- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 1, 2004

Pontiac’s romping, stomping Trans Am models had been around throughout the 1970s but Rick Mayhew never noticed any of them. “I was a kid,” is the alibi he uses.

Mr. Mayhew grew up as an Army brat and remembers an epiphany when he was 13 years old. “My mother dropped off my brother, Bob, and me at a movie theater outside Fort Hood, Texas, where my father was stationed,” he says.

The movie was “Smokey and the Bandit,” starring Burt Reynolds, Sally Field and Jackie Gleason. When young Mr. Mayhew emerged from the theater that day in 1977, his life was forever altered.

He digested all sorts of Trans Am minutia before eventually settling on the “Special Edition” Trans Am model for 1979 that has become known as “The Bandit.” He decided that his future car would also have to be equipped with a 400-cubic-inch V-8 engine mated to a four-speed manual transmission.

He saved a bit out of each of his federal government pay checks until 1997 when he figured that he had enough cash to be a player and the search began in ernest.

During the next three years he checked out likely Pontiacs in New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, Georgia, Illinois and Tennessee plus a lot of local cars. Each one of them was saddled with a deal-killer.

In November 2000 the relentless pursuit took Mr. Mayhew to Bethesda to inspect prospective candidate No. 28. The owner didn’t have a garage, a carport or even a driveway. The Pontiac was parked on the street under a cover.

Mr. Mayhew wasn’t expecting much at the unveiling, but “when he pulled the cover off, I knew this was it,” he says. He quickly became the fifth owner.

Records show the Trans Am left the Norwalk, Ohio, factory and was transported to Jim Fresard Pontiac in Royal Oak, Mich., with a window sticker price of $9,203.55 Pushing the price up that high were the following options:

• SpecialEdition T/A.$1,329.

• Custom air conditioner.529.

• Performance package.250.

• AM/FM stereo radio…236.

• Custom trim velour….150.

• Rear-window defroster..99.

• 6.6-liter V-8 engine……90.

• Soft Ray glass………..64.

• Body side molding……43.

• Color-key seat belts…..23.

While the first two owner remain mystery figures, Mr. Mayhew has learned the identity of the third and fourth owners. Recorded maintenance records begin with the third owner in Massachusetts. He had the engine rebuilt at 99,000 miles.

“Cosmetically, it was about perfect,” Mr. Mayhew says. However, with the addition of performance parts, the car wouldn’t pass the state inspection.

The major culprits were the exhaust manifold, EGR valve, backup lights and windshield wipers.

Even though by 1979 the federal government’s stifling regulations had choked the horsepower output of the mighty 400-cubic-inch V-8 down to 220, the engine still produced 325 foot-pounds of torque.

After a couple of months of throwing money at the problems, the Pontiac passed inspection in January 2001.

Unfortunately, health problems kept Mr. Mayhew from driving his ready-to-go Pontiac until the autumn of 2001.

Finally, he was able to enjoy the object of his desire for the past quarter century. “During the first year,” he says, “I put a lot more dollars than miles on the car.”

The interior of the Trans Am is all gold, whether plastic, vinyl, carpet or fabric. Above the glove compartment is a grab strap.

Near the bottom of the glove-box door is an air vent that has its own opening through the door.

Beside the 100-mph speed-ometer is a 6,000-rpm tachometer that redlines at 5,000 rpm. “Peak performance is at 4,200 rpm,” Mr. Mayhew says.

“For its time it was considered a performance car,” he says. “It’s optioned out as I would want it.” The unknown original owner and Mr. Mayhew both prefer crank-up windows.

The 16.5-foot-long Trans Am rides on a 108-inch wheelbase with 7.1 cubic feet of trunk capacity thanks to a space-saver spare tire.

His car is No. 742 of the 1,107 Special Edition versions of the Trans Am built in 1979 with the 400-cubic-inch engine and the W72Z package.

Between the honeycomb wheels, there is nothing about the sinister-appearing car that Mr. Mayhew doesn’t like.

“If Darth Vader were to drive a car,” he says, “it would be this one.”

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