1979 PONTIAC T/A 10th Ann- Jim Wangers Print
Written by Double Dragon
Monday, 12 November 2012 20:32

1979 PONTIAC T/A 10th Anniversary- Jim Wangers


79 trans am 10th anniversary one woner Jim wangers

Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown

You may wish to look at the story filed above this one about Joseph Blandford's ONE OWNER 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am 10th Anniversary for a comprehensive history of the 10th Anniversary package. There are also different detail shots of Joseph's car illustrating the unique features of the 10th Anniversary car such as the Air Flow wheels which are usually dubbed 'Turbo wheels'.

79 trans am 10th anni jim wangers hoodscape

Pontiac announced the Tenth Anniversary Trans Am on Feb 1, 1979 to celebrate the first decade of the Trans Am. Pontiac planned 7,500 special cars sequentially numbered with silver paint, silver leather interiors and special 10th Anniversary identification stickers. A sewn anniversary badge added to the door panels in conjunction with red highlights throughout the interior matched the red pin striping that accented the anniversary exterior color scheme. The 10th Anniversary cars added four wheel disc brakes and 15x8 aluminum finned wheels to the basic T/A package in addition to being loaded up with every available Firebird option.

The other 1979 T/A Anniversary ONE OWNER story notes that Joseph Blandford intentionally held his mileage down to 12,336 miles in anticipation of the future collector value of his car. Contrast Joseph's car to this one. The subject of this story is also a 1979 Trans Am 10th Anniversary car. It is also an original one owner car. It also has low miles.

Where things go haywire is just how astoundingly low the miles are. When I say low miles, I mean low miles approaching absurdity: 84 miles. When we talk about the 12,336 mile car in the previous article we tend to drop the few hundred tacked on and call it a 12,000 mile car. The insignificant few hundred miles beyond 12,000 on that car equal four times as much mileage as the TOTAL mileage on this one.

79 trans am 10th ann jim wangers 84 original miles

This 84 mile Anniversary T/A offers other interesting stories aside from the extremely low mileage. This car bypassed dealerships and went direct from the factory to the owner in whose possession the car still resides. How did that happen? Well, that brings us to the next interesting point about this car: the owner.

Factory cars don't bypass dealers direct to the buyer. But when you are Jim Wangers these things happen. Jim Wangers is the legendary ad man who enjoyed a privileged position within PMD during the 1960s and he is the owner of this T/A since new. Jim is billed as "The Godfather of the GTO" due to the best known part of his extensive marketing career. Jim's handling of the GTO went beyond the usual 'arms length' arrangement typical of a GM advertising agency. Jim had a very close personal involvement with every aspect of the GTO and Pontiac performance during the 1960s. He remains popular to this day because of his passionate insights into the marketing of cars, particularly Pontiac. He can be counted on for a no holds barred opinionated honest analysis of past and current trends.

Even ten years after he left Pontiac Jim still had friends within the organization who were willing to arrange his buy of a brand new T/A 10th Anniversary directly from the factory assembly line. Jim bought the 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am 10th Anniversary to compliment his 1969 Firebird Trans Am. At this point the assumption is that the low miles were a byproduct of a deliberate intent to preserve the car in a plastic bubble for future generations. This is a logical deduction, but it's wrong. Jim Wangers doesn't buy his cars to park them. He isn't overly concerned about paperwork and pedigree. He drives cars and then he switches to new ones. Jim turned over GTOs in the 1960s at a phenomenal rate and owns none of them today. At the time it seemed that every new model year was going to surpass the previous one.

Then the musclecar era died and suddenly there weren't many new exciting cars coming down the pike. The stasis in the musclecar scene inspired Jim to seek out a 1969 Trans Am. Taking that car for a drive revisits some high points in Pontiac history. Since he had the 1969, it made sense to get the 10th anniversary T/A. Factory connections informed Jim there were a couple of leftovers at the at the end of the model year if he was interested. Jim picked up a 4 speed version which mated with the Pontiac built 400 named the 'T/A 6.6' (the Olds 403 was dubbed "6.6 Litres". The purchase was more of a "what the hell" gesture on Jim's part rather than some burning desire to own one of the new Trans Ams.

