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Pontiac Firebird: 20 Model Reviews to Help You Catch Up if You’re Too Young

Vukasin HerbezOctober 14, 2018

For all car enthusiasts across the globe, the news of GM killing the Pontiac brand was a tragedy. After 92 years in business, they discontinued Pontiac in 2010, leaving an enormous legacy of great cars with fantastic designs. Pontiac created the everlasting appeal of American performance at its finest. And one of the integral parts of the Pontiac legend is the Firebird model which they introduced in 1967 and withdrew from the market in 2002.

So here is the history of this remarkable muscle car through its best models and versions. Some say the Firebird was nothing more than a Camaro clone. Although both cars shared the same platform, some body panels and some baseline engines, that is not true. They presented the Firebird and Camaro side by side as GM’s pair of pony/muscle cars. However, both vehicles had distinctive characteristics, versions and buyers.

With unique designs, features and engines, the Firebird was a model of its own. In fact, most muscle car experts consider it a separate item. All through the years, the Firebird and Trans Am were premium muscle cars in terms of power, style and appearance. Even during the 70’s, those cars represented American performance, becoming true muscle car legends. So, keep reading to learn what made these cars popular by looking at some of the best iterations.

1. 1967 Pontiac Firebird

The new Pontiac debuted in February 1967 and immediately became one of the top muscle cars in its class. Pontiac equipped the Firebird with lots of options and five engines; two inline sixes and three V8s. Buyers could get a coupe or a convertible and an automatic or manual transmission.

Interestingly, the Pontiac came with a bigger price tag than the Camaro because it had a few more options than Chevrolet. This put the Firebird a bit above the Camaro on the market. The first-year sales of 82,000 Firebirds were less than the Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Camaro. But those numbers are still respectable in contrast to the Plymouth Barracuda or other similar models.

2. 1968 Pontiac Firebird 400

When Pontiac first introduced the Firebird, it caused quite a stir among performance-loving car buyers in America. It was a pretty coupe with a wide arrange of optional extras and one of the biggest engines you could get in a pony car: Pontiac’s 400 CID V8. Back in the late 60’s, GM had a rule that forbade car manufacturers to produce cars with more than one horsepower (HP) for every 10 pounds of the car’s weight.

The aim of this rule was to stop manufacturers from producing insanely overpowered models, so all GM’s products and brands had to follow this. The only exception was the Corvette. In 1968, Pontiac introduced the new Firebird with a 400 V8 engine which delivered 320 HP. Immediately after the introduction, car fans were publicly asking the factory why the new 400 V8 engine in the Firebird had 320 HP, while the same 400 V8 engine in the GTO made 366 HP.

Pontiac didn’t reply, but soon the answer came from insiders at the factory. The new Firebird 400 weighed 3,300 pounds. So, to make it eligible under the GM one HP per 10-pound rule, Pontiac had to rate the 400 V8 engine at 320 HP. Despite the underrating, the new Firebird 400 was fast, especially with the optional Ram Air induction system.

3. 1968 Pontiac Firebird Sprint

Since 1968 was the height of the muscle car era, the public paid attention to high powered V8 models. However, Pontiac managed to sneak an interesting model into its lineup. The secret of the Firebird Sprint was the engine. It was a 250 CID straight six with a single overhead camshaft. It produced 215 HP in the 1967-68 model years and 230 HP in 1969.

Compared to the 350 and 400 CID V8, this was not impressive. But the Sprint six had serious torque, a small weight and revved happily to 6,000 rpm. Compared to those nose-heavy V8 models, the Sprint was light, which provided balanced handling and great driving dynamics.

In the days of V8 monsters, a six-cylinder Firebird had an almost European feel. Unfortunately, not many people understood this model. Despite the modest price and unique characteristics, they only sold a few thousand in the three-year production run. Today, the Firebird Sprint is a rare sight in the six-cylinder muscle car category.

