1989 Pontiac Trans Am Turbo Pace Car - SOLD
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This beautifully preserved 1989 Pontiac Trans Am Turbo Pace Car with just 1623 original miles (not a typo) is a pretty special car.

Horsepower was getting easier to find in the 1980s as the dawn of fuel injection ended the dark days of emissions and wheezing 120-horsepower V8s. The brilliant minds over at Buick got a little creative, borrowing from their successful Indy racing engine program and putting turbocharged V6s on the street. You remember those, right? The big, bad, black Buick Grand National. Unquestionably the king of the streets and formidable on any course that didn’t involve left or right turns, the badass blown Buicks were nasty right off the showroom floor and downright predatory with a few simple tweaks. But there was still that nagging problem: the engine was trapped in a flexy, boxy, mushy luxury coupe that hated changing directions and was terrible at stopping. What was a performance fan to do?

Well, the guys over at Pontiac decided to have a party for the Trans Am’s 20th birthday (and, coincidentally, they were selected to pace the 73rd Annual Indy 500 at the same time). Looking through GM’s arsenal of engines, there wasn’t much they could do that hadn’t already been done—you could already buy a GTA with a 5.7 liter L98 from the Corvette. But hey, look over there! There’s a Buick V6 with a big turbo on top just looking for a new home. Yeah, that’s the one! Add a few tweaks to make it fit in the smaller T/A engine bay (including a set of compact cylinder heads that actually made some extra horsepower), and voila! You have the fastest-accelerating Trans Am ever built.


So that’s a lot of words to get to the point, which is that this beautifully preserved 1989 Pontiac Trans Am Turbo Pace Car with just 1623 original miles (not a typo) is a pretty special car. Only 1555 were built and the guys who love these cars keep pretty close track of them. Obviously, with the turbo motor, there was some attrition at first, because few GM customers had ever driven anything this fast (and yes, it was WAY faster than the Corvette, corporate rules be damned). Of those 1555 cars, 1324 carried T-tops and leather upholstery, the only two available options on the Turbo, and that’s how this car is equipped. Preserved since new by an enthusiast who knows these cars inside and out, it’s a textbook example of the breed, fully maintained and operational, ready to enjoy or continue appreciating.

Pontiac wasn’t into wild graphics and paint jobs the way the Chevy guys were—in fact, this simple off-white Trans Am is downright sedate-looking. They were all this color, including the ones used at Indy, and the graphics on the sides and windshield—likewise pretty subtle—were shipped separately so they could be installed by the dealers. Dealers also installed the small 20th Anniversary badges on the nose and sail panels, the lone indicators that there was a celebration going on. This car is pretty much as new in every way and it’s unlikely that it has ever been wet, let alone out in the weather. GM build quality was getting better, but if you’re expecting perfection, well, you either weren’t alive in 1989 or you’re going to be disappointed. Looking at the photos, you’ll note there are two or three different colors of white on the bodywork—plastic parts were manufactured and painted in a different facility by a different company, then assembled onto the car by Performance Automotive Systems (PAS). So don’t E-mail me telling me you’re just sure this car has been repainted or the nose has been replaced because it doesn’t match—they’re all like that and it’s 100% normal. Calm down.

So it’s beautifully preserved outside, what about inside? Well, the leather seats are pretty much as new, supportive and comfortable with uncreased leather. It’s actually quite appealing and settling into those body-hugging bucket seats feels like going home if you’re of a certain age. As I mentioned, the leather and T-tops were the only options, everything else was standard, including power windows, locks, and mirrors, A/C, and cruise control. While you could get a CD player in other Trans Ams, the only radio available here was an AM/FM/cassette unit with a graphic equalizer—pure 1980s cool! The gauges were familiar GTA pieces, too, although the tach had sprouted a smaller boost gauge in its center to monitor the turbocharged engine. The dash and console are covered in a graph-paper look fascia that’s probably more appealing that some kind of fake wood might be and helps with the high-tech vibe Pontiac was aiming for in 1989. Everything works, the A/C is cold, and we’re probably the first ones to ever remove the T-tops (done just for photos). Floor mats, carpets, door panels, and the shifter boot are all like new and that split back seat was unique to the Turbos and “notchback” Trans Ams (remember those?). Control movements are crisp in a way that you’ve forgotten over the years because every other F-body is worn out and for its age, the driving position and visibility are excellent. Kind of nice to be in a car that isn’t filled with airbags and crash beams because it sure opens up a lot more space! The trunk is also like new and includes the original T-top bags that have never been used.

The heart of the beast is a Buick-based 3.8 liter turbocharged V6. Yes, it can directly trace its lineage to the Buick Grand National, but with a few years of tech and knowledge, they were able to improve it quite a bit. The aforementioned cylinder heads were needed for clearance at the firewall but it turns out they breathe better when subjected to boost and more power was the result. It also got a rifle-drilled crank, an upgraded intercooler from the butch GNX, and a baffled fuel tank out back because, after all, this was a car that could go around corners. The result was one heck of a powerplant. GM rated it at 250 horsepower and 345 pounds of torque, but everyone knew those were bogus figures designed to keep the lowly Pontiac under the Corvette. Hell, the Grand National was rated at 245 horsepower at 12 pounds of boost and the Poncho was making 16.5! The real number was probably something closer to 305 horsepower, a figure subsequently confirmed by test engineers and real-world performance data. This sucker is wicked fast, even today.

We haven’t leaned on this engine, and I doubt anyone ever has. There’s a pleasant swell of torque at any speed and I would expect that if you flattened the throttle, things would start to happen in a very big way. The 2004R 4-speed automatic overdrive transmission was specially calibrated and beefed up for duty in the Turbo, and it’s always ready with a quick downshift or two to get that turbo on full boil in an instant; few cars are quicker on the roll. The upgraded suspension and brakes that were part of the Trans Am make the power totally accessible, just stomp and steer and the Turbo does what you want it to. Remarkably, the Turbo was the first Indy Pace Car that didn’t need mechanical upgrades for pace car duty, although they did remove the A/C and add a light bar. You’ll note that the undercarriage on this car is completely unmarked and in as-delivered condition, right down to the exhaust system and even the paper decals on the driveshaft and rear end housing, which has easy-cruising 3.27 gears inside. The highest praise we can give a car is that it is like new, and this car certainly qualifies. Even the 245/50/16 Goodyear Gatorback tires are those that were originally installed in 1989!

These are well documented cars and this one has its papers in order. The original books, manuals, and special Pace Car book are included, as are some promotional photos from the race and even a pair of ticket stubs from the 73rd Indy 500. We also have the window sticker and build sheet, as well as various papers from Pontiac Historical Services. It also has the original front license plate bracket still in the original bag and never installed. Nice!

Pontiac’s gone, but that likely made the truly special Pontiacs that much more desirable. The awesome 1989 Turbo Trans Am stands as a one-off achievement that was never repeated. With limited edition cachet, a pedigree that includes the Indy 500, a big anniversary celebration, and brute power, it’s one of the best possible combinations for future collectability. Many were put away for posterity, but they don’t come up for sale very often, so take advantage of this chance to own a like-new example of perhaps Pontiac’s greatest pony car. Call today!

Vehicle: 1989 Pontiac Trans Am Turbo Pace Car
Price: SOLD
Stock Number: 114081
Mileage: 1623 (actual)
VIN: 1G5FW217XKL244876
Engine: 3.8 liter turbocharged V6
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Gear Ratio: 3.27
Wheelbase: 101 inches
Wheels: 16x8 aluminm wheels
Tires: 245/50/16 Goodyear radial
Exterior Color: White
Interior Color: Tan leather
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