Sal Escamilla

She wasn’t always the ravishing beauty you see before you today; this is true rag to riches story.

In order to complete the restoration on a ’79 Special Edition Black Trans-Am, I decided to find something that I could use as a daily driver. One day in March of 1986, while looking through the Houston Chronicle I came across a for sale ad on a ’71 Firebird-automatic 350, runs $700. So I decided to go a take a look. The (2nd) owner of the vehicle was a lady who had come to Houston from Detroit. Brown on brown, a dented rust bucket on wheels, 118,000 miles, torn seats, a “bare boned” Firebird, with NON-POWER front disc brakes and four bald tires with “dog dish” hubcaps, but the motor was intact and the “Endura” front end caught my attention.

I negotiated with the lady and drove off in my $600 vehicle. The trip from Detroit had taken its toll on the car. The power steering had so much play that it could be turned with the strength of a pinky finger! The rear brakes leaked and the master cylinder was worn out. I made a trip to Chief Auto Parts and with the assistance of the store manager, Manual Oliva, I bought the parts I needed, including lifetime warranties (are the warranties still valid if the company no longer exist?) About a month after I got the car, a former member in Port Arthur heard about my new acquisition, called and offered me five 15x7 Honeycomb rims for $100! However, I had to go and get them that same day, so 3 hours and a 160 miles later, unknowingly, began the journey to restoration.

I bought new BF Goodrich G60-15’s for all Four Corners and began driving my car regularly. I had a problem with the transmission slipping, so I had to rebuild it. One day on the way from Pearland to my parents house, in the Heights, I began to smell something and realized the radiator was overheating, after a good ‘flush’ we were back on the road again. I decided to give the old girl some breathing room, so I bought some Heddman headers with dual turbo mufflers, and a set of chrome, Trans-Am tailpipes.

While showing the ’79 Trans-Am, other Firebird’s began to catch my attention and I realized the potential this plain ‘run of the mill’ car had to be transformed into a factory fresh Formula 350. Pick-a-part turned out to be my gold mine. I spent every other weekend searching out new ‘goodies’. On one trip I found a ’78 Trans-Am with a WS6 suspension with quick ratio and a high effort steering box. As my visits continued I found a 1 1” front sway bar, and a 3” sway bar with nylon bushings and both front and rear seats. My treasures included a working factory AM/FM stereo, 8-track player ($6.50 for both), original map reading lights, hide-a-way windshield wipers, power trunk release and a rear trunk lid ($20). Car club members offered a tilt steering column, factory fiberglass ’75 Formula hood ($75), two complete Firebird doors ($25), a ’78 Firebird front passenger fender, and a rear bumper with deluxe bumper guards. Local swap meets added a 14” Formula steering wheel, a black center console, brake pedal trim and chrome valve cover and air breather lid. Car catalogs and dealer items included rear mesh package tray cover, deluxe black interior seat covers and headliner (Paddock), black nylon loop Firebird carpet (ACC), WS6 Trans-Am shocks, driver side front fender, complete black dash board and about 1 of the chrome trimming. Each purchase added to the personality of this vehicle and it began to take shape. Now it was time to take this multi colored ride (from all the different body parts) and give it a face-lift (not to mention that I hated the original brown color from day one!) In March of 1988, Roy Sanchez, of 6th and Yale St agreed to paint the car if I did all the dirty work. I took some vacation time and began disassembling. Doors, trunk, hood and two gallons of aircraft stripper later- it all came off, and it all got stripped-down to bare metal. Exactly one week later, I drove out in my newly painted, Code 11: Cameo White base coat/clear coat bird.

My first show with my newly “Restified Formula 350” was at The Chevy Club in Pearland and then the 1989 Autorama. I still enjoy driving and showing her, and have to admit, she doesn’t look to bad for a ‘show’ car that is protected only by a car port and car cover. I’d also like to take some time to give special thanks to Danielle and all the members who helped make this restoration a success. I’ll keep showing the old girl until my ‘little girl’ can drive and show ‘THE WHITE KNIGHT’ with the same pride I do.