The Pontiac Firebird was a "Muscle Car" built by the Pontiac Motor Division of General Motors and was manufactured from 1967 until 2002.
The Firebird was introduced in the same year with its platform sharing cousin the Chevy Camaro. This coincided with the release of the Mercury Cougar, which shared its platform with another well-known pony car, the Ford Mustang.
The vehicles were, for the most part, powered by various V8 motors of different GM divisions. While primarily Pontiac-powered until 1982, Firebirds were built with several different engines from nearly every GM division. From 1969 to 1970 Pontiac had the Ram Air V which was Pontiac's quickest motor. It was rated at around 375hp, and was only available as an after-market engine.
Firebirds had traditionally utilized solid rear axles, also referred to as live axles, but Pontiac switched to a coil spring/torque arm rear suspension design in 1982.
First generation (1967-1969) Firebird
The First Generation Firebirds had a characteristic "coke-bottle" styling. Unlike its sister-car, the Chevrolet Camaro, its bumpers were integrated into the design of the front end and its rear "slit" taillights were inspired by the Pontiac GTO. Both a two-door hardtop and a convertible were offered through the 1970 model year (the next generation, minus the convertible, being announced as 1970-1/2 models). Originally the car was a "consolation prize" for Pontiac, who had initially wished to produce a two-seat sports car of its own design, based on the original Banshee concept car. However, GM feared such a vehicle would directly compete with Chevrolet's Corvette, and the decision was made to give Pontiac a piece of the pony car market by having them sharing the F-body platform with Chevrolet. Somewhat disappointed at management's decision, Pontiac went about re-making the F-body in their own image with both styling and engineering changes.
It outsold the Camaro.
The base model had a 230 in³ (3.8L) OHC six-cylinder engine, with a single-barrel carburetor and developing 165 hp (123 kW). The next model, the Sprint, had a four-barrel carburetor, developing 215 hp (160 kW). But most buyers opted for one of the V8's: the 326 in³ (5.3L) with a two-barrel carburetor producing 250 hp (186 kW); the "H.O." (High Output) engine of the same displacement, but with a four-barrel carburetor and producing 285 hp (213 kW); or the 400 in³ (6.6L) from the GTO with 325 hp (242 kW). A "Ram Air" option was also available, providing functional hood scoops, higher flow heads with stronger valve springs, and a different camshaft. Power for the Ram Air package was the same as the conventional 400 H.O., but the engine peaked at a higher RPM. The 230 in³ (3.8L) engines were subsequently replaced by 250 in³ (4.1L) ones, the first developing 175 hp (130 kW) using a single barrel carburetor, and the other a 215 hp (160 kW) engine with a four-barrel carburetor. Also for the 1968 model, the 326 in³ (5.3L) motor was replaced by a 350 in³ (5.7L). A "H.O." version of the 400 in³ (6.6L) with a revised cam was also offered starting in that year, developed 330 hp (246 kW). Power output of the other engines was increased marginally. In 1969, a $725 optional handling package called the "Trans Am Performance and Appearance Package," which included a rear spoiler, was introduced. Named after the Trans-Am Series, the name was used without permission and the SCCA threatened to sue. But GM settled the deal by paying $5 to the SCCA for every car sold. Of these first "Trans Ams," only 689 hardtops and 8 convertibles were made. There was an additional Ram Air IV option for the 400 in³ engine during that year, complementing the Ram Air II; these generated 345 and 335 hp respectively.
Bodywise, the styling difference from the 1967 to the 1968 model was the addition of Federally-mandated side marker lights: for the front of the car, the blinkers were made larger and extended to wrap around the front edges of the car, and on the rear, the Pontiac (V-shaped) Arrowhead logo was added to each side. Also, Pontiac stoped using wing-windows and started using single panes on the doors. The 1969 model received a major facelift with a new front end design made of an Endura bumper housing the headlights and grilles. Inside, there was a revised instrument panel and steering wheel. Also, the ignition switch was moved from the dashboard to the steering column with the introduction of GM's new locking ignition switch/steering wheel.
Due to engineering problems that would ultimately delay introduction of the all-new 1970 Firebird beyond the usual fall debut, Pontiac continued production of 1969-model Firebirds into the early months of the 1970 model year — until the end of calendar year 1969 (the other 1970 Pontiac models had been introduced on September 18, 1969). In fact, by late spring of 1969, Pontiac had deleted all model-year references on Firebird literature and promotional materials, anticipating the extended production run of the then-current 1969 models.
