After such a dramatic freshening for the 1977 model year, the 1978 Firebird Trans Am appeared to be mostly carryover. The exterior lines had the same peaks and valleys, but what 1978 could be remembered for mostly was horsepower and handling.
Developing horsepower had nearly become a lost art for U.S. carmakers. Struggling withemissions, fuel economy regulations, and the constant pressures of the insurance industry,horsepower levels had been on a downward spiral with seemingly no end in sight. Afteryears of cutting performance levels, the T/A 6.6 engine of the '77 Trans Am started to reverse that trend. Horsepower increased on the 400 V8 for the first time since 1974. Although when looking back at the early seventies, 200 horsepower was pale in comparison, but at least power was heading the right way.
Not only had horsepower returned to be a good word in the American carbuildersvocabulary, a new word was beginning to be noticed; handling. No longer were cars being built for the carefree days of cruising down endless interstates good enough. We wanted cars with razor sharp reflexes and flat cornering attitudes. Pontiac was able to meet both those needs for 1978.
The Trans Am was in it's ninth year of production, the last eight in the second generation bodystyle. Last year, the most dramatic change so far had occurred with the addition of the "Batmobile" nose. For 1978, budgets for major styling changes were used for functional upgrades, so the two years are similar in appearance, save a couple of changes.
First, new grilles were used, replacing the honey comb grille centers with a cross hatcharrangement. With the exception of the Black & Gold or Gold Special Editions, these grilleswere painted low gloss black with chrome bezels. A "Pontiac" logo was bolted to the grille on the left side, replacing the decal that was affixed to the header on the 1977.
The second change involved the "Trans Am" logos, which became softer and less angularthan those of previous years. On all models except the Special Editions, chromed Firebirdemblems were mounted on the c-pillar. The SE's received a decal. Around March/April of 1978,the tail lamp surrounds were painted gloss black, replacing the previous body color.
Exterior color choices flourished for 1978, but there was a major casualty; Buccaneer Red, a Trans Am mainstay since 1973, was gone. What replaced it was somewhat of a controversial color- ( I know, I own one) Mayan Red. Mayan Red (#75) wasn't really red and wasn't really orange - just somewhere kind of in the middle. In addition, there was still Cameo White, Platinum, Starlight Black , Martinique Blue, Chesterfield Brown, and Solar Gold, which also became a new Special Edition color.
Speaking of the Special Editions, the black and gold variety returned, but now wereavailable only with t-tops. Pontiac coded those SE's built at the Van Nuys, California plant andthe Norwood, Ohio plant differently. The Norwood cars had a RPO of Y82 and the Californian's,Y84 (This does not mean that all cars built in Van Nuys were sold in California.). Thecomponents of the SE package were carryover for '78.
After two years of success with the black & gold Special Editions, Pontiac decided to try a new angle- reverse the colors! Solar Gold with black accents was chosen to supplement the "bandit". Most gold SE's were built in Norwood, Ohio, as the Van Nuys, Ca. plant had to use a different paint due to EPA regulations. The paint from Van Nuys had a greenish cast to it, versus the more pure gold look of the Ohio models.
Inside the new Trans Am, the long standing door trim panels lost the standard lower doorstrorage pockets, a feature since the 70 1/2 models. If you ordered up the optional custominterior, still available in Doeskin vinyl or Lombardy cloth, carpet covered the lower door trim and included a storage pocket. In addition, a newly engineered "easy to break" interior door armrest/pull combo replaced the door storage/armrest/pull from previous year. If you are one of the lucky ones out there with a door pull that isn't attached to the door by a bolt the sizes of a Cuban cigar, consider yourself lucky. An item of consistency from the pervious models was the use of a decorative button on the door panel to cover up the window crank hole on power window equipped cars.
Although paint appearance between the Norwood and Van Nuys cars is one obviousdifference, I have detected another. The trunk mat in most early Norwood cars was theconventional "gray stuff" that was the staple for trunk mats for years. The Van Nuys T/A's were fitted with a mat that was to replace the conventional mat, with a black felt like carpet. The black had a more modern look and was also slightly lighter.
Two types of T-tops were available, the Hurst tops ( WY9 ) and the GM Fishertops ( CC1 ). The Hurst models were smaller and had a metal band surrounding the topcutout, while the GM 's had no such band and had a cutout that was quite a bit larger.
Enough window dressing you say! On to the meat of the article! What about "Horsepowerand Handling"?
