It has been a long winter, one of the longest I can remember. Normally in the nation’s Capitol, weather gets cold in the fall but doesn’t get bitter until January rolls in. By March winter is forgotten and spring is right around the corner. What this means is generally in January and February in Washington D.C. most classic cars are off the road since this is the period where salt and sand are dropped in abundance on the roads due to the snow and ice that blankets the area. By March the snow is replaced with rain which washes within a short period of time all the salt and sand off the roads, and the classic cars return to the roads after a two to three month winter sleep. However this year the snow and ice came early along with the cold temperatures, the salt and sand also stayed due to the barrage of small snow/ice storms that hit the area the last four months.
One of my classic cars, a 1982 Trans Am has been in a winter sleep for the last five months. Yes that’s right the last time it was on the road was around Halloween. The exit from my garage was originally planned this past weekend however a very slight dusting of snow this past Sunday morning put a quick damper on that idea. With a week of rain predicted and one night of clear weather, I decided to do something I have not done in a few years – take the car out for a nighttime drive. Anyone familiar with the D.C. area knows it is traffic laden – lots of people, so you have lots of cars on the road most of the time. However on Monday nights when the weather is still cold, the roads after rush hour are free and clear. I don’t know if most people are still wiped out from the previous weekend’s activities or they just had a bad case of the Mondays (pronounced “Mooondays” as first heard in the movie Office Space), but just about everyone was home and off the roads by 8:30 PM.
One quick check of the weather report and it was 44 degrees Fahrenheit (a real feel of 41 degrees), so at 8:30 PM, I pulled off the car cover popped the hood and connected back the battery terminal wires to the AC Delco battery. In the last five months I have not given this battery a maintainer charge – since I lost track of the time. So I didn’t know if it was going to start. I slid behind the wheel and the familiar new car leather seat smell was still there – seemed like a long time since I’d been behind the wheel. One turn of the key halfway and I could hear the electric fuel pump power up, and then I continued the turn and in a quick five seconds the computer-controlled twin throttle-body (Cross-Fire) fuel injection system did its job and the 5.0 liter V8 fired right up. The familiar deep rumble of the factory original dual resonator system could be heard. It started out at fast idle and the car’s computer slowly lowered the engine rpms to curb idle. I did a quick preliminary check and everything seemed to be in order; no leaks, no strange noises, and all gauges were reporting back all the correct readings. It was time to pull it out of the garage – like a jet being pulled out of the hanger I taxied the car to the runway – the street, and was soon on my way. The engine was performing flawlessly; the engine was responsive and did not lag, showing no signs it had just been released from a deep winter sleep or that the temperature was a real feel of 41 degrees.
As the journey continued, I was in a trance listening to the melodically hum of the 5.0 liter V8 – how I had missed that sound. Motor Trend magazine referred to the 5.0 liter Cross-Fire V8’s exhaust sound as being "tough as nails" back in 1982. They weren’t kidding; listening to the exhaust system will have you believing there’s over 400 horsepower under the hood. Unfortunately only 165 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque reside there but back in 1982 this was a powerful car, this was an era when anything making more than 150 horsepower was considered a real powerhouse (1982 was when the Mustang GT’s High Output 5.0 liter V8 produced 157 horsepower – here in 2011 a new 5.0 liter V8 in the Mustang GT makes 412 horsepower – oh how the times have changed). Cars like the Trans Am had one thing going for them back in 1982, they were lightweights. Only weighing a little over 3,200 lbs makes 165 horsepower go a lot further than you think, today’s muscle cars weigh as much as long gone full-size cars – as a comparison the 2011 Challenger R/T is well over 4,000 lbs. Getting back to the 1982 Cross-Fire motor the free-flow dual K&N air filters probably push the horsepower on this bone stock motor a little over 170 horsepower but who’s counting? Never-the-less acceleration was good and did not disappoint. I was easy on the throttle just enjoying the cruise around the empty two lane roads and streets. When hitting the turns, the surefootedness of the Trans Am’s WS7 handling package was apparent. This is where the Trans Am’s light weight gives the driver the feeling that this car will go with ease wherever the steering wheel is pointed. On the skidpad this equates to .83 g, which for 1982 was one the best handling cars in the world, today it still is impressive 29 years later.
About halfway through the drive, I noticed there was a little more than a half a tank of gas which did not require a fuel stop. However upon further reflection I remembered that last summer was the last time I filled up the tank. Fortunately the Stabil fuel additive had done its job keeping the fuel fresh over the long winter slumber, but I figured it was time to top off the tank with some fresh fuel. I then proceeded to a nearby Sunoco station. As I pulled up the rumble of the exhaust had a few onlookers staring at the car as it pulled into one of the fueling lanes. One guy filling up his car gave me the thumbs up sign and yelled across the way -“nice car”, which I replied with a friendly “thanks." As I filled up the tank, I looked at the car in awe at how the original factory lacquer paint job still looked good after 29 years. The paint glistened with the overhead gas station lights reflecting off of the Tran Am’s ultra-clean exterior paint surface. And seeing the sleek lines of the aerodynamic Trans Am had me thinking those Pontiac engineers were ahead of their time when they created this body style. This style in some respects looks more modern than the current crop of new muscle cars – that’s quite a feat.
It took seven gallons (about $27) of 94 octane fuel, which the 9.5:1 compression ratio 5.0 liter Cross-Fire V8 runs like a top with. By the time I fired up the engine again and proceeded to navigate back on the road all the onlookers at the gas station were gone having filled up their tanks and left. I really did not want to head back home I was in bliss driving the car; everything from the sweet sounding engine noise, the crisp handling, and smooth shifting 3-speed automatic where almost perfect. The only small dark cloud was a little fan belt noise that a few times reared its ugly head. I then proceeded home and after one hour I was back where I started in my garage at 9:30 PM.
One lift of the hood and check of the fan belt, revealed as I suspected a loose fan belt. Before the next drive I’ll tighten the tension or if needed replace the belt. I’ll also change the oil and drain/replace the coolant and perform a few other needed duties to get the Trans Am through the warm season. All-in-all it was a pretty fabulous ride and worth the five month wait. There were many people who spent their Monday, March 27, 2011 with a case of the Mooondays, however I was not one of them.
Written contents and illustrations in this article – © 2011 Pete Dunton – All Rights Reserved