Car of the Week: 1975 Pontiac Trans Am

Story and photos by Brian Earnest

It wouldn’t be a stretch to call the Pontiac Trans Am the “last muscle car standing” by the time the 1975 models showed up.

Only the ’75 Corvette, with a modest 205 hp in its top engine option, eclipsed the T/A when it came to go power.

Sure, those numbers are laughable today, but in an era bereft of memorable cars, the 1975 Trans Am still looked cool, rode and handled great, and was simply a darn nice machine.

“It definitely has good get-up and go and it handles real nice,” says David Brierley of Amherst, Wis., who received the keys to his father’s 1975 T/A about seven years ago. “It’s got the cushy seats and radial tuned suspension and everything. It’s really comfortable, and it’s fun.”

Adrian Brierley bought the Trans Am used in “either 1976 or ’77”, according to his son, and used it as his daily driver year-round in Wisconsin for most of the next decade. “I guess he just thought it was a cool car,” David says. “He bought it from the original owner… He actually used it as his everyday car for quite a few years. I definitely remember it. I remember I couldn’t even see over the dash I was so little. He used to have lambskin seat covers on it.

“[Eventually] it started to get a little rough, so he had the body and paint redone sometime in the ’80s.”

When David was a senior in college in 2010, his father sprung a surprise on him. “He took me out in the shed and handed me the keys and said, ‘It’s yours.’ I thought maybe I’d buy it off him someday, but it was a total surprise.”

The elder Brierley was originally from England and had made the decision to return to his homeland and didn’t want to take the car with him. “And I think a lot of it was he was diagnosed with MS at about that time, so the left side of his body was kind of a little weaker. I think shifting and driving it was getting more difficult, and he just didn’t have the time to tinker with it and give it the care that it needed.”

The car has only about 73,000 miles on the odometer after David has added a few over the past seven years. Aside from the second coat of paint, the Pontiac is in splendid original condition. “I think he just had some rust behind the doors worked on. He had a few spots patched up, and then had the whole thing repainted and new decals,” Briefly said. “Then sometime after that the hood was actually stolen when he was in Green Bay. You didn’t have to be inside to pop the hood, so I guess somebody just opened the hood, took off the bolts and took off with it. He was just parked somewhere in a parking lot … So it’s on its second hood.”

Staying alive in ’75
The Firebird lineup did its best to carry the performance torch through much of the ’70s, soldiering on even as its Camaro and Corvette brethren were dragged into the slow lane by government regulations, high insurance costs and inflated gas prices. The Corvette could still be had with a 350-cid V-8 rated at 205 if you checked the L82 option box. The Trans Am’s 400-cid V-8 was next at 185 hp. Later in the 1975 production run, the 455-cid V-8 was reinstated, but with single exhaust and a catalytic converter. Due to decreased horsepower, the M38 Turbo Hydra-Matic was the only automatic used (a manual transmission was also available). All Firebirds certified for sale in California were required to use this transmission.

Model year production included 22,293 Firebirds; 20,826 Espirits; 13,670 Formula Firebirds; and 27,274 Trans Ams. Only 8,314 Firebirds were built with the inline six-cylinder engine. Most (26,417) Trans Ams had the 400-cid 185-hp L78 four-barrel V-8. Only 857 T/As were built with the 455-cid 200-hp L75 four-barrel V-8. Road testers found the 1975 Trans Am with the L78 drive train capable of 0-to-60 mph in 9.8 seconds and the quarter-mile in 16.8 seconds.

Firebird sales picked up in 1975, although the cars continued to look much the same as before. The same low, racy body style that had been unveiled in 1970 was still being used throughout the Firebird lineup. The biggest update was a new rear window that wrapped around the corners of the roof to give the driver improved vision. GM’s HEI electronic ignition system was added to the equipment list along with a radial tuned suspension system. The base Firebirds were the plainest-looking and had visible windshield wipers. Esprits had concealed wipers, dressy moldings, body-color door handle inserts and chrome “Esprit” signatures on the roof. Formulas were ready for street action with their heavy-duty underpinnings and dual hood scoops. The Trans Am kept its sports-car racing look with bolt-on flares, spoilers, engine air extractors, shaker hood scoop and “screaming chicken” decals. It all added up to a window price of $4,740 for the top-of-the-food-chain T/A.

Red, White and Blue
Brierley’s sweet ’75 was painted Cameo White and came with the blue decals and all-red interior with vinyl bucket seats in front. The 400-cid 6.6-liter engine is mated to a Hurst four-speed manual shifter. “It doesn’t have air conditioning, but it does have power steering,” he says. “And it’s got the AM/FM radio.”

Briefly jokes that he’s a Ford fan who just happened to wind up with a Poncho with a lot of appeal and sentimental value. He bought a 1968 Mustang coupe project car before he was old enough to drive, and he’s still working to get it finished. “I’m really more of a Ford guy. This is my one exception to the rule,” he says. “I guess my plan is to slowly get it back closer to showroom condition. It’s never going to be perfect because I drive it, but I’ll keep doing things as I have the time and money. I had the carburetor rebuilt, and that made a big difference. And I had the transmission rebuilt. I’d like to have the paint touched up at some point; it’s got a few nicks. Eventually I want to have the engine detailed and have it looking a little more perfect. One thing I almost don’t want to do is restore it too perfectly, because then I wouldn’t want to drive it.”

It was never going to bring home any trophies at the drag strip, but the 1975 Trans Am is probably owed a debt of gratitude from the collector car world. Other muscle machines died all around it, but the T/A was simply too nice of a car, and too popular to euthanize. Even during its tamest days, the “Screaming Chicken” was a mighty nice car.

“People still love it. Just driving it down the street, you see people wave or stop and stare and watch you go by,” Brierley concludes. “A lot of people want to talk about it. You get a lot of people who have stories, like, ‘I had one of these and wrapped it around a tree,’ or whatever. It’s a fun car to talk about. It’s just a cool car.”

Brierley’s 1975 Pontiac Trans Am is one of hundreds of Camaros and Firebirds registered for IOLA ’17.

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