How are late 2nd gen T/As for daily driving? - LS1TECH - Camaro and Firebird Forum Discussion



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How are late 2nd gen T/As for daily driving?

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Old 10-10-2017, 07:51 PM   #1
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Default How are late 2nd gen T/As for daily driving?

For some strange reason I have an urge to add a 78-79 Trans Am to my garage. I'm mostly interested in these years because they are the last years of 6.6L (unless what I've read is wrong) and I like the front end better than earlier models. So does anyone daily drive any late 2nd gen Firebirds? If so could you please answer:

1. How they ride/handle on the street.
2. Reliability. I know it's an old car and lots can go wrong but generally speaking. Things like transmissions blowing out at 20k miles, 10 bolt breaking, power windows failing, ect.
3. How difficult is it to find parts?
4. Does A/C work well? The older car I've had is an 88 Mustang and the A/C wasn't good, but wasn't bad either.

This won't be a 100% daily car but probably 1-3 times a week I'll drive it. I'm looking for a cruiser and have no plans to see a track. I've been reading up on http://www.firebirdnation.com but would rather some info come from a different crowd.
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Old 10-10-2017, 11:03 PM   #2
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My dad recently purchased a 79 TA (Y84/WS6) as a weekend car, so I can't exactly speak how they are in the way of long-term reliability, as hes only had the car about a month.

The ride in the car is surprisingly smooth/floaty but in a good way, granted i'm use to driving my koni/bmr bird, but the ride wouldn't be a concern to me in daily terms. I haven't really taken enough corners in the car to confidently describe the handling, but it's not terrible, def wont be canyon carving on stock suspension.

When he bought the car the AC needed to be recharged, and apparently it is impossible to find the R12? refrigerant the car needs, so he has a conversion kit on there and while it does blow cold, I don't see it being enough to efficiently cool the car down on a really hot day if the car has been sitting in the sun. I wouldn't say its necessarily bad, but its not good either.

If the car won't 100% be your daily I say go for it. Especially if you're just looking for a cruiser that won't see the track. Honestly when you drive it you just feel like a total bad ***, they're one of those cars where there is just something about it. Each time I have taken the car out I'll get at least 2 compliments and countless thumbs up and people staring and smiling. Hope this helps!

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Old 10-11-2017, 12:16 AM   #3
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1. How they ride/handle on the street.
A- Crappy by modern standards, great for 1978. Can be made better.

2. Reliability. I know it's an old car and lots can go wrong but generally speaking. Things like transmissions blowing out at 20k miles, 10 bolt breaking, power windows failing, ect.
A-Bullet proof. Carbs and distributors starts every time

3. How difficult is it to find parts?
A-Tons of parts available

4. Does A/C work well?
A- No it sucks
ALSO the 6.6 could be 400 pontiac or a 403 oldsmobile if it matters to you.

FYI 77-78 had cat eyes. 79-81 had the four square headlights
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Old 10-11-2017, 06:29 AM   #4
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As mentioned above, there is significant front end styling difference between a '78 and a '79, so I would not group them together unless you have no preference between the two.

Hard to really discuss reliability since these cars are so old and each example will be in a different state of restoration/modification/originality/disrepair/neglect at this point; even two examples which "appear" to be in similar condition could be a world apart in terms of reliability. Poorly executed modifications and/or repairs might be hard to spot or diagnose in some cases if you're not familiar with the older tech (such as carbs and distributors.) A stock example might be easier to assess but, unless maintenance and storage conditions have been impeccable, one that's truly assembly-line original will certainly have some issues at this age if it's put into regular service.

Even if the drivetrain seems solid and the car seems generally well cared for, there is still the matter of the rest of the car (such as cooling system - radiators and heater cores are frequently an issue at this age), the A/C system is often not fully intact (many were partially removed when they failed), various power accessories and gauges may or may not work properly or consistently, and things such as brake and fuel lines will need to be inspected as they are often the victims of neglect and age related failure even if the rest of the car is nice.

The above is just some stuff to be prepared for, not meant to discourage. I personally feel that these older cars are fun to have in one's collection, but they can be a bit of a shock to the system for those who are used to more modern vehicles. The drivetrain of these V8 2nd gens is pretty durable (and serviceable/sustainable) tech, assuming it's well maintained. Not sure what exact options you're looking for, or if your ideal candidate would be totally stock, but the TH350 transmissions and the bigger 8.5" 10-bolts of that era are pretty tough pieces when fresh (though I am no expert on the manual transmissions of that era....would it be a Super T10?)
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Old 10-12-2017, 09:58 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by CoreyD View Post
My dad recently purchased a 79 TA (Y84/WS6) as a weekend car, so I can't exactly speak how they are in the way of long-term reliability, as hes only had the car about a month.

