Home » Battle Of The Salvage Titles: 1980 Pontiac Trans Am vs 2005 Aston Martin DB9

Battle Of The Salvage Titles: 1980 Pontiac Trans Am vs 2005 Aston Martin DB9

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Good morning, and welcome to another Shitbox Showdown! Today it’s Two-Door Tuesday, as we take a look at a mismatched pair of sport coupes with branded titles. But first, let’s take a look at what you thought of ze Germans:

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The Audi has it easily. I am not surprised, nor do I disagree. The words “BMW” and “head gasket” are enough to strike fear into the hearts of the most seasoned shitbox aficionados.

You know what else is a scary phrase? “Salvage title.” A car that has been totaled, stolen, or junked and then returned to service is something of a wild card. What exactly happened to it? How well was it repaired? It’s possible you’ll never know. Worse, in some places, cars with “dirty” titles can be difficult to insure, and sometimes lenders won’t give you a loan for them. I’ve only had one car with a dinged title: a 1991 Nissan Pathfinder for which we paid the princely sum of $1,300. It served us well for three years, so I can’t complain.

But what about the oddities, the rarities, the cars that would be priced much higher if that one little box on the title were blank? What about, for instance, a Firebird plucked from a junkyard, or a V12 Aston Martin with front end damage? Are they worth the hassle of figuring out the title? Let’s take a look and see.

1980 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am – $4,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 4.9 or 5.0 liter overhead valve V8, three-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Issaquah, WA

Odometer reading: 134,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep!

All right, get your mullet jokes ready for the comments. Yes, it’s the fabled Trans Am, Pontiac’s top dog in the Firebird line, the muscle car of so many young men’s dreams throughout the 1970s and 80s. But before you get too excited, I have the same bad news for you that Trans Am buyers were faced with in 1980: this car is slow. To meet emissions targets, Pontiac dropped the big 6.6 liter engine choices, leaving only their own 301, or a 305 cubic inch small block borrowed from Chevy. A turbocharged version of the 301 was available, but those were so rare and special that if this car was a turbo, the seller would have mentioned it. They didn’t. So what you’re looking at is a small V8 fueled by a Quadrajet four-barrel, wheezing out somewhere around a hundred and fifty horsepower through a compulsory Turbo-Hydramatic 350 transmission.

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This Firebird has a completely unknown provenance. The seller bought it from a junkyard, and apparently drove it home. They shined it up, and it came out pretty good. The red paint isn’t original, so the “screaming chicken” decals are long gone. Fear not; reproductions are available. The interior is intact but worn, and there is a little bit of body damage; the car’s rubber nose looks a little sad. But really, it’s not terrible.

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Let’s not kid ourselves: Burt Reynolds or James Garner aside, these cars are more or less crap. Firebirds and Camaros of this era were slapped together quickly and cheaply, with no regard for reliability or durability. They were meant to be used up and thrown away by young men, who were then supposed to come back and buy another Pontiac or Chevy of a more respectable sort. Pontiac sold half as many Trans Ams in 1980 as they did in 1979, likely due to the lackluster engine choices, but the swoopy lines and gaudy decals drew buyers into the showrooms, and that is what they were meant to do.

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But even these sad slow malaise-era cars have always had a following, and they’re slowly gaining respectability as collector’s items. So how did an intact, functional 1980 Trans Am end up in a junkyard outside Seattle? There’s no way to know, but we can be thankful someone had the good sense to pull it out.

2005 Aston Martin DB9 – $18,900

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Engine/drivetrain: 5.9 liter dual overhead cam V12, six-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Woodland, WA

Odometer reading: 93,000 miles

Runs/drives? Runs, but not driveable

Yes, I know this car is well outside the normal price parameters of this column, But a shitbox is a shitbox, no matter the cost, and how often do you see a banged-up Aston Martin? It’s just too interesting to pass up, so to hell with the normal price range.

