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Top Down Trans Am

The burble and breeze in a ragtop Trans Am...

Words by Michael Knowling, Pix by Julian Edgar

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It's a sad fact that convertibles are often slam-dunked into the show pony basket. It doesn't matter how well your MX-5 (Miata) handles or how nicely built your Merc SLC is, people tend to dismiss you as a poser - someone looking to be the centre of attention. The 2000 Pontiac Trans Am convertible is a completely different kettle of fish, however...

The concept of open-air motoring and good ol' fashion grunt power has been effectively fused together to create this immensely enjoyable lifestyle machine. No, it won't out-point a MX-5 or flatter like a Lexus SC430, but the Trans Am is a car that has appeal of a very different kind.

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Turn the key and the TA awakens with a throb that's familiar to Aussie muscle enthusiasts - the beat of the 5.7-litre LS1 V8 (which debuted in the Trans Am in 1998). And, as if that tune isn't enough to bring a smile to your face, prod the accelerator and the twin outlet exhaust howls an absolutely glorious note - one that begs you to work the big bent eight. Producing 305hp (228kW) at 5200 rpm and 335lb-ft (456Nm) at 4400 rpm, the US-spec LS1 is a completely non-temperamental performance engine - words like "lag", "doughy" and "flat spot" simply aren't in its vocabulary. Shifting an extremely hefty 1783 kilograms (nearly 200kg more than the Trans Am hard-top coupe), the LS1 manages to perform impressively with sharp throttle response and tremendous torque at all revs. It's claimed that - in automatic form, as tested here - the TA can bustle to 100 km/h in around 6.9-seconds. Note that a T56 6-speed manual version was offered alongside the 4L60E auto.

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Fuel consumption is expectedly horrendous at around 17-litres per 100 km/h - lucky there's a 64-litre fuel tank (5-litres larger than those found in earlier models). US-grade premium unleaded gasoline is required to cope with the 10.1:1 compression ratio, so - although you could get away with running normal unleaded here in Australia - you'd be wise to opt for local premium.

Ram Air Rocket

An ultra high performance version of the Trans Am - known as the WS6 'Ram Air' - was available in convertible form. The car featured a massive ram-air bonnet and intake system helping achieve an extra 15 horsepower, along with other upgrades. WS6 TA convertibles are quite rare, however - good luck trying to find one to Australia.

Traditional US musclecars have usually offered a heap of go along with horn body curves but they've been, well, average in terms of everything else.

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The Trans Am's strut suspension (with tuned SLAs at the front) is fairly crude and gives the impression there's a whole lot of mass dancing around under the floor. It isn't overly harsh, however. During low speed manoeuvres, the Trans Am feels like a heavy vehicle, but it typically displays good balance. There's a bit of understeer during turn-in and mid-corner, but you can easily switch to power oversteer by sending a gob full of torque through the LSD rear-end. Traction control is also available as an option.

The stoppers are fairly sizeable - 11.9-inch front and 12-inch rear anchors (which are all ventilated and controlled by ABS) give you a fair degree of confidence on the street.

Steering wise, the power assisted rack and pinion set-up gives a bit of indirectness at straight-ahead but overall weighting and feel is okay.

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Like the Camaro on which it is based, the Trans Am is essentially a roomy 2 seater with the capacity to transport two extra people - over a short distance - if the need arises. Cargo space is also quite limited, which means the TA is best as a weekend fun machine.

With the electric ragtop buzzed down, the TA overwhelms the senses with the wind ripping through your hair and the beat of the bent eight bring along its tune out back. It's easy to get in and never, never want to get out.

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The interior is fairly old fashioned, but comes well appointed with a standard leather wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, climate control, 170W radio/cassette sound system, central locking, electric windows and mirrors, dual front airbags, multi-adjustable front seats (with lumbar support) remote entry and an anti-theft system. There are also automatic locking retractor/emergency locking retractor (ALR/ELR) seatbelts for all outboard seating positions, except the driver. Options include an upgraded security system, a 12-disc CD stacker, keyless entry and leather trim.

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Based on a 1993 design (dubbed the fourth generation), the 2000 TA flaunts the same headlights as found on the Camaro, but with a different nosecone and fog light arrangement. At the rear, the trailing edge received a standard spoiler and the taillights went to a honeycomb pattern. The TA's body muscles glisten from a mile away - there's certainly no mistaking it for a delicately sculpted Japanese or sophisticated Euro convertible. Those big rolling guards are filled to the edges with standard 16 x 8-inch alloys with 245/50 tyres.

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Despite the Pontiac's reputation for affordability, the 2000 Trans Am was often labelled overpriced by road testers in the USA. Sure, it's engineering wasn't cutting edge - it's a traditional flavour muscle car after all - but the build quality was also found to be a little ragged in places. Certainly, there is the odd squeak and rattle, the paint isn't particularly great and, as reported by one American road tester, "getting out of a 'Vette into a Trans Am is like moving from an easy chair onto a wooden stool."

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Second-hand examples, such as this 2000 Trans Am automatic, are being imported and prepared for registration by Melbourne's Sports and Luxury Cars. This particular car, with less than 20,000 kilometres and in absolutely as-new condition, was being sold for $85,000. Of course, 85 large is a fair slab of money but if you like to be seen in the quintessential American musclecar - which receives all the kerbside oooh-aahhing you can handle - this is for you.

2000 Pontiac Trans Am Convertible Fast Facts...
  • Standard LS1 V8 sounds great and offers good acceleration
  • Poor fuel economy
  • Easy to use electric hood
  • Best used as a fun weekender
  • Looks fantastic - guaranteed to turn heads
  • Build quality not great
  • Expensive


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