The second digit in the VIN is an 'X' which Pontiac wisely reserved to code for the 10th Anniversary cars thus eliminating fakery. The 'Z' in fifth place codes for the 6.6 Pontiac built 400 engine. The 'L' in 7th place indicates that Jim's T/A was built in the Van Nuys, California assembly plant. It never entered a dealership. It went direct to Jim from the factory.

Opening the hood for the first time Jim recoiled with horror at the hoses and tubes necessary to get the engine through emissions. Some of the blame goes to the fact this car carries air conditioning which increases the confusion. Underneath all the complexity lies a good old Pontiac 400. These were actually leftover 400s from the prior year when it was announced that production of the 400 would end.

79 trans am 10th ann jim wangers 400 6.6 engine

Despite Jim's less than rabid appreciation for the 1979, it was bought as a curiosity to compliment his 1969 Trans Am. Curiosity or not, Jim drives his cars. So he drove the 1979 Trans Am. After a few outings Jim's interest in the Trans Am tapered off. He wasn't that keen on the visuals on his new T/A. The hood 'bird' was a bit much for him. He might have made it past the looks of the car if it delivered seat of the pants power.

On paper it sounds right: the famous old Pontiac 400 teamed with a 4 speed and a 3.23 Safe T Track rear. This is the same combo that motivated slews of GTOs from 1967 through 1973. The huge intake duct running off the air cleaner delivers cool air just like a good old 1960s Ram Air setup. The valve covers are chrome just like the 1960s Pontiac musclecar engine parts used to be. After 1971 Pontiac engines reverted to passenger car style painted valve covers for the performance line. Seeing chrome again hints of the old Pontiac Pizazz. Once you delve further into the engine the new world order of the late 1970s squelches the promise hinted at by the external appearance.

79 trans am 10th ann jim wangers 400 6.6 ram air

In stock form, the 1979 shaker scoop only did part of its job: it shook on idle, but it didn't scoop. The shaker scoop is nonfunctional due to a fixed backing plate forced on Pontiac by noise laws. Many owners removed the backing plate and installed a junkyard earlier model Trans Am flapper. A solenoid opens the flapper when the gas pedal is floored, or it can be programmed to open as soon as the engine is turned on. Nowadays many companies offer new flapper kits. Quite a few owners just removed the backing plate and covered the hole with screen mesh to keep out large objects.

The exhaust exits from the 400 engine like a normal dual system, but then converges into a single exhaust before funneling through a single large restrictive catalytic converter. Exhaust does branch out into dual outlets at the rear for the sake of appearance but the restriction is pronounced in the bottleneck at the converter. The 'two into one back into two' system effectively reduces efficiency to the poor flow rate of any other single exhaust catalytic converter equipped car of the era. This exhaust is actually more restrictive than a passenger car single exhaust system from the pre catalytic era. Of course, many owners took matters into their own hands and installed true dual exhaust. Some even installed dual cats although most dispensed with the converters altogether in areas not subject to annual smog testing.

The compression on the famous old Pontiac 400 has been lowered to 8.1:1 which is even lower than the rarely seen 'Step down' two barrel option that used to be offered on GTOs back in the 1960s. The 'step down' 400 came with a 8.6:1 compression ratio so the owner could run regular fuel but retain the 'image' of a GTO. A parallel can be drawn between the detuned 1979 400 and the 1960s step down 400 option. Both provide a docile engine in an image car. The sad difference is that Pontiac engineers weren't trying to create a 'step down' 400 in 1979; this was a government mandated 'step down' option.

Modest cam timing and small valve sizes make sense for an engine that has restrictive exhaust anyways. Pontiac engineers didn't want the closed hood scoop, restrictive exhaust and tame cam profiles. They were hard pressed to meet emissions standards and noise laws. Pontiac guys fought for every last digit of horsepower they were able to extract from the venerable 400. Motivated buyers of these cars could create decent Day Two versions of this car, but in stock form it was saddled with too many impediments to really wind up and go. Although it lacked high end power, it had lots of torque and posted a quick 0 to 60 MPH in 6.7 seconds for CAR AND DRIVER when they tested a new one. If you stayed stoplight to stoplight you could hang in there with some of the old Chevelle SS cars and GTOs.

