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1980 PONTIAC Trans Am Black SE/ WS6- Danette PDF Print E-mail
Written by Double Dragon
Wednesday, 10 August 2016 18:21

1980 PONTIAC Trans Am Black SE/ WS6- Danette


Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown

80 pontiac trans am danette logo

By 1980 most of the classic ponycars from the 1960s and early 1970s era were extinct. The Mustang started the craze but had been downsized in 1974 using a Pinto chassis which at least used styling cues from the original design but lacked a V8 when first released. The new Fox body version of the Mustang didn't resemble the classic in any way but offered performance. The Mercury Cougar had become a gigantic luxury mobile and later the name was even sprinkled onto a station wagon! The Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Challenger died in 1974 as did the AMC Javelin.

80 Pontiac Trans Am Danette drive side front

The 'F body' Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird were the only ponycars that retained their original racy 1970 design theme into the 1980s. Along with the 1968 Corvette 'sharks' these F body remnants of an earlier era sold steadily because in a world of boxy cars they retained the swoopy lines and provided handling and performance in a world of economy concerns.

These 3 cars were the rare domestic designs that stayed consistent so long. Car magazines screamed about how out of date the Camaro, Corvette and Firebird were. Foreign carmakers kept the same design going year after year with just minor refinements, but this was unusual for US production which was constantly 'new and improved'. As it turns out the new for 1970s cars have now been dubbed 'The Malaise Years' of design, so it's a good thing Firebird kept to tradition.

80 pontiac trans am danette p front

The Firebird body underwent 'evolution' as it adapted to the 5 MPH bumper laws and a floorpan modification for the catalytic converter. The Camaro and Trans Am rear window was opened up by cutting down the side pillars and putting in curved glass which was also later done with the Corvette. Radial tuned suspension became standard. The old bodies were changed here and there to follow new trends. This Trans Am has frenched in square headlights and lower sloped nose meant to keep up with co efficient of drag improvements achieved in new domestic vehicles.

The Trans Am option and Formula option remained available for every year of the 1970s when even Chevrolet dropped the Z-28 option from the Camaro for awhile. In 1976 if you wanted a fast old school musclecar it was Corvette, Trans Am or Duster 360. When the Duster went away there was just General Motors raking in the old school style performance dollars for a few years.

By 1980 even the die hard Pontiac men had to yield some territory to Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards and emissions. They reluctantly stopped offering a Pontiac 400 or Oldsmobile 403 in the Trans Am. The Trans Am and Formula were the last 'big block' musclecars built. Pontiac had held the line longer than anyone right up till the end of 1979. Even the Corvette maxed out at 350 cubes starting in 1975. In reality all size Pontiac engines use the same block so there is technically no 'big' or 'small' block Pontiac engine.

Pontiac tried to satisfy gas mileage concerns with a 301 version of the basic Pontiac engine. The 301 cut weight out of the engine block and offered an optional turbo to make up for power loss due to the small displacement. Below is the Sep 24, 1979 Pontiac news release explaining the new engine line up for 1980 models.

80 pontiac ta danette sep 24 79 pontiac news

California only applications of the Trans Am used a Chevrolet 305- 4 barrel engine which was the same engine placed into California bound Corvettes. The 305 engine was installed in this particular Trans Am which was destined for Majestic Pontiac in Los Angeles, California. This Trans Am was built in the Van Nuys, California final assembly plant and it was shipped on November 24, 1979.

The location of the plant actually has some bearing on future developments with the car. Van Nuys complied with California's tight anti pollution laws by using an early type of water based paint. Water based paint turned into a warranty nightmare for Pontiac when the paint peeled off very quickly after the cars were built. This Trans Am experienced serious paint and decal issues in it's first decade of life.

3,006 Trans Ams were built with the 305 engine in 1980. The 305 accounts for about 10 percent of the 50,896 Trans Ams built in 1980. The balance of Trans Ams were either the standard 301- 4 barrel (22,176 built) or the optional 301- 4 barrel turbo (25,714 built).

