1974 Trans Am - Eat, Drink, and Be Merry


1974 was a very important year for the Trans Am, it was a linchpin year. The 1974 Trans Am would straddle the brash original era muscle car era and the upcoming modern era of strict emissions controls which also included the push towards fuel efficiency. By 1974 the original muscle car era was over, most automakers had thrown in the towel by 1973. Pontiac was continuing on with the business as usual attitude of producing the Trans Am as if the original muscle car era was still going strong. Pontiac had standard a 400 CID V8 while most of the others were at 350 CID or less. Unfortunately the smack-down of new emissions controls on all 1975 American built cars was going to heavily drop horsepower down the ravine. 1974 would be the last year of the fun times for awhile. Granted high compression motors had bit the dust by the 1972 model year due to the introduction of unleaded fuel, but 1975 would make 1972 seem like good times. In the meantime for Pontiac's Trans Am, it was eat, drink, and be merry.

1974 was also the first year that Pontiac's second generation F-body would get exterior styling updates at both the front and rear. The Trans Am which had a distinctive low and wide look from 1970 to 1973 that had just a hint of European flair, would lose the 1974transam-5attractive but blunt beak looking front-end. The new front-end would have smaller twin grilles and would now have a narrow full length horizontal black bumper and two black vertical bumperettes. The change was due to more stringent bumper laws - the rear would also get a narrow full length horizontal black bumper and two black vertical bumperettes. Even with the loss of the 1970-1973 Endura front-end which had an artistic look, Pontiac managed to make the new bumpers not only attractive but part of the smooth flow of the exterior changes. The new nose was also a glimpse into the future of more aerodynamic Trans Am front-ends. There's no doubt the now slanted back front-end had a much more modern appearance than the previous year Trans Am. Pontiac designers also ditched the small chrome trimmed taillights of the 1970-1973 Trans Am (which looked they belonged in the late 1960s and not the early 1970s) and went with much bigger and more modern looking units that didn't have any chrome trim. Overall Pontiac did a great job with the new changes, the Trans Am didn't lose any of its macho appeal in the update yet the car looked more modern as if it was a brand new car and not the first update to a platform that was five model years old. Buyers also thought the styling update was attractive since Trans Am sales more than doubled from 1973 to 10,255 units for 1974.

What made this sales increase so astonishing was that Pontiac only offered three exterior colors. Cameo White and Buccaneer Red both carried over from 1973, however Brewster Green was replaced by Admiralty Blue. The big hood bird decal was still an option 1974transam-6for 1974, one that most buyers checked off. However unlike 1973 where buyers got the 1970-1972 type bird on top of the front beak if the big bird decal wasn't selected, they were now left without a bird decal anywhere on the front part of the car for 1974.

When it came to power under the hood, nowhere would you find more performance in a new American car in 1974. Even though the base engine dropped from 455 cubic inches to 400, there was still 225 net horsepower (and 330 lb-ft of torque) standard with the base L78 4-bbl 400 CID V8. Most of the Trans Am's competition would have loved to have had a top performance motor that produced that much horsepower. In comparison, the worst horsepower fall for 1974 had to be the new all-new Mustang II - its top horsepower motor was the 171 CID V6 which produced a paltry 105 horsepower (for 1973 the Mustang's top motor was a 266 horsepower 4-bbl 351 CID V8). Ford in its narrow vision at the time opted to not offer a V8 option on the Mustang II for 1974. The L78 400 was standard with a 4-speed manual transmission and optional with a 3-speed automatic. The good news was the 1973 Trans Am's base motor, the 250 horsepower (and 380 lb-ft of torque) L75 455 CID V8, was back again for 1974. The bad news was it was only available with a 3-speed automatic. The L75 just like the L78 used D-port heads 1974transam-4while the carryover top dog motor from 1973, the Super Duty 455 (SD-455), used high performance round-port heads. The horsepower rating was 290 (and 395 lb-ft of torque), but hey who was Pontiac kidding with the SD-455 capable of breaking into the high-13 second range in the quarter-mile run in a 3,700-lb car, there were definitely some extra unreported ponies under the shaker hood. The good news was SD-455 production was way up from 252 units in 1973 to 943 units for 1974. The bad news was 1974 would be the last year for the SD-455 engine option, the SD-455 could not meet the new for 1975 emissions standards. Pontiac who had ignored the "muscle car era is over" memos since 1971 finally had to cave-in to the pressure for 1975. But with the SD-455, it was still eat, drink, and be merry since the hangover wasn't going to hit until 1975. The SD-455 used the high performance 1967 Ram Air 400 cam, a free-flow cast iron intake, free-flow exhaust manifolds, and forged pistons. And the 455 CID Pontiac engine block was not the standard run-of-the-mill block found in other Pontiacs back in the day, it had fortified 4-main bolt construction. This engine was a heavy-duty performance motor that could be raced hard at the quarter-mile or oval track. Though most buyers had the foresight to take care of their SD-455 Trans Ams and not thrash them hard on the street and track, the SD-455 was still built to take this kind of punishment. What was so amazing about the SD-455 was that its true 1974transam-2horsepower output was so high even with a low 8.4:1 compression ratio. As a comparison most of the Pontiac high-performance V8s during the golden muscle car era had a 10.5:1 compression ratio. Makes you wonder if Pontiac was able to build the SD-455 (before the introduction of unleaded gas) with a 10.5:1 compression ratio, how much more potent this motor would have been.