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The DB9 was designed and produced during Ford’s ownership of Aston Martin. Its V12 engine shares some DNA with the Duratec V6 in your aunt’s Taurus, but this is still a handmade luxury grand tourer, a fast, wasteful, glorious two-plus-two-seater that is both expressive and impressive. You drive an Aston Martin DB9 so that people know you can afford to drive an Aston Martin DB9.

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It gets less impressive when you smash it into something and discover that the front clip is a bunch of plastic, like some common Altima or something. But don’t expect to just go down to the Pick N’ Pull and find a new front bumper for this sucker. Worse, the impact damaged the radiators – yes, plural – so this Aston isn’t going anywhere under its own steam (so to speak). And I checked: Rock Auto does not carry radiators for this.

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I’m not sure who the buyer is for this car. First, you have to want an Aston; second, you have to be willing to fix a banged-up one; and third, you have to be able to do the work yourself, because taking this to a shop for repair would probably make it as expensive as a real Aston. But if you simply have to have one, this might be the least expensive way to get one.

So how about it? Are you up to the challenge of reviving a half-assed muscle car, or patching up a busted British thoroughbred? And are you willing to jump through the hoops at the DMV to get its papers in order?

 

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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98 Responses

  1. Worst case scenario, whichever car you buy you can’t get it back to road legal condition.
    In that case, it comes down to: which car would you rather look at (sat on bricks) in your driveway? And the easy answer is the Aston, it’s just so much better looking.
    Plus assuming the engine still runs, you’ve got a V12. Sure, not one that you can easily transplant or find parts for, but *V12*! V12’s are cool. Fact.

  2. If I was in the US, with my accent it’d have to be the Aston. It’d impress the hell out of all the tow truck drivers that I’d meet.

    Meanwhile, in England, you can buy a non-crashed DB9 for 20,000 of our UK Pounds.

    That’s just 24,600 USD.

    I’ve been toying with buying another Lotus, but hadn’t realise I was so close to DB9 money. The running costs would be ruinous though, and everyone would assume I was a James Bond nut. And I’d get “wanker” shouted at me a lot.

    1. @captain muppet “It’d impress the hell out of all the tow truck drivers that I’d meet.” hahaha I think the subtlety of your jokes was lost, but not on me.

      1. I used to have a Mercedes S55 AMG. I knew the guy at Alpha Dog Towing quite well since I also owned a BMW at the time. He was notably impressed with the big Merc and he gave me credit for working on it myself.

        Don’t knock getting street cred off the wreckerman. Feels good.

  3. The Trans Am is the easy choice, basically sound an an excellent base for modification. Thanks to Herb Adams there’s a body of knowledge to make them handle and since this generation has a small block Chevy from the factory it’s trivial to swap in a 383 stroker or go for the budget LS swap and lose the TH350 on the way.
    The Aston is a parts sourcing nightmare and really requires another salvage car with rear end or engine damage as a donor

    1. Not to mention, as a lifelong F-body fanboy: that interior is in remarkably good shape. I’m thinking this thing was probably involved in some sort of low speed parking lot fender bender, thus the branded title. Think about it, how much damage would it take to total out a 40-year-old American car?

    2. But the Aston–it’s such a beautiful piece of garbage! I know it would be such a bad decision, but it is SO tempting. It would def get wifey approval…

  4. My vote goes to the Trans Am. I was gonna go with the Aston Martin, but then I read in the ad “. It has secondary cats and mufflers deleted, sounds amazing! ”

    It’s one thing where you just have to replace some damaged bits because the owner hand an ‘ooops’ moment.

    But it’s another thing when that same owner has done idiotic modifications like deleting mufflers/cats, combined with the salvage title and the current damage.

    No… the dipshit who fucked up his DB9 can keep his car.

  5. T/A, that sad face, it needs a home, and it’s easy to fix.
    Pure nostalgia, I lost my hearing and my mind in the back seat of one like this!

    Aston Martin, no, thanks. For that kind of cash I could rebuild the Trans Am, and still have plenty of gas money.

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