Fall From Grace: 1981 Pontiac Turbo Trans Am Daytona Pace Car – $24,000
What a difference two years can make. In 1979, Pontiac’s Trans Am continued riding a wave a popularity provided by the movie Smoky and The Bandit combined with the impending end of the 6.6 Litre V8. By 1981, Pontiac’s pony car featured a turbocharged 4.9 Liter V8 that didn’t come close to the former’s performance. That combined with it being the second-generation F-body’s last year of production, Pontiac marketers somehow convinced NASCAR executives to use the Trans Am as the pace car for that year’s Daytona 500 race. Naturally, Pontiac then offered the public 2,000 limited edition Daytona 500 pace car replicas such as the restored example currently listed here on Craigslist in Hatfield, Pennsylvania with only a stated 58,423 original miles and an asking price of $24,000. While at first blush that may seem like a staggering figure for an ’81 Trans Am, the Hagerty Insurance Online Valuation Tool claims that price falls somewhere between the #2 “Excellent” appraisal of $34,800 and the #3 “Good” estimate of $17,400. If you are serious about buying this Trans Am, you can start the conversation by emailing the seller here and when you do please remember to mention you saw their car featured here on GuysWithRides.com.
n 1980, due to ever-increasing emissions restrictions, Pontiac dropped all of its large displacement engines. 1980 therefore saw the biggest engine changes for the Trans Am. The 301, offered in 1979 as a credit option, was now the standard engine. Options included a turbocharged 301 or the Chevrolet 305 small block. The turbocharged 301 used a Garrett TB305 turbo forcing air through a single Rochester Quadrajet 4-barrel carburetor, which was, however, too antiquated to take full advantage of the forced air from the turbo. Also, the low-octane (87–90) fuels would have led to severe detonation, had it not been for the ECU, which led to the cars feeling not very powerful at all. Some owners have claimed quite reasonable performance numbers with the modern fuels though.
In the final year of the second generation Firebirds (1981), Trans Am still used the same engines as it had in the previous model year, with the only change being the addition of a new electronic carburetor. In the VIN’s 11th digit, the assembly plant code for Norwood, OH is “N” and for Van Nuys, CA it is “L”. In the later second-generation cars, Norwood used lacquer-based paint (there is an “L” on the cowl tag), and Van Nuys used water-based paint (there is a “W” on the cowl tag), due to California’s tightening pollution regulations. The water-based paint often failed and delaminated during the warranty period and subsequently, cars had to be repainted. What the Daytona 500 Pace Car lacked in performance from the factory, it more than made up for in the interior, especially the comfortable Recaro seats which replaced the typical factory buckets.
The seller lists his 58K mile Daytona 500 Pace Car replica as “restored” in his brief description, so you’ll need to talk to him directly for what exactly that means. Candidly, while it looks very good in white and we love the interior, at twenty-four large there are a lot of third and fourth generation Trans Ams that can provide much more enjoyable performance at a still more affordable price. That said, if you always wanted one of these back in ’81 this may be a suitable candidate to investigate in more detail. Good luck with the purchase!
Here’s the seller’s description:
“Up for sale is my 1981 Pontiac Trans Am. This is 1 of 2000 Daytona Pace cars made. Restored condition. Runs and drives well. Interesting trades considered. Stored at the Hatfield Auto Museum in the suburbs of Philadelphia.“
Do you have a Turbo Trans Am story you’d like to share? Comment below and let us know!