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posted: 1/27/2014 5:45 AM

Wait for a rare '69 Firebird is over

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  • 1969 Pontiac Trans Am Firebird

      1969 Pontiac Trans Am Firebird
    Photos Courtesy of Prestige MotorCar Photography

  • Scott Shaffer of Long Grove had a college buddy who once owned a 1969 Trans Am.

      Scott Shaffer of Long Grove had a college buddy who once owned a 1969 Trans Am.

  • Shaffer said Pontiac dealer Charlie Burke eventually left Detroit and opened a new Buick/GMC/Cadillac dealership in Vero Beach, Fla.

      Shaffer said Pontiac dealer Charlie Burke eventually left Detroit and opened a new Buick/GMC/Cadillac dealership in Vero Beach, Fla.

  • Shaffer's Pontiac has had some engine repairs, but remains in factory, unrestored condition.

      Shaffer's Pontiac has had some engine repairs, but remains in factory, unrestored condition.

  • Only 697 Pontiac Trans Am Firebirds were manufactured in 1969.

      Only 697 Pontiac Trans Am Firebirds were manufactured in 1969.

  • Shaffer added a tachometer to the steering column to aid with shifting.

      Shaffer added a tachometer to the steering column to aid with shifting.

  • Shaffer took the car to the Bloomington Gold Survival Show in 2013 and won a Zenith Award.

      Shaffer took the car to the Bloomington Gold Survival Show in 2013 and won a Zenith Award.

 
 

Simply put, Pontiac created the 1969 Trans Am Firebird to inspire. It was built to conjure up high-octane feelings in buyers who would imagine themselves whizzing around a sinewy SCCA track, throttle wide open and checkered flag waving.

No one had these sensations welling inside them quite like a young Scott Shaffer. He was in high school when the model was first released, and became immediately mesmerized.

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"My first thought was, 'I'm going to own one,' " the Long Grove resident said.

After several years spent drooling over advertising and car magazines, in 1972 Shaffer came face to face with one in the wild. Just 697 examples of the '69 Firebird were ever manufactured, and Shaffer's college friend owned one.

"A bunch of us would pile in and we'd cruise around rural Iowa. Rain, sleet or snow, he'd drive it."

Now, having seen a TA Firebird firsthand, Shaffer's resolution was further cemented. However, he had to wait some 40 years to snare his own rare bird. His dream of ownership became a reality in 2011.

His high-performance Pontiac was purchased new from Charlie Burke Pontiac in Detroit. A father bought the hardtop for his 18-year-old son. Eventually all that brute power did get the young driver into trouble with the law. The lead-foot son wasn't the only one in custody: his race-ready vehicle was impounded in 1973.

Tucked inside the glove box, Shaffer found all the documentation and paperwork showing the Pontiac's jail time.

When Shaffer had his Trans Am in the shop, another astonishing discovery was made. "A set of original keys was stashed under the dash. The young kid must have hid them up there," Shaffer said.

The father passed away in 1976 and full ownership transferred to his son. He used the vehicle on occasion but during the early 1980s, troubles again arose, this time of the mechanical sort. The Ram Air III 400-cubic-inch V-8 engine wasn't running right and badly misfiring. In addition, the four-speed manual transmission kept popping out of gear.

"The son assumed the worst: his driving had blown it up." That fear lead him to park it in 1987 in his Detroit garage. For the next 24 years the vehicle moved a scant total of 83 miles.

In 2011, frustrated and disinterested, he sold it to a Chicago collector who passed the all-original beauty on to Shaffer.

"I knew it was a very special car. Every Trans Am I'd seen had some level of restoration performed on it. I wanted mine to remain all original."

Shaffer's expectations also involved getting the vehicle road ready. With baited breath he brought it to Tri Power Automotive in Libertyville for their professional opinion.

"It turned out the carburetor and transmission needed to be rebuilt. It wasn't catastrophic as the kid had thought," he said.

New gaskets and an exhaust system were also installed for optimal performance. "The car runs like new. Going down the highway it's quite obvious it was meant to be driven."

Shaffer is a stickler for keeping his 54,000-mile ride bone stock except for one concession. The low-option car was ordered without a tachometer or gauges.

"I want to make sure I'm hitting the correct shift points. I installed period-correct under dash gauges and a column mounted tach to avoid damaging the engine."

While some may flag him for that non-factory addition, or for regularly driving this museum-quality Pontiac, Shaffer remains unmoved. His adolescent imagination has never left him.

Whether on a long road haul or a trip around the block, he's focusing on the cheering crowds, the hustle and bustle of pit lanes and the sweet taste of victory.

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