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Sunday, March 26, 2006

"I like my sports cars a little on the trashy side.”

Recently I bought a car on Ebay and not just any car because cars are not (and never have been) "just" transportation for me. Quite the opposite. I love sports cars and the sleeker and faster they are, the more I love them. Like the agitated criminal says in the cult classic movie "ROBOCOP" ...

"I want something that goes really fast and gets really shitty gas mileage!"

I paraphrase … greatly, I doth.

Oh, and the car I drive has to be black. It's just a prerequisite of mine. Yes, I like my sports cars a little on the trashy side and that's why I bought a black Trans Am. Yes, you heard right... I bought a black Pontiac Trans Am.

A 20 year old black Pontiac Trans Am.

Now, as anyone with a high school education knows, a black Pontiac Trans Am is the absolute definition of an OTR truck driver's dream come true. Trans Am: the preferred transportation choice of well to do double wide-dwelling trailer park royalty (whereas the plebeians and peasants in the trailer park must suffice with driving around in old beat up Berlinettas and black smoke belching IROC-Zs (often sporting big stylized #3 decals (with a halo and angel wings) on the rear windows...)).

For what it is worth, I feel a certain brotherly kinship to the Pontiac Trans Am for you see; the TA and I were born in the same year, 1969, a turbulent year to be sure. My own birth was in June of The Summer of Love, the mid point through a year in history that brought forth the fire breathing Pontiac Trans Am and the outrageous Pontiac GTO Judge. 1969 was a year when America (the greatest country in the world) put a man on the Moon, a year when the monster Hurricane Camille wiped out the Mississippi Gulf Coast and a year when the hippies and flower children all got together at a field in New York and had Woodstock. 1969 was a very special and very interesting year; each one of those events listed above, including my birth, would have long lasting, long reaching consequences for many people.

Right from the very start, the Pontiac Trans Am and I were both destined for trouble, fast trouble, fun trouble, on both sides of the law. It was neck and neck there for awhile in the late '80's and early ‘90’s to see which one of us would die first, me or the legend that was the Pontiac Trans Am. At one point (and with some of the questionable quasi-legal company that I used to run with), it looked like the hands down winner of the bet on who would survive the longest would be the Pontiac TA (and that I would be dead and gone long before GM decided to ax the F-body).

Somehow, through luck, skill, and not a little divine intervention, both the Trans Am and I survived the end of the '60's, through the 70's, through the '80's and even through the '90's into the 21st century. Hippie music, surf music, pop music, disco, punk, new wave, heavy metal, speed metal, grunge, alternative, rap. We’ve seen it all come and go (well, except rap which seems to be more of a social cancer than a form of music...). We’ve seen 8 tracks, vinyl records, and cassettes come and go as well. Together, the Pontiac Trans Am and I made it into the 21st century and when we did, we both looked back on where we had started, where we had been, and how far we had both come through some of the most troubled and interesting decades in human history. We both breathed a deep sigh of relief and laughed at what a wild, reckless ride just getting out of the 20th century alive and un-crippled had been. It had been a turbulent journey across four decades together, side by side, year after year, change after change, through thick and thin, good and bad.

Suddenly it was all over and just like that I was alone.

GM killed the F-body, at the height of its technological advancement, at a time when the F-body was kicking the Mustang’s hiney all over the street, GM just rolled over and exposed their belly to Ford, giving them first place in the nearly 40 year long Pony Car war. Yes, GM in their finite wisdom, handed Ford the Pony Car market all to their own. I guess this was done so GM could concentrate their effort on building more lackluster SUVs and ridiculous stuff like the Pontiac Aztec and the Chevy SSR. In an age when even the GTO has become nothing more than a rebadged import, GM managed in one fell stroke to kill off its only two remaining lines of performance credibility with the youth market. What really added insult to injury was that when GM did this, they also alienated a lot of long time buyers (such as myself) who value tradition, heritage and model history more than the bottom line.

Yes, all that fun and excitement came to sudden, abrupt end in 2002 and now it is official. I have outlived the Pontiac Trans Am. I’m sad because I mourn the passing of a good friend who suffered a rather untimely death through no fault of their own. Not many people can lay claim to having been born right along with one of the most popular and influential cars in American automotive and pop culture history let alone grow up with that car and watch it change with you from year to year.

