HELLFIRE RED with silver trim. Swollen, sloping body with menacing hood air vents. Black interior with long, slanted door handles. Door panels with what appear to be heavy-metal, medieval locks. All in all, something out of the Darth Vader School of Design.
And when it runs, it roars. Hot exhaust rushing from a 5-liter, 4-barrel, V-8 engine. Nothing elegant. Absolutely no finesse. Pop it into first and step on the gas -- just pure, unmitigated, brute power.
This is the 1985 Pontiac Trans Am, General Motors Corp.'s tribute to automotive delinquency.
Warning: Suitors seeking parental approval should leave this stallion in the stable. This car says everything except "responsible."
Outstanding complaint(s): The Trans Am is muscle-bound and greedy. You can feel its weight. But you might have some trouble satisfying its appetite.
You'd think that with a five-speed manual transmission, you'd get something better than "about" 17 miles per gallon, combined city- highway. I couldn't. But then, this is not an economy car. Hmph. I had the feeling that the thing was laughing at me, encouraging me to tickle the throttle, knowing all the while that I would pay at the pump.
And the ride! Have mercy! Total punishment on bumpy District of Columbia streets. The Trans Am has a really tight and hard suspension, sort of what you would expect in a sports car. But the folks at Pontiac seem to have marched right up to the borderline of sadism with this one. Talk about rough!
Outstanding praise: Ever wanted to do something just a little bit naughty? Ever wanted to, ah, thumb your nose at the world? The Trans Am's the thing. On smooth back roads with little traffic, this car can bring out the devil in you. It is as fast as it is heavy, and it handles quit well in turns.
GM has taken its lumps for seeming to fall short in the manual-transmission department. The company has had a long and dreary affair with four-speed models. But the five-speed gearbox in the Trans Am is a fine piece of machinery -- smooth, efficient, a joy to operate. Good work, GM.
Head-turning-quotient: This car is tough- stuff, rough-stuff, don't-tell-me-what-to-do- stuff, not the kind of impression you'd want to make on could-be in-laws or bosses.
Muscle-car lovers, the folks who hot-rod it around Northern Virginia streets on Friday night, really loved the Trans Am. But most of them were already employed (how else can they afford those revved-up street machines?), and relatively few of them were thinking about getting married anytime soon.
Sound system: Again, GM's Delco Electronics Division gets raves. Everyone who listened to the Trans Am's sound package gave it very high marks.
Mileage: See Outstanding Complaint(s). Use unleaded fuel only. Premium unleaded preferred.
Price as tested: $16,609, includes remote- control decklid release, overhead thumbwheel trip computer, leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather shift knob and parking brake handle and a full complement of analog instruments, including tachometer.