The Bird is the word…

33rd Annual Trans Am Nationals celebrate the Pontiac Firebird/Trans Am

Trans Am on display; photo: Debby Manning

By Matt Clevenger

What do James Garner, John Wayne, and Burt Reynolds all have in common? At one time or another, they have all shared the silver screen with another great American icon: the Pontiac Firebird/Trans Am.

“There were several different models that they put out,” says Jerry Minor, president of the Trans Am Club of America’s Dayton Chapter. “Typically, you would think of the basic Firebird; there was a formula Firebird, which was a step up from that, and then the Trans Am, which was basically the top of the line for the Firebird.”

Examples of these classic cars will be on display August 25-27, as the annual Trans Am Nationals return to the Holiday Inn in Fairborn. Sponsored by the national club’s Dayton chapter, this Firebird-filled weekend features activities, guest speakers, charity auctions, a cruise-in to Tipp City, and a giant car show with more than 350 classic Firebirds and Trans Ams on display.

“This will be our 33rd year,” Minor says of the Trans Am Nationals. “Basically, it’s a car show that features the Pontiac Firebird line. We have seminars; we typically have some retired GM people who come in, and there’s a gentleman who comes from the Pontiac museum in Pontiac, Illinois.”

“We have a cruise to Tipp City, Ohio that we do on Saturday evening,” Minor says. “We’ve done that for 20 years. We go up to Tipp City, and there’s typically about 250 cars to show up there.”

Registration for the car show is open until Sunday morning, and the family-friendly event is free for spectators to attend. “Registration is open all weekend long for people that wait until the very last minute,” Minor says. “They can register up until Sunday morning around 10 o’clock, then we close things off because the judges have to finish up and get prepared for the awards ceremony later that day.”

“It’s free for spectators,” Minor says. “We have parking that is just across the street, which is free parking.”

Pontiac produced the Firebird line from 1967 until 2002, with many different models and variations over the years. Minor says, “The Trans Am itself actually didn’t start until 1969, that was when the first Trans Am was built.

“We’re actually celebrating this year. It’s the 50th anniversary of the Firebird, since it was in ’67. It’s the 40th anniversary of the Smoky and the Bandit Trans AM, which was done in ‘77, the first movie, and then there was also a model called the GTA, which was done in ‘87, so it’s the 30th anniversary of the GTA.”

All classes of Firebirds and Trans Ams will be included in the car show, ranging from stock factory models to highly modified custom vehicles. Reproductions of several well-known movie cars will also be on display.

“It’s definitely Smoky and the Bandit,” Minor says when asked which movie Firebird or Trans Am is the most famous. “The largest production year for the Firebird was actually in ‘79, and that was after the second movie. But the first one in ‘77 really brought the focus on Trans Ams.”

“On the Rockford Files, if you remember that show, there was a Firebird Espirit that James Garner drove,” Minor says. “John Wayne, he crunched his big ol’ body up into a 1973 brewster green Firebird; it was featured in the movie McQ.”

Minor actually owns a replica of the McQ car, which will be on display during the nationals. “I have a 1973 Trans Am,” he says. “I’ve had mine for over 20 years; I actually bought it out in Illinois many, many years ago and brought it back here to Ohio. I’ve been tinkering with it ever since.”

“It’s not too bad to find restoration parts,”

Minor says. “There are a lot of restoration parts out there for the muscle car era in general. It’s a little harder if you’re looking for an original part, if you want to stay completely original, but there are a lot of restoration parts suppliers out there.”

The Dayton chapter of the Trans Am Club of America, which sponsors the Trans Am Nationals, was first incorporated back in 1981. The nationals themselves have been running annually for 33 years.

“This is our main event,” Minor says. “We do other little things, but we actually don’t sponsor any other shows. So we kind of live for this one; we have club meetings every other month in Dayton, but we’re particularly focused on this show.”

“There’s no one major sponsor,” Minor says of the event. “We’ve got a lot of sponsors, and then we have vendors and some of those vendors actually sponsor the show as well.”

“It’s a great time, and it’s really a family-oriented show,” he says. “We have security and everything for the cars overnight. It’s a good time. It’s almost like a reunion for a lot of us, but we also have new people that come. It’s just a great weekend.”

The 33rd annual Trans Am Nationals will be held August 25-27 at the Holiday Inn, 2800 Presidential Drive in Fairborn. Car show registration is open until Sunday morning; admission is free for spectators. More information can be found online at 78ta.com.

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Matthew Clevenger
Reach DCP freelance writer Matt Clevenger at MattClevenger@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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