Trans Am Series once was one of the most popular competitions
In the history of motorsports, there are moments when certain championships, series, or racing cups display an appeal which sets them apart from other similar racing championships or classes.
Great racing series
It is often a specific period of time when the championship is full of interesting cars, famous and talented drivers and races are held on the best speedways and tracks like Daytona, Sebring or Atlanta. The famous Trans-Am series was just that; a great racing series which featured some of the brightest racing talents of the late ’60s and early ’70s.
The Trans-Am started as part of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) in 1966. The organizers realised that there was a need for a separate series for small European-built sports cars and a new class of sports cars made in the USA like the Ford Mustang or the Plymouth Barracuda.
Trans Am with two classes on the grid
In fact, the series was open to the FIA Group 2 Touring cars and it had two classes, over 2.0 liters (to 5.0 liters) and under 2.0-liter engine displacement. In the lower class, there was a variety of interesting racing cars like the Alfa Romeo GTA, the Lotus Cortina Mk1, the Porsche 912, the Triumph TR4…and even the Mini Cooper S but in the upper class, most of the cars were American with engines up to 302 cid (5.0 liters).
Since the cars were almost stock and the races were held on some of the best road racing circuits in America, Trans-Am became very popular over a short period of time. The amateur racers were replaced by professional drivers driving for the factory teams of Porsche, Alfa Romeo, Ford, Chevrolet, AMC and Plymouth.
Great opportunity for both racers and manufacturers
The factories started making homologation specials for Trans-Am and in 1969, Ford introduced the Boss 302, Chevrolet introduced the Camaro Z28 and in 1970, Plymouth presented the Barracuda 340 AAR. The racing became very intense with Parnelli Jones, Dan Gurney, George Folman and others battling on road courses throughout America. The fans loved Trans-Am because this was a race with cars that they could buy and drive and it was a perfect addition to the famous muscle-car culture of those days. In the early ’70s, Trans-Am even threatened NASCAR for the spot of the most popular American racing series.
Huge popularity during the 1970s
In the ’70s, Trans-Am continued with a big fan base but the iconic cars like Alfa Romeo, Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Camaro were no longer a part of its story. Porsches and Corvettes were dominant throughout the decade with Datsun successful in the lower class. However, in the early ’80s, the rules changed, allowing turbo engines, full racing chassis and no more stock specifications of the cars.
Video – Trans-Am Series Race in Las Vegas (1983)
Audi was banned as it was too good
This was a departure from the original philosophy of the championship but it did make the races more interesting and much faster. However, fewer private teams were able to participate due to the rising cost. Ford, Chevrolet, Porsche and Mazda were successful during that period. Among professional racers, there was a famous actor Paul Newman who raced and often won. An interesting addition to the ‘high tech’ period of the Trans-Am was the Audi 200 Quattro with a turbo engine and a four-wheel drive; it dominated racing in the late ’80s but was soon banned because it was just too good.
In the 1990s, Trans-Am lost its soul
However, the ’90s and the modern period proved to be bad for Trans-Am and its philosophy. The series lost its recognition among its fans and the specification of the cars was very close to the GT3. Of course, the brand value is still so strong that even today there are Trans-Am races but with a different set of rules.
Unfortunately, these races are no match for the excitement that the original race series was associated with a few decades ago. Let’s hope that organizers will realise this and that we will soon see a new and true Trans-Am championship which will also become the fans’ favourite.