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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I went to go take a look at a 1987 Trans Am earlier today. It is a Canadian car with 190k on everything but the motor. It is an automatic car, T-Tops, fabric seating, etc. From a visual inspection, there seems to be surface rust on parts of the underbody (repainted twice, originally red, then med blue, now dark blue). There are no leaks in the T-Tops or windows (had a HEAVY rainfall, and waited till right after to go see it). The car started first crank.

So, I have a few general 3rd gen questions:
Where are the F-bodies rust-prone?
Weak points in the driveline?
Difference between 'Performance package" and not "Performance package"? (looking up brake parts, there seems to be two choices, one having the performance pads 3 times the cost of the non-performance pads)
How are they electrically? Any common glitches?

And a few questions/notes that are vehicle specific:
He indicated that the motor was from a 73 vehicle (SBC), with 305 heads, gear-drive for the cam, upgraded camshaft, Rochester carburetor, what appeared to be stock block-hugger exhaust manifold, and a 2.5inch exhaust. It is mated to the 700R4 trans. He has S-10 springs in the front, stock rear.

Should I be weary of any of the above? The motor has a nice idle, and sounds great, and doesn't make any uncommon noises when I poked my head under the hood.
 

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The weak line in the driveline is definitely the 7 3/4" rear-end. It will hold up to about 400HP, but I suggest switching it out with a 9". The performance package you speak of is the WS6 package. I believe all the TPI cars came with it. The front wheels and rear wheels should have different offsets if the package was installed.
 

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Where are the F-bodies rust-prone?
Fairly much everywhere, especially if it was a VN Cali built car!


Weak points in the driveline?
some trans problems at higher mileage especially OD, and speedo guage/cable problems! Few rear end problems, especially after upgrades!

How are they electrically? Any common glitches
Guage problems are common, as are climate controls. And the electric trunk pull motor goes pretty quickly! As do window and lock motors, but they are easy fixes!!

Difference between 'Performance package" and not "Performance package"?
WS6, they have a larger disc brakes at all 4 corners. Non-WS6 cars are disc/drums

Sounds like it's probably a decent car, especially if its a good price!
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thanks for the tips!

It is a non-performance package, as it had rear drums.
It seems like an electronically sound car. The only issue it appeared to have was the wiper stalk (he had an extra one that he said he would install), and the massively annoying sub setup.

The car is priced at $3500, which seems to be about where the market is for a car in this condition, probably a bit better price than average.
 

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3rd gens rust in the door jams sometimes as well as rear quarter panels. Driveline weakness would be the rear end first and foremost. Too much power to stock rear ends will scatter them like a dropped bag of marbles. Next would be transmission issues on ones that have been beaten to hell and back. I've seen 3rd gens with tons of electrical issues and I've seen ones that are 100% solid. Common problems I've seen are headlight motors (most common), window motors, faulty gas gauges, and broken cruise controls. I would be really wary about any sports car that old. Definently go over it with a fine tooth comb. I'd even stash some "fix it" money away for any future issues it may have. Assuming its not a DD car, I'd snatch it up in a heart beat just to have a play toy. Its too hard to find solid 3rd gens these days.
 

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Thanks for the tips!

It is a non-performance package, as it had rear drums.
It seems like an electronically sound car. The only issue it appeared to have was the wiper stalk (he had an extra one that he said he would install), and the massively annoying sub setup.

The car is priced at $3500, which seems to be about where the market is for a car in this condition, probably a bit better price than average.
I bought a '90 Formula new in 1990. Drove it for about 8 years, 167K miles. I did have the turn signal stalk break at around 150K miles and had it replaced. Other than that, I had absolutely no issue and no rust whatsoever. This one was a 5.0 liter with throttle body injection. Not particularly powerful, but a great-looking, fun car. It had the performance suspension. Brakes were drums in back.

Being a 3rd gen fan, I bought another '90 Formula a little over five years ago. It had 57K miles on it. Paid $5,400 for it, and it was the best $5,400 I've ever spent. I have had the a/c retrofitted and the heater core replaced, total cost $700. Outside of normal tires/brakes/oil change maintenance, I've had no issues. It's up to 110K miles now and runs great; I still take it on out-of-town trips. Cosmetically, the spoiler is pretty well shot and I'll probably replace it (wraparound) with just a basic straight wing spoiler that the base Firebirds had. I am starting to see a tiny bit of surface rust on the bottom of the drivers door and in one of the wheel wells, but I should be able to arrest that pretty easily. This car has the 5.0 liter engine with TPI.

I know they didn't have great reputations, but my two 3rd gens were both absolutely bulletproof and reliable. I haven't had the the problems described by a previous poster with any of the electrical parts. All of my gauges on both cars were/are original, as well as the power mirror and window motors and the rear hatch pulldown.

By the way, WS6 Formulas come with disc/drum brakes, which is what both my cars have had. WS6 Trans Ams are disc/disc.
 

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Oh actually I have had to repair both headlight motors on my current '90. I don't think you can buy new ones anymore. But, what typically happens is that the bushing inside the motors literally disintegrate. You can take apart the motors and replace the bushings for pennies. Very easy job.
 