What a great run we both had but the Pontiac Trans Am is gone and I'm afraid that she’s gone forever. GM may bring back the Camaro, in a few years, but they’ll never bring back the Firebird (or the Trans Am) because the truth is, they don’t need two F-bodies. With Generic Motors’ consistent infusion of blandness into their product lines, having two F-bodies (which were little different save in name and just enough sheet metal to cosmetically tell them apart) would not be a wise decision, especially given the amount of fiscal trouble that GM is already in today (but then GM is anything but a wise decision maker lately so who knows...?).

Now, we’ve talked a little bit about the sad, tragic death of the Pontiac Firebird and the Trans Am so let’s talk about its life and what a glorious life it did have!

Trans Am.

Clap hands.

So American.

… Said with a tip of the old cowboy hat to one of my favorite bands, Wall of Voodoo. And speaking of voodoo ... that's just what the Trans Am is, baby! Part muscle car, part pure voodoo. Black magic, Santa Ria, bad mojo, and unlike the Chevy Camaro Z28 (which had more reincarnations than Shirley MacLaine), once the Trans Am was introduced to the automotive market place, it never quit from its humble beginning to its inglorious end.

The Pontiac Firebird Trans Am appeared with a bang as a separate model of Firebird in 1969 and the TA lasted all the way to the bitter end of the line when the Camaro and Firebird were prematurely put out to the pasture, Ole’ Yellar style, by GM’s short yellow bus riding upper echelon executives in 2002. Unlike Chevy and the Camaro Z28, there wasn't a single point in that long 33 year span of time where Pontiac didn't build and market a Trans Am. The Trans Am had something that few other cars in its market could lay claim to: staying power. The Camaro Z28 model name came and went depending on the ebb and flow of the market (and for several years was relegated to nothing but a badge and stripe package) but the Trans Am soldiered on undaunted, through ever decreasing engine sizes, oil embargos, soaring insurance premiums, lackluster performance, decreasing national speed limits, the introduction of lower octane unleaded fuels, the catalytic converter and through a constant invasion of well-intentioned but narrow minded, lobbyist fed safety Nazis. It was the Trans Am that carried the high performance torch for the F-body through the darkest times, not the Camaro Z28 (which had a nasty habit of going AWOL whenever things started looking the darkest for the genre). The Pontiac Trans Am was, more than anything else, a survivor. Through it all, thick and thin, good times and bad, the Pontiac Trans Am survived and not only did it survive, it thrived in great numbers.

While other car makers were running around the doom and gloom of the ‘70’s with their heads up their asses trying to appease the Federal government and the zealous Nader-ites, Pontiac was running around pretending it was the 1960’s all over again. 400s and 455s, big cubes, lots of torque and in an industry where bland had become the motivating trend, Pontiac’s Firebird model offerings were the leading edge of styling, aerodynamics, handling and performance. The Trans Am had something most other cars of the time didn’t have; character. It had personality and it had a bad attitude as well as the balls to back up its image and its swagger on the street and track. That is what set the Trans Am apart from its also-ran counterpart, the Camaro Z28.

Indeed, in the 1970's, the Trans Am’s main goal was not to beat the Camaro Z28 (which it could do with relative ease), no, the Trans Am had the Chevrolet Corvette in its sights and on several occasions the Pontiac Trans Am often out muscled Chevy's fiberglass assed beauty queen on the street, at the drag strip and kept up with it on the skid pad thanks to the constant refinement of the WS6 suspension system. Pretty impressive. The Firebird can lay claim to several famous people putting hands on the car during its life; John Schinella, John Delorean, and Herb Adams (the "father" of the Trans Am and the leading designer of the legendary WS6 suspension system) all gave part of their soul to the magic that formed the character of the Trans Am.

So what is the mystique surrounding the Pontiac Firebird and Trans Am?

Well, you see, the Firebird always appealed to the more educated F-body buyers. Firebird buyers were, statistically, better educated, more professional, higher on the social ladder and had more yearly income than Camaro owners. Pontiac was the fun provider at GM for the youth market; something they have, sadly, long since lost sight of if they haven’t gone completely blind in that regard. Firebird owners represented a more discriminating buyer, a more informed buyer, a smarter, better educated buyer who didn’t want the stigma of owning a Camaro. Yes, we may all have been GM owners, but Pontiac Firebird owners were always a breed apart from their Chevy Camaro counterparts, and it was a better breed to be sure, a different breed.