The ride in the car is surprisingly smooth/floaty but in a good way, granted i'm use to driving my koni/bmr bird, but the ride wouldn't be a concern to me in daily terms. I haven't really taken enough corners in the car to confidently describe the handling, but it's not terrible, def wont be canyon carving on stock suspension.

When he bought the car the AC needed to be recharged, and apparently it is impossible to find the R12? refrigerant the car needs, so he has a conversion kit on there and while it does blow cold, I don't see it being enough to efficiently cool the car down on a really hot day if the car has been sitting in the sun. I wouldn't say its necessarily bad, but its not good either.

If the car won't 100% be your daily I say go for it. Especially if you're just looking for a cruiser that won't see the track. Honestly when you drive it you just feel like a total bad ***, they're one of those cars where there is just something about it. Each time I have taken the car out I'll get at least 2 compliments and countless thumbs up and people staring and smiling. Hope this helps!
Nice car! I saw leaf springs on the rear and it made me question the ride. Every day I drive a few miles over a washboard road and drives me crazy lol. Hopefully the county fixes the road soon.

Has your dad tried looking for any random parts, and if so does it seem difficult finding any?

Y84, that's a code for black and gold T/As right? Is the car auto or manual and how did it seem to shift? I'm leaning towards a manual but since I sometimes get stuck in rush hour traffic it would be nice to have an auto. My Mustang had a cable clutch and it got old after a while creeping in traffic.

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ALSO the 6.6 could be 400 pontiac or a 403 oldsmobile if it matters to you.

FYI 77-78 had cat eyes. 79-81 had the four square headlights
I'd prefer the 400 as they have more power, or at least they're rated higher.

I've seen lots of 78s with four square headlights and figured Pontiac did a mid-year change. I'm guessing someone swapped front ends?

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As mentioned above, there is significant front end styling difference between a '78 and a '79, so I would not group them together unless you have no preference between the two.

Hard to really discuss reliability since these cars are so old and each example will be in a different state of restoration/modification/originality/disrepair/neglect at this point; even two examples which "appear" to be in similar condition could be a world apart in terms of reliability. Poorly executed modifications and/or repairs might be hard to spot or diagnose in some cases if you're not familiar with the older tech (such as carbs and distributors.) A stock example might be easier to assess but, unless maintenance and storage conditions have been impeccable, one that's truly assembly-line original will certainly have some issues at this age if it's put into regular service.

Even if the drivetrain seems solid and the car seems generally well cared for, there is still the matter of the rest of the car (such as cooling system - radiators and heater cores are frequently an issue at this age), the A/C system is often not fully intact (many were partially removed when they failed), various power accessories and gauges may or may not work properly or consistently, and things such as brake and fuel lines will need to be inspected as they are often the victims of neglect and age related failure even if the rest of the car is nice.

The above is just some stuff to be prepared for, not meant to discourage. I personally feel that these older cars are fun to have in one's collection, but they can be a bit of a shock to the system for those who are used to more modern vehicles. The drivetrain of these V8 2nd gens is pretty durable (and serviceable/sustainable) tech, assuming it's well maintained. Not sure what exact options you're looking for, or if your ideal candidate would be totally stock, but the TH350 transmissions and the bigger 8.5" 10-bolts of that era are pretty tough pieces when fresh (though I am no expert on the manual transmissions of that era....would it be a Super T10?)
The ones I'm looking at are around the low $20k mark have 30-70k miles which would make me believe most of the car is stock. However there are plenty of 100k+ mile cars for the same price so I understand what you mean by different restore/maintain phases. Both age and mileage wear down vehicles so I'm trying to look at how well the body is taken care of in hopes of finding a T/A that has been well taken care of.

All my vehicles have been fuel injected so carbs are very new to me. But I'm sure after researching and asking for help carbs won't be a problem.


Thanks everyone for the info and assistance!
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Old 10-13-2017, 02:21 AM   #6
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Nice car! I saw leaf springs on the rear and it made me question the ride. Every day I drive a few miles over a washboard road and drives me crazy lol. Hopefully the county fixes the road soon.
Leaf springs don't ride as nice as coils or torsion bars, but they aren't too bad until/unless you add traction bars. Mono-leafs ride nicer than multi-leaf in my experience, but multi-leafs are more durable.

My '71 has multi-leaf and traction bars, and it's almost like having solid rubber tires going over train tracks and other harsh road surfaces. Have you ever driven a forklift over less-than-smooth surfaces? That's sort of how it feels to have multi-leafs + traction bars. Probably would start to bother me for a daily driver, but it's really no big deal for a weekend toy.

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I'd prefer the 400 as they have more power, or at least they're rated higher.
I believe you could only get the Pontiac 400ci in a manual trans car for '79, though in '78 I think you could still get it with an auto.

