1979
Production Color & Trim Engines KwikSpecs

"It will not pass this way again". Car & Driver cited these seemingly prophetic words concerning the 1979 Trans Am in the January '79 issue. The handwriting was on the wall. The pontiac.com last Pontiac 400's were built up in 1978 and the tooling disbanded. There would only be a handful of the 220 hp motors to go around and all were to be mated to four speeds. The new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) ruling had taken effect, and it required far too many low profit Sunbirds to counteract the huge dent the big-motor Trans Am's put into the average. Yes, it will not pass this way again.

Already the T/A was having a major clipping performed on its proud feathers. For the first time in history, a small-inch engine was now available, the lightweight 301 cid Pontiac engine could substituted (for a mere $195.00 credit) for the base 403 Olds. The aforementioned 220 hp 400 cubic inch Pontiac remained as an option. But next year, there would be no big motors, only the 301.

But if you have to go down, then go down in style, and the exterior enhancements certainly added to the style. A new beak was fitted, laying back the nose at a 22-degree angle from the "Batmobile's" 16-degree angle for better aerodynamics. The Trans Am became a "bottom breather", picking up some fresh air for cooling at the bumper grilles, the reamining amount from underneath the front bumper. The traditional grille between the headlamps was gone, replaced by a pair mounted in the bumper pad extensions. The grilles were in a matte black and contained the turn signal/park lamp lenses in the upper outer corners. The now common four rectangular headlamps were each set in deep recesses, surrounded by low gloss bezels. The Pontiac crest continued to reside in the center of the front fascia.

In addition to the styling change, a bright spot to the front end restyle was a deeper front spoiler, now made of a flexible material rather than the hard plastic of the '77-78's. The change in material made it a bit more friendly to curb stones and parking lot dips. The spoiler actually was responsible for a major portion of the cooling air which was channelled to the radiator. Larger wheel air deflectors (or spats) were fitted, blending with the new spoiler.

Chrome was out in the automotive styling circles, so all of the previous bright work around the windows was now painted in a low gloss black. This changed the look dramaticly, making the car appear more aggressive; at least until the paint started to peel. Then you had a mess. But at least this was an easy fix with a spray can, some steel wool, and masking tape.

Moving to the rear of the car, the changes to the front of the car were echoed. The license plate was moved from the traditional pocket between the tail lamps to a recess within the bumper cover. A pair of pads grew out from each side of the bumper cover to replicate the look of the front. The rear spoiler was larger and more squared off at the bottom of each corner piece.

The most drastic and best looking change to the rear had to be the tail lamp assemblies. The lamps now stretched corner to corner, with a hinged fuel filler door in the center. While this may seem enough of a change, the big news was that the tail lamps had a "blacked out" look; at least until the lights were activated, then the red was proudly broadcast. For 1979, this was major cool! Lesser Firebirds (excluding Formula's) had the same tail lamp layout, but made do with traditional red lenses.

While appearance changes consumed most of the new model budget in '79, the chassis was not left out. The P-metric P225/70R15 tires which were part of '78's WS6 package were now standard, replacing the GR70x15's. This made the 8" wide snowflake wheels the only available aluminum wheel, but the hub centers were changed from a semi-conical bright metal to a hexagonal plastic piece. I have seen the centers in both a bright finish as well a black finish, but am unsure at to the whys and hows as to their usage. If you wanted , you could still opt for Rally II wheels. For 1979, the WS6 handling package was upgraded to include a set of brakes to be proud of: Four Wheel Discs. These new braking system enhanced the T/A's stopping power and increased the resistance to fade. The new rear disc brakes measured 11.1" in diameter and were had the same internal vents as those in the front to keep them cool. Just in case you forgot the braking power of the car, "4-Wheel Disc" stickers were oddly placed on the outside door handles.

GM being GM, did not expect the new WS6 to be a popular as it was. It seemed more people were ordering the WS6 packagr than they had planned which led to a shortage of 4-wheel disc brake axles. What to do? Do we continue to push orders back on the highly profitable Trans Ams because we don't have enough axles, and maybe build fewer than targeted. No, GM, once again being GM, created as new RPO, WS7 which was essentially the WS6 package without the 4-wheel disc brakes. Oddly enough, GM listed 4-Wheel Disc Brakes as a separate option J65.