The First Generation Firebird could be easily distinguished from the Camaro with its four round headlamps, whereas the Camaro only had two. Although not apparent at the time, the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, along with (ironically) the Chevrolet Corvette, would become the only American high-performance cars that would remain in continuous production since their inception.
Second generation (1970-1981) Firebird
The Second Generation appeared for the 1970 model year as a mid-year introduction on February 26, 1970 — but was officially designated by Pontiac as a 1970 model, not a 1970-1/2 as many sources have reported through the years. Replacing the "coke bottle" styling was a more "swoopy" body style, with the top of the rear window line going almost straight down to the lip of the trunk lid — a look that was to epitomize F-body styling for the longest period during the Firebird's lifetime. The new design was initially characterized with a large C-pillar, until 1975 when the rear window was enlarged. There were two Ram Air 400 engines for 1970: the Ram Air III (335 hp, 366 hp in GTO) and the Ram Air IV (345 hp, 370 hp in GTO) which were carried over from 1969. A distinctive, slant-nose facelift occurred in 1977, redone somewhat in 1979. From 1977 to 1981, the Firebird used four square headlamps, while the Camaro continued to retain the two round headlights that had previously been shared by both Second Generation designs.
The 455 engine available in the Second Generation Firebird Trans Am was arguably the last high-performance engine of the original muscle car generation. The 455 engine first made its appearance in 1971 as the 455-HO. In 1973 and 1974, a special version of the 455, called the SD-455, was offered. The SD-455 utilized leftover components from Pontiac's 366 NASCAR engine, and was built as a full-bore racing engine that produced over 540 hp; the engine was subsequently "toned down" to appease the EPA and to meet GM's own strict horsepower policy, which at the time required that no GM vehicle exceed 300 hp. As a result, the PMD engineers listed the SD-455 at 290 hp, but in reality it was producing, in final form, 371 hp SAE NET (or approximately 440 gross horsepower). What made this engine even more appealing was the ease with which it could be returned to its 500+ horsepower form. The SD-455 is often considered the last of the true muscle car engines and, by many, considered to be the most powerful factory Pontiac engine ever produced. Pontiac offered the 455 for a few more years, but tightening restrictions on vehicle emissions guaranteed its demise. Thus, the 1976 Trans Am was the last of the "Big Cube Birds," with only 7,100 units produced with the 455 engine.
In 1974, Pontiac offered an inline-6, a 185 hp 350 in³ V8, and 175 to 225 hp 400 in³ V8 engines. The 455 produced 215 and 250 hp while the SD-455 produced 290 hp. The 400, 455, and SD-455 engines were offered in the Trans Am during 1974, but the 400 and 455 engines were the only other options in the 1975 and 1976 models. In 1976, Pontiac celebrated their 50th Anniversary, and a special edition of the Trans Am was released. Painted in black with gold accents, this was the first anniversary Trans Am package and the first production Black and Gold special edition. In 1977, Pontiac offered the T/A 6.6 Litre 400 (option W72) rated at 200 hp, as opposed to the regular 6.6 Litre 400 (option L78) rated at 180 hp. In addition, California and high altitude cars received the Olds 403 engine, which offered a slightly higher compression ratio and a more usable torque band than the Pontiac engines of 1977. Beginning in 1978, Pontiac engineers reversed years of declining horsepower numbers by raising the compression ratio in the Pontiac 400 through the installation of different cylinder heads with smaller combustions chambers (taken from the Pontiac 350). This increased horsepower by 10% for a total of 220 during the 1978-79 model years. The 400/403 options remained available until 1979, when the 400 in³ engines were only available in the 4-speed transmission Trans Ams and Formulas (the engines had actually been stockpiled from 1978, when PMD had cut production of the engine). 1979 marked the 10th Anniversary of the Trans Am, and a special anniversary package was made available: silver paint with a silver leather interior. The 10th Anniversary cars also featured a special Firebird hood decal, which extended off of the hood and onto the front fenders. In 1980, due to ever-increasing emissions restrictions, Pontiac dropped all of its large displacement engines.
1980 therefore saw the biggest engine changes for the Trans Am. The 301, offered in 1979 as a credit option, was now the standard engine. Options included a turbocharged 301 or the Chevrolet 305 small block.
In the final year of the Second Generation Firebirds (1981), Trans Am still used the same engines as it had in the previous model year, with the only change being the addition of a new electronic carburation system.