The Olds 403 is more of a "cruiser" engine, not really spec'ed for high performance (though an Olds 455 could be swapped in for much better performance, and those engines are usually easier to come by and cheaper than Pontiac 455s - only caveat is that the Olds 455 has a taller deck height than the 403, so hood clearance would need to be checked.) The W72 400ci was a much better performance engine in stock form.

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I've seen lots of 78s with four square headlights and figured Pontiac did a mid-year change. I'm guessing someone swapped front ends?
'77-'78 have the same front clip; they both have 4 square headlights, grouped in pairs and integrated into the grille. '79 was a new front clip design (continued through 1981), they still used 4 square headlights but they were removed from the grille and individually recessed into the bumper cover.

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The ones I'm looking at are around the low $20k mark have 30-70k miles which would make me believe most of the car is stock. However there are plenty of 100k+ mile cars for the same price so I understand what you mean by different restore/maintain phases. Both age and mileage wear down vehicles so I'm trying to look at how well the body is taken care of in hopes of finding a T/A that has been well taken care of.

All my vehicles have been fuel injected so carbs are very new to me. But I'm sure after researching and asking for help carbs won't be a problem.
As these cars are ~40 years old, very few are still truly original. Those super low mile collector grade cars could be, but at ~70k miles they've probably needed some parts to be replaced over the years. You may encounter situations where the original carb was replaced instead of rebuilt - even if they went with another Q-jet (rather than swapping to a Holley or Edelbrock), it could be a universal fit version that just doesn't operate quite as well, etc. Same could be true of transmission rebuilds that might have used a core with a different governor, thus changing the shift pattern to something less optimal. Such are common on cars of this age, especially if they have been through many owners over the decades. Just little things to look for that you may end up having to trouble shoot later as you get familiar with the car and find quirks you might want to fix.

Q-jet carbs are perfectly fine for stock engines, great driveability when properly functioning and tuned, but they are complicated to modify and much less user friendly when paired with radical engines as compared to something like a Holley. And the smog-era Q-jets have even less tolerance for modified engines. The stock HEI distributors of that era sometimes need cleaning/lubing from years of gunk/rust (which can cause a sticking advance mechanism), and their advance curve and vacuum advance solenoid won't be ideal if you want to modify the engine. All these things need to be tuned for modifications just like a late model car, except in this case you'll need a timing light, vacuum gauge, a variety of hand tools, carb parts, and distributor kits rather than software and a laptop.

All this older tech can be made to work just fine, especially if you plan to keep the car stock, but neglect/age/general wear and tear often lead folks to think that it's all just junk that never works right. It's all very basic and can be very reliable when setup correctly with fresh/refreshed parts.
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Old 10-13-2017, 08:41 AM   #7
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I frequently drive my 68 Suburban to work, nearly 40 miles each way. Often for weeks straight during the spring and summer. I've never had any issues. But I do have to pay attention with 4 wheel drum brakes, they just dont stop like modern cars so have to be careful. AC can't keep up on the hot hot days, but it still needs some work.

Remember, people drove all of these cars every day when they were new. As long as it's in good shape no worries. Mine was partially restored and has low miles so I've been OK.

Edit - Actually a shock mount came off on the highway. Managed to get the shock off at work and drove it on three shocks for a few days. No issues doing so but I guess I did have that one problem. Didn't leave me stranded though.
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Old 10-13-2017, 03:02 PM   #8
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But I do have to pay attention with 4 wheel drum brakes, they just dont stop like modern cars so have to be careful.
My '71 has drums (power) all-around as well. I've replaced everything (drums/shoes/hardware/master/booster/wheel cylinders), and the rubber and most hard lines are also new/newer. With modern lining material and all fresh parts, the stopping power of these drums is actually pretty great, though this car is MUCH lighter than a Suburban. However, repeated max effort stops will certainly overheat the brakes exponentially quicker than with discs, and completely eliminating pull seems to be nearly impossible (requiring lots of sanding and break-in time to get even contact patches from both shoes on both sides after replacement.)

Regardless, the T/As that the OP is considering wouldn't have front drums, so not much of a concern for him there.

Having said that, the lack of ABS is probably the biggest difference that one must get used to in preparation for any sort of emergency braking, and that would apply to both disc and drum for this era of car. Assuming all parts are fresh/working properly, normal stopping will feel pretty much the same with an old disc/drum combo or early disc/disc combo as it would with a modern car, but in severe situations you will certainly notice a difference.
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Old 10-14-2017, 03:36 PM   #9
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Like any other car, if it is well maintained, it is dependable. I own a few now plus others in the past. The 10 bolt of these years is pretty tough. AC works ok if all is in good shape. The ride and suspension is archaic for todays technology but, remember it was designed in the mid 1960's and showed up in 1970. It was the shiz-nit for the day but, better stuff for it now. The Q Jet is a good carb when working correctly. When parts start to wear on them, forget it. Most don't or didn't know how to work on them so, they were given a bad rap. If you are looking for an original 2nd gen, you'll pay for it. If your plan is to upgrade to a modern platform, look for one in reasonable shape that will cost less than an all original.
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Old 10-16-2017, 10:01 PM   #10
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Nice car! I saw leaf springs on the rear and it made me question the ride. Every day I drive a few miles over a washboard road and drives me crazy lol. Hopefully the county fixes the road soon.

