Kimberly V. Althage – April 8, 2022
That is not a typo, Tojan vehicles exist. Although not many and why most folks have never heard of, let alone seen one. Some of those in the know call it a “super car,” while others argue over whether it was a kit car or a production vehicle. While the Pontiac Tojan might look like a custom aftermarket creation or a type of kit car, it was in fact an official GM product, albeit a car with far-flung aspirations.
Ford’s challenge to Ferrari in the sixties is well known, perhaps more so due to the recent film. Yet they were not the only American car company to do so. The eighties decade of neon lights and social evolution was also a creative time for the automotive industry. Manufacturers like General Motors granted their in-house design teams a relaxed air of freedom, while engineers installed all manner of electronic experimentation. None more so than Pontiac, but their attempt to pull sales away from the prancing horse did not have the same success as Ford.
GM’s goal was to compete with Ferraris and other European exotica. They wanted to create an exotic-fighting model with true supercar performance, but one that retained a price point still affordable to the masses. Pontiac figured the F-body architecture could compete against the Italian exotics from Ferrari and Lamborghini. They looked to work with a third-party supplier to make a modified version of their Pontiac Firebird GTA. GM commissioned Knudsen Automotive, a coach builder, to build their Pontiac-branded sports car around the F-Body platform and equip them with elegant European styling.
Once a deal was struck Knudsen Automotive developed a prototype. Knudsen took the bones of a third-generation Pontiac Firebird, some inspiration from the Ferrari 308, as evident by the Tojan’s rear taillights and trunk and used all the modern technological advancements they could muster. Their prototype is one of a kind, and Carfection got the opportunity to drive this rarity in 2019.
There is only one such prototype, therefore it is rarer than your standard Tojan. Under the hood of that experimental Pontiac lurks a twin-turbocharged 800hp boat engine. Yes, originally meant for marine applications, the prototype achieved 206 miles per hour. However, the Gale Banks-built engine was never used in regular production. Typically, Tojans had a 305ci Tune Port Injection V8 engine installed.
GM worked with Knudsen Automotive from 1985 to 1991 to produce a limited number of these special editions. The Tojan was a built to order or custom creation car. It only sold through a select group of Pontiac Dealerships in California, New Jersey, Texas, and Florida. Customers ordered through one of these special dealerships and GM would send a Trans Am GTA chassis, with LB9 Tuned Port Injection 305 V8s, and 700R4 Turbo Hydramatic transmissions to Knudsen’s South Sioux City plant or the main facility in Omaha, Nebraska. There the pre-ordered vehicle had its final assembly into Ferrari slayers of intent. Then they were shipped straight to the Pontiac dealership for delivery.
When designing the body, Knudsen Automotive took their inspiration from exotics of the era and were heavily influenced by the Ferrari 308. Extra options further added to the Italian super car influence, like the Lamborghini Countach style big rear wing that could be added. This radical Trans Am 80′s styling is striking in its extreme wedge-shaped appearance. It lived up to its exotic aspirations visually, while packing a serious punch in performance.
Once an order was placed, GM would ship a third-generation Firebird frame to Knudsen Automotive. Knudsen would make improvements in styling, power, and handling. They gave it a tuned V8, sportier suspension, three-piece wheels, disc brakes at all four corners, and power steering. The result was the Tojan taking a corner like it was on rails.
A Tojan’s exterior was also souped-up by Knudsen. It was more aerodynamically friendly since the panels were molded Fiberglass enabling the vehicle to slip through the air more efficiently. Again, the cosmetics of the car are 100% original, designed by Knudsen in stages. The Tojan is not simply an exterior body kit bolted onto existing panels as many have surmised. This example doesn’t wear the Lambo-style wing that was available as an additional option, like one might find on a Countach, but still an homage to that outrageous 80s styling.
The Tojan’s exterior looks like a world-beating supercar, but the interior is very much a Pontiac. Unless Knudsen Automotive added their optional improvements. Knudsen designed a fully digital dashboard, like that in KITT from the Knight Rider show. Inside a Tojan would sport Recaro seats, a wooden dash, and digital gauges giving it that futuristic look.
As seen in this actual magazine ad, a base model Tojan was not exactly what would be considered a price point still affordable to the masses. The base-model coupe was advertised for $22K, when in that same year a Cadillac Eldorado would sell for $25K. Those prices were without the additional options. A Tojan equipped with a supercharger, special injection, and a 3.73 rear-end could easily go for $55K in 1988.
That and being a special ordered vehicle makes the Tojan quite rare today. The number of them produced vary depending on what expert is asked. Roughly 150 to 300 were built; Carfection puts the number at 136 produced between the years of 1984-1991. More specifically, 123 hardtops and 13 convertibles were produced, all being built to order. Even rarer is the Knightmare edition Tojans. Only three Knightmare vehicles were ever made.
Having the heart of a Firebird Trans Am, this Tojan looks like it jumped right off the television screen while watching a Miami Vice rerun. If you would like to learn more about it, please contact our team in the St. Louis Showroom.
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