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 and Ron Kidd at

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