Inside the TA, the floor mounted headlamp dimmer switch vanished and reappeared on the turn signal lever. No more pounding the floor with your left foot in search if the headlight dimmer as now it "fell readily to hand". As the Trans Am was moving upscale to the buyers, new features included a power "Tri-Band" antenna (AM/FM/CB) so passers KwikSpecs by didn't get an obvoius look at that valuable CB radio. Seats were freshened for 1979 with the custom cloth interior being covered in Lombardy cloth with Hobnail cloth inserts in the seating portion of the seat.

As mentioned earlier, a four barrel 301 V8 could be ordered up on your new Trans Am. Mated with either a 4-speed manual or three speed automatic, the engine VIN code "W" (coded NA, X6, or X4) was rated at 150 horsepower @ 4000 rpm and 240 lb/ft of torque at 2400 rpm, did offer a good chassis balance, weighing in a about 90 pounds lighter than the big inch Pontiac or Oldsmobile engines. Originally destined for future compacts and mid-size cars, the 301 had a lightweight crankshaft with only two counter weights. The cylinder heads were brand new for this application and were made with siamesed intake ports. Within the heads, were the smallest valves from Pontiac in a long time - a 1.72" intake and a 1.50" exhaust. Topping the engine was a single plane cast iron intake manifold. It is worth mentioning that this new V8 debuted in 1977 and one of the main design features is that it could be built on the same assembly line as the 2.5L 4-cylinder.

The big inch engines were available in two varieties: Oldsmobile 403's hooked up to automatics or the L78/W72 Pontiac 400 matched up with a four-speed. The 403/auto combination was the most popular by far selling 94,773 units. The coding for these engines were and QE, QJ, QK, QL, Q6, TD, TE . Most 403's left with either 2.41, 2.56, or 2.73 gear ratios for fuel economy reasons which hindered the launch considerably, although the big-inch torque did offer good midrange acceleration. The 403 V8 is easily identified by the oil fill spout growing out of the front of the engine.

As for the final iteration of the 400 (coded WH ), the rear end gearing was scaled back to 3.23:1, again for fuel economy, but this also allowed the '79's to go a bit faster on the top end. During road testing Car & Driver magazine sent the tach past the 5000-rpm redline to reach 132 mph at 5400 rpm. This was one of the last cars whose top speed was gearing limited rather than drag limited. The engine was still willing and trust me, has enough torque (320 lb/ft @2800 rpm) to take off in third gear, when brain faded individuals such as myself pick the wrong gear. (As much as the Hurst shifter impresses the heck out nearly everyone who sees the gleaming chrome stalk, it doesn't work as good as it looks!)

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Trans Am, Pontiac created a truly special edition. The 10th was painted in a gorgeous silver and charcoal two tone, accented by red-silver-charcoal stripes. Silver dominated the base of the car, with the charcoal covering the roof, most of the 1979 hood, a small portion of the door beltline, and bumper accents. On the hood, the biggest bird to be fitted to a T/A was included. So large was the bird, each wing tips were a separate decal fitted to the fenders. The hood bird and Trans Am/engine decals followed the general theme of the car being finished in multiple hues of silver/charcoal, red, and black. To aid in the visual distinction between the tenth and standard Trans Am's, a new "turbine" smooth brightly polished dished aluminum wheel was specific to the anniversary edition. Finishing the package was a pair of overly large Firebird decals affixed to the B-pillars (A smaller Firebird decal replaced the bright metal emblem on all other Trans Ams).

The interior fitted to the tenth anniversary 'birds were perhaps the most lavish of all Trans Ams. The entire interior was finished in a light gray/silver hue, including the steering wheel and 1981 horn button (The spokes were still matte black). Silver leather (with vinyl seatbacks & bolsters) covered the specificly styled front and rear seats, although they still lacked a reclining mechanism. It should be noted that the six-color embriodered bird had a special machine imported from France to produce the emblem. Thicker carpeting was laid on the floor and additional sound deadening muted the mechanical sounds we bought Trans Ams for. Most were fitted with every conceivable option, including mirrored t-tops, power windows, door locks, and trunk opener, and the WS6 Special Performance Package. Either the 403 Olds or the 400 Pontiac engines were available, as no records indicate a 301 V8 equipped tenth.

