TURBO T-As-new - Turbo Buick Forum


TURBO T-As-new - Turbo Buick Forum
Jim Chaudrue • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
If the past November elections had included a vote for the Office of 1989 Turbo Trans Am Promotion, this
weeks Cover Feature contributor, Jim Chaudrue would have won in a landslide. In Jim’s own words, he
says “I just love everything about the TTA’s. It really was the best of all worlds for Pontiac in 1989. You
had performance, speed, luxury, and fuel economy to boot!”
Jim has amassed a wealth of Turbo TA history and information which he shares with us here. He also added
a little known item he learned “from the horse’s mouth.” “Talking to Scott Kelly from PAS, he told me that
they actually planned to make a 1990 Turbo Trans Am but to get all those amazing things it drove the
price tag up so high with the 1989 TTA that they didn’t sell too well. Costing $32,000 in 1989 was a lot of
money for anyone back then! So Pontiac got scared and didn’t want to take the plunge again in 1990.”
Now read all about the 1989 20th Anniversary Turbo Trans Am– a Pontiac legend! And enjoy Jim’s (aka:
“Philly Turbo Six”) beautiful T-top Turbo TA.
Originally conceived by Bill Owen of Pontiac, the 20th Anniversary Turbo Trans Am project was outsourced
to PAS, Inc., an engineering firm led by Jeff Beitzel. Beitzel and his team did most of the TTA development
work. The V6 turbo engines were built by PAS at their 40,000 square foot City of Industry, CA plant. From
there, they went to GM’s plant in Van Nuys, CA to be installed into GTAs on the F-Body assembly line. The
cars were then shipped back to PAS for final assembly, testing, and quality control. Incidentally, the GTA
chassis were selected at random, thus there is no correlation between vehicle identification number (VIN)
and production sequence number. The actual number of cars to be produced had ranged from 500 to 2,500
until GM finally settled on 1,500. In all, a total of 1,555 Turbo TAs were manufactured.
Features and Options
The 20th Anniversary Turbo Trans Am was offered as a complete package. Each was white
with saddle (tan) interior, with T-tops and
leather interior the only available options. Although other TAs were available with a CD
player, the Turbo TA was available only with a
Delco ETR AM/FM cassette with graphic EQ
and redundant steering wheel controls.
Externally, the TTA closely resembles a GTA.
The primary visual clues are Indy “Winged
Tire” emblems on the ground effects panel just
aft of the front wheel wells, and dual twin stainless-steel exhaust tips. Closer inspection reveals
“Turbo” emblems on the front fenders, “20th Anniversary” emblems on the nose and B-pillar, and a “Turbo”
insignia between the taillights. Inside, a turbo boost gauge is incorporated into the tachometer face, and there
is a “20th Anniversary” logo on the leather map pocket. Special Indy Pace Car stickers were supplied for the
windshield and doors. The cars were delivered without the stickers attached– it was up to the individual
owner to apply them if desired.
Original Turbo TA owners were sent a special box containing the door and windshield stickers, a Turbo TA
key chain, cassette tape, letter of congratulations, and a leather owners manual cover. There is a unique owners manual supplement that came with the car. As with most GM vehicles, the Firebird service manual and
TTA supplement can be ordered from Helm (publisher of GM service manuals).
Technical Highlights
What makes the 20th Anniversary Turbo TA so special is that it is a complete mechanical package, and not
just some tape stripes. Starting with the engine, Pontiac borrowed Buick’s 3.8 liter (231cid) V6 turbo powerplant from the fabled 1986-87 Grand National. Some difference exist between the TTA motor and the GN
version. Different heads were necessary in order to squeeze the motor between the strut towers. These
heads, adapted from the transverse FWD version of the 3.8 liter motor, have the added benefit of improved
exhaust flow and combustion
chamber design. Subsequently, different pistons were required in order to maintain combustion chamber volume. Other changes to the
TTA motor are a cross-drilled
crank, larger 12 fin/inch GNXstyle intercooler in place of the
GN’s 10 fin/inch design, speciallydesigned stainless-steel headers,
higher-pressure Bosch 237 fuel
pressure regulator, and a recalibrated engine control module.
