The 2021 Ram TRX vs. the ’76 Trans-Am

The ’21 Ram TRX I test-drove recently has more than three times as much horsepower (702) as the 455 V8 in my ’76 Trans-Am made when it was new (200).

It also weighs nearly twice as much, 6,396 pounds vs. about 3,800 pounds, and still runs the quarter-mile three full seconds faster than my Trans Am did when it was new, in the low 12s vs. the mid-15s (which today is in the same ballpark as a four-cylinder family sedan’s performance).

It also out-handles and out-brakes it while getting about the same gas mileage carrying five people and being able to pull a trailer, carrying my Trans Am.

Plus, it goes fast in the rain and off-road, seriously—things my Trans Am dare not attempt lightly.

Credit: caricos.com

The TRX has a heated, Alcantara suede-covered steering wheel. A 19-speaker audio rig compared with the two-speaker AM/FM radio my TA came with (plus the 8-track). The rear seats are heated, and there’s more room back there than inside my TA, period.

Plus the trunk.

The TRX even has a functional hood scoop, which my TA didn’t until I made it so.

It can do a four-wheel burnout.

I love my Trans Am, but I have fallen in love with this thing. It combines the fury of two ’70 Hemi-powered Chargers in a single-vehicle, the comfort of a new 300 sedan, the room of an old Fury III station wagon, and the field-implement strength and unstoppability of a tracked CAT earth mover.

Everyone should have one, but aye, there’s the rub—the one downside of the new vs. the old—the cost.

Credit: JL1Row

My Trans Am, which was top-of-the-line back in ’76 and loaded with practically every option, cost less than $6,000, which is about $27,000 in today’s Venezuelan dollars.

The new TRX costs $70,000 to start in today’s dollars, plus tax, which is probably a sum sufficient to have purchased my ’76 TA in ’76.

My loaded test truck stickered out just over $87,000, which means only a lucky few will ever be able to own one. Back in ’76, a performance car like my TA was affordable. It cost the equivalent of what a new base trim Challenger with the V6 sells for today.

It’s why it was made in numbers that would boggle today for a specialty car: 46,704 of them. That’s Trans-Ams, not counting other Firebirds.

Ram will build just a fraction of that number of TRXs because only a fraction of the population can afford a TRX. But also because Ram can’t afford to build too many of them due to the effect of the TRX’s gas mileage (10 city, 14 highway) on its “corporate average” fuel economy (CAFE) score. This regulatory edict requires all the vehicles made by every car company to “comply” with ever-upticking MPG minimums, currently in the mid-30s on the way to the 50s.

These gas guzzler fines are applied generally to sell not just the TRX but also standard Ram trucks.

Such considerations were non-issues in 1976 when there were no CAFE “standards. A performance car with a V8 engine could be built relatively inexpensively and bought in mass quantity. Those too young to remember will have no memory of the time when V8-powered Trans-Ams, Camaros, and Mustangs were as common as tattoos on people under 30 are today.

The high water mark came in 1978-79 when Pontiac (RIP) was selling more than 200,000 Firebirds annually, with about 50 percent of them Trans-Ams with 6.6- liter V8s.

If this were the same today, Ram could probably offer a less-loaded version of the TRX. One without the heated suede Alcantara steering wheel and the 19 speaker audio system, and the monster truck off-road equipment — but with the essential element, the supercharged 6.2-liter V8.

Bring the cost down to around $50,000 or even less. Car companies would offer just the engine and the related go-fast peripherals in a “de-contented” version of the top-of-the-line. An excellent example of this was the Pontiac Formula Firebird, which had the Trans-Am’s engine but not the flashy cosmetics and sans the additional features the more expensive Trans-Am came with that didn’t make it any faster.

Ram built the TRX to the hilt because it can only sell a few due to the CAFÉ Rules.

Really too bad, too!

Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars, and blogging about cars+ for his website EricPetersAutos.com.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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