Has your dad tried looking for any random parts, and if so does it seem difficult finding any?

Y84, that's a code for black and gold T/As right? Is the car auto or manual and how did it seem to shift? I'm leaning towards a manual but since I sometimes get stuck in rush hour traffic it would be nice to have an auto. My Mustang had a cable clutch and it got old after a while creeping in traffic.
Only bought a couple random parts like the intake hose and seat belt guides. They were found pretty easily and cheap.

Y84 is the code for the special ediiton yes (black and gold/smokey and the bandit). It's an auto car seems to shift pretty normally. No clunking or hard shifts.
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Old 11-05-2017, 11:44 AM   #11
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I know I am late to this topic but you might find some info useful.

I have a '77 T/A, which I bought back in '92 from the original owner, so the car was mostly stock and well cared for. I have since then restored much of the car and learned quite a bit about them.

Handling by today's standards is decent but there are so many aftermarket products out there for 2nd gen T/A's that you can easily build a road course car.

A/C was ok when it was working. Those cars did not have a heater valve and would constantly flow coolant into the heater core, regardless of where the temp dial was placed. So through natural convection, the interior of the car heats up some...especially by the driver and front passenger feet. I have placed a heater valve and it closes when on Max cooling. I've also been considering to place a thermal shield on the HVAC case under the hood, like many modern vehicles have. I have had no problems finding R12.

Pontiac motors tend to run a bit hot, so heat soak can be a problem when restarting the car after a long drive. This is especially true if you have headers but then again, that is an issue with many other vehicles too.

Just about all of the motors after 1973 were smogged out but are all capable of making double their stock power. The coveted Pontiac 455 is getting harder to find but you can now buy a stroker crank and get a nice 461. Post 1975 400 blocks should not be taken north of 500 HP.

Generally speaking, it is a fun car to drive with a super cool factor. I could not bring myself to LS swap my T/A...I consider it somewhat blasphemous! LOL!! Although I had no problem swapping an LS2 in my '87 Monte SS.

Hope this helps.
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Old 11-05-2017, 05:05 PM   #12
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A friend of mine had a 1980 (with the Chevy 5.0L engine). Spent quite a bit of time riding around in it. Ride was surprising smooth and comfortable (typical '70s floaty feel, but firmer, quite nice). Steering was good, brakes ok (much better than my old Grand National). Seats were comfortable, but offered almost no lateral support, and only limited adjustability. Doors are long and heavy, and you have to slam them closed. Amazing headroom, compared to modern cars (he is 6' 4" and fit comfortably with a couple inches to spare. The car had T-tops). Tiny, practically useless trunk. Engine compartment (particularly with the 5.0L) was huge, and the engine was thereby easy to work on. Acceleration was to be expected with the small engine (far from a rocket ship). Very little in the way of interior storage. Gas mileage was poor (low teens combined). Poor headlights (typical of the era). Cruised happily at 80mph or slightly above that. For a daily driver, I wouldn't, because I would spend all my time worrying about it being vandalized or stolen. Particularly if it was a nice example, which are rising rapidly in price right now.
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Old 11-07-2017, 02:30 AM   #13
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I daily drove my brothers old 79 T/A for about a week back 10 some odd years ago back when G.W. Bush was in office and gas spiked like crazy freaking high 4-5 dollars (like during the week I was driving it), being that it was getting around 13-15 MPG I remember the gas prices quite well, before I would daily drive anything that old I would give it a once over, service the brakes, replace any and all rubber parts in the suspension and the ball joints, because you can be damn sure that stuff is probably dry rotted by now, wouldn't hurt to do new shocks, they aren't horribly expensive. even that car was a pretty good ride and never left me stranded once despite being an overall pile of crap with a bunch of rust spots, the big issues for that specific car where the door seals and t-tops seals where fairly well shot (I could stick my finger between the seal and the glass in some spots so it had massive wind noise and all that stuff, basically give it basic maintenance and replace EVERYTHING rubber and it should be good to go, just don't expect it to corner like a modern car.
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Old 11-07-2017, 04:38 PM   #14
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u can’t buy happiness but u can buy A Pontiac that’s pretty much the same thing
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Old 11-08-2017, 03:14 AM   #15
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Looks like a '73 and a '74....beautiful cars, abbas461.
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