80 pontiac trans am danette 305 dr side

An unusual feature of the California Trans Ams is that the shaker hood scoop is blank. The 305 cubic inch engine converts to 5.0 Liters instead of  the 4.9 Liters of the 301 Pontiac engines. It was deemed uneconomical to produce a different engine size call out sticker for the small run of 305 cars. Some Pontiac faithful also suspect that Pontiac Motor Division may have not wished to draw extra attention to the fact that the California Trans Am was powered by a 305 which was a Chevrolet engine. Sacrilege!

Back when Trans Ams were powered by either the Olds 403 or Pontiac 400 a single size shaker hood scoop call out was used which read 6.6 Liter. However there were actually 2 different shaker stickers produced. The Pontiac engines received the extra identity of being 'T/A' engines. Pontiac was willing to print two different engine call-out stickers in the past.

As it turned out future Trans Ams after 1981 model year ended relied on Chevy power because GM standardized corporate engines. All the larger V8 engines were Chevy built while the inline 4 engines were all 'Iron Dukes' built by Pontiac. The 301 was the last V8 built by Pontiac Motor Division.

Below is the window sticker for this Trans Am with just the final digits of the VIN edited out for internet privacy.

80 trand am daneette production sheet

The option list is extensive. Air Conditioning, Rear Defroster, Cruise Control, Soft Ray tinted glass all round, Door Edge Guards, Remote Trunk Release, Lamp Group, Extra Acoustical sound insulation, Mats, Tungsten Halogen Headlights, Door Edge Guards, Visor Vanity Mirror, Radio Accommodation Package (usually ordered for dealer stereo installation), Automatic Power Antenna, Power Door Locks, Power Windows, Tilt Steering, Velour seats, and Variable Speed Windshield Wipers. Options swell the price of this Trans Am from $7,178.52 all the way up to $11,049.52.

This Trans Am is also a Y84 Special Edition. Very few Black Special Editions were built as California cars. Only 475 of the 1980 Black Special Editions were built with the 305 destined for California. 6,178 of the Black Special Editions were built in total for the 1980 model year.

The Black Special Editions first became an option on Trans Ams in 1976 to honor the 50th anniversary of Pontiac Motor Division but few were ordered during this model year. The option became very popular for the 1977 model year when the film SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT featured a 1977 Trans Am Special Black Edition as the central chase car.

80 pontiac trans am danette interior

The Black Special Editions are painted Starlight Black with gold bird decals on hood and roof sail panel. Gold pinstriping and 'Germanic lettering fonts' accent the shape of the car, including gold inserts around the headlights, and a gold nose badge. The wheels are gold with gold 'bird' center caps.

80 pontiac trans am danette console

This theme carries into the interior with a gold dash panel (regular Trans Ams have silver 'engine turned' dashes) and gold spokes on the 'formula' steering wheel. The shifter knob and door emblems also use a gold bird logo. The Black Special Edition option cost a whopping $1,443.00.

80 pontiac trans am danette window sticker

This Trans Am is also equipped with some performance options. The Heavy Duty Battery and Super Cooling Radiator are supplemented with the WS6 handling package which is bargain priced at $281.00. You can spot these cars at a glance because the mag wheels have a one inch offset at the rim. These 'snowflake' style wheels are 15 x 8 inches. That extra wide 8 inches put more rubber on the road than the standard Trans Am.

