Questions and Answers on
Second-Generation Firebird Restoration
As presented to DAPA, by David Mars of Texas Trans Am
Service and Restorations

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September 9th 2001
David Mars Presentation to DAPA

DAPA: How did you get interested in Pontiacs?

Mars: I started Texas Trans Am Service and Restorations in my driveway at home. Worked there for about three and a half years. It resulted from years and years of love for Pontiacs. When I was in the fourth grade, we had a lady that lived next door to us, her boyfriend drove a 65 GTO and every time he drove up in that car, I’d sit there and just stare at it. To me that was the closest thing to a real life Hot Wheels car I’d ever seen. And I just had to have one. I was a sophomore in High School when "Smokey and The Bandit" came out and I paid the movie theater three times to see that. Drug my girlfriend along with me… She didn’t get quite as much out of it as I did. My cousin rebuilt a '79 TA in '79, it was three months old ... an insurance total. From the day he bought that car to the day he finally totaled it out again I wanted that car. He actually totaled the car three times before the last one. He bought four hood birds for it, three t-tops, three wheels, four hoods, three paint jobs, four radiator core supports. Poor ol’ car, the last time he wiped it out, he hit a tree with the front end and the side swung over to hit another tree, and I mean it just shattered every bit of Bond-O that was in that car. I honestly did not think he did work like that, but after I saw that, I said "Man, I don’t want that thing."

DAPA: How did your business get started?

Mars: Like I said, Texas Trans Ams started out in my driveway at home. I always called it "Nothing but TAs." My dad had a little sideline, he used to work on Mustangs. He called it "Nothing but Mustangs" and I kind of adopted from that. I hooked up with a web guy about three and a half years ago and without any consultation from me he developed a web site and named the place "Texas Trans Ams." So that’s kind of what we stuck with. I did it for three and a half years in my driveway at home like I said, fought the city for three and a half years. Almost weekly, they were paying me visits. Finally got tired of hassling with them. I rented a shop downtown Fort Worth, was there for about three and a half years and they shut me down there too. A friend of mine that had five acres out in the county, no restrictions, we built a building, and I grew out of it about a year ago. We just opened up a brand new building, its about 3,500 sq. ft., got six bays, and we do have plans on building a show room and stock all the restoration supplies. Right now as far as the work load, I have about two years worth of work. Word is just getting out, there’s a lot of DAPA members that I’m working on their cars.

DAPA: What type of restoration do you do?

Mars: I do complete restorations. I prefer to do what I call "Street Restoration." They are a lot more fun than something like a "Concourse." Concourse to me is just really a pain. When you get down to all the little paint marks and all the proper plating and each year’s individual differences between them, to me that takes all the fun out of it. But I like to build nice clean cars from the ground up. In some cases, I had to build the ground underneath them before I could start the ground up. We can do various parts of the vehicle, we don’t have to do the entire car. If you just want the interior done, I do interior work. The paint, bodywork, I do all that. I use Sherwin-Williams automotive finishes and I like to stick with the urethane because to me, it goes on a lot better and lasts a lot longer. It’s a lot more durable, the shine is there, it just always looks nice.  Modifications, we don’t have to build them stock. Personally the way I feel, that was Pontiac’s Trans Am. Pontiac made a nice car, they really did. But sometimes we need to personalize it. That was Pontiac’s TA, sometimes you want to build your own TA. And with today’s technology, there are a lot of new things that can be adapted to our vehicles that can make them better. Thirty year-old technology is not necessarily better. Personally I feel that modifying a TA is okay. I don’t have to stick to just TAs. Like I said, I have the love for the GTOs. Every now and then I take in a few strays, I’ve got a Mustang in the shop right now. I call it a stray.  We also do appraisals. I’ve been working on TA’s now for about ten years and by all means I don’t claim I know everything. I really don’t. Every now and then I get something in that just completely blows me away. Like, "Hey, I never knew that they did that." I don’t think any one person can know every thing about every single car every year, I just don’t see that it’s possible.

DAPA: What is the cost involved in a restoration?