The Trans Am was different from all the rest, much like myself, and that’s why I liked the Trans Am way back then. That’s probably why I still like the Trans Am today. The Trans Am is what it is and it is unashamed in being so, again, much like myself. Birds of a feather, flock together, or so they say. I can understand that bit of philosophy, just as I can understand the bit that says "you are what you drive." though I would have to reverse that and say "you drive what you are." For me, that means a no apologies, balls to the wall, stand out in any group, part the crowd when you walk through, not easy to forget kind of car. For me, that means a Pontiac Trans Am. It fits me. It fits my nature, my personality, and my character.

It’s a real shame that America doesn’t build a sports car like this anymore. TA: another wonderful piece of Americana laid to rest for all time.

R.I.P.

Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

1969 to 2002

Dead at 33 years young; you will be missed, old friend. It really is true what they say, “the good die young” which probably explains why the Pontiac Firebird is long gone and the Ford Mustang is still around.

Oh, my brothers and sisters, gather your glorious Pontiac Firebirds while you still can because they don't make cars like this anymore and truth be known, they probably never will again. The Firebird was from a different era, a better era, an era when cars could be fire breathing, oboisterous hooligan machines, not the lackluster metrosexual inspired, environmentally friendly, fuel sipping pregnant roller skates that are offered for sale today by GM and Ford.

No. The future for performance is darker today than it ever was in the 1970’s. The future holds no more muscular, affordable V8s, no more unashamed graphics and instantly recognizable aerodynamics, no more big fat tires, no more deep burbling exhausts, no more hood scoops ...

... and no more T-tops.

Pontiac once claimed that they built excitement and they may have … a long time ago in a generation far, far away but today Pontiac does not build excitement. Today, nothing that rolls out of GM can be described as “exciting” by using any stretch of the definition of the word. No, the cars that GM and the other manufacturers are producing today are nice cars, tidy cars, quiet cars, efficient and environmental friendly cars. The cars rolling off the assembly lines in Detroit today have all the charisma of a girl with Downs Syndrome working a kissing booth at a charity event.

It’s time to face the bitter and long overdue music, folks.

Today's cars are boring, criminally boring and while they may be Ralph Nader’s wet dream, they are a traditional performance enthusiast’s greatest nightmare. The cars produced today have truly become “just” transportation. They have no personality. They have no character. They barely have enough power to get out of their own way let alone break loose a long strip of rubber from a dead stop. The cars of contemporary times are full of apologies; apologies to the trees and environment, to the air and ozone, to all creatures great and small and gushing apologies to generations yet to come. The cars of today are apologizing over and over again for the cars of yesterday. They are sorry that their ancestors wasted your children's irreplaceable fossil fuels in the vulgar amounts and reckless abandon that they once did. The cars of our contemporary times are built in mass lots with very little originality. If you walk out into the parking lot of a mall, all you see is row and row of the same thing, a vast sea of multi-hued mediocrity.

Nothing stands out.

Nothing on the road or in the parking lot (let alone on the grounds of the local dealers) grabs your attention or demands that you look at it with anything more than a passing glance. Cars today even sound dull. Cars today are not exciting, they are timid, meek constructs that mewl instead of growl. Their motors hum like sewing machines, their exhausts blow like a breeze, you can't hear any wind noise from inside and there is no feel from the road. It's like getting nitrous in a dentist's chair, everything is just bland (right down to the really bad pop fusion playing on cheap speakers) and you feel nothing because you don't care to feel anything. Everything about today's cars is completely predictable and thoroughly worth ignoring. Automakers don't takes chances any more, no one produces a car just to produce a car or just because they can. No, cars today have to be carefully weighed and balanced against a large list of criteria that mean something only to those who are actually producing these ridiculous excuses for personal transportation. I think that the first and foremost criteria that is used in deciding on whether or not to build a new car is if it is completely boring or not. If it has any trace of personality, it probably gets cut early from the design process.

Cars today make everyone happy except the people who actually have to buy them and subsequently drive them. The cars of today are smaller. They’re made out of more plastic than metal and even the interiors have lost all semblance of fun or originality. Quality control has gone straight down hill and everything in these cars and trucks feels like you’re going to break it off if you grab on it too hard. Cars have gone from muscular, unforgiving rebels to dainty, overly apologizing wallflowers. Cars today are made with the cheapest parts all in the hope for the fattest bottom line. Cars today have no pride and no joy because they have no soul. They have no identity of their own, no charisma, no personality, nothing to set them apart from any other car on the road. Cars have no history, no past. The new model you see advertised today won't be available in five years and won't be remembered at all in ten. No, cars today have been regulated and relegated into the realm of abject mediocrity. Mediocrity loves company.