Besides the "SD-455" callouts (the L75 had "455" and the L78 had "400" callouts) on the shaker hood scoop, there was only a "Super Duty 455" informational sticker on the driver's side valve cover to identify this special motor. And like all the other engine offerings available with the 1974 Trans Am, the SD-455 had painted valve covers. The chrome valve covers were last seen on a Trans Am during the 1970 model year. Chrome valve covers would not return until the 1977 model year with the introduction of the W72 "T/A 6.6" (400 CID) V8. And just like 1973, the shaker hood scoop remained closed to outside air on all 1974 engine offerings. The SD-455 was available in a 3-speed automatic (731 produced) or a close ratio 4-speed manual transmission (212 produced). For the SD-455 a performance oriented 3.42 rear axle ratio was standard with both the automatic and manual transmissions. If air-conditioning was ordered with both of these transmissions the rear axle ratio was a little bit taller gearing at 3.08. The base L78 400 when equipped with the 4-speed manual also had mandatory 3.08 rear gears. A sign of the more efficient times, the L78 400 and L75 455 when 1974transam-3equipped with the 3-speed automatic transmission had a luxury car spec 2.56 rear axle ratio. The plus side was that a Safe-T Track rear differential was standard on the Trans Am no matter what engine or transmission was ordered.

The Trans Am was the best handling American car available back in 1974, the bias ply tires were now history. The Radial Tuned Suspension (RTS) was now standard. GR70x15 tires were still part of the RTS package however the mandatory white walls were now gone - these tires were only available in black walls or white lettering which was a welcome change. And another carryover from the p1974transam-8revious years the 1974 Trans Am could be equipped with either 15x7 inch Rally II wheels with trim rings or 15x7 inch Honeycomb wheels.

The exterior may have had a big update but the interior was mostly a 1973 carryover. Base-level seats were available in Black, Saddle, and White vinyl just like the previous year. When the upscale custom seating trim was ordered, the seats looked the same as 1973, however there were color changes. Beige and Burgundy were no longer available with the upscale custom seating trim. The upscale custom seats were available in more colors than the previous year - Black, Black, Blue, Green, Red, Saddle, and White. And if cloth seating surfaces were desired, they could only be ordered in Black or Saddle. For 1974 it was becoming apparent that buyers were loading up their Trans Ams with plenty of power and convenience options. For instance it was commonplace to see crank windows and AM radios in the early-1970s Trans Ams but by 1974 buyers were beginning to opt in large numbers for power windows, door locks, the AM/FM Stereo radio with 8-track unit, etc.


1974 would be the last year of the 1970-1974 rear window and the below the rear bumper chrome dual exhaust tips would also bite the dust when 1974 production ended. The 1974 was the last of the original muscle car era Trans Ams - the addition of emissions control devices for 1975 would send performance into a tailspin. This didn't mean the end of Trans Am performance but merely a setback for a few years since it would take a few years for Pontiac to rebound with emissions compliant performance engines. Indeed 1974 was eat, drink, and be merry since 1975 was when the big hangover hit the beloved Trans Am like a ton of bricks dropped off a four story building.

Written contents in this article - © 2013 Pete Dunton - All Rights Reserved