Mark Grable, writing in the March
1989 Motor Trend, noted the
Turbo Trans Am’s “250 horses...
seem much stronger than run-ofthe-mill horses.” The reason is
Turbo TA convertible interior.
Turbo TA coupe interior.
simple. Although Pontiac officially rated the engine at 250 HP, in reality it developed an honest 301 HP on
the GM dyno.
The Turbo TA came with the rare 1LE racing brake package, which upgrades the front discs to 12-inch police rotors, Corvette twin piston aluminum calipers, and semi-metallic pads. These brakes are virtually fade
proof, and were installed to legalize the 1LE package for Firehawk endurance racing. The rear discs were
also increased to 12 inches in 1989 and use Corvette single piston calipers. All of the brakes on the car are
of a quick change design, and pads can actually be changed in 30 seconds.
The only midyear change made to the Turbo TA during the entire production run was a redesigned turbo inlet
tube. The redesigned plastic tube was more durable, and had a clamping rib on either end to keep the hoses
attached more securely. Other production changes in 1989 affected the Turbo TA and F-bodies in general. As
an example, in March 1989 GM switched from glass to Lexan T-tops in order to save weight. However, the
Lexan tops had severe problems with scratching and cracking, and GM had to replace most of them under
warranty. During the 1990 production run GM switched back to glass T-tops after having so many problems
with the Lexan ones.
Indianapolis 500 Pace Car
The 20th Anniversary Turbo Trans Am had the honor of being selected as the Official Pace Car of the 73rd
Indianapolis 500, held on May 28, 1989. The three cars which did pace car duty were the first in the history
of the Indianapolis 500 to do so with no performance modifications whatsoever. The only changes to the car
were the usual safety equipment required by Indianapolis Motor Speedway (including a five-point seat belt
harness), pace car lighting, and
television-related equipment.
Strobe lights were installed into
the front fog lights, front turn signals, and side marker lights. An
additional set of strobes was inserted into the space between the
spoiler and decklid. The rear windows were changed to ones with
no defogger grid, so the rear-facing ABC television camera would
have a clear view of the track behind.
In addition to three pace cars, an
Scott Kelly of PAS at Indy in 1989.
additional 162 “Festival” TTAs were
at Indy for VIP and parade duty. All
of the cars at Indy, including the
three pace cars, had T-tops and cloth
interiors. Approximately one hundred festival cars were sold to GM
employees at the fixed price of
$25,854.83. It was not a raffle, an interested employee simply had to fill
out a form indicating they wanted
the car at that price. Price was nonnegotiable, and there was no choice
of car. These buyers received cars
with anywhere from a few hundred
Only two Turbo TA convertibles were built at PAS!
to 7,000 miles on them.
As for the three pace cars, one now resides in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, another is in the
Pontiac collection, and one was presented to race winner Emerson Fittipaldi. Emerson loves his Turbo TA,
when asked about it he grinned “It’s a FAST car!”
Media Comments
The automotive press responded to the TTA with enthusiasm. The vehicle’s exhilarating acceleration was
popular with journalists and road testers, eliciting such comments as Motor Trend’s Ron Grable’ “A drive in
this killer Pontiac is the most fun you can have with your clothes on.” Kevin Wilson, writing in Auto Week,
remarked “Drop the pedal at speed and it’s instant tunnel vision, building, as only turbo-surge can, towards...150 mph...”
In all, the TTA was featured in dozens of articles, reviews and road tests. Contributor Ron Kristin maintains
a comprehensive list of published literature on the Turbo Trans Am.
Major Articles– Test Reports
AutoWeek, May 1, 1989; Speedway Rocket Sled; 0-60 5.5 seconds; “The rush as the car shot from legal
highway speeds to ‘you’re going to jail, son’ reduced us to giggles once.”