I don't drive mediocre cars.

Life is too short to drive mediocre cars.

No. I drive a car that moves through traffic like a recently paid sailor through a discount brothel. I drive a car that is what it is and makes no apologies for being so. I drive an American sports car. An American high performance sports car. A car that thumps because of the cubes that it has under the hood, not the tubes that it has in the trunk. Yes, I was buying another black Pontiac Trans Am and I was buying a 20 year old black Pontiac Trans Am at that because the stuff that GM made two decades ago still looks far better and has a lot more personality than the stuff that Generic Motors is cranking out today. Americans have always had a love affair with their automobiles but lately, it’s been more of an affair than any real love.

Now, I said I was buying a black Pontiac Trans Am but that's not exactly true so let me correct that ... I had already bought a black Pontiac Trans Am.

Again.

The catch was, even though the car was mine, fully paid for, it was four states away, waiting on me, and I had to go pick it up and drive it back home. It was the start of what would soon come to be a rather grand adventure in my life.

Yes, this would be the second black Trans Am that I have owned in my life (the first being a 1979 black and gold "Bandit" TA owned from 1986 to 1993). Here is a picture of my old car after I had restored it. I had many adventures in the '79 , some of which you can read about on the "Tales from the Driver's Seat." on SPO.





THEN






1979 Pontiac Special Edition Trans Am

I sold this particular Trans Am in 1993 to pay off the new car loan of a beautiful young woman I was dating rather seriously at the time (if by dating rather seriously I mean she wasn't taking "no" for an answer and so after a while, I just kind of gave up and let her have her way with me). Normally, this would be a pretty stupid thing to do; sell the one true friend you have had for the better part of six years just in order to make life easier for someone you are dating. Yes, it was a very stupid thing to do, in hindsight, but since I eventually married the beautiful young woman I was trying to impress and since we've been together for 12 wonderful, happy, long years now, selling the car wasn't as painful as it would have been. Now if you want to talk about painful, how about if I had sold my car to pay off her car and then she had left me for someone else shortly afterwards. That would have really have added insult to injury. So, I ended up trading one friend for another. Since I kept the original TA almost 8 years and I’ve been with my wife for 12 years with no end in sight, I guess I got a pretty good trade way back then. Of course, she may have a different opinion on the matter.

The black '79 Pontiac Trans Am is long gone and so is the little silver four door '91 Buick Skylark that my wife owned at the time. I did see my TA once again, many years later, being driven by some kids. The front end was smashed like she had hit a tree or a utility pole. I felt a stabbing pain in my heart when I saw that she was smoking. The paint was crap now but I could tell it was my car or rather that it had once been my car. I thought about turning around and chasing the kids down to see if I could buy the TA back right then and there but I realized that I didn’t really want to see the ugly truth up close.

The ’79 TA was gone forever and I could never get it back.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, "You cannot step into the same river twice." What he meant was that life is full of change and the only constant in life is change. Your past is your past and that’s where it should stay. The past is a fun place to visit from time to time but you don’t want to go back there and live. You can’t, ever, even if you really wanted to.

Ah, the memories.

1986. High school. Pepsi still came in a glass bottle with a screw on metal top. The record store was full of cassette tapes and phonograph albums, hell, you could still buy a 45RPM record of the song you just heard on the stereo. The space shuttle Challenger had just exploded shortly after launch. Regan was still in office. I was a junior in high school. I had just come out of a bad relationship. I had sold my ’78 Camaro Rally Sport and used the money to buy a 1979 black and gold Trans Am that I saw sitting on the side of the road at a used car lot, one afternoon on my way home from high school.

She was the last of the big cube TA’s with 403 cubic inches under the hood and enough torque to jerk an elephant through a keyhole. WS6 suspension. Front and rear sway bars. Four wheel disc brakes. Quick ratio power steering. 10 bolt GM built 3.73 geared positraction rear differential. Rochester Quadrajet four barrel carburetor. Custom black factory interior. Engine turned aluminum dash. Formula steering wheel. RTS Rally (or was that Radial?) Tuned Suspension emblem on the dash. Grab bar on the passenger side dash. 15x8 inch aluminum and gold colored Snowflake wheels. The “4 WHEEL DISC” decal on each door handle. "PRNDSL" on the shifter plate where "S" stood for "Super." The classic, smooth automatic shifter with its Hurst dual gate inspired ratchet style forward slap action with positive indents.

