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If KITT had a family: Pontiac tried to resurrect a 15-year-old concept with its Trans Am Kammback

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Photos by Gary Kessler, courtesy of Mecum Auctions.

These days, photochoppers don’t waste much time in slapping together station wagon or shooting brake versions of every new car after the first official images of that car hit the Internet. Spiritually, those photochoppers have plenty in common with Pontiac staffers who, throughout the Seventies and Eighties, slapped together multiple wagon versions of the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, one of which will go to auction early next year.

In fact, the Camaro/Firebird twins, though only ever available as coupes and convertibles (with one minor exception, which we’ll get to in a moment), nearly had a shooting brake version as early as 1970. As Don Keefe wrote in Pontiac Concept & Show Cars, both Chevrolet and Pontiac studio heads formed teams — led by Hank Haga and Bill Porter, respectively — dedicated to studying the feasibility of longroof versions of the second-generation F-body, likely to increase the car’s minuscule cargo capacity. Clays resulted, but production didn’t.

Both teams worked closely together and enjoyed a great deal of cooperation, even though problems eventually arose. Cost considerations forced the teams to adopt virtually interchangeable panels, and to differentiate themselves, the teams eventually hit an impasse. The corporation required them to share quarter panels and doors, which killed the project, as the teams were unable to agree on a shared design.

The idea evidently never got much traction with the bowtie guys. Over in the Pontiac studios, it seemed to simmer along, though: Dave Holls and Jerry Brockstein dusted off the idea and saw it through to completion as the fiberglass-paneled 1977 Type K show car — initially a Firebird Formula, then later a full-fledged Trans Am. Bill Mitchell even had Sergio Pininfarina build a pair of fully steel-bodied versions to hit the show circuit in 1978 and 1979, and hinted to the press that the Type K would go into production.

While that never happened due to the prohibitive cost of adding the extra panels and glass (bumping the Trans Am’s $6,299 price tag up to $25,000), one aftermarket company did advertise and build at least one or two copies of the Type K for $15,000 a pop.

With the third-generation F-body, however, Pontiac designers and engineers apparently saw a less expensive path forward for the Type K’s concept. Where the second-generation F-body used a fixed backlite that, in its latter years, wrapped over onto its sail panels, the third-generation used a massive sloping hatch. The former required extensive sheetmetal modifications to generate a station wagon; the latter required only that the hatch be swapped out for a taller and squared-off wagon version (much like the Nissan Pulsar NX, which entered production in 1986).

And that’s just what Pontiac’s designers did in 1985. The result, which Pontiac called the Kammback this time around, didn’t quite have the length of the Type K, but it did include the Type K’s gullwing glass panels. While most sources indicate Pontiac built just two Kammbacks — a black version and a white version — contemporary photos show a third in red. Motor Trend, which included the black version on its August 1985 cover, reported that the Kammback option would cost just a few hundred dollars and be available as a dealership-installed accessory to ensure quality control.

Despite the lower premium of the Kammback versus the Type K (or even the potential for selling Kammback hatch as a factory accessory), it too failed to reach production. In a way, though, its basic concept may have influenced the later 1988 Trans Am GTA AA8-package notchback, a production version of the high-performance GTA that discarded the sloping hatch for one with much less glass; a little more than 700 were built.

The white Trans Am Kammback (chassis number 0000EX4796), fitted with the 190-hp H.O. version of the 305-cu.in. V-8 and a five-speed manual transmission, reportedly served as an IMSA pace car for a brief period before Pontiac put it into storage. It took Michigan-based Pontiac dealer John McMullen to bust it out of storage and then turn the 36,000-mile prototype over to Scott Tiemann for a full restoration.

The Kammback them remained in McMullen’s collection — alongside one of the Pininfarina-built Type Ks — until 2007, when it sold at auction to John O’Quinn for $66,000. Since then, it sold at auction again — for $44,000 at Barrett-Jackson’s 2017 Scottsdale sale — and ProTeam Corvette Sales has advertised it for $69,995. No pre-auction estimate has been released for its upcoming trip across the block at Mecum’s Kissimmee auction, slated for January 3 to 13.

For more information on Mecum’s Kissimmee auction, visit Mecum.com.