80 pontiac trans am danette WS6 snowflakes

The WS6 option was first offered in 1978 and originally consisted just the bigger wheels matched to heavier stabilizer bars and tighter steering ratios. In 1979 the WS6 option jumped ahead of most domestic cars of the era by including 4 wheel disc brakes. The Corvette had 4 wheel discs for decades but on lower priced mass produced domestic cars of this era it was unheard of. For instance in 1969 only 206 Camaros were supposedly built with the 4 wheel disc option. Experts theorize that Chevrolet may have inflated the number of actual cars built when reporting for homologomation purposes. These cars are extremely collectible because of the 'exotic' nature of 4 wheel disc brakes on a domestic vehicle of this era. A decade later 4 wheel discs were still way ahead of the crowd when compared to most domestic cars of 1980. The WS6 option reached its peak in the fourth generation Trans Am. This version of WS6 not only upgraded suspension and steering but also included an impressive looking massive functional Ram Air hood which stirred memories for many musclecar fans.

This heavily loaded 1980 Trans Am was bought off the Majestic Pontiac lot new by first owner Mike. His last name is removed from documents to protect his privacy.

Mike lived in two places that conspired to beat down his shiny new Trans Am. Mike lived in Los Angeles, California where blazing hot sun and smog tears down the paint. In the case of Van Nuys built cars this assault was too much for the waterbased paint to withstand. Black cars are also more susceptible to paint fading from sun due to the greater temperatures reached by the absorbent color. White cars sitting in the sun reflect heat and can be 10 degrees cooler than a dark colored car.

After frying the paint in California, Mike moved up north to Anchorage, Alaska where the trek north assails you with frigid temperatures, unpaved roads and snow. Roads are often dirt or gravel which pelt the underbody. Even paved roads can be bad up there due to potholes and breaks due to frost heave. Low slung cars don't do well on these types of roads.

When CAR & DRIVER took a new 1976 Corvette to Alaska in their Feb and Mar, 1976 issues they had the suspension raised by 2 inches, underbelly of car shielded with steel plates and added larger heavy duty tires. C & D repeated the exercise with a modern Vette in the Nov, 2007 issue and once more raised the suspension to handle the roads.

Mike's Trans Am had to deal with the rigors getting north to Alaska with totally stock low suspension, and low slung spoilers and spats. Once in the city limits of Anchorage decent paved roads are abundant but back in the 1980s much of The Alaska Highway leading up there was unpaved.

Low winter temperatures can cause urethane body parts to react differently from metal body parts resulting in poor fit or paint variations.

Despite a harsh environment Mike kept the car fresh and in top condition. On Feb 18, 1988 Mike ordered new decals for his Black Special Edition Trans Am from Alaska Sales and Service which was a large Anchorage GM dealership. On Feb 26, 1988 he ordered new stripes for the car from Alaska Sales.

Mike also seems to have been capable of doing his own work. A bill from Anchorage, Alaska NAPA Mar 20, 1988 for brake lines and a bill from the Anchorage, Alaska Ace Auto Supplies May 17, 1988 for tie rods suggests that the Mike did some advanced mechanical work on the car himself. The parts also bear testimony to the brutality of driving a Trans Am up north. Either the brake lines rusted out from the winter use or they were damaged from road hazards. The worn out tie rods also suggest that the roads were rough.

On May 2, 1988 Mike replaced the tires. The Trans Am was showing 74,907 miles. The Trans Am was fitted with a new set of Uniroyal 235 60/15s. This provides the same diameter as the stock Goodyear 225 70/15s. On May 23, 1988 when the Trans Am was taken in for a followup alignment the mileage read 75,391 miles. Mike had owned the T/A for 7.5 years and was averaging almost exactly 10,000 miles of driving per year.

When Mike headed south to Washington State he sold the thrashed Trans Am to a used car lot in Lynnwood named Phil Carson Cars. The T/A was weathered but mechanically solid. Interestingly, the car passed from one do it yourself owner to another do it yourself person. The Trans Am was spotted by Danette who was employed at Boeing aircraft and is accomplished in trades.

When Danette discovered the Trans Am in October, 1989 it was looking like it had done some serious time in Hell. The paint was faded but the price was right. 86,548 miles showed on the odometer. Danette traded in her 1977 Pontiac Trans Am on the 1980 Trans Am and received a $1,500.00 credit against the $3,999.00 sale price. No one at the used car lot noted the significance of this being a Black Special Edition pumped up with the WS6 option. When new the Special Black Edition option alone cost as much as the price differential between Danette's 1977 Trans Am and the 1980 Trans Am she traded in on!