Mars: On what I call a Street Restoration, most of them are running about $xx,xxx. That will ... buy you half of a new one.  In about 5 years that investment should appreciate even more.  And in that five year period (a new car) is going to drop down to about half, as what that car is worth.  So ... what I call the second-generation Trans Ams are definitely appreciating in value. Not all of them are appreciating as much as some of them. There are a few years ... that haven’t quite caught on yet. The market value continues to rise. The sources I use, I’m just amazed at the prices some of these cars are going for.   I’ve seen a lot of the second-generations going in the mid-20’s. And to me that's a lot of money, especially for a car that didn’t cost $4,500 brand new.

DAPA: What is the investment potential?

Mars: I try to talk to my customers, see what it is they want out of their car, what their future plans are. If you want to have a ... Trans Am restored, you are not going to make money off of it. You are not going to make money on having the car completely re-done and then try to re-sell it. There’s too much expense involved. ... If you want to have one re-done, buy it, enjoy the car for a while, eventually it will be worth more than what the cost of the restoration was.

DAPA: What are the popular models of second-generation Firebirds for restoration?

Mars: ’70 to ’73 are the hottest sellers right now, they always have been. Everybody wants ‘70 to ’73. If you have one of those you practically can name your price on it. ’74, ’75, ’76 I’m sorry guys, right now they just have not caught on ... they’re just not real hot sellers right now. I get a lot of calls for ’77 ‘78s every body wants to play "Smokey and The Bandit." From my experience in the last couple of years, it would be hard to convince me that they made a Trans Am any other color, because every car I’ve got in my shop right now is being painted black. ’79 by itself is very popular, but those guys don’t mix, ’77, ’78, they don’t like ’79. But if you’ve got a guy that likes the ’79, he don’t like the ’77, ’78. You either like it or you don’t. ’80 and ’81, they’re not real hot sellers, most of you know that you can only get a 305 or 301 in them. Between that and the emissions that we have to stick to these days, that kills most of the ’80 and ’81 market right now.

DAPA: Tell us about parts availability.

Mars: It’s scary.  I’ve got about 40 parts cars right now, but as far as new GM parts, every month they are discontinuing more and more parts. If you’ve got a project sitting in your garage, and you know that the parts are still available through GM, I would strongly urge you to buy the parts now. One key part in mind is the ’74 ’75 front lower valance. A couple of years ago, a buddy of mine called me and said "Did you know you can still get that?" I said, "No, I didn’t." He said, "Here’s the part number." So I went down to my GM dealer and I ordered one of them. He said, "Hmm." I said, "What do you mean Hmm"? He said, "Well it has here, in a little notation by it, limited availability." I said, "What’s that mean"? He said, "Well it basically means there are less than 10 left in the entire nation." I said, "OK, so what happens after that"? He said, "Once those 10 are gone, they are going to discontinue it ... they’re not coming back." I said, "Well, shoot, send me two of them then." He sent me two of them, and I had a guy just beg me for one of them. Because right after that another guy found out about it and he bought the remaining eight. Of course he marked them way up. I had a guy talk me out of one, and right now I’ve still got one NOS (new old stock), but if I could get my hands on 10 per week I could sell them right now. It’s getting real scary out there as far as parts availability.

DAPA: What about reproduction parts?

Mars: Some of them are good, some of them aren’t. ... I ordered a set of flares for a customer the other day, the wheel spoilers, and you could hold it up to the light and see ripples all down it. It might be okay on a white car, but if you are painting a dark colored car it’s going to take hours of block sanding to get all those little ripples out of it. You just can’t hardly beat GM quality as far as parts.

DAPA: What does the future hold for your restoration business?

