• Sep 24, 2010
This article
Rick McLaughlin bought his first Trans Am when he was 21 and never looked back. (Photo: Bob Golfen)

"These are iconic cars, and we all know why," McLaughlin said, referring to the famed Burt Reynolds action movie where a black-and-gold Trans Am played a major role. "Yeah, he did a lot for my business."

All four of his Trans Ams at Barrett-Jackson in Las Vegas – three 1979s and one 1980 – are very-low mileage, one-owner originals with four-speed manual transmissions. He picked them out for the auction, he said, because they were the last of their breed.

"This was the end of the era," he said.

McLaughlin's first car, an all-original 1979 Trans Am with just 8,444 miles, sold yesterday afternoon for $33,000, including auction fees. The '76 50th Anniversary model sold earlier for $18,700, including fees.

McLaughlin has seen the recent surge of interest in Trans Ams, which is one reason why he decided to sell four cars in Las Vegas.

"These are the next up-and-coming cars in the marketplace," he said. "This is what people want to remember their youth."

This article originally appeared on SPEED.com and is republished with permission. Check your local listings for SPEEDtv's live coverage at Barrett-Jackson Las Vegas on SPEED, which continues today from 4PM–11PM EST and Saturday from 2PM –9:30PM EST.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 37 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      For all too young to remember, and now with all the garbage going around with GM being trashed out with Government Motors etc........well sir, this is the REAL GM, they built many, many beautifull automobiles such as this and I suggest you do some research regarding the history of this great company Americans should take pride in. Yes, as every manufacturer, including the japanese manufacturers, they built some that should not have been built, but the vast majority of their products were excellent, this is why the logo " GM..Mark of Excellence" was not just a logo, it was the truth. Management brought this great giant down.................not product. I, and I know I speak for millions will always support GM and their great automobiles
        • 4 Years Ago
        Anyone who says "Government Motors" gets an automatic downrating from me. Oops, I just said "Government Motors." I have to downrate my own post.
        • 4 Years Ago
        There were many things that brought GM, and the Big 3 down. The main factors were complacency, the UAW, and government regulations.

        The 70s were particularly hard for the Big 3 as they had to build vehicles that met new fuel and air quality standards while facing growing competition from the Japanese who did not have to deal with the legacy costs and labor issues the US manufacturers did. The Big 3 were forced to cut costs in order to remain competitive, and as a result quality suffered, while the quality of the competition continued to improve. Because of that, they began to lose market share and it has been an ongoing battle ever since.

        They failed to see the writing on the wall and adapt their business models 30 years ago which resulted in declining sales and two of them filing for bankruptcy last year. Hopefully, the restructuring will help them turn the tables because I am pulling for them.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Those cars were junk as were all "performance" cars of that era. The 1970's were the Dark Ages for cars, fashion (leisure suits), music (Disco), and politics.
        • 4 Years Ago
        That sounds like a line from "Married with Children". It was an Al Bundy line that goes something like this.

        "Ah the 70s, the clothes, the music, the cars.... Man did they suck!!!"
      • 4 Years Ago
      Nice!

      In the fourth pic, the one of the '76 TA, is that a big chunk of paint missing from the front bumper, or a license plate bracket or something?
      • 4 Years Ago
      As an owner of a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T I can think of nothing that more graphically examplifies American culture than the "muscle car". Sure I think that MoPars are clearly at the top of the muscle car food chain, but I love 'em all. Mustangs, Cudas. Roadrunners, Camaros,Gran Sports, Cougars, AMXs, Chargers, Super Bees, Firebirds and of course the Challenger, it doesn't matter, they represent a whole culture and a whole generation.
      I'm fortunate that I can live and re-live that era everytime I drive my iconic Challenger. The rumble of the exhaust, the rush of power, the unmistakable look of a muscle car from a time when American car makers had no rivals and they strutted their pride with outlandish, even vulgar display. Panther Pink, Curious Yellow, TorRed, and Hemi Orange. Bumble Bee stripes, air grabber hoods and Firebird addorned hoods. Drag Race inspired performance packages and the NASCAR dominating Superbirds.
      Yes every "red blooded" American lusts for an original muscle car and God bless them for it.
      Detroit has responded with the "new" Challenger, Mustang and Camaro, but it's the originals that hold the passion like no other vehicles ever produced.
      LONG LIVE THE MUSCLE CAR -- BEEP BEEP!!!!
        • 4 Years Ago
        Mopar Willy, the thing is, your '70 Challenger really is a muscle car. The '78 Trans Am just didn't have enough horsepower for me to call it a muscle car, and I owned one.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Anyone know what waxes they are using? the shine on those cars look purty.
      • 4 Years Ago
      It's too bad GM couldn't have kept Pontiac around as a niche brand for sports/sporty cars like the Firebird and then when economic conditions allowed expand the brand again to include other models.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I hate GM for ditching Pontiac and keeping Buick instead. I understand Buicks sell well in the growing market of China, but still... Everything post 1987 from Buick is just so bland. They should have killed off Buick at the same time they did their "twin", Oldsmobile.