Third generation (1982-1992) Firebird
The Third Generation F-body weighed in quite a bit lighter than its predecessor and offered sleek, aerodynamic styling that was particularly reflected by the Firebird. GM's CCC (Computer Command Control) engine control system also continued to evolve, simultaneously increasing engine performance, raising fuel economy, and lowering emissions. This combination of factors helped the Third Generation Firebird to re-engergize its fading pony car image.
The Third Generation Firebirds took flight with three models: Firebird, Firebird S/E, and Firebird Trans Am. The Firebird was the base model, equivalent to the Camaro Sport Coupe; the Firebird S/E was the mid-trim-level version, which could actually be loaded with as many options as the Trans Am; and the Trans Am, of course, was the performance-level Firebird. The Firebird and Camaro had been completely restyled, with two pop-up headlights being the primary distinguishing characteristic of the Firebird, the windshield slope set at 60 degrees (about 3 degrees steeper than anything GM had ever tried before), and a large, glass-dominated rear hatchback.
In addition to being 500 lb lighter, the Third Generation Firebird was the most aerodynamic production Firebird to date. Wind tunnels were used to form the body shape, and the aerodynamic developments extended to the finned aluminum wheels with smooth caps and a functional spoiler. The Trans Am received a "Turbo Bulge" hood, styled loosely after the earlier Turbo Trans Am. In fact, plans had originally been made to use the Pontiac 4.9 Turbo, but it was scrapped at the last minute. However, the hood bulge remained and was made functional for the Crossfire-injected 305. While the S/E could be had with every option the Trans Am could, it didn't use the bulged hood. Leather seating was also available on all models. Firebirds were available with several engines: the standard fuel-injected 90 hp 2.5L 4 cylinder Pontiac "Iron Duke" (this marked the first time a 4-cylinder engine was offered in the Firebird); a 102 hp 2.8L V6; and two 5.0L V8's. The first and most common was the LG4, a basic carburetor-equipped 305 producing 145 hp. The other was a new fuel-injected 305, which employed a fuel injection system similar to that used in the 1982 Corvette's 5.7L, and produced 165 hp. The base Firebird came standard with 14-inch steel wheels; 14-inch aluminum and 15-inch aluminum wheels were available on the S/E and Trans Am models. Pontiac had also hoped to drop all the "Trans Am" badges from the new cars to save royalties paid to the SCCA for use of the name. Early promotional cars were marked "T/A" as an alternative, however the production cars came marked as "Trans Am" regardless. The WS6 option, available on the S/E's and Trans Ams, included 4-wheel disc brakes, P215/65R15 Goodyear Eagle GT radials with 15-inch cast aluminum wheels, stiffer springs, thicker front and rear sway bars, a high ratio 12.7:1 steering box, and limited slip rear differential.
The Trans Am came standard with one of the two 305 Chevy V8's, as Pontiac V8's were no longer being produced. The four-speed manual transmission came mated to the four-barrel-carbureted version that put out a milquetoast 145 hp, while the Crossfire-injected 305, rated at 165 hp, came with the automatic transmission. But with either drive train, the newest Trans Am was still no match for the 5.0L Mustang GT that took the performance car revival by stampede that year thanks to its 157 hp High Output 302 (the Mustang was much lighter than the Camaro or Firebird, and the 302 engine had a much better assortment of high performance parts than the Chevy small block forced on Pontiac).
Still, with its dimensions reduced, wheel base shortened, and weight reduced, the Third Generation Firebird was also the closest yet in size to the original 1967 model. Road & Track selected the 1982 Firebird Trans Am as one of the "12 Best Cars" in the world (along with its sister, the Camaro). It won "Best Sports GT" category in the $11,000 to $14,000 range (also along with the Camaro).
The Firebird remained basically unchanged from the previous model year. All automatic-transmission Firebirds now received a T-handle shifter knob, and the shift indicator changed for the Automatic Overdrive 700-R4. Midyear, the L69 high output 305 was introduced. This carbureted 190 hp V8 was virtually identical to the L69 engine in the Camaro Z28, but used a different air cleaner assembly (instead of the Camaro's dual-snorkel air cleaner, the Trans Am received yet another functional cold air intake, designed to utilize the bulged hood).