Mars: Texas Trans Ams will be adding a showroom inside the building, we’ve got about 1200 sq. ft. set aside for that. A year from now I want to have that showroom up operating, and have somebody in there staffing it also, ... that can greet people as they come in, ... keep the phones answered all the time. The showroom needs to be kept spotless, and they will be in charge of shipping and receiving. I have two websites, the first website the old Flash net website, it’s kind of hard to get to if you don’t know exactly how to do it. But, that’s real easy to remember. Gary Holverson has done a fantastic job on Eventually I bought the Flash net website and Gary is also handling that one now. We are just now in the process of cleaning that one up and updating the information. (There’s) a restoration that I’m doing right now for a guy in Georgia. ... The guy called me, when he talked to me he figured out "this guy pretty well knows what he’s talking about." After a couple of days talking with him, he decided to bring the car to me to have it restored.

DAPA: What are the sources for your parts?

Mars: I order through the same people y’all do. Year One I like to deal with. The only thing I don’t like about Year One is being put on hold and having to listen to "Mustang Sally" for an hour or "Little GTO." They’re good songs but hey they get kind of old after being put on hold for a while. Classic Industries, ... If I order a part for a car I want it to look and function just like the original. If that part is not available, I want to know before I order that part what to expect. In my mind they sell a lot of what I term as a replacement part, it will serve the same function as the original part, but it looks nothing like the original part. So when you get it in the mail, I mean you open it up and it’s like: "Surprise! What is this stuff?" I like to deal with AMES. I like to deal with Performance Years. The Paddock, I’m just getting into them, they seem to have some fairly decent parts. People are starting to reproduce the parts now, some of them are good some of them are bad. We’re still waiting on a Classic Industries' dash, it’s been in their catalog four years, still no part yet.

DAPA: What advice do you have for someone beginning a restoration on a Firebird?

Mars: I can’t tell you how many cars I have bought, or actually even given, that people have started. They get it home in the garage, they tear the car completely apart and then sit back and scratch their head. It sits there in the garage for a year and a half, the wife starts in "Hey, you need to do something with this, get it out of here, do something, either fix it or get rid of it. I’d rather you get rid of it." Finally after about a year and a half of fighting with the wife over it, sitting in the garage, taking up room in the driveway, the guy is calling me, "Hey man, just come get it." It’s like I try to explain it to them, anybody can take them apart, but not everybody can put them back together. Don’t get in over your head. That’s my main advice. Know the limit of your abilities. If not, have an awful big checkbook.

DAPA: I’ve noticed ... they have started to put reproduction ’79 noses in the catalogs. What is the quality of those noses? Are they as good as the GM products?

Mars: There are several suppliers, of that particular part. I have purchased a reproduction ‘79 nose and installed it on the car (in the photo album) that just went around. I liked it. It fit well. I have 042301bl79ta04_ssm.jpg (4246 bytes)heard of some that have come in and maybe been an inch too short, as far as width. That’s a lot. I had a customer that ordered one, I don’t know where he ordered it, he took it to his house, he tried to put it on his car, he said, "man, it’s an inch short. It’s just not wide enough for the car" The one I got, I bought through Gary’s Classics over in Dallas.  I’m not sure what brand it was, but it seemed to fit well. The only drawback that I saw on it is the crease just below the headlights where the bumper steps down didn’t seem as sharp as the original. It just didn’t seem like it cupped in as far as it  should. But if you are driving a street car, hey, it looks good on the car. I didn’t have any problems with it. So far it’s holding paint, the paint hasn’t spidered or anything.

DAPA: If you have a ’79 Trans Am with power windows, are you supposed to get the window up by holding two wires together? Is that how it works?

Mars: No, Ma'am that is not how it works. I have just about got to the point that if a customer calls me and says, "Hey, I’ve got power windows on my car and I’m having problems with them going up and down," It just makes me shudder. I’ve worked on so many of them where I’ve spent weeks working on the window tracks, lubricating the window tracks, cleaning contacts on switches, motors, wiring harnesses. And then once you put the door panel on, it will go up about half way and that’s it. They’ll eat you up, I’m not kidding. What I have found that helps is first off, lubricate the tracks. I was able to get a hold of an old assembly manual from GM and they actually recommend Lubriplate for the window tracks. I’ve used everything from WD-40 ... wheel-bearing grease, it works fine, but you get a really nasty smell inside your car. Lubriplate works really well on it, that’s what I used on the last one and it seemed to help out a lot. What I’ve had to do in some cases is, where you have three window pads on the door that keep the glass from falling too far inside the car, ... I’ve had to remove the front one. They did make a window pad that is actually just a clip that just holds the door panel up and it did not have a pad on it, so you’ve got some extra clearance in there. And in some cases I have had to replace that front pad with just a clip to hold the door panel and that cured the problem. If all that fails try the contacts in your switch. I have had to take the plug apart and take a round file and clean those round contacts in there, not only in the switch but the contacts where the wiring harness plugs into the motor, and where it plugs in inside the door-jam. It’s really a pain to do it, but the power windows on those cars weren’t the best systems.

