Story and Photos by Bob Wicker
For years a friend of mine and I have discussed how we have become jaded while attending the Trans Am Nationals. A show where the rarest of the rare in the Firebird world becomes so commonplace, that when someone points out "another" super rare Trans Am, you start to look at it with that "I've seen rarer" attitude. Thus, while attending the 2010 Trans Am Nationals, we were looking to feature something different. Something that was so commonplace back in the day, that it has become rare to see one today. Thus, our featured ride is this Castilian Bronze 1970 Firebird Esprit.
For those of you too young to remember the early 70's, seeing a base Firebird or Esprit was a far more common occurance than seeing a Trans Am. It was a simple numbers game. The less expensive and less flashy cars were far more common. In 1970, there were 18,874 base Firebirds and 18,961 Esprits built. However, there were only 7,708 Formulas and 3,196 Trans Ams manufactured.
Why then do we see far more Trans Ams and Formulas at shows and on the Internet today? Simple, they are more valuable and more popular so more of them have been saved or restored and are out there in the public eye. In addition, many of the base Firebirds and Esprits that did escape the crusher have been cloned in to Formulas or Trans Ams. Or cannibalized for parts to restore those more valuable models.
Our feature car survived this fate. It has managed to remain what it always was in its 40 plus years of existence. A humble, but beautiful Firebird Esprit. This bird was ordered on February 28, 1970 and delivered to Downtown Motors of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on April 15, 1970. Its first owner was Mr. Oliver Tafel of Pittsburgh, PA. At some point, ownership of the Esprit passed to Mr. Tafel's daughter in Perrysburg, Ohio. In 1993, the Esprit was purchased by its third and current owner, Howard Lanier.
Howard bought the car when it had traveled only 67,000 miles. The car was in very original condition, but in need of some restoration. He had the trunk floor and lower rear 1/4 panels replaced to repair some rust. Some dents removed and the car was repainted in its original color of Castilian Bronze. Its unmolested, original Pontiac 350 cubic inch two bbl engine still sits up front with some minor detail work having been performed by Howard. The black deluxe interior still wears its original door panels and seat covers. Howard replaced the dash, carpet, rubber and trim. The car has been upgraded with dual exhaust. It now wears chrome Torq Thrust wheels with modern Firehawk radial rubber. The Esprit now has just over 75,000 miles.
Howard mentioned that his Esprit wasn't getting the attention that some of the "rarer" cars at the show were enjoying, so we were more than happy to feature his fine bird because we like all Pontiacs. Now his "Overlooked Esprit" is getting some of the looks that it deserves.
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