Classics Huge Find: Very First 1969 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Ever Made
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Being the first gives you prominence. It makes you a trailblazer, going where no others have gone before. In life's big picture it provides you with a distinction that no one can ever challenge.
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As far as inanimate objects go, being the first of your design creates value that identically built successors cannot claim. And thus, owning that initial offering, especially to collectors in this automotive hobby, could be a very good thing.
The initial offering we refer to is the Trans Am you see here. When Pontiac decided to offer the Trans Am package for the successful Firebird in 1969, these rowdy ponycars with the WS4 (Trans Am Convenience and Sports Package) option were born out of the Van Nuys, California, and Norwood, Ohio, assembly plants. A total of 697 Firebird TAs (including eight convertibles) were built and sold that year, an inauspicious start for what would become one of the most popular and enduring muscle cars in history.
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Several factors contributed to that low initial production run. It was a midyear release, and the price tag for the WS4 option was high, about $1,100 to $1,200. Plus, word had leaked to the buying public that a redesigned F-Body would be available for 1970, so it's likely that buyers held off for the new model.
Today the first-gen Trans Am's popularity, combined with the low number of them produced, has made them collectibles of the highest degree. So imagine being a dyed-in-the-wool Pontiac enthusiast who not only had the opportunity to own a TA from the first year of production but actually the first one off the assembly line! That did happen for a pair of supreme Pontiac enthusiasts, and this is how it all went down.
Kevin Beal is a guy living the dream. His particular dream world involves the collector car hobby and 1960s and 1970s muscle cars—Pontiacs, to be specific. He's fortunate to go to work and live the life he always desired, owning Ames Performance Engineering out of Spofford, New Hampshire. Ames is the largest Pontiac-only restoration supply company in the world. Kevin is surrounded by the GM brand, and that puts a smile on his face every day of the week.
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Kevin grew up a passionate Poncho connoisseur who took his first ride in a Pontiac as a toddler. That ride was in his parents' brand new 1967 GTO. It's a car that has always inhabited a special place in his heart, and one that he was lucky enough to buy 28 years later for his very own. Today he enjoys the car, along with several other top Pontiacs in his collection, with his "auto enthusiast in training" son Kyler.
How did Kevin and his business partner (and cousin) Don Emery score this very special Trans Am? It all started with an ad that is featured in every Ames catalog and on its website: "Wanted: Low Mileage Low Production Cars." One day Kevin received a call from a Don Larsen of Victorville, California. Don mentioned that he had a car that Ames might be interested in and said it was possibly the first production 1969 Trans Am ever built. "Don was thinking retirement and figured it was time to sell the TA," says Kevin.
That's a pretty bold claim to make, but Don had the necessary paperwork to back it up. The documents showed that it was the first TA produced at the Van Nuys plant, but Kevin wanted to see if it was actually the first Trans Am produced overall. Knowing that Norwood also produced 1969 TAs, it became a matter of finding out which plant built theirs first. He was still very interested in purchasing the car, as long as it was the first TA produced overall by Pontiac.
The 1991 Trans Am GTA Was the End of An Era
This was the last update the third-gen Firebird received before it was replaced. It was a fitting send-off.Thankfully it wasn't, but it was the end of the line for GM's third-generation F-platform. Introduced in 1982, this platform helped redeem the Firebird and Chevrolet's Camaro from their 1970s malaise. Sure, early third-gen Firebirds were available with Pontiac's infamous "Iron Duke" four-cylinder, but the '91 GTA had a 240-hp 5.7-liter V8 similar to the one used in the Corvette at the time.
Kevin had his work cut out for him. He had to find the Norwood facility records and see when they pushed out their first TA. "I worked with Jim Mattison of PHS Automotive Services. Having the VIN number for the first Norwood car, we pulled the invoice, and sure enough, the first Norwood TA was built one month after the first Van Nuys TA."
With that bit of knowledge, Kevin and Don made a deal on the Trans Am, and then Kevin headed west to claim his prize. "We pushed the TA onto the transporter. With it sitting that long—since 1987—I didn't want to start it without draining all the fluids and putting Mystery Oil in the cylinders."
Much of this car's history has been lost, though Kevin found out enough to put together a partial timeline. This TA was first shipped to Pontiac headquarters for company use. This was most likely for road tests, advertising, and auto show displays. Once that tour of duty was complete, the car was passed on to a dealership.
Kevin says, "Unfortunately, I don't have information between the time it was reinvoiced and sold to the public on July 20, 1970, to the point when Don bought it in 1987."
What is known is that 18 years after it left the Van Nuys plant, Don answered an ad in the Orange County Auto Trader for the car. Once he purchased it, he drove it for three months and parked it. That was the last time the TA ran under his possession.
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When he parked it in his garage, he covered it with blankets, boxes, and other objects so that no one would know what he had. The car then quickly faded into obscurity. "Victorville is off the beaten path, out in the Mojave Desert, so there were few prying eyes to deal with," Kevin says.
After Kevin and Don bought the car, they checked out the pertinent parts. It has a little more than 75,000 miles on the odometer. It had undergone a repaint 35 years ago, and at some point the Formula steering wheel was added. The wheel was an option on the 1969 TA, but due to manufacturing problems it wasn't available until later in production. (Since we took these photos, Kevin has replaced the steering wheel with the factory wood wheel that's listed on the original invoice.)
The Trans Am doesn't have its original engine, but instead has a correct replacement 400 block that was reassembled with the original engine parts. The interior had some small changes, which required Kevin and Don to install new seat skins and carpet. All the important OE TA parts are there, and the car looks pretty much the way it did when it left the assembly line.
So now Kevin and Don will be the keepers of an important part of Pontiac history. These new owners, along with their company, aim to keep the brand alive for future generations to enjoy. And this "first" for Pontiac will be kept safe and out of harm's way, while still making it out and about for future automotive enthusiasts to appreciate.
At a Glance
1969 Firebird Trans Am
Owned by: Kevin Beal and Don Emery
Restored by: Unrestored
Engine: 400ci/335hp L74 Ram Air III V-8
Transmission: Muncie M20 wide-ratio 4-speed manual
Rearend: GM B.O.P 10-bolt with 3.55 gears and Safe-T-Track
Interior: Gray vinyl bucket seat
Wheels: 14x7 Rally II
Tires: F70-14 Coker Firestone Wide Oval
Special parts: Formula steering wheel, dual horns, pushbutton radio, pedal trim
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