Heath "Heeter" Thomas
Heath "Heeter" Thomas, a man's man! He's living the American dream, doing what most men only dream of doing, living where most people would love to live, working at a job he loves to do! When you first meet Heeter, you feel like you've known him all your life. His deep booming voice is reminiscent of every radio announcer you've ever heard, and his demeanor puts you right at ease! People who achieve Heath's level of happiness are usually surrounded with gold, and Heath is no exception! Heath's gold comes in the form of an outstanding 1978 Gold Trans Am SE, and the family that got it for him! Below is his story that was published first in April 2005 when his T/A was voted Pontiac of the month at his local car club, (San Diego Pontiac - Oakland Club), and again in December of 2005 when he made the cover of POCI's Smoke Signal Magazine! Way to go Heath!
American MuscleÖ.Birds of Prey
1978 Gold Special Edition Firebird Trans Am
By: Heath Thomas
Iím not sure what it was that made me a Pontiac enthusiast but at age 15 I bought my first car, which later also became my third car (but thatís a story for another day). It was a 1971 Pontiac Lemans Sport. The Lemans wasnít my dream car in 1982 (that would have been any of the 1st or 2nd generation Firebird Formulas or Trans Amís that were popular at the time) but I had limited funds to spend on a car I wouldnít be able to ďlegallyĒ drive for another year. (I still have the Lemans 25 years later but Iíve not done her justice letting her sit uncovered for the last 15 years. Iíll get back to her one day). When I left Bangor, Pennsylvania in 1985 it was in a Pontiac that I began to explore our country and the world. My life as a United States Marine was just beginning. North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Washington DC, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Virginia and West Virginia were all explored in that Lemans Sport. Many a race was won and many good memories made.
Then another Pontiac, a 1986 Sunbird GT took flight to carry me even further and provide ďfairlyĒ reliable transportation the next 13 years and 300,000 miles. With this car I would explore new places like Tennessee, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and California while revisiting SC, NC, MD, PA, VA, WV, GA, AL, FL, DE, NJ and NY. My travels around the world with the Marine Corps were just as exciting and memorable.
In what seemed to be a blink of the eye 18 years had passed and I had gone from being a Marine jet mechanic to a Navy pilot who just happened to be visiting that small Pennsylvania hometown for a holiday vacation. My wife, her mother and I had gone out to a favorite pub in the area and I noticed an advertisement of a car for sale as we walked in the door. I looked at the info a little closer and immediately told (well maybe asked nicely) my wife that the car of my dreams was for sale and I just had to have it. The car was of course my 1978 Gold Special Edition Trans Am. I spent the rest of the evening trying to convince my wife this car would make a fantastic Christmas present, but even after the extra beer or two I bought her she was resolute in her opinion that it was too much money to spend for a car that we would just have to drag all around the country with us. By the time we left, she had me convinced she was right and it was just too much to deal with (multiple cars and military life).
I was stationed in Maryland at the time and little did I know that upon our return the Sneak (my wife) had called her mother and brother to have them check out the car with instructions to let her know if it was in good shape. My brother-in-law checked it out and gave it a solid, double thumbs up regarding its condition. The seller was the original owner and had most of the original paperwork. He was asking $10,000 but my mother-in-law talked him down to $9,000. The deal was done and the surprise Christmas present was driven home to wait the special day. My brother-in-law said he was sure he saw a tear in the ownerís eye as he drove off.
A few weeks later the surprise was unveiled and my brother-in-law said he was sure he saw a tear in my eye when they opened the garage door (it was dust in my eye of course). The 1978 Firebird Trans Am MSRP was $5,799. The Y88 Special Edition Package added another $1259 and the WS6 Special Performance Package another $151. Total sticker price for the car with other options was $8, 755 (and I paid $9,000 for it twenty two years later Ė I wish all cars would hold their value like that). For the motor heads out there, the WS6 package included the 15X8 gold-colored-snowflake-aluminum wheels, upgraded Goodyear polysteel radial 225/70 R15 tires, a constant ratio - high effort steering box, an upsized rear sway bar and smaller bushings all around to improve responsiveness. Production numbers for the car were 8,666 total built. 6,519 were automatic transmission with some variant of the Pontiac 400ci engine. 1,267 were made with the manual transmission and powered by the Pontiac L78/W72, 220 HP, 400ci engine, while 880 were made for California or higher altitudes and had the Oldsmobile 403ci engine. My Gold Bird of Prey has the automatic transmission with the L78/W72, X7, 220 HP, Pontiac 400ci engine.
Iíve enjoyed my Gold Bird and its unique characteristics. Iíve worked hard to restore it to its original form. Itís been great going to car shows and having the only Gold Trans Am. Even the Trans Am Nationals in Dayton only draw out 4 or 5 of the Special Edition Gold Birds. The biggest project so far was the R-n-R of aftermarket wheel fairings the former owner had installed to reduce road chips on the paint. Like Iím sure many of you have experienced, my small project ended up to be something more. It turned out to be a little body work, a complete new paint job and 3 years later Iím still waiting for Ralph at Stencils and Stripes to produce the stripe and decal package I need to complete the job. Itís a great culture to step into! Iíve met lots of great people from around the world and cannot begin to say how much members of the Bandit Trans Am club and members of the SDPOCI chapter have helped me along the way.
American MuscleÖBirds of Prey, what the hell does that mean you ask? Well, Iíve been a Navy SH-60B Seahawk helicopter pilot for the last eleven years and Iíve watched the Seahawk develop into a lethal Bird of Prey. It is the premiere helicopter of the U.S. Navy and it can pretty much do anything needed from shooting missiles at a ship or tank to sinking a submarine to controlling a section of jet fighters for a strike mission. This Bird of Prey can also be used to rescue the poor jet jock that got shot down or pick up the unlucky mariner stuck on a sinking ship and most recently American Muscle was used to deliver food and relief supplies to millions of Tsunami refugees when no one else could. Now you may ask, how do I classify my T/A 6.6 Special Edition Gold Bird as a Bird of Prey? Well let me tell ya, in 1978, Road Test Magazine matched the WS6/W72 T/A against a Z28, and a Corvette in a down and dirty street fight. The T/A was chosen the victor, running the quarter in 15.2 seconds at 93.4 MPH. 0 to 60 in 7.2 seconds with a top speed of 123 MPH. Other cars like the Ford Mustang, 302ci V8 powered King Cobra ran a slow 17.09-second quarter at 80.69 MPH and the Chevy Monza Spyder with the 305ci V8 made the quarter in 17.16 seconds at 82.04 MPH. Special Edition Trans Amís rock and still prey on the weary.
Ensuring I foster the driving excitement, I convinced my wife (a known driver of Fords and Camaros Ė please donít hold that against her, she really is a good woman) to purchase a new Trans Am back in 2002. We were looking for a new car and I told her GM was not going to make the Firebird or Camaro anymore. It only took one test flight and she was hooked. Now we have two Birds of Prey to stalk the highways
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