• Time Travel With Jay Leno’s Garage and Learn About the 1979 Pontiac Trans Am

Jay Leno jumps into the 1979 Pontiac Trans Am for a trip down the underpowered muscle car memory lane

LISTEN 02:56

When it comes to pony cars from the muscle car era, no vehicle from GM is more iconic than the Chevrolet Camaro. Introduced in 1966 as a rival for the popular Ford Mustang, the Camaro was joined in 1967 by the Firebird, Pontiac’s take on GM’s pony. Even though it had a solid following, it wasn’t as popular as the Camaro.

But that changed in 1977 when a Trans Am version of the Firebird was featured in the "Smokey and the Bandit" film. Sales nearly doubled and surpassed 100,000 units a year in 1979, enabling the Firebird to outsell the Camaro for the very first time. Although it wasn’t as powerful as its predecessor from the 1960s, the late 1970s Trans Am is a pretty cool car. Cool enough to make a stop by Jay Leno’s garage.

Time Travel With Jay Leno's Garage and Learn About the 1979 Pontiac Trans Am
- image 959718
The Trans Am badge first appeared in 1969 as a specialty package for the Firebird.

It usually included improved handling and suspension and minor visual modifications. The Trans Am was also fitted with the largest and most powerful engine available for the Firebird lineup. The 1979 model is part of the second-generation Firebird, which went into production in 1970. As was usual back in the day, Pontiac updated the car on a yearly basis, culminating with the familiar slanted-front facelift in 1977.

In 1979, Pontiac operated one more visual facelift that included separated dual headlamps and an even sharper nose. More importantly, 1979 was the last year when the Trans Am was offered with the big 6.6-liter V-8 engine.

Time Travel With Jay Leno's Garage and Learn About the 1979 Pontiac Trans Am
- image 959721

The car that Leno is driving in the video below is fitted with the aforementioned mill.

Called the W72, the 6.6-liter V-8 was the most powerful option available that year, with an output rating of 220 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque.

Although it was notably less powerful than the pre-1972 Firebird engines, it was still the most powerful unit since 1974 and delivered an extra 50 horses over the 5.7-liter V-8.

Time Travel With Jay Leno's Garage and Learn About the 1979 Pontiac Trans Am
- image 959715

The 1979 Trans Am isn’t as desirable as the earlier cars that looked identical to the Firebird in "Smokey and the Bandit," but it’s still a sough-after Pontiac. Low-mileage examples, like the one driven by Jay Leno, can become expensive compared to other late 1970s American cars. They won’t fetch as much as Burt Reynolds’ very own example, which sold for $317,000, but they can fetch in excess of $50,000. Now let’s find out what makes this pony car special from Jay Leno himself in the video below.

Ciprian Florea
Ciprian Florea
Senior Editor and Supercar Expert - ciprian@topspeed.com
Ciprian's passion for everything with four wheels (and more) started back when he was just a little boy, and the Lamborghini Countach was still the coolest car poster you could hang on your wall. Ciprian's career as a journalist began long before earning a Bachelor's degree, but it was only after graduating that his love for cars became a profession.  Read full bio
About the author

Related Articles

Everything You Should Know About The The Trans Am From Smokey And The Bandit

What do you think?
Show Comments
Car Finder: