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Old 04-29-2013, 06:15 PM
 
5,385 posts, read 6,525,293 times
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Hi, I was wondering if anyone could please provide any advice on what to look for, if considering buying a used Pontiac Firebird TransAm (specifically model years 1985-1992), in order to ensure that it could still potentially be dependable and reliable? (I have been considering this for a while, since modern muscle cars to me just don't seem to look as elegant or nice as the Firebirds mentioned in the years and timeframe mentioned above, IMO.)

For example, is there a minimum mileage, a certain engine capacity, or other similar characteristics that would make it more likely that an older used Firebird could still run well today in 2013? I would be looking for an automatic transmission model and of course air conditioning is a must (not sure if all them were automatically equipped with A/C, after looking at a few models where that particular feature was omitted from the listing)?

Many thanks in advance to anyone who is kind enough to offer their helpful advice!
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Old 04-29-2013, 07:13 PM
 
Location: Texas
5,621 posts, read 13,023,587 times
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Yeah there are a couple of things to look for. The first is the front end. Most have been wrecked because of the unibody construction and the poor handling. The entire front clip is held on the body by 4 bolts. The weight of the engine holds those bolts in tension and that's what keeps it together. You may find a well kept car will have frame supports that run from the firewall down to the radiator bracket where it attaches to the horns (frame). These cars are prone to tower failure. A well kept car will have a tower support that goes across the engine bay from side to side. The VIN # in the 4th location will be a W for a Trans Am, an X for the Special Edition Trans Am. If it's an S, it's a fake Trans Am which there are a ton of on the streets. If the car has T Tops, look across the top real careful. A lot of these cars have been drove hard and put away wet. The top will or can be wrinkled in the corners where the T Tops meet the body. If it's wrinkled at all, the T Tops will not seal and the tops will leak. Short of tearing the top off, there is no fix. The engine being a 305 is not the best but it's what they put in them. A 350 makes a great transplant and was available in 1987 forward.
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Old 04-29-2013, 07:28 PM
 
Location: Earth
4,227 posts, read 21,097,870 times
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Check the T tops (if so equipped) for leaks.

Ask who the former owners were; many of these cars were owned and driven by highschool teenagers.

As mentioned, all T/A's were powered by anemic 5.0's (305 cu. in. V8) until 1987; look for a 5.7 liter (350 cu. in.) V8.

If you happen to get lucky and find a 1989 Turbo Trans AM pace car, you've hit pay dirt; those babies run on a turbo V6 and were the fastest U.S. production car of '89. PM me if you want to know more on these.
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Old 04-29-2013, 07:37 PM
 
Location: Floribama
14,976 posts, read 31,366,361 times
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Well I'll start by saying that I own an '87 Trans Am GTA, it was pretty rough when I bought it and I've done a LOT of work to it. Obviously make sure one you're looking at is free of rust. The cars with t-tops have a tendency to rust under the t-bar rail, so check that.

The engines go like this...

Base 305 w/ carb (85-87)
Base 305 w/ throttle body injection aka "TBI" (88-92)
305 w/ tuned port injection aka "TPI" (85-92)
350 w/ tuned port (87-92)

Personally I think the TBI cars are the easiest to work on, although not much power. The TPI is very finicky, I've replaced numerous sensors and all eight injectors on mine and it stills hunts at idle (same setup used on some 80's Corvettes). Nearly all cars with original engines will likely have leaky valve seals like mine, it creates a puff of smoke for about 30 seconds after starting the engine.

For some reason the fuel pumps don't last long on these cars either, and many people will cut a hole in the hatch area to gain access to it. Check under the carpet in the rear hatch area to see if this has been done, it may not bother you, but it would me.

Check the forums over at thirdgen.org , you can learn a lot there.
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Old 04-29-2013, 07:42 PM
 
Location: Floribama
14,976 posts, read 31,366,361 times
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Another thing, if the car has the Borg Warner 9 bolt rear end, check it really well and make sure there's no roaring or moaning. These are good rear ends but it's VERY difficult to get parts for them. I had to order my bearing kit from Australia.
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Old 04-29-2013, 08:33 PM
 
Location: New Mexico
471 posts, read 764,585 times
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I would only look for one that had not been beat to death by many drivers. Pay a little more and get a pristine one. I like the GTA versions, if you can find one with a perfect working dash, undamaged correct articulated seats, and original paint with the correct emblems and wheels, you have yourself a winner...!
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Old 04-30-2013, 10:31 AM
 
Location: Keosauqua, Iowa
9,175 posts, read 16,645,345 times
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If you're buying it to drive on a regular basis you need to look for your AAA card.
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Old 04-30-2013, 11:12 AM
 
Location: Floribama
14,976 posts, read 31,366,361 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by duster1979 View Post
If you're buying it to drive on a regular basis you need to look for your AAA card.
LOL. Yeah, I'd never use mine as a daily driver, but that goes for any 25 year old car.


IMO the most reliable 'Bird would be a hardtop Formula with the 305 TBI and 5 speed manual.
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Old 04-30-2013, 08:00 PM
 
3,185 posts, read 5,784,333 times
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Friend with one that old unless it has been parked and driven little the thing you want to look for is one that is not worn out...good luck on that one . Worn out can be fixed but it will take thousands and thousands of dollars to be made dependable again......I assume you do plan to drive it right? and you do want it to be dependable right?
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Old 04-30-2013, 11:06 PM
 
Location: Eastern Missouri
3,046 posts, read 5,233,660 times
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Avoid ALL 305 powered cars unless you plan on doing an engine swap to at least a 350 or a real Pontiac engine. A modern day 4 cylinder will with ease out run their 305 powered slugs, plus they were horrible on gas mileage. The 89 Turbo T/A was an awesome performer for the day. And super easy to make more hp with. The 350 powered cars were almost tolerable . On T-top cars, see how bad they leak. Check closely across the roof for cracking which indicates body warpage. Check the suspension mounting points on the rear to make sure they are not rusted out. Make sure the posi still works. All Trans Am's come with posi rearends where it had to be ordered on z/28. They all have a 7 1/2" rear gear, aka weak and doesn't take much power to break. Check for rust around the underside area in front where the struts and springs mount. Check along the inner fenders in front for paint cracking, especially down low towards the firewall. Headliners in all these cars were junk from general mess. It will either be hanging down or missing or has been replaced. (you want replaced). Check along the top half of the qtr panels for paint cracking, it's an early sign of body flexing. No matter what one you pick, plan to install subframe connecters.
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