Poor Ken Cieszynski’s mom. Back in 1978, she accompanied him on a trip to their local Pontiac dealer. In addition to sharing in the celebration of picking up his new Trans Am, she volunteered to drive his beater car back home. What did those altruistic actions get her? Her son’s deep appreciation, sure, but also a hefty speeding ticket. As their little two-car caravan left the lot, the young man’s giddy excitement left her in the dust. He couldn’t help but gun it the entire way back to the house.
Mom did her best to keep up in his ’74 Buick Century but moving that fast in the two-door boat didn’t go unnoticed. A short while later, she was stopped by the red and blues. “Somehow the cop missed me roaring by,’ laughed Ken. “She told the policeman, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but did you see that gold TA go by? That’s my son in his new sportscar. I was trying to stay with him.’” The excuse didn’t work but the story still invokes hearty laughter decades later.
A Special Bird
Ken had just graduated from college and secured his first job in computer science. “Friends had Trans Ams and I really liked them,’ said Ken. “I reviewed my finances and realized I finally had enough for my own.” He grew up in Brookfield, on the west side of Chicago, and headed to a nearby dealer, Haggerty Pontiac, located in Villa Park, Illinois. He and his mom made the journey on that summer day and right in the showroom sat parked the Solar Gold TA he would soon buy. “What struck me was the Y88 ‘Special Edition’ package,’ recalls Ken. “It really looked sharp.” The option added such items as mirrored glass roof panels, gold aluminum wheels and special decals. Those cool looks didn’t come cheap, adding $1,261 to the car’s total. When it was all said and done, Ken shelled out $8,657 to make the car his own.
After taking ownership, he put it right to use, commuting to his office at Northrop Grumman, located in Rolling Meadows, Illinois. Along the way, he soon realized his Pontiac passion was readily shared. “Right when I bought the car, I didn’t understand there was an unwritten fraternity of sorts of Trans Am owners,’ recalls Ken. “Whenever you’d pass another one, you kind of give them a little wave. One Saturday afternoon, I was driving and caught up with another going the same way. Before you know it, two others had caught up and we’re all cruising together. It was just so cool.”
While that motoring memory was fond, others were harrowing. Since Ken daily drove the vehicle, he used it year-round, including in the nasty Chicago slush. “There was one winter, in particular, where I was attempting to go up a pretty steep highway on-ramp,’ recalls Ken. “I tried it slow but wasn’t going anywhere, slipping and sliding all over the place. Finally, I just punched it and tore up the ramp sideways. It was a bit nervewracking.”
Moving to a Mustang
Besides the loss of traction (both weather and right foor related), Ken also experienced transmission slips. “During the first year of ownership, I had it back at the dealer many times for problems,’ said Ken. Even bigger woes when in his third year of ownership, someone with sticky fingers stole the T-tops from his office parking lot. From then on, Ken drove other cars, keeping the TA safely stored in his garage. In 1989, revived interest had him looking at new examples. He made it so far as to head to a local dealer for a test drive. “It sounded great but when I took it out on the road and punched it, it just didn’t have any get up and go,’ recalls the enthusiast. That lack of pony power sent him to a Ford dealer instead where he bought their sporty steed, selecting a dark grey 1989 Mustang 5.0.
A Daughter’s Love
He never let his Trans Am go and his decades-long passion certainly didn’t go unnoticed by little loved ones. Someone who got a first row seat to his auto affections was his daughter, Heather. “Ever since she was a little girl, she loved being in and around the car,’ recalls Ken. Soon, she was just as giddy as the grown-ups about the muscle car. “When friends would come over, I’d always take them to the garage and show them my dad’s ‘cool car’,’ recalls Heather. “I can remember every summer helping dad wash and wax it.”
In 2014, Ken gifted the car to Heather, who has eagerly jumped at preserving the Pontiac’s legacy and the many memories made with it. That includes the very first time she got wheel time. “We were just in our neighborhood and dad was riding along,’ recalls Heather. “We get to a stoplight and dad tells me, ‘When the light turns green, give it some gas and let it go a bit’. So, just as he says, when the light turns green I floor it. The tires are spinning and making noise and he looks over and says with a smile, ‘You didn’t have to give it that much gas’.”
Since then, Heather has addressed a bunch of mechanical issues, including replacing the starter, which was still original, and the brakes. More projects are ahead but they all center on keeping the car original. She displayed it for the first time in 2017 at the All Pontiac Weekend car show, held in St. Charles, Illinois and had it there again for the 2018 and 2019 show. “I love the power behind it,’ gushed Heather. “And being able to share the car love with my dad is truly special.”