Turning 30 is a big deal. Pontiac's storied Trans Am model made it to three decades in 1999 and the company decided to commemorate the occasion.
Rick Giovannini encountered part of that four-wheeled celebration at the 1999 Chicago Auto Show. "In the Pontiac booth was a massive cake," the Arlington Heights resident said.
"First & Last" Trans AmSee Rick Giovannini's 1999 Trans Am from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, June 18, at the Randhurst Village Cruise Night in Mount Prospect, where it will be paired with this rare 1969 Trans Am, the model's first production year. For details, visit dailyherald.com/events.
That wasn't the most exciting aspect of the party. The pastry was displayed next to a unique throwback tribute. "The designers had created a modern interpretation of the original 1969 Trans Am."
That original Trans Am rolled out with white paint and blue stripes. This new kid on the block received the same treatment. The motif carried into the interior of the 1999 edition, where white leather was complemented by blue stitching. The originals all received blue upholstery.
Other touches on the commemorative model were 17-inch, blue-tinted, five-spoke wheels; unique badging and a tuned suspension. A 320-horsepower, 5.7 LS1 V-8 was installed underhood and fed by Pontiac's WS6 Ram Air Induction System. Transmission options included a standard four-speed automatic or an available six-speed manual.
As a lifelong Pontiac enthusiast, Giovannini was wooed by the company's efforts. "They always built cars that had excitement. It didn't matter if it was a sports car or a sedan, they were always a blast to drive."
A few short weeks after leaving the auto show, Giovannini drove down to his local Pontiac dealership to inquire about getting his hands on one of the special models. That proved more difficult than he had thought. "Only five were coming in and all had been spoken for," Giovannini said. "One had just left for a buyer in Minnesota and another to Michigan."
After checking with other suburban dealerships and hearing similar stories, Giovannini began to get worried. General Motors Corp. was only producing 1,600 examples (coupe and convertible combined) and collectors and enthusiasts were scooping them up fast.
When hope was about gone, Giovannini received a call from a salesman in Arlington Heights, tipping him off to a coupe destined for Howard Pontiac in Elmhurst. The car had been spoken for and a deposit put down, but the buyer backed out just as the vehicle was en route to Illinois. Two days later Giovannini was told it had arrived.
"I dropped what I was doing and cabbed it down to be there. I can still remember seeing the car and taking off the plastic wrapping," he said.
After bringing the 'bird back to his house, Giovannini wanted to know more. He called the Pontiac offices in Detroit and spoke with Mark Hutchins, director of product development. "Our conversation was very informative," Giovannini said. "He provided insight into the development of the car." One key piece of information Hutchins confirmed was that this 30th anniversary special edition and a 1999 redesign was intended to be his team's final send-off for the model.
"They already knew Pontiac was winding down production on the Trans Am. This was to be their swan song."
The writing was on the wall and in 2002, GM discontinued production of the Firebird and Trans Am models. "I've always been a fan of classic muscle. This car carries on the legacy of the original Firebird Trans Am while incorporating modern muscle car touches."
Giovannini is more than careful with his milestone and works hard to preserve this special Pontiac, numbered 705 of the 1,600 made. His Trans Am has accumulated just 7,500 miles.
"I hope in 30 years from now, people will ask, 'Rick, you don't still have that Trans Am?' I plan on my answer being, 'Of course I do.' "
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