        Sadly, in a market full of appliance shoppers, excitement/cool doesn't sell. Boring does!!
        • 4 Years Ago
        I got a feeling pontiac will be back in just that manor. Why else wouldnt GM sell the name plate?
      • 4 Years Ago
      after reading all the posts all I can say is that very few cars can be considered a real Icon. The Bandit Trans Am is an icon, period. Do not compare or try to make a point about if is collectible or not comparing with Mopars or Fords of late and early 70's, thats extremely subjective.
      The TA's with special packages where produced in limited amounts (Y82, Y84, Y89, Y85, Ws6, W72 etc) that makes it collectible and desirable, of course, for those who grew up in the 70's more than anyone else, and thats the whole point, is a personal thing, if you grew up in the 60's you may consider the Challenger used in the Movie "vanishing point" THE CAR, or the Muatang in "Bullit" but for someone that saw the infamous black bird jumping bridges and burning rubber back in 1977 in the movie hit "smokey and the bandit", that's THE CAR, and let me tell you, you would swear it had 400 hp or more under the hood in those stunts... but ok ok, we all now the top horse power was 220 when paying extra for the w72 high performance option, but face it: with couple of mods you could get the same horses of an early 70's muscle car , and thats what most people did right after taking the car out of the dealer floor.
      No other car in 77 , 78 or 79 had the look or performance of the TA, actually in 78 was the best sports car in the US, even better than corvette.
      Pontiac is gone, and no more Trans Ams can be purchased from a dealer, but hey, not all hopes are gone, if you want a fast Trans Am there are companies restoring this cars keeping stock look with lots of horses under the hood, just google it and you will find professional restoration companies building this cars, they bring back them to new shape with the right performance, and prices are more than reasonable comparing with crazy dollar figures you pay for a Hemi car, or a cobra jet Ford.
      Do not underestimate the capacity of the TA to become the new highly collectible toy, this is already happening, if you love this cars , buy one before they out of reach, someone said more than 300k cars made in those years, but in reality if you check production figures only around 10% of total production were special editions, of which many are gone, of the few thousands left some are more rare than others depending on if they were stick or automatic, t tops or not, ws6 handling package or not etc... for me and many other folks out there the black 77 TA SE or the 78 or 79 will be always the most appealing muscle car and some day , no matter the price I will have one, thats what I work for.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Every couple of years I hear about the "resurgence" of the late 70's musclecar in the collector circuit. Yet it never seriously materializes. The reason why is so obvious that I don't even need to do anything more than simply write a quick list of some of the most powerful cars available in the late 70's along with their horsepower numbers.

      1977 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 w/ 350 V8 (185hp)
      1977 Chevrolet Corvette L82 (210hp)
      1977 Oldsmobile 4-4-2 w/ 403 V8 (180hp)
      1977 Plymouth Roadrunner w/ 360 V8 (160hp)
      1978 Pontiac Trans Am w/ 400 V8 (220hp)
      1978 Ford Mustang King Cobra w/ 302 V8 (120hp)
      1979 Oldsmobile Hurst/Olds w/ 350 V8 (170hp)

      Those cars, my friends, were the cream of the crop at the time. In fact, the fastest car available in America in 1977 was the Porsche 930, and that made a whopping 260hp. Couple the low power with the atrocious fuel mileage, iffy quality of manufacture and how horribly overweight most of these cars were and it's a recipe to turn people off of them in a huge hurry. Remember when "Starsky & Hutch" the movie came out and all over eBay you had sixty thousand dollar 1976 Ford Torinos for sale? Today, those same cars go for 7500$, and even then sometimes they don't sell. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the '76 Torino made 145hp and weighed 4500lbs.

