Courtesy of Barrett-Jackson

The 1974 Pontiac Firebird and Trans Am Super Duties were the very last of the high-performance cars from the ’70s. A total of 943 were produced for the 1974 model year. Of that number, only 212 were equipped with the 455 Super Duty and manual transmission, and this is one of them with less than 9,500 actual miles.

This three-owner car has been professionally restored and is in show condition with fresh paint to factory code and all-original sheet metal. The original interior still appears as-new. The matching-numbers drivetrain has never been apart and is fully decoded.

The history of the Super Duty is legendary. However, a little-known fact is that all the 455 Super Duty engines were literally hand-built race engines, as an off-assembly line operation. This was unheard of for a production vehicle, especially during the time of detuning and emissions regulations. Included in this car is a copy of the Pontiac Division Build Sheet, original owner’s manual, warranty booklet, a copy of the window sticker from Pontiac Historical Services and a copy of the original title from the original owner, dated August 1974.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1974 Pontiac Trans Am SD-455
Years Produced:1973–74
Number Produced:1,296 total (943 1974 Trans Ams)
Original List Price:$5,295
SCM Valuation:$35,000–$59,000
Tune Up Cost:$200
Distributor Caps:$14.25
Chassis Number Location:Driver’s side of dashpad, driver’s side door decal
Engine Number Location:Casting number on right side of block just past last freeze plug, partial VIN under front passenger’s side cylinder head
Club Info:National Firebird and Trans Am Club
Alternatives:1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 LS6, 1969 Plymouth Hemi GTX, 1969 Pontiac GTO Ram Air IV
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 744, sold for $111,100, including buyer’s premium, at Barrett-Jackson’s Las Vegas, NV, sale on September 24–26, 2015.

The second-gen Trans Am was a very good handler right off the Pontiac showroom floor. To top that off, the available Ram Air engines were among the best Pontiac had ever made. But in the early 1970s, through a series of unfortunate circumstances, the Trans Am was in danger of disappearing for good.

Declining muscle car sales, new emissions targets, managers uninterested in performance cars and a brutal strike that nearly crippled sales of F-bodies all took a toll. But Pontiac’s determined engineers continued carrying the high-performance torch, designing the Super Duty 455 — an engine package that made serious grunt while still meeting the new emissions criteria, and had the potential to be tuned to make more power than anything Pontiac had built prior.

Tuning up the Trans Am

The SD-455 was a complete engine package. Tom Nell, Gregg Peterson and Herb Adams, joined later by John Sawruk and others, took the then-current 455 engine and improved it, rather than developing something completely fresh. They had valuable data from Pontiac’s 366-ci Ram Air V NASCAR race engine program, indicating exactly what changes were needed to make the 455 better.

Tweaks included a reinforced lifter valley and engine main bearings, better connecting rods, and heavy-duty pistons for sustained high-speed work. They also knew the cylinder heads needed better airflow and high-quality valves. A new block and heads were cast to address all this. 5140 forged steel rods were added along with bigger seven-sixteenths-inch diameter bolts. Engineers included a provision for dry-sump oiling and used a nodular iron crankshaft.

All this was done for reliability instead of cost savings. The distributor gear is one-to-one ratio to prevent early failure. The big Inconel 1.77-inch exhaust valves were swirl-polished, and the new head castings flowed much better than the original units. Forged TRW pistons and a Ram Air camshaft sporting 301/303 duration rounded out the package.

The engines were hand-assembled by two-person crews at Milford and then dyno tested. These were detuned race engines rated a ludicrous 290 horsepower, which kept insurance rates at bay. Specially tuned versions at GM were said to make much more power — in the neighborhood of 600 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque. Unlocking some of that potential was just a few parts swaps and a hot tune away.

The program faced many delays, mostly from suppliers. It wasn’t until late summer of ’73 that the first SD-455 Firebirds arrived at dealerships. Production for 1973 was 295 cars — both in TA and Firebird Formula forms. Most Super Duties are 1974 models, of which 1,001 were made.

Good value then, high prices now

The press loved the Super Duty. Hot Rod compared one with a $10,000 DeTomaso Pantera and declared the SD the better buy. Car & Driver gave it rave reviews.

Pontiac nailed the styling in 1970, and now they had the engine to match. The SD-455 changed the nature of the Trans Am entirely, helping to solidify the performance image that would carry the car through the later part of the decade.

Nothing could match the SD-455 for the price. A Jaguar XKE cost $9,200, while the 454 Corvette was $6,200. The SD-455 Trans Am rattled the cages of entry-level European sports cars, all for just $5,500. Pontiac fanned the flames with a black-and-gold Trans Am and SD-455 show car, while participation in the Cannonball Runs gave it hip credentials that ad agencies could only dream of.

SD-455 prices rose sharply, along with most Trans Ams, as 1980s high-school grads finally started buying their dream machines. Decent non-numbers-matching 4-speed SD cars broke $50,000 by 2007. A prime 4-speed car can now top $150,000, and we’re seeing the automatics play catch-up.

In 2013, the average SD-455 was $49,000–$60,000, while a solid no-stories car averaged just over $100,000. By 2015, the low end of the market averaged $55,000, while nice cars were $126,000 and up. A non-numbers-matching example sold for $165,000 in 2013 (ACC# 215589), which shows how high the bidding can go. Now a mid-range car with the right options sells at around $80,000.

The best examples have risen steadily in value over the past four years, and that’s helped boost entry-level car values accordingly. At the price paid, our subject car’s a great deal, as it’s a 4-speed with a lot of power options, good documentation and low miles for under the money we’ve seen other cars bring. Call this one very well bought.

(Introductory description courtesy of Barrett-Jackson.

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