue oval guys have something for you.

They didn’t. They had nothing of the sort. It appears that the chassis design on the new T-Bird is not what a Coyote engine would need to live under there. Are you kidding? Ford, who would shoehorn a Modular 4.6 into a Mustang, how could you let this happen? Where the heck were the focus groups? 

“Let us bring back the Thunderbird-well, half of it.”    


1988 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe. Ford built 128,533 turbo T-Birds from 1983-1988. 
(Photo by Joe Bays)

"We are gathered here today to join this engine and this…" 
Okay, stay with me here…what if?…a Turbo 2.3 was transplanted under the "new" (2002-2005) T-bird’s bonnet? That’s right, a Retro Modern Turbo Thunderbird! Would you like it then? I would!

Ford did it with the Turbo Coupes in the 1980’s. It seems like there are plenty of nice examples of these 2002-2005 Thunderbirds still around. If they made it where a V8 would not fit, fine. Let us do it with a smaller motor. Under boost, the Turbo would assume the characteristics of an engine twice as big. I know the Thunderbird demographic evolved over the years. It was not the same buyer in the early 2000s that craved the Thunderbird’s appeal in the 1950s. But what about us?

Leave it to hot rodders to take something no one wants and turn it into something cool. We were the original recyclers. In an era where transplants are common place, why not have one that makes sense and gives a right pedal appeal to a whole other world of enthusiasts? 



1988 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe with the 5-speed manual transmission. 
(Photo by Joe Bays)

More ideas

Wait! I have another idea. A very enthusiastic proposal…what if we could transplant the Ecoboost twin-turbo power plant in that very Thunderbird? That has very real possibilities of being an absolute terror on the streets. Maintaining a balance, if you will, of drivable manners that Miss Daisy would be pleased with and a tire shredding persona that wakes up when provoked. 


Are 2002-2005 Ford Thunderbirds prime candidate for a turbo swap? 

Barbie car?

I realize the power plant was only part of it. These cars somehow missed their target audience and landed somewhere south of manly and dare I suggest…even a little girly at times? So, let’s stay away from light wispy colors and go with more masculine shades of whatever Ford will give us. What if we ditched the factory wheels (Editor’s Note: Ron has never uttered the words “ditch the factory wheels-this may be historic) and go with some aluminum slots. Black exterior, aluminum wheels and a very unusual sound we have not associated with these new T-Birds. Okay. Now, we are talking. 

Official mandate
I must wrap this fantasy article up with a disclaimer. If I find a Thunderbird in the Junkyard Life garage that must live with our Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles, it would be a 1988 Turbo Coupe, similar to our buddy Joe Bay's Thunderbird. You already know that. Here is the situation. They sold a good bit of those throw back Birds and they are NOT in the junkyards. So, someday, someway, you may be presented with the opportunity to pick up a nice low-mile example of Ford’s attempt at retro. So, whatcha gonna do? 

Ron Kidd
— Junkyard Life: The Story Beneath the Rust


1983-1988 Thunderbird Turbo Coupes were a blend of Lincoln Mark VII luxury and Mustang performance. Some say it's the perfect touring car with a stick.
(Photo by Joe Bays)

1988 was the high water mark for the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe. More than 35,000 were sold. I'm sure the success on NASCAR speedways by Awesome Bill from Dawsonville had a little to do with the sales peak.
(Photo by Joe Bays)

Got a classic car in your driveway? Send us details!  Send emails to Jody Potter at junkyardbull@gmail.com and Ron Kidd at Kidd403@bellsouth.net.