Home Cars The Top 20 Firebirds And Trans Ams Of All-Time

The Top 20 Firebirds And Trans Ams Of All-Time

Vukasin Herbez January 10, 2020

Even though the Firebird wasn’t the first pony or muscle car or the best-selling model of them all, it is one of the most important fire-breathing machines to ever come out of Detroit. Despite the facts a new model hasn’t been released since 2002 and that Pontiac is gone as a brand, Firebird and Trans Am models are still respected and sought-after names in the muscle car world.

So, what made the Firebird and Trans Am so respected and universally loved? Simple, the combination of fantastic looks, powerful engines, cool styling, and ferocious street-racing reputations. So here’s a list of the 25 best Firebirds Pontiac ever produced.

  1. 1967 Pontiac Firebird

The new Pontiac debuted in February 1967, and immediately, it became one of the top muscle cars in its class. Pontiac equipped the ’67 Firebird with lots of options and five engine options: two inline sixes and three V8s. Buyers could get a coupe or a convertible, and there was the choice of an automatic or manual transmission.

Interestingly, the Pontiac came with a slightly higher price tag than the Chevrolet. However, the Firebird offered a few more options, which put it a bit above the Camaro on the market. The first-year sales figure of 82,000 Firebirds was less than the Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Camaro. But, it was still respectable in contrast to the Plymouth Barracuda or other similar models.

  1. 1968 Pontiac Firebird 400

When Pontiac first presented the Firebird, it caused quite a stir among performance-loving car buyers in America. It was an attractive coupe with a wide range of optional extras. Also, it came with one of the biggest engines you could get in a pony car: Pontiac’s 400 CID V8. Back in the late ’60s, GM created a rule that forbade the manufacturers from producing cars with more than one HP for every 10 pounds of the car’s weight. They aimed this rule at stopping manufacturers from building insanely overpowered models.

All GM products and brands had to follow this rule. The only exception was the Corvette. In 1968, Pontiac introduced the new Firebird with a 400 V8 engine which they rated at 320 HP. Immediately after the introduction, car fans were publicly asking the factory why the new 400 V8 engine in the Firebird was 320 HP while the same 400 V8 engine in the GTO was 366 HP.

Pontiac didn’t respond, but soon the answer came from the insiders from the factory. The new Firebird 400 weighed 3,300 pounds. So, in order to make it eligible under the GM one-HP-per-10-pound rule, Pontiac had to rate the 400 V8 engine at 320 HP.

  1. 1968 Pontiac Firebird Sprint

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

Compared to the 350 and 400 CID V8, this was not impressive. However, the six-cylinder Sprint had serious torque and low weight, so it revved happily to 6,000 rpm. In the days of V8 monsters, the 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, which makes it highly desirable.

  1. 1969 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

In 1969, Pontiac wanted to present a model they could homologate for Trans-Am racing. But, as a part of GM, the factory was still under the racing ban. Still, fans and private teams used many Pontiac products, so the factory wanted to introduce a version they could easily modify for racing. That’s how the Firebird Trans Am came to be.

To mask its intentions, Pontiac introduced the Firebird Trans Am as a loaded version. It 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.

They rated both at 366 HP, which was an understatement. However, this particular version with its signature white paint, blue stripes, Rally II wheels, and other equipment proved to be a tough seller. Sadly, Pontiac only sold 634 Firebird Trans Ams that year. Among those, only eight were convertibles.

  1. 1970 Pontiac Firebird Formula 400

The year 1970 market the second generation of the Pontiac Firebird. It debuted as a mid-year introduction with a couple of new versions and only one body style, the coupe. That was because Pontiac decided to drop the convertible model. In fact, it didn’t return for over a decade. The company realized that traditional muscle cars like the GTO were slowly going out of style.

People were turning towards the smaller. more agile pony cars like the Firebird, so they decided to invest heavily into that lineup. The first true muscle model was the Formula 400 Pontiac introduced in 1970. The Formula 400 was a sort of middle version between the base Firebird V8 and fire-breathing Trans Am. The Formula had a 400 V8 engine delivering 330 HP.

Also, it had a cool-looking twin-scoop hood that could be functional if the buyer bought the optional Ram Air induction. The Firebird Formula 400 was fast, but it wasn’t all that affordable, so Pontiac only made around 7,700 for the 1970 model year.