Car Craft, December 1988-Volume 36 Number 12; 1989 20th Anniversary Pontiac Trans Am; 0-60 5.4 seconds; 1/4 mile [email protected] mph; “We feel its performance has set the high-water mark for the decade.”
Car & Driver, October 1988-Volume 34 Number 4; New Cars– Pontiac Trans Am– Quick test; “...the
turbo anniversary model (rated at 245hp but probably putting out more like 270) should be the quickest
TA in the lineup.”
Car & Driver, June 1989; 20th Anniversary Pontiac Trans Am; 0-60 4.6 seconds; 1/4 mile [email protected];
“This is a car for muscle-car mavens, pure and simple.”
Hot Rod, November 1988-Volume 41 Number 11; 20th Anniversary Trans Am: Pontiac’s Excitement Package; 0-60 6.0 seconds; 1/4 mile [email protected]; “With all the power and handling you could ask for in a
production performance car, it definitely qualifies as one of the absolute best buys of ’89.”
Motor Trend, March 1989-Volume 41 Number 3; Pontiac 20th Anniversary Trans Am; 0-60 5.4 seconds;
1/4 mile [email protected] mph; “A drive in this killer Pontiac is the most fun you can have with your clothes
Popular Hot Rodding, March 1989-Volume 28 Number 3; King of the Hill; “It is with little doubt one of
the finest super cars we’ve ever had the privilege to drive.”
Road & Track, January 1989-Volume 40 Number 5; Pontiac Turbo Trans Am; 0-60 5.3 seconds; 1/4 mile
[email protected] mph; “...this 20th-anniversary rocket can’t decide whether to pace at Indy or enter.” “An excellent coupling of turbo engine and auto trans.”
Turbo & Hi-Tech Performance, May 1989-Volume 6 Number 3; White Heat-Pontiac’s Turbo GTA: The
New Pace In Performance; 0-60 4.89 seconds; “...we took a leisurely drive...overall performance was to
say the least...impressive.”
AutoWeek, May 15, 1989-Volume 39 Number 20; Lapping Up Indy History; “Touring the Speedway Hall
of Fame Museum and getting there in a Trans Am Turbo pace car both qualify as blasts from the past.”
Cars Illustrated– Special Edition, Modern Musclecars- Volume 4 Number 3; Turbo Trans Am
Corvette Fever, October 1989; TTA vs. ’89 Vette. Vette gets stomped, but remember whose magazine it is.
High Performance Pontiac, December 1989; GTO vs. GTA Shootout, Who’s the Boss? 1/4 mile
[email protected] mph
Motor Trend, June 1989-Volume 41 Number 6; Flat-out Fastest American Cars II–the Sequel. TTA does
162 mph at Arizona Test Center.
Motor Trend, November 1989-Volume 41
Number 11; Bang for the Buck; 0-60 5.11
seconds; 1/4 mile [email protected] mph. TTA
takes top honors in points after six phases
of testing among seventeen cars.
Muscle Car Review, October 1988; Turbos and the King. Picture of hardtop pilot
model on Riverside race track along with
close-up of engine. Four paragraphs on
TTA along with write-up on other hot performers from Pontiac for ’89. “Mid-range
acceleration is stunning...Step on the gas,
turbo spools up...yea, what a rush! What a
Muscle Car Review, July 1989; GNX vs.
Turbo Trans Am Shootout: Boost-Bird vs.
bad-to-the-bone Buick.
Here’s the lowdown on the article that
everyone’s been wondering about. Two individually owned cars, each untouched,
with less than a 150 miles on them. Roy
West brought the GNX and Lee Gordon
brought his TTA. Both drivers also own
other Buick turbo cars which are raced on
a regular basis. After some warm-up, the
cars stage for round one and the GNX
takes a decisive win. Round two proves to
be much closer but again the GNX takes
the win by the narrowest of margins. But
don’t despair fellow TTA owners, read this
Even as late as 2009, Motor Trend used the 1989 TTA as an
example of one of Firebird/Trans Am’s best when doing a
short history session.
quote from the end of the article: “By the time class racing rolled around, Lee Gordon had gotten the hang
of launching the Pontiac. He rolled over the competition– including the GNX-to win his class.”