I remember the ability to do long smoky burnouts on demand, chirping the rear tires hard in second and third gear with heavy metal music cranked loud. I remember the open freedom of the removable glass T-tops and the way that the aftermarket top of the line 300 watt Kenwood stereo system sounded, a system that had cost me nearly $1500 to purchase and install back in 1986 (which was a lot of money for a 17 year old to save up and spend, believe me!)

I remember cruising on hot Summer nights with the T-tops off, the street lights reflecting off the waxed black paint job, the local night life, the clubs, the street races and the smells of the city.

Later that night, it was paradise by the dashboard lights...

I miss the shaker hood that torqued to the right when you stomped the accelerator to the floor. I miss the headers and custom dual exhausts with turbo mufflers. I miss being slammed back in your seat by the awesome torque of that 6.6 liter small block V8, enough power to get squirrelly on take off, to slide the spoiler tailed rear end around before coming out of the hole almost sideways amid a cloud of burned rubber, screaming tires and thick smoke.

I miss the smell of hot brakes, spent fuel, the hiss of air being drawn into the Rochester Quadrajet four barrel carburetor through a functional cut out shaker hood scoop, the whine of that big V8 engine, the squeal of the V-belts, the roar of the custom dual exhausts, the sound of performance radial tires on pavement screaming to get traction from a dead stop or singing like a siren of yore while the car is being slung around a corner at full power in a four wheel sliding drift; these are a few of my favorite things.

Sammy Hagar once wrote a song about his own ’79 Trans Am (it can be found on several of his albums). People write songs about cars like the Chevrolet Corvette, the Pontiac GTO and the Pontiac Trans Am. They don't write songs about Volvos, BMWs or Audis (and for damn good reasons, too). Some cars just naturally stir your soul, others exist merely as transportation (no matter how refined, well built or civilized their manufacturers may claim them to be). Someone once said “you can’t polish a turd.” What that person should have said is “nobody ever waxed nostalgic over a Saab.

Memories.

I have many, many memories of the '79 Trans Am and rather good ones at that but they are just memories of the past and that is where they should (and must) forever stay. I miss the '79 TA, to this day I truly miss that car a lot. I even looked at buying another '79 "Bandit" Trans Am and have passed up three of them in the last six months (two four speeds and one automatic), one on Ebay and two from private sellers who contacted me to try to see how much of my hard earned money they could get flowing their way. I was only too happy to disappoint some of them as I just really can't see myself driving around in a car that has two hundred feet of gold pin-striping on it and a hood decal of a bird that is nearly as tall as I am.

Buying another '79 Bandit just wasn't an option this time around. I had moved on. I had grown up. It just wasn't me, any more. It had been me at one time and now it wasn't me. It wasn’t who I was. It wasn't a car I felt comfortable with driving around in my old age; it would have been a caricature of my youth and a rather poor one at that.

No.

Now I wanted something different, something sleeker, something more ... subtle. I wanted something more refined and not as gaudy or in-your-face obnoxious as my '79 TA had been. I wanted something that, like myself, had grown up (somewhat), something that had matured (somewhat). That meant no "screaming chickens" on the hood, no two hundred feet of gold pin-striping and no huge gas guzzling, 6.6 liter engines under the hood. No Rochester Quadrajet carburetors and no dual exhausts to wake up the neighbors early in the morning when I was coming home from a long night of street racing, bar hopping and skirt chasing.

I wanted something from the mid-1980’s, as that is the time period for my high school-went, hell-bent, misspent teenage years. I wanted something high tech, something where suspension and tire technology finally caught up with horsepower and allowed the driver to get more of that horsepower to the pavement. The ’79 TA had been an awesome car to own, for its time, but now I wanted something that was refined and even if it had a smaller engine, I wanted an engine that still made more horsepower than my old 6.6 liter V8. Granted, it may not have had as much torque but it got a higher percentage of what horsepower and torque it produced to the pavement thanks to advances in suspension technology and engineering.

I wanted better handling, braking and acceleration, in that order. I wanted my cake and I wanted to be able to eat it as well. I didn't want another '79 Trans Am. I wanted a better Trans Am. A sleeker Trans Am with a lower coefficient of drag (Cd) and a higher top end. I wanted a more refined grand touring sports car, something that would be home on the street, on the curves, on the highways and interstates as well as the drag strip. I wanted a Trans Am that had matured like I had, more or less. I wanted something that would walk softly and carry a big stick.