Most 1979 Trans Ams didn't even get the 220 HP Pontiac 400, but instead used a 7.9:1 compression 403 Olds that made 185 HP running through a TH350 and non performance 2.41 axle. Despite this, the 1979 Trans Am sold in great numbers. For the average person the 1979 T/A offered amazing handling and exciting acceleration off the line due to good torque. Both the Trans Am 403 and 400 had about the same torque rating: 320 and 315. The average buyer wasn't winding it up to high RPM ranges where the engine ran out of steam as evidenced by mid 15s in the quarter for the 4 speed 6.6. A lot of the appeal of the Trans Am was now focused on the well balanced handling and braking.

The stopping power of the 10th Anniversary car trumps the regular Trans Am with excellent four wheel disc brakes. As shown in the picture, four wheel discs on a domestic car other than the Corvette is worth bragging about on the door handles!

79 trans am 10th ann jim wangers 4 whl discs

For the time period 1979 Trans Am performance was stellar. In contrast to earlier musclecars it didn't measure up, but with nearly a decade of low performance to use as a yardstick many people were pleased to find a 1979 American car with some punch left in it. The 403 had good torque and in daily driving it was exciting. Guys who moved up to a Pontiac 400 had a bit more top end to play with. This was the last year you could combine the classic second generation Trans Am body with 400 cubic inches. In comparison to everything else being built in 1979, the '6.6' Pontiac Division's 400 hit a high-water mark.

Pontiac may have hit a high-water mark for emissions laden times, but Jim Wangers has a personal high-water mark that is set quite a bit higher after spending the 1960s street racing razor sharp cars from the Royal Pontiac motor pool. Jim was also the NHRA 1960 US Nationals drag racing titleholder. That means he beat a lot of professional racers while he held down his day job at the advertising agency. A guy that has thrashed out cars of that caliber is going to be merciless in his assessment of a musclecar. After driving all those savage cars, Jim couldn't adjust downwards for the diminished performance standards of the 1970s. Jim doesn't like to lose stop light races. To his mind, the 1979 T/A was too docile and slow and it ended up sitting in the garage.

After awhile it became apparent that the T/A was becoming a garage queen. Jim came to the decision that he may as well go with the flow and preserve it as a low miles timepiece. It was kept clean but without any use, nothing needed to be done to it.

79 trans am 10th ann jim wangers dash

The 10th Anniversary Trans Am has a new battery and gets started regularly. It's been driven in order to move it around at various car shows but that is about it. By not touching it, the car has become a historical record of the period. Almost every car from this era has been stripped of emissions and the 'two into one back into two' exhaust. Everything is still on Jim's car. The original shaker hood scoop still has the sealed back plate; the single catalytic converter is still there as are all the hoses and wires that make up the emissions equipment. Jim preserves cars but his personality is not of the obsessive compulsive variety. He draws the line between proper care and fanaticism.

Jim's balanced approach to cars is summed up by an amusing anecdote from a car show. One of the regulars who knew Jim from prior shows was visiting Jim's table during a show. Someone asked Jim to move his 1979 10th Anniversary T/A from its spot. Jim was tied up at the time and handed the keys over to the spectator. He asked if she would mind too much moving the car for him. She agreed and got behind the wheel. Suddenly she froze. The odometer read 80 miles. She had heard it was low miles but interpreted what she heard to the expected figure of 8,000 miles. For a moment she had a panic attack. She might ruin an 80 mile car. She was putting on a significant percentage of the car's total mileage just by moving the car any distance at all! Jim wasn't worried. His attitude rubbed off on her and she was fine.

Below is the 1979 version of the famous Pontiac grab bar above the glove box.

79 trans am 10th ann jim wangers grab bar

Aside from the battery, the T/A is still factory fresh. Because of its ultra low miles it sports the original wires, hoses, belts and tires. Jim's car still has the original radio. The T-tops have never been off the car at all and the interior smells like new because it is basically a new car.