Horsepower was finally making a comeback in good old America, and assigned to lead thepack was the 1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am's W72 optioned engine- ( coded WC when bolted to the 4-speed and X7 if you needed an automatic ) the 220hp T/A 6.6.Good old cubic inches were finally saved from the Government's noose and an engine worthy ofthe Trans Am moniker was available.
In 1978, you couldn't "chip" an engine to make more horsepower and "cat-back" exhaustsystems were unheard of. If you wanted an EPA legal power boost, you had but one choice- visit your Pontiac dealer. Some pretty neat features went into making of a T/A 6.6. First there was the carburetion, fattened up slightly for little more oomph. Next was a bit more spark advance, giving the GM high energy ignition more oportunity to burn that fuel bonus. As any hot rodder knows, the camshaft is the lifeblood of performance and the T/A 6.6 had one with an additional 20 degrees of duration. To help finish the cycle, a new low restriction dual reasonator exhaust system was added, replacing the single muffler used on all other Trans Am's. ( The dual splitter tail pipes were also fitted.) Keeping the oil pressure from dropping to zero on when turning quickly to the right or left, a windage tray was added. To allow more air into the engine, a air claners with a larger snorkel was added. These items were in addition to 1977's compression ratio increase of 8.1:1 (versus 7.6:!) by bolting the 350's cylinder heads on the 400 engine. Just to make sure everyone knew you had a T/A 6.6, the callouts were affixed to the shaker and chrome valve covers completed the look.
Although 220 horsepower may seem wimpy compared the the hairy chested Ram Air III's,IV's and and SD-455's, but remember this was power achieved with little valves, low profile cast iron intake's, plain old exhaust manifolds, and the power restrictive catylitic converter. The numbers for the W72 were 220hp @ 4000 rpm and 320 lb/ft of torque peaking a good bit further up the rev range at 2800 rpm than the garden variety 400. When you figure this all this was available for a mere seventy-five dollars , it is no wonder production was limited. The key to 1978's best all-around performing car was no doubt this one option (as long as you didn't live in California).
One appearance and most likely functional problem with the T/A 6.6 engine was theinsulated fuel line which ran through the water pump and was exposed to a great deal of engine heat (hence the reason for the insulation). This in turn caused the insulation to deteriorate and either fall off or just plain look bad (like mine). There doesn't appear any way to properly replace this insulation and the fuel line is no longer available ( I bought the last Turbo 4.9 fuel line hoping it would fit. I t didn't).
The other two engines in the line up were essentially carryover for 1978. The automaticonly 185 horsepower (RPO L80) 403 cubic inch Oldsmobile engine was back (coded U2,U3, VA, VB ) and still the only engine California and residents living in Government deemed high altitudes could order. The L78 Pontiac 400 was the base engine (coded YA or YU ), but now it's 180 hp could be combined with either an automatic or manual.
When it comes to handling, no four place car made in America had a prayer in keeping upwith a WS6 equipped Trans Am. What is WS6 you ask, well you are about to find out more thanyou wanted to know.
First off, on automatic cars you got the obligitory stiffer rear springs (25-lb/in higher deflection rating) that in Detroit-speak means "tuned". The rear stabilizer bar grew to .75" versus the .62" of the non-WS6 car and all stabilizer bars received polyurethane link bushings versus the softer rubber bushing of all other Firebirds. The shocks were valved a little tigher for greater wheel control, and a new steering gearbox with a ratio of 14:1 replaced the 16:1 variable ratio unit of lesser TA's (is there such a thing?). Finally where the rubber meets the road (litterally) a P225/70R15 steel belted radial of Goodyear or Uniroyal origin was mounted on a set of 15 x 8 inch wide snowflake wheels. The wheels are easily recognized by the deep dish look versus the flush appearance of the standard T/A snowflakes.
If you are looking at a T/A and wondering if you have the WS6 suspension, there are twoways to find out, an easy and a hard. Unfortunately for me, I found out about the easy way only after doing things the hard way. The hard way was to make a pair of gauges, preferably out of metal, of .62" and .75" respectively, crawl under the car and see which one just barely fits the rear stabilizer bar. This is what I did, suit jacket, tie and all. Pretty dumb when you consider if I would have been thinking all I would have had to do is open the left door and check out the tire plaquard on the door. A non-WS6 car will have a GR70x15 listed as the tire sizes while the real deal will list the P225/70R15. If a door has been replaced or someone has taken the time to counterfeit a sticker, then maybe the hard way isn't so dumb after all. By the way I have a WS6 car.
