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We Spend Time at the 35th Annual Trans Am Nationals
It’s no secret that our staff is some the most passionate car people in the industry. We love cars of all stripes, but there’s a few of us who really love Firebirds and Trans Ams. We’ve had several Firebird project cars in our AutoCentric Media stables over the last few years, and at least to your author, is one of our favorite cars of all time.
So in August of every year, we make it a point to visit the Trans Am Nationals in Fairborn, Ohio. It’s a show that’s open to all Pontiac Firebirds built between 1967-2002. There’s a weekend-long car show, drag racing event on Thursday, and a cruise to nearby Tipp City on Saturday, where roughly 500 Firebirds converge on a small town that resembles Mayberry.
The main show is held at the Holiday Inn hotel in Fairborn, while the drag racing event is hosted at Kil-Kare Raceway in Xenia, Ohio. The drag racing is merely for fun, for those who want to participate. The show at the hotel is judged, however, where there are several classes for each generation and segments of the cars.
For 2019, it was set up slightly differently, as the emphasis was on all of the Anniversary Edition Trans Ams. Considering it was the 35th-annual show, as well as being a year that ended in “9′ — the first year for the Trans Am was 1969 — it ended up being one of the highest attendance the show has seen in a long time. A total of 485 cars were registered, and these were some of the most beautiful examples of these cars from all over the country.
Tech Line, Registration and Car Wash Area
With over 485 Firebirds coming through the gate, it was a welcome surprise to see such a well-organized vent. Typically, when there’s a show just catering to a particular model of car, it’s usually just a bunch of guys (and gals) hanging out, shooting the breeze, without any rhyme or reason to it. Not so with the Trans Am Nationals.
With nearly four decades beneath their belts, the show organizers ensure a fun, safe and family-friendly atmosphere for all those that attend. There’s 24-hour security on the premises, and everyone who attends are fellow car guys, so there’s no real risk of anyone damaging, leaning on, or generally being disrespectful to the cars. In fact, the show is so accommodating, that tech lines are swift, to the point, friendly and professional, and there’s even a spot dedicated to those who want or need to wash their cars before they enter the show — you don’t see that often!
Registration is around $50 to enter every year, and the tech sheet is easy to complete. Registration staff are all Firebird owners themselves, so they know exactly what they’re looking at with each car, as to not put you in a class that’s not applicable for your particular vehicle.
Oh, and for the last few years, they’ve added a work-in-progress/daily-driver class. So even if your car isn’t looking showroom fresh, there’s certainly a place for your car in the show — a welcome addition to those who just want to participate without feeling they’re being overlooked, or that their car “isn’t nice enough.”
1989 Turbo Trans Am Reunion
The 35th Annual Trans Am Nationals also hosted a celebration of the ’89 Turbo Trans Am (TTA) — which in itself, celebrated thirty years since it was produced. Some of the finest examples in the country attended, a total of 30, not including the example that’s been in the GM Heritage Collection for many years — more on that in a minute.
Put together by Chad Dickey, it was simply amazing to get so many of the ’89 TTAs in one place, which helped push the overall show attendance to a level it hasn’t seen in over a decade. While we were in town, we coordinated with Chad, as well as other attending automotive media folk, and coordinated a shoot featuring all of the cars that attended in one spot. Twenty-nine cars turned up, with two from the show missing out, but overall, it was a great time.
An absolute can’t-miss of the event was the unveiling of the 1978 Trans Am “Silverbird” race car that was on display throughout the weekend. Originally raced in the late ’70s and early ’80s, it was built and campaigned by Herb Adams and VSE, and was a staple on the road courses all over North America back then. The paint scheme was designed by John Schinella, which was lent heavily to the ’79 10th-Anniversary Trans Am for the following model year.
The point of the unveil, however, was that it was freshly restored with most of the original team behind it. Herb, his two sons, John Schinella, the Hallers, and Bill Davis, all of whom have either contributed to building the car originally, or helped in its recreation, were onhand all weekend. They even autographed an original quarter panel, and gave it away to one lucky winner at the show. The plan of the car is an in-depth article in Road and Track (who featured the car back in the day), and a return to the track by its new owner. Seeing the car in person was certainly surreal, and we hope we get a chance to see it again, soon.
Swap Meet/Vendors Area
No matter what you needed, what you were into or what you were looking for; the swap meet and vendors area brought a lot of interest in the adjacent parking lot. Whether you wee looking for a finished cruiser, a new project car, needed engine component or trim pieces, or just wanted to add to your die-cast or memorabilia collection, there was something for everyone.
Several vendors were in attendance, too, including Firebird Central, Ames Performance, Restore a Muscle Car, Pro-Touring F-body, as well as a few others. They were mainly first- and second-generation focused, but there were plenty of used goodies there if you needed something for your third- or fourth-gen Firebird.
GM Heritage Center Vehicles
A great and surprising welcome to the event, was a few of the more noteworthy Firebirds from the GM Heritage Center. It included an early ’89 Turbo Trans Am, the 1971 Pontiac Pegasus Concept, the ’78 Trans Am Type K (for Kammback, with a ’79 styling update) and the ’78 Banshee Concept. All of which drew a crowd during the weekend.
Tipp City Cruise-In
An annual part of the show for over two decades, the Tipp City Cruise-In is always held on Saturday evening. It’s a perfect mix of random local Firebirds from the area, as well as a substantial portion of the cars you see at the actual show all weekend. The atmosphere is chill, very laid back and reminds you of Mayberry, as we’ve mentioned earlier.
The locals are always warm and welcoming, and very accommodating. There are food stands and restaurants available, and the cruise-in is something of a judged car show in and of itself. While the show at the hotel is more category-based, the cars at Tipp City aren’t organized in any particular order, so you see different years and generations of Firebird mixed in together. So if you’re a biased ‘Bird guy, you’ll have to walk the entire show to really see the cars you prefer. It’s a great setup, and it’s always a great time. Admission is free, but we suggest getting there as soon as possible. We took Project Redrum to the event, and we were literally one of the very last cars to be able to park in the show area.
Bill Owen Seminar
The man largely responsive for a lot of the tech that went into the Turbo Buicks, as well as help create the LC2-powered ’89 Turbo Trans Am, stopped by to give a seminar on the hostly of the engine, the car, as well as the development that went into them both. There is info out there available, but it certainly was great to get the info directly from Bill.
Herb Adams, John Schinella, Davis Seminar
The crew behind the Trans Am racing endeavors, and the Silverbird race car, were on hand answering questions, and lending insight during their seminar on Saturday. The speaking engagement last just over an hour and delved deep into what it was like developing the 2nd-generation Firebird, the R&D that went into its suspension design and what it took to make the car competitive for the era.
And finally, inside the hotel, in a conference room at the back of the hotel, was a displayed partial collection of die-cast and model Firebirds by a private owner — who wanted to let the kids, of all ages, take a quick gander at some of the jewels of his collection. You have to remember, these guys really love their Firebirds, and take their collecting to levels most of us wouldn’t want to admit.
Rick Seitz is the owner and founder of GMEFI Magazine, and has a true love and passion for all vehicles. When he isn’t tuning, testing, or competing with the brand’s current crop of project vehicles, he’s busy tinkering and planning the next modifications for his own cars.