In its second year, the Third Generation Trans Am was selected as the Daytona 500 Pace Car, and Pontiac offered a total of 500 Daytona Pace Car replicas through their dealerships. The limited-edition cars featured full body ground effect skirts that extended around the entire car. The front bumper grills were replaced with molded plastic panels, with the "Trans Am" script on the right-hand panel. Also included were Recaro leather/suede seats, special 15-inch "AERO" wheels with smooth covers, red gauge lighting, leather appointments, "Daytona 500" graphics, and a unique white and charcoal paint scheme. The pace cars were only available with the LU5 Crossfire-injected 305 with an automatic, or the LG4 carbureted 305 mated to a 5-speed manual. Other special packages were also available such as the Recaro trim package, which included the Recaro seats, and black paint with gold highlights.
The Trans Am was now available with the same ground effects package used on the 1983 Daytona Pace Car replica; the grill inserts in the front fascia were replaced with solid pieces, and new 20-slot, 15-inch aluminum wheels were also available. For the fifteenth anniversary of the Trans Am, Pontiac released another special, limited-edition Trans Am: using the same body as the 1983 Pace Car replicas, but with new 16-inch, 20-slot, convex aluminum wheels and Goodyear P245/50VR16 unidirectional tires (the new wheel/tire combo being very similar to the Corvette's P255/50ZR16 arrangement); it marked the first appearance of 16-inch wheels on the Third Generation F-body, and was also the first Pontiac to come with 16-inch wheels. The 1,500 15th Anniversary Trans Ams also included an upgraded WS6 suspension, with a new 25mm rear sway bar (as opposed to the ordinary WS6's 23mm bar). Other features included: gray multitone and white leather Recaro interior; a special steering wheel and shifter, and parking brake handle; white-striped taillight lenses; white wheels; special blue stripes and blue hood decal; 4-wheel disc brakes; and T-tops. The only available V8 engines were the LG4 and L69.
All Firebird models underwent redevelopment to boost sales as a number of power train improvements were introduced. The LB9 Tuned Port Injection (TPI) 305 was released, replacing the 305 H.O. as the high-output engine: using a tuned runner design, the LB9 produces 215 hp. The new engine gains attention but is not available with a manual transmission. The carbureted V6 was replaced with a new, multi-port fuel-injected 2.8L V6 making 135 hp. A Borg-Warner 9-bolt differential was made available for the first time, and the new positive traction rear end is said to be stronger than the Dana 44. The interior evolved with the addition of new, Recaro-styled seats; a new dash with redesigned gauges that used an embossed graph patterned background; new door panels; a new T-handle shifter for automatics; a new, more ergonomic console; an updated stereo; a dash-mounted map pocket; and a new, more ergonomic steering wheel. Further attempts to put the Trans Am into higher regard included a new digital dash and a new overhead console. The console included two manually adjusted reminder wheels, a positionable map light, a removable "Firebird" flashlight, and a small pocket for a garage door opener or sunglasses. The T-tops were also redesigned to use a pin-mounting arrangement rather than the earlier latch-based setup.
The Trans Am drag coefficient was measured at 0.32 but was as low as 0.29 with the standard Aero wheels instead of the High-Tech turbo aluminum rims. At the time, it was the most aerodynamically-efficient car GM ever produced.
The Firebird received a restyled nose with wrap-around strips known as "bumperettes" to replace the old grille/solid inserts; wrap-around strips were also added to the rear bumper. The Trans Am "Turbo Bulge" hood was discontinued in favor of a new flat hood with twin louvered "nostrils" that were non-functional. Trans Am also received a restyled nose with integral fog lights and newly redesigned ground effects now standard, and its new "low density" taillight lenses have a grid-style pattern rather than the now-familiar "slit" or "louvered" pattern. The Trans Am now received the 15th Anniversary WS6 suspension as standard, which had been upgraded with the new, larger sway bars, and aluminum 16-inch, 20-slot wheels were made available on all Trans Ams. The Recaro option package was no longer available, but Recaro seats still were.
All Firebirds received center, high-mounted stop lamps to comply with Federal legislation; these were placed on top of the back hatch window. New tail light lenses were now introduced on the base Firebird, completing the replacement of the "slit" or "louvered" taillight lenses that had been a Firebird signature since 1967. The 2.5L 4-cylinder engine was dropped, replaced by the multi-port fuel-injected 2.8L V6 as the standard engine. The Firebird S/E model was discontinued, and a new, optional rubber/vinyl wrap-around rear spoiler was introduced on Trans Am (available only in black; in later years, these spoilers would suffer from cracking and splitting problems). Mid year, Pontiac introduced a new light-weight, cross-lace wheel rim, available for the Trans Am.