79 trans am 10th ann jim wangers driver doorpanel

Jim relates an interesting tale about the process that led to the 1979 Trans Am 10th Anniversary cars carrying a silver paint scheme. We envision designers burning the midnight oil in the design studio as they hashed out various color schemes in conjunction with an overall design philosophy. Not so. In 1978 Chevrolet produced a successful special edition Corvette Pace Car. At the end of the model run Chevrolet had leftover silver colored leather for seats. Chevy offered it to Pontiac at a sweet price. When Pontiac went for the deal the batch of leather determined the interior color of the Trans Am 10th Anniversary which in turn dictated the exterior color scheme!

79 trans am 10th ann jim wangers front seats

Speaking of details, in the shot above you can spot the passenger seat's skewed angle when compared to the driver's seat. The floor of the car is the culprit. The second generation Firebird platform traces back to 1970 before catalytic converters were added to cars. The floor in the Firebird was bent to accommodate the bulky new catalytic converter. When you bolt in the passenger seat, the new floor shape causes it to sit at an angle.

79 trans am 10th anniv jim wangers driver seat

Super low mileage becomes apparent in the details. Compare the driver's seat in Jim's car with Joseph Blandfords' driver seat in the 12,000 mile Trans Am. As nice as the 12,000 mile seat is, it does have a few faint creases where the seams meet which are not present in the leather interior of Jim Wangers' T/A. The seatbacks in Jim's car are absolutely pristine. The backs of all Firebird seats are notoriously scarred with pits and grooves because the plastic becomes brittle over time and susceptible to marking by passenger's feet.

79 trans am 10th ann jim wangers seatback

The body on the car is flawless. It hasn't been subject to even one night outside. Overnight parking puts a car through temperature changes which eventually warp the rear spoiler and front nose of Trans Ams. They also discolor at a different rate than the rest of the paint when exposed to UV rays. The front nose is almost always touched up where it's been nudged in a parking incident.

79 trans am 10th ann jim wangers front nose

None of this has happened to Jim's car. The nose is pristine because it's never been hit. The paint matches the metal panels exactly where the rear spoiler joins. It has been spared the typical rippled surface you expect to see on spoilers from this era.

79 trans am 10th ann jim wangers rear spoiler

The later versions of the second generation Trans Ams are starting to pick up in value. Part of this is due to the generation that grew up with these cars reaching a point in their lives that makes indulgence in nostalgia possible. Kids are out of the nest and funds have been accumulated.

Another factor is the 'almost as nice' syndrome where cars that are similar to the desired car begin to gather value. Guys really want those early 1970 to 1973 Trans Ams, but will settle for a very nice later model version. The body is virtually the same and big blocks are still under the hood. The later cars offer reasonable performance for someone who is just driving them occasionally for enjoyment and not wringing them out as the ultimate street warrior. Many of the later cars are bought as a facsimile type car. They are nice drivers and feel and look similar to the highly desirable earlier cars that are priced beyond the range of modest budgets.

The 10th Anniversary cars have extra value built into them. Not only are they limited in numbers, but they are loaded with the best of everything a Trans Am has to offer in 1979. The low miles ones such as this one transition from 'nice driver' category to historical museum piece. At one point Jim Wangers had a 1969, 1979, 1989 and 1999 Trans Am. It made for a nice collection that summarized the changes occurring in the technology and packaging of the Trans Am.

Jim is now 86 years old and not driving his cars much. He has since sold his 1969 and 1999 cars, leaving just the two middle cars which are also for sale. See the FOR SALE section of this site for details. See the story in this ONE OWNER section about his remaining 1989 Trans Am which is one of the 25 Turbo Indy Pace Cars used by VIPs at the race.

UPDATE. On June 22, 2013 Jim's 1979 Trans Am sold at the Russo and Steele Newport Beach Auction. Jim owned the car from his end of model year purchase summer, 1979 until summer, 2013 which adds up to 34 years.



Last Updated ( Thursday, 01 May 2014 21:18 )