1980 Pontiac Trans Am - CID Down, Advertising Way Up


It was no secret that GM's F-body platform was getting long in the tooth by the late 1970s having been around since the 1970 model year. Fortunately Pontiac didn't get the memo and just kept improving on its Trans Am which was built on the F-body platform. Buyers liked what Pontiac offered and 116,535 Trans Ams were produced for the 1979 model year - by far the best year of Trans Am sales. For 1980, the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and emissions regulations had been kicked up a notch, so the big cubic inches were gone.

Pontiac had a backup plan, in addition to offering its 4-bbl 301 CID (4.9 liter) V8 and Chevrolet's 4-bbl 305 CID (5.0 liter) V8 in the Trans Am, it would offer the LU8 301 CID (4.9 liter) turbo charged V8. The LU8 produced 210 horsepower and 345 lb-ft of torque which on the surface seemed to make up for the loss of Pontiac's 400 CID (6.6 T/A) V8 and the Oldsmobile 403 CID (6.6 liter) V8 which were both available on the 1979 Trans Am. Unfortunately turbo technology was in its infancy back then. The LU8 had a 4-bbl carburetor, and mechanical carburetors didn't work well with turbo units. The LU8 was a reliable engine but just didn't produce the smack in the back type performance of previous Trans Am motors. As one auto journalist back in the day thought the LU8 performed more like a smooth 350 CID V8 which was an improvement over the regular 301, but not the power of the previous year 1980transam-ad-1400 V8. Never-the-less the LU8 still managed to make the 1980 Trans Am one of the hottest performance cars of the 1980 model year, so for Pontiac it was mission accomplished.

Pontiac had been watching its Trans Am sales climb during the 1970s and when the Smokey And The Bandit was released in 1977, it created a sensation and a special "gotta have it" aura concerning the Trans Am. Suddenly the Trans Am was the hottest car on the road. Pontiac wanted to make sure the momentum continued for 1980 even though the 1980 Trans Am was essentially a carryover from the 1979 model which had its front and rear redesigned. The styling was pure perfection. One of the big selling points of the Trans Am during the 1970s was its standard large displacement motors. Displacement never dropped below 400 CID (6.6 liters) for the Trans Am during the 1970s.  The only exception was there was the 4-bbl 4.9 liter engine delete option starting in 1979.  It would be the first glimpse of the Trans Am's future with lower displacement motors. Most buyers passed on this "glimpse into the future" and opted instead for the standard 6.6 liter (403 V8) or the optional (W72) Pontiac 6.6 T/A (400 V8). Unfortunately 4.9 liters was as good as it got for 1980, and Pontiac realized they needed to make up for the loss of cubic inches by heavy advertising.  

For 1979 Pontiac didn't have to do more than just the basic magazine advertising which was a half hearted effort at best. The 1979 Trans Am had attractive styling, large displacement motors, and the allure of being the best muscle car still available. By 1980 for the Trans Am, only styling remained. Even though the 1980 Trans Am had been taken down a few performance notches it still was one of the fastest American cars available for 1980, h1980transam-ad-2owever it no longer was the undisputed performance king like it was in 1979. Hot Rod magazine had obtained a 0-60 mph time of 6.7 seconds and a quarter mile time of 14.6 seconds at 96.67 mph with a (W72) 6.6 T/A. By far this had the competition beat for 1979, and that included the L82 powered 1979 Corvette. For comparison's sake the LU8 1980 Trans Am on the average was 2 seconds slower in the quarter mile and 0-60 mph runs than the Hot Rod tested W72 Trans Am.  

Adding to the 1980 Trans Am magazine ad campaign was a flashy 1980 Trans Am TV commercial. Pontiac with this commercial for the used the new "Excitement" theme which would be part of Pontiac's main slogan during most of the 1980s - "We Build Excitement". Sales did however dip to 50,916 units for 1980, part of the blame for the slide was the horrid state of the U.S. economy and a second oil crises which sent fuel prices skyrocketing again. All-in-all this TV commercial probably did assist with sales. More importantly this ad would be the first of many flashy TV commercials during the 1980s, an era when times were still good at Pontiac.


1980 Pontiac Trans Am TV Commercial:


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