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By the way, WS6 Formulas come with disc/drum brakes, which is what both my cars have had. WS6 Trans Ams are disc/disc.

J65 is the rear disc RPO. Not all T/A's would have had the rear disc.
 

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thirdgen.org is the best source for third gen info on this planet. Its a no-nonsense site that is a wealth of info, and there is also a message forum there where you can ask questions. All third gen owners end up there at some point in thier life.

As for finding a clean third gen, enjoy it and have fun. They are very easy to mod as there are a decent amount of aftermarket performance parts for the car. It sounds like that motor was put together with what spare parts he had lying around...that can never be good.
If you have state inspection, make sure it passes that. Id bring it to a shop and have them look it over to make sure there are no major problems with brakes or driveline.
 

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Fairly much everywhere, especially if it was a VN Cali built car!



some trans problems at higher mileage especially OD, and speedo guage/cable problems! Few rear end problems, especially after upgrades!


Guage problems are common, as are climate controls. And the electric trunk pull motor goes pretty quickly! As do window and lock motors, but they are easy fixes!!


WS6, they have a larger disc brakes at all 4 corners. Non-WS6 cars are disc/drums

Sounds like it's probably a decent car, especially if its a good price!
Mines not a t/a but your dead on, as the trannie was rebuilt at 113k, the speedo went out (turned out to be a line). The rear end, trans, and electric controls/sensors are weak points to 3rd gens. Stock engines (through the 3rd gen line) if properly taken care of, are actually the most reliable part of the car.
 

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if the motor is not original I would try to bring the price down. Modding a car may cost money but it actually lowers the value of the car. And with gas prices like they are I would try to get a lower price. My WS6 Formula 350 has disc/disc, and one note you will want to put subframe connectors on the car, it will stiffen it up a whole lot, something that is needed.
 

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Hmmmmmm............With sooooo may 3rd generation Zs and TAs around
why bother with a cobbled up repainted time bomb??????????
2 yrs. ago I picked up a one owner 84 Z-28 305 ho auto with t-tops and
power everything for $1500 bucks. Sure it had a bad trans. needed brakes,
tires and a headliner but the body was mint and rust free and the seats
and carpet were nice since it was from NC.
A bud rebuilt the trans. for less than $150, the headliner kit was $100,
brakes cost $100 and a nice set of Goodyear white letter tires were $200
added a few odds n' ends like a tune up a few new hoses and a little TLC
and have a fine summer fun toy to play with for less than $2200 bucks!
 

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Being in Canada where cars cost more, I'm guessing $3500 is probably like $2500 down here.
 

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But, being in Canada you can still find the occasional one-owner sports car that was put away winters and is still in pretty nice shape.

I agree with the poster who said that a modded car is a bit of a risk. Particularly when the mods seem a bit weird. Why go with gear drive for the cam (great for high RPM engines ... and some people like the noise) but stick with the relatively restrictive 305 heads? I don't believe the 305 existed in 1973, so it may be a 350 (or a 307). Your lucky that it is a '87 and won't have to pass Ontario's emmissions test as it would likely fail.

Find a nice, clean, stock 3rd gen, preferrably one that was well cared for. For example, a very quick look on Autotrader found this 1989 T/A with the 350 TPI and 165,000 kms for $2700 -- http://www.trader.ca/Search/Details...&subcategory=&CAT=1&ADID=7021675&ADS=7021675|
 

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Hmmmmmm............With sooooo may 3rd generation Zs and TAs around
why bother with a cobbled up repainted time bomb??????????
2 yrs. ago I picked up a one owner 84 Z-28 305 ho auto with t-tops and
power everything for $1500 bucks. Sure it had a bad trans. needed brakes,
tires and a headliner but the body was mint and rust free and the seats
and carpet were nice since it was from NC.
A bud rebuilt the trans. for less than $150, the headliner kit was $100,
brakes cost $100 and a nice set of Goodyear white letter tires were $200
added a few odds n' ends like a tune up a few new hoses and a little TLC
and have a fine summer fun toy to play with for less than $2200 bucks!

I tend to agree. 3rd gens aren't that rare. You can get one with far lower mileage and in very good condition for a better price than this one. Just hunt around a bit.
 

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I understand you frost bitten Canadians pay a LOT more for both new and
used cars up there. But now with the Can. dollar finally on par or above
the US dollar wouldn't a trip across the border be worth the time and
effort? Rather than buy some rusted and cobbled ride with a little time
and effort a nice example could be found.

I too live in snow, salt and rust land and am lucky enough to know a
bunch of car freaks and a guy that is a wholesaler in both NY and NC
who brings up all kind of oddball rust free southern iron.
This rust free original paint Z just happened to fall into my lap!

Keep searching.........You will find a nice car!
 

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If you could just look around the northern US, you're sure to find many 3rd gen Trans Ams for great prices and a few with the factory options that you might want. GM did sell a huge number of them here in the states. I'm pretty sure that if you just look around a little more, you'll find one that's nearly perfect for you, or will be with a little work.
 
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