Breaking the $10,000 mark, the 10th's base price was $10,620.00.

Although Pontiac produced 7,500 of the tenth anniversary cars, a handful of cars were prepared as pace cars on the NASCAR circuit, most notably those which wore the Daytona 500 guise. These are probably the most collectable of all 10th Anniversary Trans Ams. Sixty of these 10th Anniversary cars were involved in a "dealer drivaway program" where local dealers received a car that was used to parade around the Daytona Motor Speedway. These cars had "Daytona 500" emblems on the doors as well as NASCAR logos affixed to the rear quarter panels. The cars serial numbers were not believed to have documented and Pontiac offered the decal package accross the parts counter so verifying an actual Daytona 500 Parade car may prove to be difficult.

Performance wise, the 1979 edition made some impressive gains. Due to the slightly higher gearing, the 220hp engine was a bit slower in the quarter mile, taking 15.3 seconds to cover the distance, a tenth slower than the '78. The better aerodynamics came in to play with a higher trap speed of 96.6 mph, 3.2 miles per hour quicker than the '78. The 0-60 mph times for the '79 picked up a half second requiring 6.7 seconds for the sprint. The new four wheel disc brakes of the WS6 cars knocked a yard from the stopping distance, bringing the Trans Am down from 60 mph in only 146 feet. In February of 1979, Hot Rod magazine tested a Pontiac Engineering prepared "press car". This car may have been a warmed over "ringer" as the T/A 6.6 powered 4-speed thundered down the quarter mile in 14.61 seconds @ 96.67 mph. Even HRM admitted that a typical TA of this type could expect time slips in the 15.30 range.

Chassis wise, the Trans Am had no equal from cars built in America. Car & Driver subjectively proved that in the September '79 issue, when the T/A was pitted against Corvette, Z28, Capri, the new front wheel drive Phoenix. Hands down, the Trans Am was judged to be several notches above the rest by having better road manners and in real world driving conditions. Even though the Camaro Z28 was an extremely close cousin to the Trans Am, the handling was dialed in for understeer while the big stabilizer bars and higher rate rear springs made the T/A much more neutral. Lateral acceleration was down to .81g, but this may be the result of differing skidpad diameters. On a small diameter skid pad, generally higher numbers will be produced. The surprising equation in all of this is the Trans Am chosen to do battle was only fitted with a 150 hp 301 cubic inch V8! The 301 was picked because it put less weight over the nose, but we folks with 400's known you offset the nose-heavy tendencies with subtle applications of horsepower. The most important news here is that even handicapped, we won.

In term of pricing, the restyled 1979 Trans Am at $6,299.00 was $500.00 higher than its '78 counterpart. The Special Edition was raised by $70.00 to $1329.00 if you ordered T-tops, or a $40.00 bump at $674.00 for the solid roofed car. The popular hood decal was imposed a nearly 50% price increase, now listing for $95.00, while in 1978 the price was "only" $66.00. Even though the price continued to rise, Trans Am's popularity was so great, production topped the 100,000 mark, eclipsing at 116,535. Today the entire Firebird line can barely sell 40,000 examples, and only a handful of those are the Trans Ams. But in 1979, the future for the Trans Am was bright and it's successor guaranteed.

T/A's were selling as fast at they could be built, but is was the customer who ultimately paid the price of this success because quality suffered immensely. Fit tolerances of door, fenders, hoods, and deck lids were pitiful. T-tops leaked. The paint had more runs and light spots than would be tolerated by a quality control engineer unless they were on the take (by today's standards). Hoods flopped around and doors rattled. But the car was still a Trans Am.