Growing up and maturing meant, for me, a mid-80’s Trans Am, preferably with a EFI engine. I wanted something that looked good 20 years ago and still looks good today. Some car designs are timeless. A split window Stingray Corvette with mechanical fuel injection. A GTO Judge with hideaway headlights. A Hemi Barracuda with shaker hood and pistol grip. I personally think the 1985 to 1990 Trans Am is one of those timeless automotive designs. Apparently, I’m not alone in my thinking, as evidenced by this quote:

"Acclaimed as one of the most visually stunning cars ever built, the Trans Am's styling will no doubt remain timeless. ... If you think '57 Chevys still look good, you'll love the Trans Am - even 20 years from now." - John Baechtel,

"Different Strokes" comparison test,
HOT ROD MAGAZINE, August 1986

How prophetic Mr. Baechtel's words were when viewed 20 years later. I wonder if even he realizes the impact of what he once said. I wonder if he even still cares...




NOW




1986 WS6 LB9 Recaro optioned Trans Am

So, almost 20 years to the month after I bought my first black Trans Am, I am now buying my second black Trans Am. Call it fate. Call it one part brand loyalty (I've always loved Pontiacs over any other GM make or model) and one part mental retardation (I am, after all, buying another GM product...). I'd call it more loyalty than mental retardation though I'm sure that particular aspect of my reason for getting this 20 year old Trans Am is certainly a hot topic which is wide open for much heated debate.

I have a Trans Am. Not a GTA (Great Tubby Am). No, I have a Trans Am. The original. The only. The first and last and always … (with a nod to another favorite band of mine, The Sisters of Mercy.)

My new TA is black on gold and is powered by the 9.5:1 compression ratio High Output 5.0 liter (305 cubic inch) Tuned Port Injected LB9 small block V8 cranking out 205 horsepower and 270 lbs-ft of torque. The small block V8 is backed by a THM700R4 four speed automatic transmission with a deep first gear and a respectable overdrive ratio in fourth gear. The overdrive is for fuel economy and top speed. Now, while the 700R4 four speed automatic is a lot better than the THM350 three speed automatic I used to have in my ’79, you don’t buy these cars for fuel economy. These are not “grocery getters” and you don’t buy them to carpool in or take the kids to soccer.

At least sane people don’t buy these types of cars for those reasons.

After all, the kind of person (and personality) who would buy a Honda minivan and wear a tie to work is not the kind of person who would ever own and drive a Pontiac Trans Am. If you want storage space, room for the kids, fuel economy and a quiet, soft ride then there are far better designs out there for those chores; just look at any GM or import dealer lot today and you'll find many examples of vehicles designed to get you from point A to point B with minimal fuss and minimal impact on anything and everything around you. Once you buy a mini-van or a station wagon, you've lost all of your cool and you aren't ever going to get any of it back. It's a trap that too many people fall into today, they sacrifice their youth on the altar of maturity, never realizing it’s a false religion with no real long term rewards. A Trans Am is not a mini-van or a station wagon; the only thing you haul in a Trans Am is ass.

You can grow up without having to grow old. Age does not go hand in hand with maturity nor does maturity automatically come with age, this I firmly believe. A Trans Am is for someone who refuses to grow old (which is different than someone who refuses to grow up).

I also believe that I'm not old enough yet to want a level of comfort that would make Epicurus smile. Truth be known, I like my sports cars to rattle. I like to feel the engine vibration through the firewall. I like them to thump and shake over bumps and irregularities in the road. I like them to ride like a Sherman tank. I like my sports cars to let me feel the road under me, not cushion it out and to that end, I'm happy to say that my "new" Trans Am (just like my old TA) is optioned with the legendary WS6 high performance suspension.

The RPO code WS6 means that she has an Australian built 9 bolt Borg Warner heavy duty positraction rear end with four wheel disc brakes and 3.27 gears (the Borg Warner is supposedly stronger than the Dana...). She has a big ass sway bar up front, just slightly smaller sway bar in back. Specially selected coil springs. Specially selected gas charged shocks, front struts and a quick ratio power steering unit that has 2.4 turns lock to lock. She also left the factory with a set of four 16x8 high tech deep dish turbo wheels packing P245/50VR16 steel belted radials all the way around. Yes, when you own a WS6 equipped Trans Am, you have to give up some ride comfort for superior handling but then that's a sacrifice that I'm still willing to make, even at the age of 37 years young.

