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You Can Feel the Heat Coming From this Scorching 1979 Pontiac Firebird

This month, seven years ago, General Motors (GM) killed Pontiac. The decision to scrap its quirky, enthusiast-focused brand likely wasn’t easy, and may even have been a mandate from the federal government as part of its bailout plan. Still, closing the door on an 84-year-old brand was rough.

Since the fall of Pontiac, collectors have hastened to acquire classic models, driving the value of pristine examples up considerably. Case in point, this 1979 Pontiac Firebird. RK Motors in Charlotte, North Carolina, has its mitts on a 65-mile Special Edition with a wild ownership story.

Purchased new by an 18-year old William Leland III (Bill Jr. to his friends), this stunning black and gold muscle car was the envy of any kid who’d ever seen Smokey and the Bandit. How in the world could a teenager afford such a cherry car? The short answer is family funds, but there’s a bit more to this tale.

Bill Jr. came from Detroit royalty. His father, William Leland II, was the great-great nephew of Henry Leland, the founder of Cadillac and Lincoln Motor Company. Having developed an enthusiasm for autos via his father’s car collection, Bill Jr. worked at a Pontiac dealer in Massachusetts.

After securing a loan of $10,000 from his father, Bill Jr. leveraged his dealership contacts and assembled his perfect Firebird. Bill Jr.’s finalized Trans Am SE (Firebird) was loaded with $3,454 in options, or the equivalent cost of a new compact car in 1979. Excessive? That’s just the start of it. Bill Jr. was so particular about his car that when it was finally delivered, he wouldn’t let the dealership do any of its typical prep work. No washing the car, no driving it around the block, and no drilling holes in the front bumper to install a license plate.

Bill Jr. received his Firebird with six miles on the odometer. He then drove 20 miles to his parents’ house. For the next several years, the car sat unused and unregistered. After marrying, Bill Jr. drove the car 20 miles to his new house. Once again, the car sat (with the occasional idling, oil changes, and gear articulation).

Tragically, at just 42 years of age, Bill Jr. was diagnosed with terminal melanoma cancer. Before passing, he signed over his prized possession to his father. With just 65 miles on the odometer, the Firebird was installed among William II’s collection. For the next decade, William II serviced the car and valued it highest among his assembled vehicles.

Finally, in 2013, the Firebird was sold to a new owner. The next year, this symbol of Pontiac’s golden age it made its public debut at the Pontiac-Oakland Club International All GM Car Show where it earned a Survivor Award.

If you ever wondered what a brand new muscle car looked like in the late 1970s, this is it. We can’t imagine a better tribute to Pontiac than this bold, beautiful ‘bird.

Miles Branman
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