80 trans am danette used car contract

Danette's last name, address and phone number and end of signature are removed from these contracts for privacy but otherwise the contract is complete. Danette drove away in her 1980 Trans Am on Oct 26, 1989 which is a month shy of being exactly one decade from the date it was shipped new out of the Van Nuys final assembly plant.

Danette placed her 1980 Trans Am into service as a driver and naturally things will happen. At the end of 1989 a rock damaged the windshield. Insurance paid to have it repaired in Jan, 1990.

On June 14, 1990 a new radiator was installed. The original lasted a little longer than 10 years.

When the battery needed a recharge in July, 1990 the paperwork records the fact that the Trans Am had covered 98,194 miles which explains why the major components were all tired and in need of replacement.

80 trans am danette engine rebujild

In Sep, 1990 Danette got serious about bringing her Trans Am up to snuff. She paid Ed's Automotive and Machine Shop in Mukilteo, Washington to pull the engine out and balance it. Accessories such as water pump, fuel pump, belts and hoses, and ignition tuneup parts were also replaced at this time.

80 pontiac trans am danette 305 ps side

On Sep 16, 1990 the same machine shop replaced the starter and fan hub. Pontiac starting motors are notoriously problematic. The miracle that Danette's Trans Am managed to go 100,000 miles on the factory starter is likely attributable to the fact she has a Chevy engine. Pontiac engines seem to run a bit hotter and roast the starters.

80 pontiac trans am danette tires 105000 miles

On March 6, 1991 Danette went to Les Schwab to have a pair of tires installed of the same size that Mike put on the car up in Alaska at 74,907 miles. The T/A was now showing 105,295 miles. She also replaced stabilizer bar bushings. Danette saved the old tires because it was getting tricky to find tires in these sizes as the 1990s and car manufacturers stepped up rim size to 16 inches and beyond.

On Nov 8, 1991 Danette tackled the job of refreshing the car all on her own. She bought the needed supplies to repaint the car herself in an enamel paint which is more durable than the water-based paints used by the Van Nuys factory. Danette used aviation jelly as a very useful aid when peeling the large bird sticker off the hood. Her years at Boeing paid off in the process of repainting the car which still has a good paint job 25 years later.

80 pontiac trans am danette paint

Danette stripped, prepped and painted the car herself. Note the custom touch on the driver's door: 'Ms. Bandit' which is a humorous twist on the Burt Reynolds 'Bandit' character from The SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT films.

80 pontiac trans am danette ms bandit

On May 22, 1992 Ed's Machine Shop installed headers and a new fuel filter. By July 29, 1992 the T/A already needed a new header gasket. In Sep, 1994 lower header gaskets needed replacement again. This is the bane of the existence of people who own cars with headers. On cars I've owned with headers the bolts are too short to keep the header sealed properly where they attach to the engine. The longer tubes from headers provide some extra leverage to shift the seals if the collectors hit low lying road hazards. On some of my cars with headers I've gotten into the ritual of tightening all the bolts about every 2 weeks. Otherwise the seals get blown and you have to remove the header put on a new gasket and wait for it to blow again.

Danette finally found a cure for the header curse by using safety wire with the nuts on her headers but this didn't come together until the end of the 1990s. Its a bit tricky to see in this photo but using nuts that have safety wire on them which is commonly used in the aviation industry to prevent vibration from loosening the nuts.

80 pontiac trans am danette header

On June 22, 1992 Danette picked up some NOS decals for her Trans Am from a local dealership. Back in the 1990s it was still possible to pick up plenty of original parts for 1960s through 1980s muscle cars from dealerships. Savvy aftermarket parts suppliers bought up inventory from failing dealerships during the phase of poorly made reproduction parts. Even after reproduction part quality improved the NOS boom continued. But at the time Danette was freshening up her Trans Am it was still possible to buy stuff over the counter at dealerships.