The ’86 TA also has a rare Recaro optioned cloth interior (the last year this option was offered by Pontiac), top of the line factory radio, optional factory performance subwoofer system, cruise control, all power, air conditioning and T-tops.

Oh! Did I mention it has T-tops?

Real Trans Ams are black and gold with T-tops. Yes, GM and God made only a few perfect Trans Ams, the rest were painted some garish color other than black (or, in a vulgar attempt to be perfect, their owners have repainted them black to in a futile effort to hide their original sin). The Trans Ams which are truly the brunt of the Maker’s ire are those which have solid roofs. Their shame is great for they cannot partake of the open air goodness that surrounds them at speed nor are they able to redirect the sweet smells of this world and of the high performance hijinks this car is more than capable of into the interior for the olfactory enjoyment of the driver and any passengers.

Yes, my brothers and sisters, it is the 21st century, 2006 A.D., the year of our Lord. It has now been four long and turbulent years since the official death of the Pontiac Firebird and subsequently the end of the proud Trans Am lineage. I am 37 years old, college educated, very happily married (first and only marriage) to the same woman (12 years we've been together, it’s her first and only marriage as well) and I have a 3 year old daughter (first and only child with whom I am well pleased). I am an IT professional, highly intelligent, well educated, quick of wit, dark on humor and I now own a 20 year old black 1986 Pontiac Trans Am (which I drive when I’m not riding my black and silver 115 horsepower 2004 Honda CBR600RR super bike).

May God have mercy on my white collar, college educated soul.

Oh, I'm sure that there is a self-help group out there somewhere for people like me and if you would kindly let me know what and where it is, I'll be sure to stay as far away from it as possible. You see, I don't want to change. I don't want to be normal or accepted or liked for what I have or for what I pretend to be. I'm not trying to be anyone I'm not.

I'm me.

I live my life with no apologies and few regrets. I'm comfortable being who I am and I am unashamed of it. I don't want to be like someone else, I want to be more like me because, truth be known, I'm a pretty interesting person. If you like me, fine. If you want to be like me, then you have problems. If you don't like me, fine. I don't have a problem with that and won't lose any sleep over it, I assure you.

I mean, owning a 1986 Trans Am, a pristine condition black 1986 Trans Am is a hell of a lot better than owning a riced out 1995 Honda Civic or a 1984 Chevy Caprice with chameleon paint, $10,000 worth of audio / video equipment in it and 24" spinners on the corners, if you ask me. Yes, it could be worse. I could own one of those four door mid-80's GM or Ford products I see tooling around with chrome wheels on them that lift the car so high off the ground that the owners need one of those step rungs you normally find on really lifted 4x4 trucks just to get out of the driver's seat. The latest craze is apparently taking one of those ridiculous cars and adding big diesel truck or freight train air horns to them to announce your presence as you cruise the mall and try to pick up teenage females outside of the local Chuck-E-Cheese. I'm not kidding. A word of advice here, guys... if you're cruising for female company at the Chuck-E-Cheese Pizza Time Theater, you're pretty damn desperate.

Now, given all of this blatant mental retardation and the effort given to calling attention to these ridiculous hip-hop fueled chariots of ire in the quickest manner possible, I feel more than confident that whatever brain damage caused me to desire to (again) own, let alone actually buy a 1986 Trans Am (off of Ebay, no less!!!), pales in comparison to the overt social retardation I see on evident and open display in today's ridiculous hip-hop driven pop culture.

Yes, the culture is full of pop and it must be burped.

Hell! I'm normal compared to the guys and girls I see cruising the local mall in automotive constructs that make you wish for the immediate return to the lackluster days of custom vans and disco music! Yep. I'm stark raving, straight edge sane compared to some of the rap supporting mutants I see rolling around the urban wasteland.

So, I have a black 1986 Pontiac Trans Am, a fully loaded, low mileage, pristine 1986 black Pontiac Trans Am with just one small catch; I have to go four states away, pick it up, and drive it home. That’s 750 miles and I have just 36 hours to do it, two days, Saturday and Sunday, one weekend. Oh! This was going to be a grand adventure, probably my last big adventure so I wanted to do it up right.

