1980 Pontiac Trans Am

1980 Pontiac Trans Am

Having purchased his dream 1980 Pontiac Trans Am, Joe London began restoring the car and added a few individual touches along the way – as you do!

Words: Mike Renaut

Photography: Matt Woods


Joe London really began wanting a Pontiac Trans Am after he’d watched a certain Seventies movie, and there are no prizes for guessing which one. “Smokey and the Bandit was what influenced me to buy the car,” admits Joe. “I started searching all over, but every example I looked at was rusty and after a while I just lost heart. Then in 2003 my dad Joseph heard about a car for sale in Great Yarmouth, about 45 minutes away. It was solid, never welded, with next to no rust and, for me, total love at first sight.” The Trans Am was on axle stands because the wheels and brake pipes were removed and it had sat unused for two years, but it was only £1600. “I agreed immediately, then for the next six weeks the seller kept changing his mind.” At this point many of us would have considered giving up, but not Joe. “I really wanted the car so I phoned him again and he finally agreed to sell. I went straight over and brought it home, then was so eager to hear the V8 I drove it around some waste ground without brakes, just stopping on the parking brake.”

Having purchased his dream 1980 Pontiac Trans Am, Joe London began restoring the car and added a few individual touches along the way – as you do!


With the Trans Am repaired and with an MoT, Joe used it for a couple of years. “Everyone around knew the car and it had become a bit famous locally, but rust was starting to take hold around the rear window and the wheel arches. We wanted it mint, so Dad stripped it back to bare metal using paint stripper and elbow grease and we had an old chap locally cut out the rot then weld in new metal and lead fill-in. The nose cone paint was peeling following previous accident repair. It’s a rubberised part and difficult to strip since anything caustic could melt it, so that had to be stripped slowly by hand. We got the car into primer then my wife Tanya announced she was pregnant with my firstborn, I was also trying to renovate our cottage and Dad had become ill with cancer, which he thankfully recovered from, so the Trans Am went on the back burner.”

1980 Pontiac Trans Am

It was September of 2014 before Joe began work on his Pontiac again. “Dad had mentioned he hoped he’d have the chance to drive the Pontiac again and that gave me the reason to get it done. My parents were in Spain for a few months and Tanya, who is as big a petrolhead as I am, suggested we get the car finished as a surprise for their return. I pulled the engine out and that’s when the rebuild became a full-on nut and bolt restoration.

“I put in new suspension and Polybushed it. I’d been buying parts from Robin Gray at Autopontiac (02088 945930, www.autopontiac. co.uk) and he was giving me lots of helpful advice too since, although I work on classic cars, this was my first American vehicle. There was still no way I could do the whole thing in 12 weeks though. By the time Dad returned to the UK the car had been stripped, zinc-coated and was ready for paint. Graham Orpet from Tepro Classics (01508 528427) gave up every spare minute to assist and with Dad’s help and even my two-year-old son Joel getting involved we got it finished in 2016.”

Back in Blue

“I don’t have any previous history for the Trans Am,” continues Joe. “I know it was built in Van Nuys, California in 1979 with four-wheel disc brakes and was blue so that’s why I had it painted blue again, even though everyone I ever spoke to said paint it black. My friend Joe Webb did the paint, we rigged up a booth and I chose a slightly more vibrant blue than stock; it’s close to original but one shade nicer.” Then it was time to add a Firebird to the bonnet. “I wanted a flaming bird of prey and local tattoo artist Mick Parker spent two days airbrushing and blending in the bird with its fire background, even adding a few damaged feathers. Sadly, Mick passed away in 2021, but apparently mine was his favourite of the cars he’d worked on. Whenever I take the car to a show, I let his family know since they like to see it on display.”

1980 Pontiac Trans Am

Joe’s Trans Am retains its original power steering and power brakes, but the engine is now a 350cu in Chevy small block. “I put some performance headers on it but the previous owner had the engine rebuilt and it seemed fine so it went back in, as did the TH350 three-speed gearbox. All I did was check and clean everything, but I did fit a B&M Quick-silver-shifter. I don’t know when the 305cu in Pontiac motor it originally had was replaced.”