      I'm not saying there are no cool cars, the Trans Am certainly is a lot of fun to drive, but at the same time it's not exactly rare either. Pontiac made almost 300,000 Trans Ams (More than half a million Firebirds total) between 1977 and 1981. So there goes the rarity don't it?

      In fact the whole REASON why people began to collect musclecars made between 1964 and 1974 in the first place all had to do with how crappy the late seventies/early eighties cars were. They were so bad, in fact, that most guys just didn't buy new cars anymore. Instead they kept their old ones. I mean seriously, would any of you have traded a 1971 Dodge Charger R/T Hemi for a 1981 Dodge Mirada CMX with it's 120hp V8? It wasn't until the early 90's that you saw horsepower figures start to top the 300hp mark again.

      Most people who were around back then have horrible memories of the late 70's cars. That's why they've never caught on. Then there's the fact that there's tons of cars from the 60's still available for a low price and that just spells death to any real resurgence. In fact, by the time that the majority of the 60's musclecars become unaffordable to the average enthusiast the next generation of enthusiasts will be around the age where they'll want cars from the late 80's or early 90's. So I'm betting that the collectible market will skip the late 70's and early 80's altogether.

      I'll end this with one more thing. I *LOVE* cars from the late 70's, more than you could believe, but I'm not unrealistic about their chances at being genuine collectibles. They're not that great looking for the most part, they're very heavy, they're underpowered, they weren't built well and there's a ton of them still out there. Hardly a recipe for a boom in demand.
        • 4 Years Ago
        mnm4ever,

        Part of me agrees with you about the cars from the 80s and 90s never commanding the kinds of prices of those from the 60s, however there was a time when C2 Corvette, 68'-69' Charger, Chevelle, GTO, and 70'-71' Hemi Cudas were just considered old cars that lacked such modern amenities as a/c, am/fm radios, and power windows, etc.

        If you would have told someone in the 70s that these cars would be commanding what they are today, they would think you were crazy and maybe thought twice about selling that 67 GTO for a thousand dollars.

        I think that is why these 77-81 Trans Ams sold so well new. People wanted performance, excitement, and good looks, but also something that was modern and more reliable, as opposed to some "piece of junk" that was ten years old and falling apart.
        • 4 Years Ago
        mnm4ever makes great points, although I think 90's cars will go up in value a bit more simply because of their genuine scarcity. Another one of the (many) problems with the idea of a late 70's collectible that I didn't talk much about in my original post is the fact that there's just too many of them. The late seventies was an era of insta-collectible automobiles and EVERYONE and their brother kept these cars thinking they'd be worth something one day. So there's a huge hoard of these cars out there and every time that someone talks about a resurgence, these people come out of the woodwork to sell their cars, and that kills the prices because there's usually more really A1 cars for sale than there are people who could possiblt want them. The pictures included with this article are telling. When's the last time anyone here saw half a dozen old GTOs for sale at an auction with only 7000 miles on them? Yet you can literally find thousands of late 70's cars like that. Guys would buy them, toss them in the garage and not drive them thinking they'd hit the jackpot one day. A quick search of eBay finds at least two or three low mileage 1979 Mustang Pace Cars, 1978 Corvette Pace Cars, 1978-79 'lil Red Express trucks and 1976 Cadillac Eldorado convertibles for sale every week. It's almost funny reading about how rare the car is when there's five more exactly like it for sale, and the high dollar ones never ever sell. It's too risky an investment.

        The 1977-1981 black Trans Am SE's like Burt Reynolds drove in Smokey and The Bandit have the exact same problem. Pontiac made 300,000 T/A's in those years. Even if only 10% survived that's still a heck of a lot of cars. Couple that with the fact that most are likely to be black Special Editions and all of a sudden it's a buyers market. I'm willing to believe that a lot of people like the old T/As, but not that 30,000 people are willing to buy one for a heap of cash.

        In fact, even 60's musclecars are suffering from hoarders. You almost never see a 1969 Camaro Z/28 for sale except at an auction, yet Chevy made 20,000 of them. What I'm thinking is happening is that a lot of Baby Boomers have them in their garages hidden away and are waiting until retirement to either cruise around in their golden years, or to sell them for a profit so they can go to Atlantic City. With the great financial planning that a lot of the boomer's have done, I'm betting for the latter. Anyway, what I *think* may happen is that we'll see a glut of 60's musclecars suddenly appear on the market within the next 5 to 10 years. That will be a stake in the heart of any late 70's "resurgence".

