If, like us, you’re a fan of Pontiac’s high performance pony car, the Trans Am, you surely look forward to their special edition anniversary cars. Now 1999, being the Trans Am’s 30th birthday, Pontiac has unleased another limited edition. But rather than just test the latest Trans Am, we decided to also look back at the original ‘69 Trans Am, to see how well this sensational street machine concept has stood the test of time.
We were able to, thanks to the generous folks at Pontiac, who have preserved this beautiful, low-mileage ‘69 Trans Am, that accompanied our 1999 test car.
Place them side by side, and you’re struck by both the differences and the similarities. The ‘69 is clearly the result of a time before aerodynamics were a serious consideration. And safety features like 5-mile-an-hour bumpers and crumple zones were not considered necessary. But styling was definitely king, as shown by the original TA’s clean, muscular look.
Today’s 30th anniversary Trans Am is also a real looker. But its bullet-shaped body has clearly spent plenty of time in a wind tunnel. But styling is still important, with the new car packing both classic Trans Am design cues like the famous “chicken” emblem of the 1970s and contemporary features like the flashy blue clearcoat on the 17-inch alloy wheels.
But even at its flashiest, the Trans Am was more go than show. And to make it go, our 1969 Trans Am packs a huge 400 cubic-inch L74 V8, breathing through a big Rochester 4-barrel carburetor, that’s fed by Pontiac’s hood-mounted Ram Air system. It’s good for 335 ‘60s-era horsepower.
Those vintage horses reached the rear wheels through either a 3-speed automatic transmission, or a 4-speed manual.
By comparison, today’s 5.7-liter LS1 V8 with Ram Air, that’s a mere 350 cubic-inches, is rated at only 320 horsepower and 335 pound-feet of torque. But they’re the more efficient horses of the ‘90s, which are fed through either a standard 4-speed automatic, or our available six-speed manual. On the track, that means that the new T/A will dart to 60 in 5.8 seconds, and roars through the 1/4 mile in 14.6 seconds at 101 miles-per-hour.
Throttle response is exceptional, with copious power available at any engine speed. It’s pure grunt, and one of the most muscular car engines currently available, and requires some muscle to shift too, though the 6-speed manual boasts a very positive linkage.
By comparison, the ‘69 hit 60 in a still fast 6.4 seconds and the 1/4 mile in 14.7 seconds at 99 miles-per-hour. Throttle response is not as immediate but it still pulls like a tractor, and sounds like a jet. But a big surprise was the 4-speed manual that, despite longish throws, shifted as smoothly and positively as today’s 6-speed.
Turning to handling, however, and the ‘69 starts to show its age, or at least the over-boosted power steering and the bias-belted tires do. There’s little feel from either, though the front coil/rear leaf spring suspension and solid rear axle offered far better control than many of us expected.
The 30th anniversary model showed the benefits of three decades of suspension and tire development. And despite hot, slippery summer track conditions, proved itself to be one of the most nimble pony cars ever built. The steering is quite heavy, but delivers excellent feel. The short/long arm front and torque arm/track bar rear suspension give it twisty road abilities that owners of the original car can only dream about.
And stopping abilities as well! With today’s anti-lock equipped 4-wheel disc brakes, the latest Trans Am goes from 60 to 0 in an average of only 120 feet. Despite a soft-feeling pedal, it’s secure and stable with neither fade nor lockup. A far cry from the 1969 model, which required 150 feet to stop from 60, with all the fade and lockup we expected from 30 year old discs and drum brakes.
Out on the street, the ‘69 also displays all the shakes and rattles one would expect from a ‘60s era muscle car. But also a ride that had not yet evolved into the teeth-rattling experience of later more-race-track oriented Trans Ams. A feeling that has thankfully been banished from the 30th anniversary’s suspension, and replaced with a feel that while still very firm, now allows it to follow bumps in the road rather than skip over them. This gives the latest T/A much improved handling over rough surfaces, and finally real daily driver ride comfort.
As does the ‘99 model’s cockpit, which boasts modern ergonomics that put its predecessor to shame, and plush, supportive bucket seats, though Step back 30 years, and you get a big, almost sedan-size interior, but one with a dash layout that ignores driver ergonomics, and soft, flat-bottom seats that ignore drive comfort. But you do get enough room for full-size adults in the rear seat. Maybe people had more friends back then.
They certainly had less money, because the 1969 Trans Am’s base price of $3,556 was considered a hefty chunk of change, but pales beside our fully loaded 30th Anniversary Trans Am price of $32,960. Times really have changed!
But the Trans Am has not. At least not that much. Thirty years later, it still delivers more thrills per mile than almost anything else on the road. Though with only a total of 1,600 1999 30th anniversary models being built, that thrill will be available to only a select few.
So if you want one, you better hurry. Because there won’t be another one for at least five years, if ever. And to us, the 1999 30th Anniversary Pontiac Trans Am, like the original ‘69 model, is a historic driving treat you won’t want to miss.
Engine: 5.7-Liter Ls1 V8 With Ram Air
Torque: 335 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 5.8 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 14.6 Seconds @ 101 MPH
60-0 MPH: 120 Feet