  1. 1970 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

The legendary Trans Am was ready for the 1970 debut of the second generation. It came with even more power, a new design and details, and more performance, of course. The 1970 Trans Am got new spoilers and color schemes, as well as an updated interior trim. Buyers also had the choice of several versions depending on if it had the Ram Air induction system or the 400 CID V8 engine.

If you had the Ram Air III, you got the 345 HP engine, but if you optioned for Ram Air IV engine, you ended up with 370 HP. That was a pretty substantial number for 1970 that guaranteed a brutal performance. The Trans Am also received better brakes and suspension packages, turning this muscle car coupe into a sophisticated sports car. Who knows what muscle cars they would’ve built if it weren’t for the early ’70s recession and oil crisis.

  1. 1971 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am 455

The 1971 Firebird and Trans Am were practically identical to the 1970 models. They still represented one of the best muscle cars in the rapidly changing market. Unfortunately, 1971 proved to be the last true muscle car model year when buyers could get those high-powered and legendary engines.

Just one year after, 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 to appear in this model.

Since they lifted the GM displacement ban in 1970, all the divisions rushed to introduce big-block engines in their muscle cars. Pontiac did just that in 1971 for the Formula and Trans Am models. Although they rated the 455 V8 at 335 HP, most muscle car enthusiasts argued that they underestimated that conservative number. Even with the higher compression in the Trans Am HO version, that 455 V8 had the same horsepower figure. The real output was closer to 400 HP and with corresponding performance and top speed.

  1. 1974 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am SD 455

By 1974, almost all muscle cars were extinct from the market. Those that were left were robbed of their power and style. However, there was one model that managed to survive and offer as much performance and power as possible. That model was the 74 Trans Am Super Duty 455. The year 1974 marked the first restyling of the whole Firebird range. With the new front and rear end came improved interior and details.

Pontiac carried the SD 455 model over from 1973, but in the new package, it featured a better suspension and brakes. The standard 455 V8 delivered just 215 HP. But in SD trim, it developed 290 HP, which was absolutely fantastic for 1974. In fact, with 290 HP, a host of performance upgrades, and a four-speed manual transmission, the 1974 Trans Am SD 455 was even faster than the Corvette. That means it was the fastest American production car of the period.

  1. 1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Special Edition

The late ’70s were sad times for muscle cars. All the available models had diminutive horsepower ratings and massive bodies, which made performance embarrassingly slow. The Firebird/Trans Am range could not escape this, as well. However, Pontiac still managed to produce some memorable cars through its Special Edition models. Soon, they dressed up the Trans Am and turned it into a street icon.

The primary model was the Trans Am, which could come with either 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. They affectionately called the car the “Screaming Chicken” because it had a highly-stylized flaming bird logo on the hood of the car. The graphics package was extraordinarily modern for the standards of the day.

The bird logo started as a relatively small sticker in the middle of the hood in the early ’70s, only to grow to a big sticker covering the entire hood. Then it found its way 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.” The film helped triple the sales numbers, turning the Trans Am into a movie legend as well as a muscle car icon.

  1. 1980 Pontiac Trans Am Turbo

The second-generation F-Body Firebird was introduced in 1970, and by the late ’70s, it 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, so in late 1979, the company introduced the Trans Am Turbo.

The engine in question was the 301 V8, with a Garrett turbocharger bolted onto it. The power output was relatively modest at 200 to 210 HP, but the torque number was high at 340 lb-ft, which resulted in a hint of performance.

  1. 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

After 11 years of the second-generation GM F-body, the Pontiac Firebird got a much-needed redesign for the 1982 model year. The new model was much more advanced and aerodynamically-designed with improvements in suspension and handling. But the hottest version was the Trans Am with the 305 V8 producing 165 HP. In most aspects, Firebirds were mechanically identical to the third-generation Camaro since they shared almost all the same engines and drivetrain components.

However, they improved the design with one of the hottest signature design details of the decade: pop up headlights. Arguably, the Firebird looked better than the Camaro thanks to the more aggressive design and aero details. However, the hottest version of the 1982 Firebird was the Trans Am. Even though it featured the same engine as the Z/28 Camaro, the TA handled better thanks to the suspension improvements.

  1. 1987 Pontiac Firebird Formula

Slotted between the regular Firebird and the Trans Am was the Pontiac Firebird Formula. It represented excellent value for the money. The Formula was the perfect competitor to the Z/28 Camaro and Fox-body Mustang GT.

The Formula had engines from the Trans Am, which was the 305 or 350 V8 delivering 190 to 230 HP. But it had restrained styling and less interior equipment. Despite being somewhat less desirable than a fully-dressed Trans Am or GTA, the Firebird Formula was still quite fast, as well as a capable machine.