        I do think 1970's have an appeal, but mostly to enthusiasts who enjoy fun and cheap cars that they can modify and drive without worrying about chipping the paint. This may create a demand one day, everything cool becomes popular eventually, but not today.
        • 4 Years Ago
        You are totally correct, great comment. I think the exact same logic can be applied to even more modern "collector cars" like the 90s-current Shelby cars, Vettes, etc. They wont ever see the skyrocketing values like 60s muscle cars. Too complicated, too much plastic, too modern. They will make great used cars for a lot of people, and then eventually just die.

        But here is the thing... I dont want these cars to ever surge. 60s Mopars and Shelbys are still priced way out of the average guys range. Even regular Mustangs and Camaros from the golden age are pretty high up there. These later 70's cars, and 80s too are cheap. Attainable to almost anyone. And theres a lot of them that speculators held onto in perfect shape like our friend Mr Mullet up there, and eventually has to sell them. All it takes is a well-times divorce or death in the family and you can pick up a mint 81 T/A or 87 Monte SS for under $10k. Sure its slow as crap... but a new Mustang or Camaro will spank even the most expensive Shelby or Yenko.... you dont buy a classic for performance. Its just about the enjoyment, how it makes you feel. For those who can afford a top tier classic, I am happy for them, they might even make some profit on thier car of choice. But I think most of us will never be able to drop $50-75k on a weekend toy car. But make it $10k-ish and thats attainable. So what if it doesnt surge in value? It probably wont go much lower either. And its still fun to have. You dont have to cry so hard if it gets wrecked or stolen. And the best part to me is if you want more performance, you can swap in that modern engine or suspension and no one will slam you for "ruining a valuable classic" with mods.
        • 4 Years Ago
        All good points Montreal Mustang. I think what needs to happen for people to be able to appreciate the styling of cars like the late 70s and early 80s TransAms is for them to become the "hot rods" of the future. I'd love to find a Gold '81 Trans Am and have it restored with a modern DOHC V-8, six speed manual, sub-frame connectors, modern suspension with adjustable shocks, custom interior with a 10 speaker sound system etc, etc. Classic styling, modern performance. That's the ticket.

        http://media.motortopia.com/files/4311/vehicle/47876d2308388/x_163.jpg
        • 4 Years Ago
        Right on!! The late 70s Trans Am SE is the only thing from that era one can call a collectible thanks to Burt Reynolds.

        It appears those enthusiasts looking for nostalgia have already skipped the mid 70s -early 80s era buying up such cars as the Grand National, I-ROC, 5.0 Mustang, and even the anemic but cool looking Monte Carlo SS.

        The 70s are why cars from the 60s are worth so much today!!
        • 4 Years Ago
        Yup, montrealmustang is absolutely correct. People forget that the insurance companies and smog equipment gutted performance cars. A '78 Trans Am is not the same as a '69 Z-28.

        Late '60s and very early '70s muscle cars had a lot more horsepower than mid to late '80s cars.
      • 4 Years Ago
      No one is denying that they had potential. It has more to do that they were built during a dark era in the auto industry. It is more of a nostalgia thing for most.

      The 65' GTO was raw power off the showroom floor, the 77' Firebird Trans Am was not, unless you made it that way.
      • 4 Years Ago
      What else after 1970 was there to get excited about, besides the trucks? 1971 to 1985 was the dark ages in terms of high performance cars. The Trans Am of the late 70s were not much in terms of performance, but they sure were sexy to look at.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I would take this over a new Camaro 10 times out of 10.
      • 4 Years Ago
      It's silly to compare these cars to modern ones 30 years later. Yes, a v6 Honda accord, can run a quarter mile faster than a 79 Trans Am. But that's taking it out of context. If I recall, the 79 220 hp TA with the WS6 pkg was considered the best handling American car of it's day and ran the quarter in low 15's (some magazines recorded high 14s at the time, but manufacturer prepping was insinuated). That's still respectable today and for it's time it was a rocket. And let's not forget that those 60's muscle car hp figured were rated gross and were not as high when using the 70s system of measurement. You're average 350hp 60's car was more like 250-300 then. And that was without emissions equipment.

      Yes, GM build quality wasn't the greatest at that time, but not so terrible. I think ford and chrysler were much worse. And in reality, it didn't get much better until the mid-late 80's. It was always hit or miss back then. You could have a great car or a lemon depending in the day if the week it was built!
      Having said that, I owned 2 79 firebirds that didn't give me much trouble.
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