The Car Hero of the 1980’s

1985 Pontiac Trans Am

Most may feel the 1980’s were anything but great when it comes to car. The decade known as the decade of excess was also one of the most boring times for cars. While acid washed jeans, hair bands, and pop rap were taking pop culture by storm, automakers were having a hard time figuring out the restraints that has been placed on them in the late 1970’s with the introduction of emissions and fuel regulations that put a huge damper on the amount of horsepower that could be pulled out of an engine. With these constraints, many of the manufacturers were building cars that barely had 200 horsepower and still called them high-performing machines. If that isn’t enough, the decade of the 80’s was the decade that brought us the minivan and changed many cars from rear wheel drive to front wheel drive, talk about serious boredom, that’s it in a nutshell.

Even with all the (yawn) boredom of the 80’s, the advancements we see in automotive technology at the very least owe their roots to the cars and the technology that was coming out during the 80’s. It was during this decade that cars started to be fitted with the automatic computer systems we see in place (in an obviously more advanced way) today. Yes, the advanced engine control units, mainstream forced induction, active suspension system, traction control and anti-lock braking system all owe their roots to the decade of excess and automotive boredom known as the 1980’s.

No example of the great movement was more prevalent than in the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Turbo Model. After you are done laughing at that statement, let me explain. First of all the so called supercars of the era were better equipped, of course, but they were so expensive they had no chance of affecting the average working class of America as so few were able to drive them. The Trans Am was completely different. Here was a car that offered affordability with performance (on some level) and made it worthwhile to own a high-performing domestically made sports car.

Starting out the decade, the Trans Am was carrying only 210 horsepower in its 4.9-liter V8 engine, which was pathetic. This version of the forced-induction engine was inefficient and unreliable. Because cars before this time were not equipped with the advanced computerized technologies, there was only so much they could do even prior to the strict 1970’s emissions and fuel regulations and now the Trans Am wasn’t even going to be a great performer as a mostly failed attempt at a great idea.

Throughout the decade, the Trans Am was improved and progressed steadily to the end of the decade when in 1989 it was powered by a 3.8 turbocharged V6 that had been found in the 1987 Buick GNX and was rated at 250 horsepower although it could easily come much closer to 300 without breaking a sweat. This made the 1989 one of the quickest cars on the planet at the time with a zero to sixty time that came in under five seconds and a 13-second quarter mile time.

This great transformation from the slow and not at all powerful 1980 model to one at the end of the decade that was leaving everyone else in the dust was amazing. What else made this significant is the choice by Pontiac to stick with the rear-wheel drive in the Trans Am through the entire time. Instead of moving to front-wheel drive models like their competitors did (Ford almost completely went away from the Mustang during this decade in favor of the Ford Probe GT) GM stuck with its guns and the Trans AM became the symbol of performance and power for the 1980’s.

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