4. 1969 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

In 1969, Pontiac wanted to present a model they could homologate for Trans Am racing. As a part of GM, the factory was still under the racing ban. However, the fans and private teams used many Pontiac products, so the factory wanted to introduce a version people could easily modify for racing. And that is how the Firebird Trans Am came to be. To mask their intentions, Pontiac introduced the Firebird Trans Am as a loaded version.

It also featured big block power from the famous 400 V8 engine equipped with the Ram Air III or IV intake system. The difference between those engines was significant since the Ram Air IV featured improved engine internals and components. However, they rated them both at 366 HP, which they understated. But, this special version with its signature white paint, blue stripes, Rally II wheels and other equipment was a tough seller.

So, they sold only 634 Firebird Trans Ams and among those, only eight were convertibles. The significance of the 1969 Trans Am is that it influenced Pontiac to produce Trans Ams for most model years as their top of the line version of the regular Firebird.

5. 1970 Pontiac Firebird Formula 400

The second generation Pontiac Firebird debuted in 1970 as a mid-year introduction with a new body style and a couple of new versions. The only body style they offered was the coupe since they dropped the convertible for over a decade. Pontiac realized that traditional muscle cars like the GTO were slowly going out of style.

Instead, people were turning towards smaller, more nimble pony cars like the Firebird, so they invested heavily into that lineup. The first true muscle model was the Formula 400, which they introduced in 1970. The Formula 400 was a middle version between the base Firebird V8 and the fire-breathing Trans Am. The Formula had the 400 V8 engine with 330 HP.

It also came with a cool looking twin-scoop hood that could be functional if the buyer opted for Ram Air induction. The Firebird Formula 400 was fast, but it wasn’t exactly affordable. So, Pontiac only made around 7,700 of them for 1970 model year.

6. 1970 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

The continuation of the legendary Trans Am was ready for the 1970 debut of the second generation with even more power. It also had a new design and details, and more performance. Also, the 1970 Trans Am got new spoilers, a color scheme and interior trim. It also came with a choice of several versions, including the Ram Air induction system on the 400 CID V8 engine

If you had the Ram Air III you got the 345 HP engine. But if you optioned for the Ram Air IV engine, you got 370 HP which was a substantial number for 1970, guaranteeing brutal performance. The Trans Am also received better brakes and a suspension package, turning this muscle car coupe into a sophisticated sports car. They would have built more muscle cars if it wasn’t for the early 70’s recession, restrictions and oil crisis.

7. 1971 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am 455

The 1971 Firebird and Trans Am were practically identical to the 1970 models. Yet, they still represented the best muscle cars on the rapidly changing market. The 1971 Firebird proved to be the last true muscle car model year that buyers could buy high powered, legendary engines. Just a year after that, in 1972, the horsepower ratings started to go down.

But the biggest news for the Firebird/Trans Am lineup was the introduction of the mighty 455 V8, the biggest engine ever to appear in this model. Since they lifted the GM displacement ban in 1970, most manufacturers rushed to introduce big block engines in their muscle cars. And Pontiac did just that in 1971 for their Firebird and Trans Am models.

The 455 V8 had 335 HP, but muscle car enthusiasts argue that they underrated that number. Even with higher compression in the Trans Am H.O. version, that 455 V8 had the same horsepower figure. So the real output was closer to 400 HP and with corresponding performances and top speeds.

8. 1974 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am SD 455

By 1974, almost all muscle cars were extinct from the market. Those that remained lacked both power and style. However, there was one model that managed to survive and offer as much performance and power as possible. And that model was the 1974 Trans Am Super Duty 455.

That year marked the first restyling of the whole Firebird range with a new front and rear end and improved interior and details. The SD 455 model carried over from 1973, but in a new package, it featured an updated suspension and brakes. The standard 455 V8 had only 215 HP, but in SD trim, it developed 290 HP which was fantastic for 1974.

In fact, with 290 HP, a host of performance upgrades and four-speed manual transmission, the 1974 Trans Am SD 455 was faster than the Corvette. This made it the fastest American production car of the period.

