Cars And Guitars #5: 1974 Trans Am And Sweet

Cars And Guitars #5: 1974 Trans Am And Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz”

It’s the summer of 1974 and you’ve just turned 15. Too young to drive, you’re headed down to the mall to hang out and see who’s there. Maybe even sneak a smoke in the bushes around the perimeter of the parking lot, away from prying eyes. The screen on the back door is still flapping as you jump the neighbor’s fence, take the shortcut through old man Downey’s vacant lot, and pick up the main road into town.

Suddenly, you hear a rumble and see a white car off in the distance. Its split grille and round headlights make it look kind of scary and stern and as it gets closer, you see Rick Davis behind the wheel, a local kid that goes to your soon-to-be high school.

You heard he got a new Trans Am, but had no idea it was a white, Super Duty 455 with a big, screaming chicken on the hood. A four-wheeled unicorn even back in the day, it’s stunning in the flesh. Its muscular, taut styling and five-spoke Pontiac mags are brutal yet subdued. Just above the baritone rumble of the Pontiac big block, a song repeating something about a “Ballroom Blitz” wafts out of the windows.

It’s almost too much to handle. Spy shots of the new 1974 Trans Am are all over the buff books, but this was the first time you’ve seen it in person and pictures pale in comparison. Not only that, the music was out of this world. New, fresh, crazy, and boy does it rock. As the T/A swooshes past and disappears around a corner, you’re left a bit star-struck. Then you realize a rock band inserted a sonic earworm deep in your brain and it won’t be vacating anytime soon.

The events of 1974 will soon be fifty years old and what a wild ride it was. Richard Nixon resigned and Gerald Ford was sworn in as President. We saw the end of the five-month oil embargo, and newspaper heiress Patty Hearst was photographed wielding an M1 Carbine rifle while robbing a bank in San Francisco. Probably the biggest precursor to what the future would hold was the Universal Product Code is scanned for the first time, on a pack of Wrigley’s chewing gum in Ohio.

With all that commotion, Pontiac still managed to debut a heavily facelifted Firebird that revived interest and sales of the car. The 1970-1973 models’ styling was darn near perfect, but that didn’t make them immune to the government bumper standards for 1974. Pontiac, a pioneer in “soft” bumpers, leveraged its industry-leading “Endura” technology and made lemonade out of lemons.

Instead of simply complying with the new federal bumper standards, Pontiac accepted the challenge and took the styling to new heights, making the 1974-1976 Firebirds the last hurrah for round headlight models. Ultimately, these mid-seventies “shovel nose” Firebirds were dwarfed by the hysteria surrounding 1977-78 models with the “Polynesian war canoe” front end. Today, 1974-76 Firebirds are bringing up the rear of the prices and desirability.

Unless we’re talking about Super Duty big-block cars, then that’s a different story. For 1973 and 1974, Pontiac offered an SD 455 engine option that became the swan song for 1970s factory muscle. Out of 73,729 Firebirds produced in 1974, 212 were SD 455 Trans Ams with a 4-speed manual gearbox and 731 were SD 455 Trans Ams with the Turbo 400 automatic transmission.

The SD 455 engine was rated at 290 net horsepower, but most experts agreed the numbers were shy of actual output. A major automotive publication of the time ran the quarter-mile in 13.8 seconds with an SD 455 equipped Trans Am. Today, these numbers may seem minuscule but in the mid-seventies, this was an impressive performance.

The SD cars were well received but when Pontiac experienced engine rod shortages, the Super Duty was sent to the great boneyard in the sky with a mere 1,243 engines built from 1973 to 1974. The looming catalytic converter requirement for 1975 didn’t help either. Today, Super Duty Firebirds are wildly coveted and bring top dollar.

You could order any Trans Am in 1974 as long as it was Cameo White, Buccaneer Red, or Admiralty Blue. Whatever color struck your fancy, the Trans Am was easily the most flamboyant pony car of the seventies, and British band Sweet was the wildest rock band of the day and could easily match the Trans Am when it came to outrageous plumage.

Where the T/A had spats, extractors, and fire-breathing birds, Sweet had glitter, sequins, and platform shoes. Both perfectly reflected the time, and without sounding like a grumpy old coot, both the second-gen Firebird and Sweet are about as good as classic cars and rock music ever was.

When people use the term “rockstar” today, they are unknowingly referring to the members of  Sweet. Gaining notoriety in their early years as a “glam rock”  band, the quartet was made up of lead vocalist Brian Connolly, bass player Steve Priest, guitarist Andy Scott, and drummer Mick Tucker. They pushed the boundaries of the day by wearing makeup, women’s clothing, and open chested leather suits, yet their towering musical talent eclipsed all of that superfluous finery. Sweet had the elusive “it” and could back up all the fluff with blazing live performances. Dig this live version of “Hellraiser”  The harmonies are fantastic and Mick Tucker’s drumming is incredible to behold.

They were a hugely successful and influential group back in the day and most big hair bands of the eighties nicked a lick, costume, or hairdo from Sweet. They sold 35 million records and achieved worldwide success with the top ten hits “Little Willy”, “The Ballroom Blitz”, “Fox on the Run”, and “Love is Like Oxygen”.

Yet, “Ballroom Blitz” was the ultimate consummation of the band stylistically. From the count in with all the guys responding, to the thundering riffs and bombastic vocals, the song is one musical hook after another. It hit number one in Canada, number two on the UK Singles Chart and the Australian Chart, and number five on the US Billboard Hot 100. It remains a favorite to this day with close to 30,000,000 streams on YouTube. A cover version of the song by Tia Carrere starred in “Wayne’s World” in 1992 as well.

Sweet had their last chart hit in 1978, and from there it was all downhill. Brian Connolly left the group in 1979 and the remaining members continued as a trio until disbanding in 1981. From the mid-1980s, Scott, Connolly, and Priest created their own Sweet iterations at different times.

Sadly, only Andy Scott survives today. Connolly died in 1997, Tucker in 2002, and Priest in 2020. Brian Connolly had a terrible bout with alcoholism and purportedly had 14 heart attacks in a row. He barely recovered and suffered from tremors and ill health for the rest of his life.

The Trans Am died in 2002 with the entire Pontiac division following suit a few years later. To younger eyes and ears, both the Trans Am and Sweet might be considered dinosaurs. That may be true, but the likes of these two won’t be coming around again anytime soon. In the meantime, queue up Sweet on whatever music streaming service you have, and let their music burn brightly again. Now, if only GM would figure out how to make the Trans Am burn rubber again.

Until next time…

About the author

Dave Cruikshank

Dave Cruikshank is a lifelong car enthusiast and an Editor at Power Automedia. A zealous car geek since birth, he digs lead sleds, curvy fiberglass, kustoms and street rods. He currently owns a '95 Corvette, '76 Cadillac Seville, '99 LS1 Trans Am and big old Ford Van.
Read My Articles

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