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Articles

1972 Pontiac Trans Am - Stale Bread?

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It was the fourth model year for the Trans Am and the third year with the same body style however the 1972 Trans Am was an exact carryover from the 1971 model year. The two colors choices were back again - Cameo White and Lucerne Blue and each had the same top body stripes they possessed the previous two model years along with the same bird decals in front of these stripes. It was as if the head of Pontiac design with the Trans Am had pushed away from his desk dusted off his hands and exclaimed "that's it, we have built the perfect car" and went home. And henceforth no changes would be made to Pontiac's beloved Trans Am for 1972.

As good as the Trans Am was, the two different color schemes weren't getting old, they were getting real old. Kind of like watching the same movie you love over and over again. Finally you get sick of the movie and can't watch it again no matter how much you loved it the first time. That was beginning to happen to the 1972 Trans Am. It was still a great overall package, however not much had changed since 1970 cosmetically - especially considering the white or blue color choices spanned these three years.

Wait, there was one cosmetic change - a slight variation of the pattern of the two front grille inserts. However it was such a small item only those with an eagle eye could spot this difference. The lack of any 1972transam-6areal change would be a big contributing factor in the dismal sales of 1972 which had Trans Am production pegged at only 1,286 units. Pontiac dropped the base price for the Trans Am to $4256 which was 8% less than the 1971 Trans Am's base price and about 2% less than the 1970's base price. Which is further proof the lack of change was really hurting sales. The other factor was a long United Auto Workers (UAW) strike at the Norwood, Ohio GM F-body plant. It was a sad story, with over a thousand unfinished 1972 Camaros and Firebirds scrapped when the strike finally ended, since they couldn't be converted to 1973 models. The strike alone could have killed the Trans Am and possibly the Firebird. Fortunately sales increased for the Trans Am in 1973 and every other successive year after that, during the 1970s, so this story had a happy ending.

But like a lot of good stories, there's usually a strange twist, in the 1972 Trans Am's case this would prove to be true. As previously stated, Pontiac only offered two Trans Am colors. The official order sheets may have 1972transam-1aonly had these two colors - Cameo White and Lucerne Blue, but there was a third Pontiac color that was used on the 1972 Trans Am - Cardinal Red. Berdie Martin who back in 1972 was the Chief Steward of the (SCCA) Trans Am racing circuit, wanted to purchase a new Trans Am. Only problem was he didn't fancy either of the two colors available with the Trans Am. Due to his position with the Trans Am racing circuit from which the Trans Am received its name, Pontiac was happy to fill his order for a Cardinal Red 1972 Trans Am (Cardinal Red was offered on other Firebird models for 1972). What most Trans Am aficionados didn't know was that this one of a kind factory produced car existed. It was not until this car received worldwide attention when it appeared for sale on the Volo Cars website back in 2002. Rocky Rotella's "1972 Pontiac Trans Am - Raging Redbird" article in the May 2012 issue of High Performance Pontiac magazine, provides the whole story behind this very special Trans Am.

The good news was the LS5 455 HO V8 was back again for a second year as the Trans Am's only available engine. The 455 HO which had a 4.15 inch bore and a 4.21 inch stroke was essentially a carryover from the 1972transam-4previous year. The round-port heads had screw-in rocker arms and also big valves just like the year before, but where for 1972 these heads were identified as "7F6" (the previous year heads are identified as "197" heads). The free-flow aluminum intake manifold and cast iron exhaust manifolds were also carried over from the previous year. The Rochester Quadrajet 4-bbl carburetor was slightly different from the previous year 4-bbl which was missing the outer booster rings on the primaries to produce just slightly over 800 cfm. The outer booster rings returned for 1972 to improve fuel efficiency but Pontiac with other slight modifications was still able to manage a 800 cfm flow rate. Where the previous year 455 HO had a 335 gross horsepower rating and a 310 (SAE) net horsepower rating, for 1972 the gross horsepower rating was gone and only a 300 horsepower net rating was applied to the 455 HO (the torque rating was 415 lb-ft). However horsepower was still impressive with this new rating for 1972 since most cars had seen a massive drop in power due to lower compression ratios to accommodate the new government mandate that all new 1972 model year cars to run on unleaded fuel. GM made the move on all its new cars one year early and complied for the 1971 model year. So the 1971 and 1972 LS5 455 HO shared the same 8.4:1 compression ratio.