9. 1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Special Edition

The late 70’s were sad times for muscle cars. All the available models had diminutive horsepower ratings and heavy bodies, making their performance embarrassingly slow. And the Firebird/Trans Am range could not escape that, either. However, Pontiac produced some memorable cars through its Special Edition models.

In fact, they dressed up the Trans Am and turned it into a street icon. The main model was the Trans Am which came either with a 4.9-liter turbo engine or a 400 NA V8. However, neither of those powerplants had more than 220 HP during the 1977 to 1981 production run. However, the main aspect was the design with its signature graphics and appearance package.

Affectionately called the “Screaming Chicken,” it had a highly stylized flaming bird logo on the hood of the car that was extraordinarily modern for the standards of the day. It started as a relatively small sticker on the middle of the hood in the early 70’s. But it grew to a big sticker covering the entire hood and spreading to the B pillars, rear end and front fenders.

The 1977-78 Firebird Trans Am gained international fame by appearing in the cult movie, Smokey and the Bandit. It helped triple the sales numbers, turning the Trans Am into a movie legend as well as a muscle car icon.

10. 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

After 11 years of production of the second generation of GM’s F-body, the Pontiac Firebird got a fresh redesign for the 1982 model year. The new model was more advanced and aerodynamic with improvements in suspension and handling. The hottest version was the Trans Am with a 305 V8 with 165 HP. In most aspects, Firebirds were mechanically identical to third-generation Camaros.

They shared almost all engines and drivetrain components. However, they improved the design with one of the signature details of the decade: pop up headlights. They made the Firebird look better than the Camaro with its aggressive design and aero details. The hottest version of the 1982 Firebird was the Trans Am with the same engine as the Z/28 Camaro. However, the Trans Am handled better thanks to Pontiac’s suspension improvements.

11. 1987 Pontiac Trans Am GTA

The Trans Am was the best version of the third generation Pontiac F-body. They introduced it in 1987 as the top of the range Firebird on offer. The package was available until the 1992 model year, which Pontiac produced in relatively limited numbers. The secret weapons of the GTA were its engine and the WS6 handling package.

The engine was the 350 V8 with 210 HP in the early models and up to 245 HP in later versions. Rumor was the engine was the same as the Corvette since it used the same TPI fuel injection system and displacement, but it wasn’t the case. Corvette used aluminum heads while Pontiac used cast iron ones. However, the power and performance were similar.

The WS6 package offered unmatched road holding and braking capabilities because it came with four disc brakes and a stiffer suspension. It also had stronger sway bars, special wheels and performance tires, improving its performance.

12. 1989 Pontiac Trans Am 20th Anniversary

In 1989, Pontiac celebrated the 20th anniversary of its favorite muscle car, the Trans Am. So, what was a better way than to introduce a limited run of 1,500 cars to commemorate the occasion? But, the anniversary editions needed a twist and not just another decal and paint job. So, Pontiac decided to install the Buick 3.8-liter turbo V6 from the GNX to create the fastest Trans Am of the decade.

The white commemorative edition could accelerate 0.1 seconds faster from 0 to 60 mph than the GNX at 4.6 seconds. The reason was that the Trans Am 20th Anniversary had better weight distribution and gearing from the Pontiac gearbox.

13. 1994 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

The fourth generation of the GM F-Body platform debuted in 1993 with the new Camaro and Firebird. The new model brought modernization to the Firebird range, as well as improvements in power, equipment, handling and braking. The new car featured sleek, aerodynamic styling with coupe and convertible versions that attracted more buyers.

Also, the Trans Am version returned with the powerful LT1 V8 engine with 5.7-liters of displacement and 285 HP. The engine was the same as in the Corvette of similar vintage, but since the Pontiac had intake restrictors, it developed 15 HP less. But some crafty owners realized their Trans Ams could make more HP by installing a Corvette intake.

