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Pontiac Trans Ams Lead 70s Resurgence at Barrett-Jackson

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    Four Pontiac Firebird Trans Ams stand ready for the auction block, all brought by one obsessed collector. (Bob Golfen/

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    This 1976 Trans Am 50th Anniversary sold for $18,700 (Bob Golfen/

One thing you’ll find plenty of at the Barrett-Jackson Las Vegas Auction is Pontiac Firebird Trans Ams from the late ’70s. The same black-and-gold, “Smoky and the Bandit,” screamin’ eagle Trans Ams that beguiled so many adolescent gearheads in their day.

These flamboyant muscle cars have enjoyed a resurgence of late, moving away from disco-era kitsch and into the realm of bona fide collector cars. Not too many cars of that stylistic- and performance-challenged time have made the leap.

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“The styling has endured for a long, long time,” said admitted Pontiac addict Tom Knight of Albuquerque, N.M, as he eyed a 1976 Trans Am 50th Anniversary coupe. “I think there’s been a resurrection now that Pontiac’s dead.”

Rick McLaughlin bought his first Trans Am when he was 21 and never looked back. (Photo: Bob Golfen)

Four of the classic Trans Ams for sale at Barrett-Jackson’s three-day auction at Mandalay Bay were brought by one guy, Rick McLaughlin, who operates his own Pontiac Trans Am museum in Parkersburg, West Virginia.

“I bought my first new car when I was 21 years old, a 1978 gold Trans Am Special Edition,” McLaughlin said. “I was hooked. These were the best-performing, best-handling cars of their era. I bought another new one in ’79.”

Since then, he’s spent his life in the pursuit of primo-conditions Trans Ams, and he keeps a stable of at least 20 of them in his museum at all times.

“These are iconic cars, and we all know why,” McLaughlin said, referring to the famed Burt Reynolds action movie where a black-and-gold Trans Am played a major role. “Yeah, he did a lot for my business.”

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