The WS6/W72 combination quickly established the 1978 Trans Am as the "King of theHill", long before there was such a thing a a Corvette ZR-1. Magazines loved the car and theSpring 1978 issue of Road Test magazine squared off a Z28, a Corvette, and a Trans Am in astreet fight. The T/A was clearly chosen as the easiest car to drive fast.
As a result of the test, it was reported that it took 15.2 seconds to cover the quarter mile,going through the traps at 93.4 mph. It could spring from zero-to-sixty in 7.2 seconds and had aterminal speed of 123 mph, a full 600 rpms over the redline of 5000. In braking, the 3720 poundT/A test car took 149 feet to stop from 60 mph. In a circle, the Trans Am could generate .83g ofgrip which matched the test Corvette and was well beyond the .76g the Camaro Z28 capable of.
In comparison with the other cars of the day, Ford's Mustang "King Cobra" (a kind of Trans Am wannabe) powered by an awesome 134 hp 302 V8 hurtled down the quarter mile in only 17.09 seconds at 80.69 mph - this with the legandary "Dyno Don" Nicholson at the wheel. TheChevrolet Monza Spyder, one of the cars GM was banking on to be the successor to the Trans Am & Camaro, was no quicker as its 145hp 305 2bbl V8 consumed the quarter mile in 17.16seconds, but quicker at 82.04 mph.
Prices for the 1978 Trans Am rose to meet the popularity, jumping $343.00 to $5,799.00 for the base Trans Am. Option prices took similar increase's, with the Special Edition nowlisting for $1,259.00. New options were sparce, with most of the emphasis being in thedirection of performance.
An aftermarket model made big news in 1978, the "Macho T/A" by DKM. Available invarious states of improvements, a reported 202 were built. The cars were all sold to DKM by Pontiac dealers and in turn sold back to Pontiac dealers as used cars. Hot Rod magazine tested car number 3 in the July 1978 issue and had a lot of good things to say. The Macho T/A turned in a 14.29 quarter mile at 98.79 mph, significantly quicker than the stock W72 engined car. The base package included an opened up shaker, headers with a revised "mufflerless" exhaust system relying on dual AC catylitic converters to muffle the noise. Ignition timing was recallibrated to offer a full 36-degrees of advance. These improvements were worth an additional 40 hp according to the Glendale, AZ company.
Chassis improvements were also part of the DKM package. Koni shocks and heat treated front coil springs lowered the stance. Outside, there were DKM graphics on the front fenders as well as on the rear spoiler, and big and bold "Macho T/A" decals on the lower part of the doors. The car number was included in the graphics as well as having a numbered console plate. Buyers could opt to have the lower door graphics deleted.
As good as the non-turbo car ran, Car & Driver did not have such a rewarding experience with the showcase "Turbo" edition. Turbocharging the Pontiac 400 to a claimed 300 horsepower added an additional $2999.00 to the DKM Macho T/A's bonus of $3188.00 . As with most "tuner" cars, the car was grossly unable to live up to the published numbers. In January of 1979, Car & Driver tested one of these turbo cars and found it to be less than expected. Despite the claimed added horsepower, it could only cover the quarter in 16.1 seconds, or about what a non-W72 was capable of doing. Yes you had one of 175, but...
1978 was certainly a banner year. The Pontiac enginners were putting their best effortforward, creating a harmony between horsepower and handling. Over 90,000 Trans Ams, nearlyhalf of the total Firebird production made it into the hands of willing consumers. But with the new fuel economy standards being written, the good times were sure to be short lived. After next year, the T/A would encounter many changes, and what '79 had to offer would not pass this way again.
|Total Trans Am
|Trans Am SE(Y82-Black)
|Trans Am SE (Y84-Black)
|Trans Am SE (Y84-Black)
|Trans Am SE (Gold)
|Trans Am SE (Gold)
|Total Trans Am SE -
|PX or PP
All ring gears are 8 1/2" and have positraction
Standard Equipment: Dual Body Color OSRV mirrors, LH remote; GR70x15 BSWradial tires, 4-speed manual transmission, Power assisted front disc brakes, Saf-T-Trackdifferential, Power steering, Front and rear stabilizer bars, Rally II wheels, Space saver sparetire, Vinly bucket seats, Rally gages with clock and tach, Formula steering wheel, Front seatfloor console, Rear air spoiler, Cigarette lighter, Shaker hood, Front air damY82
|GM Part NumberCode
|Black-Dk Gold-Matte Gold (Y82)
|Black-Yellow Orange-Matte Gold