14. 1995 Pontiac SLP Formula Firehawk

The SLP Firehawks were interesting late muscle cars. The model first appeared in 1995, marking the start of a successful venture between GM and the Street Legal Performance Company from New Jersey. They were an outside firm that produced performance kits for Firebirds. However, these cars weren’t just improved base models, but much more.

The SLP Formula Firehawk had a 5.7-liter V8 engine with 300 or 315 HP which was a lofty number for 1995. The six-speed manual version could accelerate from 0 to 60 in 4.9 seconds, making it one of the fastest production cars in America. The package cost $6,500 over the price of the regular Trans Am. But it included numerous upgrades and a Ram Air hood, so it was well worth it.

15. 2002 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am WS6

By the early 2000’s, the Firebird/Camaro combo was outdated and with its live rear axle and big weight. In fact, the market wanted more modern and lighter muscle cars. The 2002 model year marked the end of the road for the Firebird and Pontiac. So they decided to go out with a bang, introducing one of the fastest, most powerful Trans Ams they ever made: the menacing WS6 version.

The WS6 was a handling package on Trans Ams available before, but in the 2002 model year, it represented the best Pontiac had to offer. With the venerable 5.7-liter V8 engine with 325 HP, a six-speed manual transmission and numerous suspension upgrades, the 2002 WS6 could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. It proved that Pontiac still knew how to make a brutal, lightning quick muscle car.

The exterior came with the big Ram Air hood and sleek rear spoiler, making the Trans Am WS6 quite a looker despite having a 10-year-old design. If you can, get one of these cars since they are definitive future muscle car classics.

16. GM Firebird Concept Cars (1955)

Despite the fact that the first Pontiac Firebird was introduced in 1967, the name was already used by General Motors on four very popular concept cars presented in the late `50s. Named GM Firebird I to IV, those were purely show cars with rocket inspired styling, big fins and advanced equipment.

The first Firebird had a jet engine and was basically an airplane on wheels. Later cars were bit more conventional, but still pretty crazy.

17. Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Turbo (1980)

The second generation F-Body Firebird was introduced in 1970 and by late `70s was one of the dominant cars in the segment. Unfortunately, the days of big cube motors and high horsepower ratings were gone so Pontiac decided to invest in new technology to generate power. That new technology was turbocharging and in late 1979 it introduced the Trans Am Turbo.

The engine in question was 301 V8 with Garrett turbocharger bolted on it. Power output was relatively modest at 200 to 210 HP but the torque number was high at 340 lb-ft which resulted in solid performance.

18. Pontiac Firebird Trans Am GTA (1991)

We have already mentioned Trans AM GTA which was one of the best Firebirds made in the `80s. The essence of GTA package was to install Corvette-sourced L89 engine into F-Body chassis and create the ultimate performer.

By 1991, the GTA package matured into a great driving and handling model which had restyled front and rear and cool looking body kit. The 5.7-liter now delivered healthy 245 HP and produced vivid performance.

19. Pontiac Trans Am Convertible 2000

If you wanted to combine performance with the comfort and enjoyment of an open top car, there was no better way than to look for early 2000s Trans Am Convertible. The glorious soundtrack from its 5.7-liter V8 with wind in the cabin provided the driver with unforgettable experience.

The good news is that early `2000s Trans Am convertibles are relatively cheap and easy to find so we suggest you snap up this cool piece of Pontiac`s muscle car history.

20. Pontiac Firebird Trans Am racing 1970

A lot of people don’t know this, but Pontiac Trans Am got its name from Trans Am racing championship which was very popular in the late `60s. Pontiac entered the series in 1970 with a newly introduced Firebird Trans Am and to comply with the rules, the engineers installed a 305 Chevrolet V8 engine.

The car didn’t win any championship titles but it was successful in its own right winning Watkins Glenn, Lime Rock and several other races during 1970/1971 season.

This is the history of the Pontiac Firebird – the symbol of a generation. All of these cars were iconic in the development of the muscle car, using upgraded, modern designs and equipment. If you see one of these beauties on the road, consider yourself lucky, as most are rare and highly collectible.

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