Being a Californian car, we suspect it would have been loaded with anti-pollution smog gear and the strangled 305 was potentially ditched early in the car’s life. We don’t even know when the car arrived in the UK. Joe reckons: “Given the number of American airbases around where I live in Suffolk, perhaps it came in with a serviceman. If anyone recognises the Trans Am I’d love to know more of its past.

Joe always had plans to hire out his Trans Am for events including school proms, so added some custom touches to make the Pontiac even more distinctive. “We redid the wiring since there was a delay in switching between dipped headlights to main beam, and I added some relays because I knew I would be fitting a few accessories such as the blue Knight Rider-style scanner on the front. I also installed a CB radio, although nowadays it’s just farmers who use them.”

Joe London really began wanting a Pontiac Trans Am after he’d watched a certain Seventies movie, and there are no prizes for guessing which one. “Smokey and the Bandit was what influenced me to buy the car,” admits Joe.

The back seat had speakers fitted and Joe wanted to fill the holes. “I found these plasma ball-style speakers that can be set up to flash blue lightning. It’s fun and kids love it when I leave it set up in the dark. The original seats were blue cloth and I really wanted them reupholstered in blue leather. I found someone to do the work so stripped down and painted the seat frames ready for him, yet after several months nothing had happened. Over a coffee I asked Robin Gray if he knew anyone who could help. Robin disappeared into his backroom and returned with a complete set of blue seats that had previously been in his 1978 Trans Am race car. They were perfect and I quickly purchased them from him. My original seats are still available if anyone needs them…”

Going for a Dip

The snowflake wheels were refurbished at Spit & Polish in Kent. “The front badge was sun bleached so I had it hydro-dipped with a carbon-fibre pattern, along with the instrument panel and the bumper grilles. Then my parents’ friend Carolyn Richardson saw some photos and suggested the name Blue Thunder, which I thought was perfect. The 1983 film of the same name about the helicopter even features a 1981 Trans Am. EPS Transfers in Halesworth made up some appropriate logos and I should also thank both Peter at Route 66 in Rochford and Car Building Solutions in Tonbridge for their assistance too.

“One of the first places I’d taken the car when I first got it on the road was the Western Country Fair and we got restored in time to attend the last event they held. That was lovely since the car got a cheer when it arrived. Lots of people locally had been waiting to see it finished.

1980 Pontiac Trans Am - interior

“I’ve since fitted a Holley electric fuel pump with a return fuel line and regulator which helped solve the vapour lock issues. I’ve also replaced the original radiator with an aluminium one. I’ll likely change the gearing since it’s currently a bit high for motorways and in future I’m also fitting a line lock.

“The big American flag attached to the CB aerial is purely for proms and parades. If I’m doing a prom, I’ll ask the kids if they want it fitted and they always say yes. I’ve also done a few weddings with the car like that too. Next, I’d love to find a Knight Rider replica Trans Am; I’ve considered a couple, but they’re always a bit too expensive. My boys Joel and Jimi are also both Smokey and the Bandit-mad, and that’s totally from my influence,” grins Joe, “the car will be theirs in time. I knew I’d never sell it, so adding modifications wasn’t a problem and they could always be removed; nothing is permanent. Over the years I’ve helped friends with their cars and got lots of assistance in return while building this. The Trans Am has become part of the family; it’s a family friend. I was excited to get the car finished, and I enjoyed every minute.”

Engine is a 350cu in Chevy small block. Inline fuel filter.

Aluminium rad was fitted. Snowflake wheels were refurbished.

T/A as a shell… … and with motor dropped in.

Trans Am is easy to get in, but boy those doors are heavy!

Relays were added.Tr ans Am is easy to get in, but boy those doors are heavy! Flying the flag for performance Pontiacs.

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