Yes, I'd always wanted to find a good, rare, low mileage sports car, fly somewhere far away and drive it back over a period of days. Call it the "Route 66" complex or fantasy, to see America from behind the windshield of one of the last big gas guzzling V8s, the T-tops off, the windows rolled down, the tunes cranked up and the clocks on the dash spinning their needles to the far right sides of their faces as the exhaust note proclaims the powerful engine’s authority on the open, heat shimmer draped super slab of interstate.

The old saying of "be careful what you wish for or you might just get it" comes to mind, in hindsight, as it always does. With the purchase of the '86 TA on Ebay, it does indeed look like my wish has come true. However, the car is in North Carolina, not Washington state, not Northern California and not in Denver, Colorado, all very interesting places to be sure. No, the car I bought was in North Carolina which even for my learned mind can't produce one interesting bit of information other than there is a South Carolina to match it (and there’s probably a very good reason why there is a North Carolina and a South Carolina just like there is a very good reason why there is a North Korea and a South Korea).

Yes, I had always thought that my ultimate car adventure, the one adventure I had been craving for a decade, would take me somewhere in the Rockies or perhaps California, or way out West, not to North Carolina. I mean, finding out that you're going to have to pick up a car in North Carolina instead of California is like telling a six year old he’s won a 20 minute shopping spree at a GNC health and nutrition store instead of a Toys-R-Us. Bill Cosby once described "mixed feelings" as "seeing your mother-in-law drive off a cliff in your brand new Ferrari." Now, I was about to go to North Carolina to pick up a black Pontiac Trans Am. I don't think the term "mixed feelings" could adequately describe what I felt. I think if you had given me a choice between going to North Carolina to pick up a black Pontiac Trans Am and getting dragged naked through a banjo maker's convention, I might have had to seriously think deep and hard on my options before giving you my final answer.

Going West just seems more romantic, more adventurous, more exciting... You have the remains of Route 66, you have the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, the Rockies, the Pacific Ocean, you name it... it's all out West. As far as the eye can see, you can't throw a rock and not hit something interesting out West.

Going East?

Nah. That doesn't stir you soul as much as it frosts it. Going East is not a road trip, it's more like a punishment, possibly even one step harsher than community service. There's just not much on the Atlantic seaboard that I really want to see that I haven't already seen. Out West, it's sunny and beautiful, mountains, blue skies, pretty people and vast sights to see along the way. Out East, you just have dirty sea water, dark skies, rusting amusement parks, boardwalks selling greasy food that homeless vagrants wouldn't eat, grizzled old fishermen in their boats and people who talk like they're holding their nose pinched shut between forefinger and thumb.

There's a reason why someone once said "Go West, young man." It's because whoever said that oft used quote actually liked the guy he was talking to. If he hadn't liked him, he would have said "Go East, you stupid dang burned idjit." and if he really, really, really hadn't liked the guy he was talking to, he would have said "Go East by way of Cincinnati, you stupid dang burned idjit."

But... beggars can't be choosers and North Carolina it was or rather North Carolina via Cincinnati, which is even worse.

So, in order to pick up my new (20 year old) Trans Am, I have to fly North across several states, cross the Mason Dixon Line (always a very bad thing to do from a South to North perspective …) and pass through a time zone or two (which is great for throwing off my internal chronometer which pretty well hums along like it was made in Switzerland). I don't like flying. It's not that I'm scared of flying, it's just that I prefer not to. It's like when I’m going someplace I rather drive than ride. They don’t let me fly the plane so I don’t like flying. I don't like being carried where I want to go, I like to go by myself. It’s a personal philosophy (one of many, many that I have). If I'm going somewhere, I want to go when I want to go and I want to be the one steering the vehicle and working the brakes and accelerator / engines and rudders. I'm a misanthrope. I don't trust other people, especially when I'm being carried through the sky at 31,000 feet and 500 miles an hour.

Look at it this way … If someone is going to be having a really bad day and find their self sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle / control seat of a plane, then I definitely want it to be me, not some guy behind a locked door controlling my fate and the fate of many, many others around me. In other words, if someone is going to be mad at the world, I don’t want to be along for the ride.

With that in mind, the adventure truly began on March 18, 2006 where the first leg of my trip to get my beautiful 1986 Pontiac Trans Am found me flying from Jackson, MS to Cincinnati, OH. When I arrived, the mirth ensued...

(... this story is continued in all its gritty detail at Goingfaster.com (see side link).)