This very rare and low-production Special Edition Trans Am has it all. This style Trans Am was immortalized in the “Smokey and the Bandit” movies. This “Bandit” is 100% original and has less than 750 miles on it. This Trans Am is one of the lowest original-miles Special Edition cars in existence. It is documented with all its original books, papers and PHS paperwork.
|Vehicle:||1980 Pontiac Trans Am “Bandit” Special Edition|
|Years Produced:||1976–81 (SE models)|
|Number Produced:||452,615 (1973–81), 3,444 (1980 4.9 Turbo SE T-top)|
|Original List Price:||$8,972|
|SCM Valuation:||Median to date, $16,000; high sale, $110,000 (this car)|
|Tune Up Cost:||$200|
|Chassis Number Location:||Plate on driver’s side dashpad, VIN label on driver’s side door, partial VIN on engine block and transmission|
|Engine Number Location:||Suffix code and partial VIN on front engine block below left cylinder head|
|Alternatives:||1980 Chevrolet Corvette L82, 1979 Dodge Li’l Red Express truck, 1980 Ford Mustang Cobra|
This car, Lot 480.1, sold for $110,000, including buyer’s premium, at the Barrett Jackson Scottsdale sale held on January 24–31, 2016, in Scottsdale, AZ.
A bunch of you may be tripping over this car’s selling price — $110,000 for a 1980 Pontiac Trans Am. Quite frankly, when I watched this sell at Barrett-Jackson, I was in total disbelief myself. I had to put on my glasses just to make sure I wasn’t seeing the bid number incorrectly.
But the numbers were right, and this car wasn’t the only one seeing big money across the block.
Transformation of the Trans Am
Even though the 1970 Firebird shared its platform with the newly designed Camaro, the second-generation F-body Pontiacs were marketed towards a more well-heeled buyer. Any similarities between the 1967–69 (first-gen) and second-gen cars were nonexistent. The body was completely new, heavier and larger. But with that came a wide range of styling options and a heavy-duty lineup of performance-engine choices.
We can’t lump all the Trans Am models into one profile — there are far too many of them. That said, we can dispatch all of the 1970–72 models as well as the 1973 and 1974 Super Duty editions. Doing so still gives us a production run from 1973 to 1981 of a whopping 451,420 Trans Ams. So, needless to say, the Trans Am name was very good for the Pontiac brand.
But by 1975, the Trans Am had become more of a styling and touring car than anything else. While it handled great, performance had become a thing of the past. The highest horsepower offered came in the form of the 455 HO (High Output), but that was mainly a marketing buzzword for a paltry 200-horse windbag of an engine suffocated by catalytic converters.
Still, as the Trans Am took a nosedive in the performance department, sales climbed. Sales had multiplied from 10,255 units sold in 1974 to 27,274 in 1975. Sales continued to soar all the way up to 1979, with the bean counters tallying up 117,108 Trans Ams sold in 1979 alone.
In the automotive world, U.S.-built cars were choked and bloated by emissions and mandated safety equipment. Styling was at an all-time low and the “smogger car” era was fully engaged. With that, the marketing teams at GM plotted a sales theory — if it can’t go fast, it might as well look like it can. It worked.
Burt Reynolds and the ‘cool’ factor
In May 1977, Universal Pictures released “Smokey and the Bandit.” It was campy, but it rocked the box office and has grossed over $300 million since its release. Unquestionably, the unspoken star of the movie was the black and gold Trans Am that Burt Reynolds slammed over highways.
Pontiac used the movie as an excellent opportunity to market the Trans Am. While there has never been an official “Bandit” edition Trans Am, Pontiac did capitalize on the movie with the Y81- and Y82-code Special Editions — the same type of car driven by Reynolds with black and gold accents. Although the Y81s and Y82s could be ordered in other color combinations, the only “true” color combination is black on black or black on tan. Sales leapt to 68,745 in 1977, with 7,392 of those being Special Edition models.
By 1980, the Trans Am was slightly updated, but performance continued in name only. Gone was the 400 V8 (6.6-liter), replaced with the 301 (4.9-liter) Turbo V8 or 305 V8. The turbo system was rather pathetic and horribly unreliable.
By 1980, there were 13 Trans Am models to choose from, with several SE models (including Y84 and Y85) so buyers could be as confused as ever in the showroom. Sales fell to 50,896 (from 117,108 in 1979) as the model lost some of its “cool” factor.
Pick a Trans Am …
Throughout the sale at Barrett-Jackson, Trans Ams (in general) did very well on the block. It just may be their time to find a new sea of buyers who lusted for one back when they were new.
There are piles of Trans Ams out there. A quick search at Hemmings found 98 for sale, from 1973 to 1981, including four Super Duty models. Mecum’s Kissimmee, FL, sale had 22 “common” Trans Ams, and Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale sold 10, including the $550,000 real Bandit Movie Promo car (Lot 7004). The cars are not rare and they’re not hard to find — but with limitations.
The reality is that most guys are hunting for the black and gold editions, even if they aren’t SE models. When you break down the auction sales, the black cars usually find the best money, with T-tops adding a premium. Automatic or a 4-speed does not seem to play into the equation, but mileage does, with all-original low-mile T/As rising to the top. Trans Ams that have been beaten to death, modified, or littered with wanna-be performance items are quickly kicked to the curb.
From movie magic to auction magic
Our subject car is one of 3,444 Y84 Special Editions built in 1980 with the 4.9 Turbo and T-tops. This styling packaged upped the price by $1,443 in 1980 — a heady amount to the $7,529 Turbo base price. The mileage was reported at a paltry 750, as this example was mothballed and stored away for a future payday. It was fully documented and in showroom condition.
By the numbers, $25,000–$35,000 would be a great price for a 1980 Y84 Trans Am with low miles in exceptional condition. That said, low miles for a 1980–81 model would be more commonly found in the 30,000 to 40,000 range — that’s nowhere near 750.
Modern collectibles, such as our subject car, seem to do extremely well when they clock in under 1,000 miles. Under 100 miles and hold on to your hat — Barrett-Jackson also sold Lot 763.1, a 1979 10th Anniversary Trans Am with 7 miles, for a staggering $187,000.
The question is how do we discern this Trans Am sale from others? At Barrett-Jackson, low-mileage pristine Trans Ams were finding new world-record prices — and it was happening consistently across the board. But does that phenomenon suggest a trend?
My car radar tells me that this sale was a culmination of the perfect marketing storm. The genuine “Smokey and the Bandit” promo car, Burt Reynolds and three other exceptional Trans Ams (including our subject car) gathered a room full of hopeful Trans Am buyers. While that assumption does make me suspect that this sale may have used a little movie magic compounded with some auction magic, it does tell me that there are buyers who want these cars — and they want them very badly.
And, like Anniversary and Pace Car Corvettes, there are quite likely more low mileage SE Trans Ams squirreled away — and the guys holding these cars in their garages are getting excited to tell their skeptical wives that they’ve been right all along.
However, I think a few more examples will need to come out to play before we know for sure if we are seeing a new value trend or if this is just another round of overly exuberant auction magic. For now, place this one in the very well sold column.
(Introductory description courtesy of Barrett-Jackson.