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1969 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

In this edition of Muscle Car Milestones, we’ll take a look at the 1969 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. The 1969 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am slipped in under the radar with little hoopla in March 1969 when it was introduced at the 1969 Chicago Auto Show. It also received little to no advertising and is virtually impossible to find in any Pontiac literature. Even though the Trans Am played second fiddle to Pontiac’s star player, the GTO, it’s still a star on its own. Let’s see what makes the 1969 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am a 1960s icon.

Pontiac’s pony car was officially known as the Trans Am Performance and Appearance Package. It was UPC code WS4 and cost around $1,100 to $1,200, depending on the transmission ordered. Due to low production numbers, it became an instant collectible. A mere 697 Trans Ams rolled off the assembly line for the 1969 model year. They were produced at the Van Nuys, California and Norwood, Ohio plants. Out of the 697 Trans Ams produced, only eight were convertibles.

All Trans Ams were sprayed Cameo White with dual, full-length Tyrol Blue striping. Other distinguishing features include a blacked-out grille, rear deck airfoil spoiler, and front fender air extractors. Functional hood scoops, 14-inch wheels, and free-flowing dual exhaust are more distinctive styling cues of the Trans Am.

Interior amenities include a sport-type steering wheel, bucket seats with Morrokide upholstery, and power steering. Drivers wanting more frills could order options such as a rally gauge cluster, hood-mounted tachometer, and a power driver bucket seat.

Buyers of the new Trans Am had a choice of two powerplants. The standard engine was the 400 cubic-inch L74 Ram Air III. It was rated at 335 horsepower and 430 lb.-ft. of torque. It featured 10.75:1 compression, a four-barrel carburetor, and cast-iron exhaust manifolds. The standard transmission was a three-speed manual, but the Muncie wide-ratio four-speed or a three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic automatic were optional. Drivers wanting a bit more gusto under the hood could opt for the L67 Ram Air IV. It was conservatively rated at 345 horsepower and 430 lb.-ft. of torque. This engine featured forged high compression pistons, round port heads, and a longer-duration cam. Transmissions options for the Ram Air IV included a Muncie close-ratio four-speed or the Turbo Hydra-Matic automatic. Due to its high price, only 55 takers opted for the Ram Air IV and all of these engines were installed in coupes.

Pontiac unleashed the Trans Am to members of the automotive press on December 8, 1968 at Riverside International Raceway in Riverside, California. Car Life had a love/hate relationship with the Trans Am. The magazine put a Trans Am prototype through its paces for the April 1969 issue. While it praised the Trans Am for its suspension, braking, and quarter mile times, the magazine was not impressed with the Trans Am’s handling and understeer. Car Life remarked “Why such serious criticism? Simply because a Ponycar named the “Trans Am,” riding on the fame of the road racing circuit, and styled and powered for performance should handle better.” Car Life also quipped “A bad car? Certainly not. Anything approaching a true Trans-Am car? Sorry.”

Hot Rod also tested the Trans Am for their March 1969 issue. Hot Rod was critical of the Tran Am’s exterior styling, interior space, and, oddly, placement of the gas tank. With regard to the exterior design, the magazine stated “The ’69 Firebird styling just doesn’t have the appeal of the ’67 – ’68 car. First off, it doesn’t look as good. Second, it doesn’t have the personality – if that term applies – of its predecessor. And finally, it’s evident there’s been an attempt of fashioning this one after the new Gran Prix, but both cars are new this year, making it hard to latch onto an image.”

The 1969 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am commands a high price when they appear at auction. The only triple white Trans Am convertible crossed the block at Mecum’s 2016 Kissimmee auction. It failed to sell with a high bid of $1,900,000. The 1969 Trans Am prototype that was used by the automotive press at Riverside Raceway in December 1968 sold for $313,500 at the Barrett-Jackson 2015 Scottsdale auction.

Was the 1969 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am a success? Maybe. With only 697 being produced, you could say the car was a sales failure. A late introduction in the model year could have also made a big impact on sales. It was also a bit pricey. Depending on the options ordered, the Trans Am could cost almost as much as a GTO. And with the upcoming second generation Trans Am announced for 1970, many buyers may have just wanted to wait to get their hands on latest thing. One thing is certain. The 1969 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am closed out the ‘60s on a high note and a fitting end to the first generation Firebird.

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