The enthusiastic performance return was to be short lived, owing it's untimely death to the new CAFE regulations. Pontiac engineers were working hard to develop an engine that would match the power and performance of the 400's but with a strong edge in fuel economy. But it would take many years to match the performance numbers and the legacy left behind in the wake of the death of the 400's. It will not pass this way again. How true.

1979 Trans Am Production
Model
Engine
RPO
VIN Code
Manual
Automatic
Total
Trans Am301L37W1,5907,0158,605
Trans Am w/T-Top301L37W1,5303,301 4,831
Trans Am400 T/A 6.6W72Z2,4852,485
Trans Am w/T-Top400 T/A 6.6W72Z2,9172,917
Trans Am403L80K48,48848,488
Trans Am w/T-Top403L80K30,728 30,728
Total Trans Am98,054
Trans Am SE301L37W213360573
Trans Am SE400W72Z1,1071,107
Trans Am SE403L80K9,8749,874
Total Trans Am SE - 10,981
Trans Am 10th Anniv.400L78/W72Z1,8171,817
Trans Am 10th Anniv.403L80K5,6835, 683
Total Trans Am 10th Anniv - 7,500
Total Production116,535

Color & Trim Codes
Exterior Colors
Code
Interior Colors*
Std Trim
Code
Custom Trim
Code
Cameo White
11
OysterOxen12RDoeskin Vinyl 12N
Platinum
15
BlackOxen19RDoeskin Vinyl19N
Starlite Black
19
BlackLombardy II & Hobnail Cloth19B
Atlantis Blue
24
Lt. BlueDoeskin Vinyl24N
Nocturn Blue
29
Lt. BlueLombardy II & Hobnail Cloth24B
Solar Gold
50
Dk. CamelOxen62RDoeskin Vinyl62N
Sundance Yellow
51
Dk. CamelOxenLombardy II & Hobnail Cloth62B
Heritage Brown
69
Dk.CarmineOxen74RDoeskin Vinyl74N
Mayan Red
75
Dk. CarmineLombardy II & Hobnail Cloth74B
Silver (10th only)Leather (Vinyl Bolsters)152

10th Anniversary Models were painted 15 Platinum and accented with 16 Dark Charcoal


1979 Trans Am Engines

Engine - CID

Code

Vin Code

HP @ RPM

Torque Lb/Ft @ RPM

301

NA, X4, X6

W

150@4000

240@2400

403 (Olds)

QE, QJ, QK, QL, Q6, TD, TE

K

185@4800

320@2200

T/A 6.6

WH

Z

220@4000

320@2800

1979 Tranmissions

Transmission

Code

Usage

3-Speed Auto

JC, JD, KX, LM, LP, LT, ME, MJ

301, 403 (Olds)

4-Speed Manual, Borg-Warner T-10

UF, UH

301, T/A 6.6

Rear Axle Identification Codes
Axle RatioCode
2.412PS, 5PV
2.562PT
2.732PU
3.082PO, 2PW, 5PQ
3.232PX

All ring gears are 8 1/2" and have positraction

Carburetor Usage
EngineTransmissionCarb #
301Automatic17059272
301Manual17059271
400Manual17059263
403 w/Federal Emissions w/o ACAutomatic17059250
403 w/Federal Emissions w/ACAutomatic17059253

Standard Equipment: Dual Body Color OSRV mirrors, LH remote; P225/70Rx15 BSW radial tires, 4-speed manual transmission, Power assisted front disc brakes, Saf-T-Track differential, Power steering, Front and rear stabilizer bars, Rally II wheels, Space saver spare tire, Vinyl bucket seats, Rally gages with clock and tach, Formula steering wheel, Front seat floor console, Rear air spoiler, Cigarette lighter, Shaker hood and air cleaner, Front air dam

Year Selector
Introduction
1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981


Additional links:
Return to 2nd gen. Trans Am home page
1970 - The Start of Something Wonderful
1971 - Debut of the 455
1972 - The Lean Year
1973 - SD-455 and the Screamin' Chicken
1974 - Good Times...Bad Times
1975 - Soul Survivor
1976 - Spirit of '76
1977 - Year of the bandit
1978 - Horsepower and Handling
Return to Gary Lisk home page


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