Custom Cruise Friday
Spanish explorers spent much of the 17th century searching for the Fountain of Youth. As it turns out Ed Vanderveen found it in an advertisement in the Edmonton Journal in the early 1970s. Like many great discoveries, he didn’t know what he had at the time. Vanderveen was 19 years old at the time and being unencumbered single man, he was looking for a fast car to drive. He was intrigued by the Journal’s ad for somebody selling a 1969 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, one test drive and one trip to the bank for a $2,350 loan, he became the car’s fourth owner.
“I didn’t realize what I had,” Vanderveen said. “People left notes on my windshield. I would be visiting friends and people would knock on the door asking if the car was for sale.”
For the casual observer, the Burt Reynolds version of the car is what immediately comes to mind when people hear “Firebird Trans Am.” However, Vanderveen’s car is much rarer and, in many cases, much more valuable. 1969 was the inaugural year for the Firebird Trans Am model. General Motors built less than 700. It came with two engine options, Vanderveen’s Firebird has a 400 cubic-inch, Ram Air III V-8 engine rated for 335 horsepower. Although Vanderveen suspects the actual power output is much higher, because GM used a formula to calculate the car’s horsepower with considerations for weight and cubic inch displacement.
The 1969 Trans Am served as his daily driving vehicle until 1980 when he stored it in his garage. Marriage, five kids, a mortgage and life in general has a way of separating a muscle car from its owner. According to Vanderveen, during the time the car was stored away, it served as a playhouse for his five children and only made the rare trip up and down the back alley to ensure it would still start.
In 2003, Vanderveen more or less rediscovered his car in the garage and set upon a path to restore it and a memorable portion of his youth. Working with a local body shop, he got a crash course in body work, drilling out old welds, sanding down the body as well as learning how to strip a car down to its frame. The work was finished in 2012 and the Fountain of Youth metaphor was completed.
“It felt great,” Vanderveen said. “(Driving the car) made me feel like I was 19 again.”
By all accounts, he did the restoration the right way and almost everything on the 1969 Firebird Trans Am is original. The engine, transmission and even the alternator are original. The only notable changes came by way of replacing the carpet as well as the windshield. Vanderveen may not take his Trans Am out to Vancouver on wild adventures like he did when he was 19, but by no stretch of the imagination is he afraid to drive it.
“I don’t have a bazillion dollars tied into the car,” Vanderveen said. “That’s why I’m not afraid to drive it.
“Otherwise it’s just a painting on the wall.”
Each of Vanderveen’s five children has had opportunities to drive the car after the restoration. In fact, his youngest child was really able to take advantage his dad’s Trans Am.
“My youngest learned to drive a standard transmission in the car,” Vanderveen said. “Not many people can say that.”
During the time when the car was sitting the garage, Vanderveen started to do a little research about the 1969 Firebird Trans Am. It was here where he truly learned how rare it actually is. His estimates place a retail value of six figures for the car. It would be easy for someone to see this as a windfall, but in the world of classic car collecting there are more important things than money. For Vanderveen, that would seem to be the pleasure and (more responsible) excitement that he feels when behind the wheel.
“I’ll give it the odd boot once in a while,” Vanderveen said. “I don’t really tear all the way through to fourth gear.”
Vanderveen may not push his Trans Am to the limit, like he once did. Though he still fondly understands what this car was built to do.
“It’s not meant to be babied around,” Vanderveen said. “I’m glad I had it when I was young. I drove it the way it was meant to be driven. It’s probably lucky that it’s here knowing some of the dumb stuff I did with it back then. But it survived.”
If you have a classic or modified vehicle that you would like to see profiled in a Custom Cruise Friday Blog, contact Don Wheaton Internet Manager Melina Kawecki by email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send along some photos and all pertinent information.