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The Bandit emerged from 42 years of captivity completely dusty, remarkably unrusty and with just 35 miles on its odometer.

The 1979 Trans Am’s tires would have flat spots after decades of sitting. Its sediment-filled gas tank would need to be replaced. But it still had its window stickers, and that new car smell.

“It was like a time capsule,” said Dave LaFreniere of Clio, Michigan, who rescued the Pontiac from a neighbor’s pole barn earlier this year. “The interior was beautiful.”

LaFreniere had heard rumors about the hidden treasure. Maybe 15 years ago, his wife told him she’d heard someone in the area had bought a new Camaro and parked it in a barn.

“I just kind of blew her off, you know. Who would do that?”

But earlier this year, his parents wanted to buy a neighboring property. LaFreniere got permission from the owner — a retired General Motors employee wintering in Florida — to look around the land.

He noticed a side door to the barn was pushed open near the top, so he had his son hold up his phone and snap a photo through the gap.

Trans-Am

The 1979 Trans Am was covered in decades of dust when it was found in a Michigan barn.

And there was the old new Trans Am. LaFreniere called the owner back to learn more. The owner explained that an excavating company owner had bought five new 1979 Trans-Ams from a dealer in Jackson, Michigan, as investments -- and had sold at least one of them.

The neighbor had ended up with it years ago.

“He said he never touched it; never did anything with it.”

And then he told LaFreniere he also had a 1970 Chevelle and a 1946 Willys.

LaFreniere had always wanted a Chevelle. But the owner insisted on a package deal — all or none.

Trans-Am

The Michigan man who found the 35-mile, 42-year-old Trans Am said it still had the new car smell. "It was like a time capsule."

After he got the cars home, the dirt-covered black Trans-Am cleaned up. And after LaFreniere replaced the gas tank, blew out the fuel lines and replaced the fluids, it started up.

But he didn’t know what to do with the car. He didn’t have room to store it. “And at 35 miles, I just couldn’t have brought myself to drive it.”

Early on, before he bought it, LaFreniere had talked to Trans-Am specialist Dave Hall, who owns Restore a Muscle Car on the northeast edge of Lincoln, trying to gauge how much he should offer for it.

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“Right from the beginning when I bought the car, I somehow wanted him to have it. He just seemed like a good guy.”

Later, he also talked with an appraiser, who estimated its worth at about $67,000, eight times its sticker price. But he warned LaFreniere it was just a ballpark, because there was nothing even close to compare it to.

After he recently decided to sell it, he talked to Hall again — and was happy to seal a deal and send the car to Lincoln.

Trans-Am

A note found in the Trans Am solved some of the mystery.

He knew it was going to a good home, he said.

“At the end of day, the right guy got it. I think the only guy got it.”

The Trans-Am rolled off a trailer and into Hall’s shop last week.

“It’s a super-clean car,” Hall said. “To find a car that is a two-digit car is extremely rare.”

Trans-Am

The Trans Am was listed at $8,300 when it sold in 1979.

He plans to take plenty of photos, to document what a 1979 Trans-Am looked like fresh off the factory floor, which will help guide his future restorations of higher-mileage cars.

Ultimately, he might sell it at auction, and with the right bidders, it could be a six-figure car, he said. He’s also had interest from a couple of automotive museums.

Before that, though, his shop will spend four to six weeks peeling back the years. Power-washing the undercarriage and engine compartment. Steam-cleaning and vacuuming the interior. Detailing every inch.

But they won’t make any modifications.

“They’re only original once,” Hall said. “With a survivor car, there’s history involved. Not only in what it’s been through but what it hasn’t been through.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter

This article originally ran on journalstar.com.

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