Muscle Cars, November 1989-Volume VII Number 6; GTO vs. GTA Shootout, Who’s the Boss? 1/4 mile
[email protected] mph. 1965 389 Tri-Power GTO 4-speed vs. a TTA at Englishtown. The classic GTO was no
match for the modern muscle of the TTA, which won every run fairly easily. Some good photos, although all
in B&W, including a photo of Ed Kozinski’s TTA vs. the test report TTA. Also see article under Individually
Owned TTAs for more details on Ed’s car.
Road & Track Special Series, Supercars-August 15, 1989; High-Boost T/A Turbo– Great white shark;
0-60 6.50 seconds; 1/4 mile [email protected] mph. Pontiac Engineering takes the Turbo TA one step further by
adding a Corvette six-speed, GNX ceramic turbo, and other assorted goodies. While acceleration is considerably slower from 0-60 and in the 1/4 mile, the top end is the highlight of the car possessing potential for an
even faster speed than the 178 mph it posted.
AutoWeek, May 29, 1989-Volume 39 Number 22; The Magnificent Seven; center 2-page spread with entire
’89 Pontiac line including Turbo GP and, of course, the TTA, in front of winner’s circle at Indy.
Car Craft, June 1989-Volume 37 Number 6; “Only one race is run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And
that race is run on just one make of tires.” Two page Goodyear Eagle ad showing rear 3/4 view of TTA on
one page with text and Rick Mears winning 1988 Penske Indy car on opposite page. Same ad also run in
1989 Indy 500 program and 1989 Indy 500 yearbook.
Car Craft, July 1989-Volume 37 Number 7; “Both of these special, limited edition Pontiacs leave the factory on just one make of radial tires.” Same as above but with Turbo GP in place of Indy car on text page.
Car & Driver, May 1989; The Magnificent Seven as mentioned above.
Sports Illustrated, Swimsuit Issue 1989; “The 20th Anniversary Trans Am. The Only Modification It
Needed To Pace The Indy 500 Was A Decal.” This is the infamous ad of the car sitting on the track. So far,
this is the only magazine I’ve seen it in. Kind of funny that it’s not even an automobile related magazine.
Jim shows that you can’t have too many Turbo
cars (even if one is a Buick)– and award wining ones too! At right, Jim tells his Turbo TA story in Pontiac
Enthusiast magazine.
Specifications & Per
Engine: 3.8L SFI V6 Intercooled Turbo rated 250 bhp @ 4400 rpm, 340 lb-ft torque @ 2800 rpm
bore x stroke:.................. 3.800 in. x 3.400 in.
valves: ............................ 1.710 in. intake, 1.490 in. exhaust
crankshaft: ...................... nodular iron with 4 cross-drilled main bearings and 6 counterweights
rods: ............................... cast Armasteel, 151mm long
pistons: ........................... special design, 8.0:1 cr, 46.4mm compression height
maximum boost: ............. 16.5 psi
recommended fuel: ......... pump octane of 91 or greater
Transmission: 200-4R 4 speed automatic with lockup torque converter
Brakes: power 4-wheel disc, dual piston aluminum calipers vented 12" front, 11.7" rear rotors
Chassis: front MacPherson strut rear live axle, 3.27:1 Borg-Warner “Australian” limited slip with
torque arm sway bars 36mm front, 24mm rear
wheelbase: ...................... 101.0"
length:............................. 191.6"
width: ............................. 72.4"
0-60: ........................ 5.5 seconds
height: ........................... 50.0"
1/4 mile: .................. 13.5 seconds
track f/r:.......................... 60.7"/61.6"
60-0: ........................ 139'
curb weight: .................... 3346 lbs.
roadholding: ............ 0.86g
weight distribution f/r: .... 57.0/43.0
weight/hp: ............... 13.4:1
Jim preaches the Turbo TA gospel in the pages of Hemmings Muscle Cars!
APRIL 2011