80 pontiac trans am danette driver door panel

On Jan 25, 1993 some bodywork was performed on the Trans Am. When it was in the Able Body & Paint Shop to get a ding in the quarter panel fixed Danette had the long heavy doors re aligned. The long doors on Trans Ams will tend to sag as the car gets older.

80 pontiac trans am danette body work

On March 12 1993 the brakes were done with rotors turned and new calipers. In 1994 the rear rotors were turned.

On Sep 23, 1994 a dealership sold Danette a NOS antenna for the car which she paired up with a junkyard radio found on Oct 1, 1994. Danette found a correct radio for the Trans Am in a salvage yard.

80 pontiac Trans Am Danette gauges

On Nov 2, 1994 enough of the gauges packed it in to warrant removal and repair. Danette shipped the whole cluster out to the Clock Doc in Tennessee.

80 pontiac trans am danette tachometer

The speedometer and trip odometer were repaired and the burnt out tachometer was replaced. The plastic lens was also buffed out.

80 pontiac trans am danette speedometer

The Trans Am dash layout puts a lot of true gauges in front of you. The engine temperature and oil pressure are placed directly in front of you between the speedometer and tachometer. To the right of the Speedometer there are Fuel level and Volts gauges.

80 pontiac trans am danette volts etc

In Jan, 1995 a new vanity visor mirror, ashtray and kick panels were installed. The interior was now starting to look pretty good again despite the T/A having logged over 100,000 miles at this point.

80 pontiac trans am danette tires 1995

Danette won a contest at a car show and happily collected her prize: 4 new Firestone Firehawk tires that just so happened to be the right size for her car. On July 22, 1995 the new set of tires were installed with an odometer reading of 118,000 miles.

On Nov 18, 1995 at 119,958 miles the speedometer cable needed replacement.

In July, 1995 the T/A received a new master cylinder.

On Jan 9, 1998 the TA needed a new battery, alternator and cables. The brake proportioning valve was also replaced. Then the left header gasket went bad again. At this point the final solution for the headers came about in the form of aircraft style wire locknuts.

The electrical system problems continued for a few years with frequent new batteries required. This is a pervasive issue for anyone who owns a collector car and doesn't drive them daily anymore. The most immediate solution for this problem is to use a battery switch.

80 pontiac trans am danette carb fire tow

Jan 24, 1999 was a bad day for Danette. The Trans Am carburetor caught fire on the highway. When AAA sent a tow truck the driver stated that a flat deck tow wasn't covered. This type of tow is needed for the low slung cars such as the Trans Am and Corvette. Danette paid but later applied for compensation. She filed a form seen above for reimbursement.

In Sep, 2004 the T/A needed a new alternator again and a tune up. The only true solution to electrical system hassles with these older cars is to either go through every last wire in the car and look for bad grounds or to shield the battery from drain when not in use. The latter solution is simplest. A battery switch allows you to 'disconnect' the battery with the turn of a dial.

In Jan, 2005 at 121,413 miles the TA received a new power steering pump, HEI distributor, plugs and general tune up.

Since then the Trans Am has seen some car shows as well as continuing to be used enough to add another 10,000 miles in 10 years.

80 pontiac trans am danette pedals

Now with 130,763 miles the brake pedal is showing some marginal wear along the right corner. The car is looking pretty nice right now for an unrestored vehicle that still gets driven. At car shows a pair of life size cut outs of Burt Reynolds and Sally Field are put into the windshield, the front license plate receives the SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT plate, a big booklet of information about the car is put on display on a table and Danette has a lot of fun showing her car and explaining the details of this particular California Special Black Edition.

80 pontiac trans am danette rear


Last Updated ( Sunday, 21 August 2016 16:52 )