  1. 1987 Pontiac Trans Am GTA

Arguably, the Trans Am GTA 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 and Pontiac produced it in relatively limited numbers. The secret weapon of the GTA was its engine and WS6 handling package.

The engine was a 350 V8 producing 210 HP in the early models and up to 245 HP in later versions. Soon, rumors started circulating that the engine was the same as the one in the Corvette since the GTA had the same TPI fuel injection system and displacement. But sadly, that wasn’t the case. The Corvette had aluminum heads while Trans Am GTA had cast iron ones.

However, the power and performance of the two vehicles were similar. The GTA’s WS6 package offered unmatched road holding and braking capabilities. It consisted of four disc brakes, a stiffer suspension and stronger sway bars, as well as unique wheels and performance tires.

  1. 1989 Pontiac Trans Am 20th Anniversary

In 1989, Pontiac celebrated the 20th anniversary of its favorite muscle car, the Trans Am. So what better way to do that than to introduce a limited run of 1,500 vehicles to commemorate the occasion? Pontiac decided the anniversary edition had to have a twist, and not just another decal or fancy paint job.

So, Pontiac decided to install a Buick 3.8-liter turbo V6 from the GNX, creating the fastest Trans Am of the decade. The white commemorative edition could accelerate from 0 to 60 a full second faster than the GNX at 4.6 seconds. The reason was simple. The anniversary version got better weight distribution and gearing from the Pontiac gearbox.

  1. 1991 Pontiac Trans Am GTA

The Trans AM GTA was one of the best Firebirds they made in the ’80s. But its swan song came in the early ’90s when Pontiac introduced the 1991 Trans Am GTA. The essence of the GTA package was to install a Corvette-sourced L89 engine into an F-Body chassis to create the ultimate performer.

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

  1. 1994 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

The fourth-generation GM F-Body platform debuted in 1993 with the new Camaro and Firebird. The new model brought much-needed 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, which attracted more buyers.

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 version had intake restrictors, it developed 15 horsepower less. Of course, some crafty owners realized that their Trans Ams had a few HP hidden, so installing the Corvette intake became a popular modification.

  1. 1995 Pontiac SLP Formula Firehawk

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

The SLP Formula Firehawk had a 5.7-liter V8 engine with 300 or 315 HP, which was a high 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. It included numerous upgrades and a Ram Air hood, so it was well worth it.

  1. 1999 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

The horsepower wars were raging in Detroit as the ’90s came to an end. One of the biggest winners was the 1999 Firebird Trans Am. With a new restyle, updated options, and an upgraded 5.7-liter engine, this was the model to beat in 1999.

The power output was a whopping 305 HP. They also equipped it with a six-speed manual transmission. That made the Trans Am one of the fastest American production cars at that time.

  1. 2002 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am WS6

By the early 2000s, the Firebird/Camaro combo was outdated. The live rear axle and significant weight weren’t what the market wanted. They now demanded more modern and lighter muscle cars. The 2002 model year marked the end of the road for the Firebird. Pontiac decided to go out with a bang by introducing one of the best, fastest, and most potent Trans Ams they ever made: the menacing WS6 version.

The WS6 was a handling package on the Trans Am available before, but in the 2002 model year, it represented the best of what Pontiac had to offer with the venerable 5.7-liter V8 engine delivering 325 HP. With a six-speed manual transmission and numerous suspension upgrades, the 2002 WS6 could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds.

All that proved that Pontiac still knew how to make a brutal. lightning-quick muscle car. The exterior was dominated by a big Ram Air hood and sleek rear spoiler. All that made the Trans Am WS6 quite a looker despite having a 10-year-old design. If you can, pick one of these cars since they are definitive future muscle car classics.

  1. Trans Am Worldwide

Unfortunately, Pontiac discontinued the Firebird/Trans Am in 2002 and by 2010, the company was gone. However, the legend of those fantastic muscle cars still lives on in various special models a small company called Trans Am Worldwide produces. As always, they base modern Trans Ams on the current Chevrolet Camaros.

They feature unique front and rear-end styling, special paint, interior trim, and lots of other add-ons. There are two versions available, the coupe and T-top, which is a great nod to the famous Pontiacs of the past. Under the hood, buyers will find GM’s crate engines with up to 1,000 HP on tap. Each car is bespoke finished according to each customer’s specific wishes. However, be ready for a price tag well over $100,000 for one of these.

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