Spotting that Special Edition Trans Am 

One of the most frequently asked questions is :

How can you tell if that black Trans Am with the hood bird is a Special Edition Trans Am ?

The only way to be 100% sure is to have the documentation on that Trans Am showing the Y codes. There is no way of telling from the VIN number, and very few cowl data plates are stamped with the Y-84 or Y-88 code. There are certain things to look for when viewing a black Trans Am that might be a Special Edition.

The first thing to look for on the 1976-1978 Trans Am is the sail panel decal. If there is a decal it could be a Special Edition. Non-Special Edition Trans Ams had a cast medallion on the sail panel. The cast medallion was red. This is pretty much the instant way to spot a "Non Special Edition" for those years. From 1979-1981 the cast medallion was dropped and all Trans Ams had a decal on the sail panel.

Other things to look at are the special gold interior and exterior appointments that make up the Special Edition Package.

1.) Gold Machined Instrument Panel. (otherwise they are silver)

2.) Gold steering wheel spokes. (On the 1976 to early 1980 model year) after that the spokes are black on all Special Edition Trans Ams.

3.) Gold firebirds (otherwise they are red ) in the following:

Horn button

Shifter handle (automatics)

Wheel center cap inserts (1977-1981): ( In 1976 the center caps are a red Pontiac arrow)

Window crank inserts (in the door panel) for power window optioned S/E Trans Ams

4.) Front bumper crests: The 1976 L/E Trans Am had a special gold bird for the front bumper. The 1977 and 1978 Y-82 and Y-84 Trans Am had a red front bumper arrow. The 1978 Y-88 and 1979-1981 Y-84 front bumper arrow was gold.

5.) Pinstriping and "gothic" lettering on the front fenders and rear spoiler. (1976-1978) the lettering changed in 1978 with the Y-88 edition. However the pinstriping was continued.

6.) Gold accents in the front grille.

The hood bird on the 1976-1978 ( Y-81, Y-82 and Y-84) Trans Am looks like this:

The 1978 Y-88 and 1979-1980 Y-84 S/E had a different style bird with feathered wings.

The hood birds on the 1980 and 1981 TURBO equipped Special Edition Trans Am were altogether different. The head faced the opposite way. The non-turbo Special Edition bird in 1981 had a first and second design and the bird faced the normal way.

The 1980 TURBO hood bird

The 1981 non-turbo hood bird


This is a small plate attached to the cowling on the drivers side. Clean it off to make sure you get the correct numbers. The first thing to look for is the black GM paint code. If should be 19L and 19U. For a Y-88 gold special edition the GM paint code is 50L 50U. Another key code is the WS4 code which stands for Trans Am, some are stamped, some aren't.  Please note that the cowl tags come from the Fisher body factory and are all stamped 2FS87 because they are a base Firebird body. If you have a Trans Am, Esprit, or Formula your  VIN number will reflect "that" code.  Through the documentation sent into the club, we've found that on the 1978 -1981 model years "some" cowl data plates are stamped with the Y-88 and Y-84 codes. Seems like one of the workers at GM would stamp his plates with the Y-codes. Here's a picture of a Cowl Data Plate from a 1978 Y-88 gold special edition Trans Am.


The factory build sheet is the most valuable piece of documentation that you can obtain for your Trans Am. It lists the parts that came off of the assembly line, and has all of the codes for your options. The first place to look for your build sheet is under the lower rear seat cushions. All you have to do is bring the front seats all the way forward, climb into the back of your T/A and while using your knee to push the lower seat cushion rearward, lift up on the seat. It pops right out. Look under both seat cushions. The next place to look is between the rear seat back, and the trunk. Alot of build sheets are found stuffed between the cushion and the cardboard lining. Those are the two most common spots to look. Members have written in that they found theirs in the: door panels, under the front seats, on top of the gas tank, in the dashboard... etc.

We've picked up on most of this information through the extensive documentation that is sent in to the registry and attending many many car shows. The Bandit Club has a vast assortment of build sheets, factory invoices, dealer invoices, bills of sale, Canadien invoices, and overseas invoices. We've read all of the books on these Special Edition Trans Ams, and while most are pretty correct we do find some things that are wrong.

We hope that this page will help you spot the Special Edition Trans Am. If you are looking at one that is for sale, keep in mind that these cars are in some cases over 20 years old. Not all of the stripes and correct decals will be there. Also, people change things. If the Trans Am has the red birds on the wheel center caps and not the gold ones, it just means that it's not correct. The most common thing is the incorrect hood bird.

Please re-read this page over a couple of times before sending me an E-mail about how your Trans Am is "all-original" and billy bob up the street said that it should have so and so option.  Some Trans Ams have the red center caps, most have the gold.  Some Trans Ams have the WS4 stamped on the cowl tag, some don't. If your Trans Am is a 1978-1981 it "could" have the Y-code stamped on the cowl tag. The 1976 and 1977 T/A cowl tags weren't stamped.  I don't mind answering E-mail with genuine questions, however blatantly dumb questions where I've pointed out the answer on this page will be ignored.

We now hope that you can walk up to a black trans am and spot the cast medallion, silver instrument panel, red wheel center caps, and tell that it's not a Special Edition. It is easy to fake a Special Edition by just going out and buying all of the little gold goodies and a stripe/hood bird kit. The only way to be 100% sure that the car you are looking at is really a factory Special Edition is by matching the VIN number on the dashboard with the VIN number on the documentation that lists the Y code.

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This page was last updated on 07/08/00