DAPA: Talk a little about what you do different from a paint and body shop

Mars: Most paint and body shops are production, they’re not going to give you the time, the care, the knowledge that somebody that specializes in this particular field. The production paint and body shop is going to run it through the system, their main goal is to get your car in there and get it out as quick as possible. Me personally, I'm not going to paint your car until it's as close to perfect as that car is ever going to be. This car that is in the book that was passed around earlier, in my opinion…should have never been built. This particular car, the man bought without a front clip on it. He bought it wrecked and brought it to me. When he got ready to unload it off the trailer, my landlord looks at him and said, "Hey, normally he keeps the parts cars up on the hill." The guy said, "Wait a minute, this isn't a parts car, he's going to rebuild this for me." The car had obviously been wrecked before that time because the sub-frame that was underneath that car was not the original sub-frame. And that one was bent in three places. The firewall was bent in three places. The brake booster and master cylinder were in at an angle. It had a tree rip the driver side fender completely off the car, including the bracket that welds to the firewall. The tree limb came up and crushed in the cowl, hits the angle on the dash, pops up and hit the corner of the roof, and shoved the roof back towards the passenger side. It rippled the roof in front of the t-top on the driver's side, from the corner to the middle. It kinked it between the t-tops and then at the back corner on the passenger side, it rippled it from where the t-top starts all the way over to the side of the car. Plus it broke both windshield posts. The passenger side swung around and another tree wiped out the passenger side door and half the rear quarter panel. In this particular case I honestly feel we took a sows ear and turned it into a silk purse. The inside was so nasty, I avoided the inside of that car for two months.  I wouldn't even open the doors on the car. And finally one day I decided OK today is the day, I've got to do this. I wouldn't do it before lunch. After lunch I got in there and I cleaned out the entire inside of the car, stripped it completely, and as soon as I got through I went home and took a bath. That's how bad that car was. The man is just thrilled to death with it, but it cost him a lot more money than either one of us ever thought it would. And that's another issue I would like to touch on. Personally the way I operate my business, I charge $25 per hour for restoration fees. There is absolutely no way that I or anybody else can tell you how much it's going to cost to fix your car, period. If you want it done right, there is nobody that can tell you an exact figure. Every car I've worked on so far has some form of hidden damage somewhere. What's going to happen if somebody gives you a fixed price for what it's going to cost to fix your car? He's going to take your car apart and when he finds that hidden damage, what's he going to do? He hadn't expected that, he's already made an agreement with you to fix it for a certain price. What's he going to do? He's going to hide it again. Me, I'm sorry, I refuse to compromise on the quality of my work. I'm going to get in there and fix it. I'm not going to cover it up. Anybody that goes in there and tells you that it's going to cost x amount of dollars to get your car re-done…you're not going to get what you are paying for. I'll be honest with you, I've been doing this010929_bla79ta_44_s.jpg (6136 bytes) for about 10 years now, and I've got a list of references… I'm going to be honest with you and I'm going to do the job right. If I can't do it right, I'm going to tell you, "Look, this is a little more than what I wanted to get into." Can I answer any other questions?

DAPA: Everybody should know David is a (DAPA) member, so try to support him if you can.

Mars: Thank you.

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"Restoring Old Dreams"

Owner and Operator, Mr. David Mars
Serving the community since 1991
4588A Kennedale - New Hope Rd.
Fort Worth, TX  76140

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