Aritcle and photography by Richard Butschi
Most all auto aficiandos give credit to John DeLorean for starting the “muscle car” era in 1964, when he had the vision to drop a 389 V8 into a mid-size Tempest LeMans and created the GTO. Its revolutionary success landed him the job of general manager of GM’s Pontiac Division. There he envisioned a 2-seater to compete with Corvette, and eventually built 2 prototypes tabbed XP-833. One had an overhead cam 6-cylinder engine and the other a 326 V8. Both exist yet today. The higher-ups at GM put a stop to the project, feeling it would cut into Vette sales too deeply and urged DeLorean to work in conjunction with Chevrolet on an “F-car” project called the “Panther,” later changed to “Camaro.” The idea was to create two cars from different divisions that had total “interchangeability” of parts, but saved GM money and increased sales. The Camaro and Firebird debuted in 1967.
DeLorean and project manager Herb Adams came up with the idea for a special edition Firebird, much like the GTO, which was a package offering for the Tempest its first 2 years. In fact, items like functional hood scoops and engine compartment exhausts were included on both the ‘64 GTO package and new Firebird edition called the “Trans Am.” It debuted at the Chicago Auto Show in March of ‘69, along with the new GTO Judge edition. 689 hardtops were produced in ‘69 and only 8 convertibles. All were Cameo White with blue accent stripes.
The Sports Car Club of America later took issue with this name as their Trans Am racing division was limited to cars with engine sizes less than 305 cubic inches and the Firebird T/As came with 400 cu.in. mills rated at 335 hp, but making more with cold air intake scoops, intricate foam rubber ducts leading to a Rochester Quadrajet with a throttle stop that kept the massive 2 back barrels from opening fully – which was easily rectified by clever owners. Pontiac smoothed things over with the SCCA by paying them $5 for each T/A produced. From ‘69 to ‘78 that amounted to $1.29million.
Robert and Deb Van Dolah, of NW CR, are big T/A fans. Robert has owned 23 of them, but claims that this is the last one. He acquired it in 2013 through Dave Jones, of DJ Auto, who found it on-line in Tennessee and called Van Dolah - “Ya gotta see this”! They started showing it right away and over the years have earned many trophies at area shows including a Top 12 placing at the Swisher Men’s Club Show which landed the T/A in their calendar.
Van Dolah’s T/A has the 400 engine with automatic transmission. He decided to use a larger series tire on the rear to give it a better stance at little cost and will opt for 4 new gauges on the console soon. The interior will be redone in a quieter parchment color rather than Pearl Parchment it came with. Van Dolah noticed early on that there were issues with the body, paint and the fiberglass hood a former owner installed so he took it to Waln Collision Center, in Fairfax, where Jimmy Jacobsen worked on it exclusively. Robert and Deb send their sincere thanks to Jacobsen and Waln’s. Robert would also like to mention the Li’l Racer Car Club at Hawkeye Downs that promote activities for youngsters, like Big Wheel races, which put big smiles on their faces when they receive large trophies that Van Dolah collects from car folks like his club, Working Class Hot Rods. Roberts mentions it’s a smaller club with about 25 members, with no dues or special requirements – just people having fun with cars.
In closing, it seems appropriate to mention the recent passing of Burt Reynolds, whose movie, “Smokey and the Bandit”, and co-star, a 1977 special edition Trans Am, did much to promote the car’s legacy, and popularity, not to mention an increase in sales of about 20,000 units that year. It’s the one most remember, but it started with the white/blue version, like the one sitting in the Van Dolah garage.