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Pontiac Trans-Am & Banshee Roots

North America weathered two major fuel crises in 1973 and 1979, which set the stage for the changes made to the Trans-Am beginning in the 1982 model year. The engineers at Pontiac had concentrated on aerodynamics for a reduction in fuel consumption. With the technology of the day, it was impossible to have powerful, high-torque engines that would conform to the EPA-mandated emissions control regulations. By integrating aerodynamics and reducing weight, the  new “F” body platform Trans-Am evolved. Pontiac used wind tunnels to design this platform so as to achieve the best results possible. A Trans-Am equipped with a four-cylinder engine achieved 34 miles per gallon. The engineers succeeded in building a fuel efficient package to work from; they created a vehicle with world class aerodynamics, excellent handling, and fuel economy.

1981 Trans Am 3

1981 Firebird

The Trans-Am for 1982, the third generation, received a complete redesign and was about 227 kg (500 pounds) lighter than the previous year. This new style had a windshield set at 62 degrees with a large rear window without a supporting frame on the storage area access door. Two hidden headlights in front, finned aluminum wheels covered by smooth hubcaps, and a functional rear spoiler complete the picture.

The Firebird was a success, at least for fuel economy, but sales dropped. Pontiac had to sell this car of the future to the public now as well as in the future. By 1989, the Firebird was much more desirable to the public, and Pontiac had the fastest production car made in North America at that time.

1981 Trans Am

1981 Trans-Am Firebird

The Pontiac engineers had the Banshee I concept car  in mind since 1964. It  existed in four different generations until the 1989 model year; the designers heavily integrated many of the ideas in this originally two-seat car into the designs of the second-, third-, and fourth-generation Trans-Am.

The first-generation Banshee exists today represented by two automobiles owned by private collectors. One is a silver hardtop with a straight six engine; the other is a white convertible V8. This was the original car Pontiac wanted; instead, the company decided on the pony car class Trans-Am. The high-performance Banshee taillights are the same as the first Firebird, while the third-generation Firebird had very similar body lines as this prototype.

The Banshee II (1968) had a fiberglass skin over stock Trans-Am panels. The wheel covers are flush-mounted; the hood had deep louvers. The 400-cubic-inch V8 engine powers the car, which is close to the ground with a low slung suspension.

The third-generation Banshee (1974) has a front hood and grille very similar to a later model Firebird. The car has a long slope in front with quartz/halogen headlights, covered and low, both to lower resistance and wind noise. The bumpers are soft-faced the same color as the body over an impact-absorbing foam. Pontiac showed a metallic maroon-colored Banshee III to the public in 1974, this one powered by a 455-cubic-inch V8.

1998 Trans Am - Copy

1998 Trans-Am G4

The Banshee IV, unveiled in 1988, was a two-door, four-seat-style coupe. The fiberglass body is red with a black matte hood, and power comes from a 230 horsepower, fuel-injected overhead cam V8 with rear-wheel drive. The car’s computers used a heads up (HUD) instrument display, while the fuel level is displayed on the windshield in the driver’s field of vision. The dual rear spoilers are hydraulic and easily adjustable by the operator from the driver’s seat. This design strongly influenced the fourth-generation Trans-Am.

1998 Trans Am 4

1998 Trans-Am G4


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