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 For Pontiac at the time, horsepower was just a shell game. The real rating of the 455 HO was well over 300 net horsepower. Car and Driver magazine back in 1972 obtained a 13.90 second 1/4 mile time at 104.6 mph and a 0-60 mph time of just 5.4 seconds. Most auto historians will agree that 1971 was the official last year for the muscle car, but Pontiac for 1972 with the Trans Am was still providing performance figures one year after the end, that rivaled many of the fastest muscle cars ever produced. Back in 1972, the 455 HO Trans Am was the fastest new muscle car a buyer was going to find - the average muscle car in 1972 was at least 2 seconds slower in the 1/4 mile. The only rival to the 1972 Trans Am was the 1972 GTO and LeMans when they were equipped (optionally) with the LS5 455 HO. And the Trans Am having a hefty curb weight of almost 3,700 lbs with as much performance as it packed, the 300 net horsepower rating was nothing short of a joke.

Another factor which makes the 1972 Trans Am's performance so astounding was that very low optional gears were gone for 1972. The optional performance oriented 3.73 rear axle ratio from the previous two years was gone. The standard and best gear rear axle ratio was now the 3.42 which was the only ratio 1972transam-7available with the (M22) 4-speed manual transmission. If the optional 3-speed automatic was ordered, a 3.42 ratio was standard unless air conditioning was ordered and then a taller 3.08 ratio was mandatory.  

The 1972 Trans Am just like the 1971 was also available with either the 15 x 7 inch Rally II wheels or the more attractive 15 x 7 inch Honeycomb wheels. A free-flow dual exhaust system was also standard with the Trans Am. And the shaker hood scoop still had a flap that opened up to allow cool air into the air filter assembly and the 4-bbl carburetor. This would be the last year for cold air induction for the Trans Am until 1982 - the 1973 Trans Am would have a closed shaker hood scoop for the remainder of the second generation Trans Am run. 

Not much had changed inside the Trans Am's interior cabin. There were still more interior colors available than exterior colors. The standard (vinyl) morokide seating trim was available in six colors: Blue, Ivory, Saddle, Green, Beige, and Black. The optional more upscale combination cloth and morokide seating trim 1972transam-2was only available in Beige and Black. The rest of the interior remained unchanged from the previous year. The easy to read tachometer which was first seen on the 1970 Trans Am was still there. This tachometer was very innovative in that Pontiac had rotated its axis position (since its introduction for 1970) a full 90 degrees to the left which allowed the driver to see a steady rise of the tachometer needle from the bottom to the top. It's a feature often overlooked by most muscle car fans. And just like the previous year, if the 4-speed was ordered with a front center console the shifter was placed in the middle of the console. Same was true with the automatic shifter when it was ordered with the front center console. When a console was not ordered with the manual transmission, the shifter boot was mounted on the carpet with a chrome trim plate. Unfortunately when the console was not ordered with the automatic transmission, the auto shifter lever was mounted to the steering column. Martin's one of a kind Cardinal Red Trans Am mentioned earlier in this article was one such car that came equipped from the factory with the auto shifter on the steering column as seen in the photo in this article.

The point can't be stressed enough that the 1972 Trans Am was a very rare car. Finding one for sale in reasonably good condition these days is a very tough endeavor. A very popular rare collectable second 1972transam-5generation Trans Am is the 4-speed manual W72 400 CID V8 1979 Trans Am 10th Anniversary Edition of which only 1,817 were produced. However this limited production run was 30% more than the total production of 1972 Trans Ams. Only 458 4-speed manual equipped 1972 Trans Ams were produced (828 3-speed automatic equipped 1972 Trans Ams were produced). So if you desire a 4-speed 1972 Trans Am, you may be looking for a long while.

For 1973, Pontiac would ditch the stripes and offer an optional big hood bird decal that would turn the Trans Am into a 1970s icon. More colors would be offered with the Trans Am as the 1970s progressed. Never again would sales dip down to the low 1972 level. To some who saw the 1972 as an exact repeat of the 1971 Trans Am and an almost clone of the 1970 Trans Am, the 1972 must have seemed like stale bread. But beyond the same old-same old Trans Am exterior paint scheme, was one very fast car. What most buyers overlooked was the 1972 Trans Am was the fastest new muscle car available for the 1972 model year - nothing came close to touching it (remember, the super V8 muscle car motors like Mopar's Hemi 426, Chevrolet's LS6 454, Ford's Cobra Jet 428/429 were all extinct by 1972). This was only the beginning of Pontiac's performance hegemony of the 1970s decade with the Trans Am.


Written contents in this article - © 2012 Pete Dunton - All Rights Reserved

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