Only 26 Trans Ams with the 305 H.O L69 were built in 1986; it was discontinued because of fuel boiling problems.
The 305 TPI engine output was decreased from 215 hp to 190 hp, however, the L98 TPI 350, rated at 225 hp, made its mid-year appearance in the Trans Am. Paint RPO's were changed to reflect the new base-coat/clear-coat paint process. American Sunroof (ASC), licensed by Chevrolet to build the 1987 Camaro convertible, also built 3 1986 Trans Am convertibles as a "design exercise."
The Firebird body remained basically unchanged. All center, high-mounted stop lamps were relocated to a new position between the spoilers and the rear deck lid, and the large Firebird hood emblem disappeared forever. All V8's now received factory roller camshafts, and faced with consumer demands for more power, GM officially released the new 5.7L with tuned port fuel injection. Available only with an automatic transmission, it produced 225 hp and takes the top performance seat from the 5.0L TPI. L69 production is stopped, leaving the LG4 as the only remaining carbureted V8 used in the F-body. Trans Am GTA (Gran Turismo Americano) was introduced, available with the LB9 305 TPI engine (which was returned to 215 hp) or the L98 350 TPI. Gold 16-inch, flat-mesh, diamond-spoke wheels were standard on GTA, with 16-inch, 20-slot wheels standard on Trans Am. Firebird Formula was re-introduced, available with a choice of V8's (LG4, LB9 305 TPI, or L98 350 TPI), 16-inch convex wheels, and the earlier Trans Am "Turbo Bulge" hood. The wrap-around spoiler was updated and now standard on Trans Am and Formula; the regular, flat-wing spoiler from earlier Trans Am models was now made standard on Firebird. Trans Am and Formula were also offered with an optional 140 mph speedometer.
The Trans Am GTA was Pontiac's pride and joy with a standard 5.7L 350 Tuned Port Injection (TPI). The engine itself was pulled directly out of the C4 Corvette, which itself began using the engine in 1985, and gave the GTA performance numbers comparable to GM's flagship performance platform from whence it came. The GTA came with a standard TH-700R4 (4L60) automatic transmission, A/C, new seats with inflatable lumbar and side bolsters, special door panels, epoxy-filled emblems, body-colored ground effects, a special GTA horn button, and the legendary WS6 performance handling package. All of these options were packaged into the Trans Am under the RPO code Y84, and the model was produced until the end of Third Generation F-body production in 1992.
Finally, Pontiac offered a Firebird/Trans Am convertible, built after-market by ASC (of ASC McLaren fame) along-side the new Camaro convertible.
The Firebird remained basically unchanged. The 170 hp LG4 carbureted 5.0L V8 was dropped in favor of the new 170 hp L03 5.0L V8 with throttle body injection. All V8's engines received serpentine belt systems and the A/C compressors were moved to the passenger's side of the engine, de-cluttering the engine compartment. The Firebird Formula received new high tech 16x8" aluminum wheels with distinctive silver "WS6" center caps. The GTA wheels were slightly restyled, and the convex 16-inch wheels were dropped as all Trans Ams received the 16x8" diamond-spoke aluminum rims, available in different colors (white, red, charcoal, and black) in addition to the GTA's gold. The GTA received new a steering wheel with integral radio controls. The Trans Am was made available with body-colored ground effects like those on the GTA. Now optional on the GTA was a new "notchback" hatch: rather than the large, glass hatchback that had been common to the Third Generation Firebird, the optional notchback consisted of a fiberglass trunk lid with a small, flat, vertical glass window. The notchback also incorporated redesigned rear seatbacks with integral headrests. The optional convertible model also carried over.
GM made a new dual catalytic converter exhaust system (RPO code N10) available, freeing up 13% more power from some LB9- and L98-equipped Formulas and Trans Ams; so equipped, LB9 engine output was increased to 230 hp while the L98 increased to 240 hp. The N10 option remained available throughout the balance of the Third Generation production run, however the L98 powerplant was only available with an automatic transmission, whereas the LB9/N10 combination could only be coupled to a 5-speed manual (RPO code MM5) and a limited-slip differential (RPO code G80) using a 3.45 axle ratio (RPO code GM3). According to a March 1990 (Vol. 35, No. 9) Car and Driver article, when the latter set of options were combined into the 300-pounds-lighter Formula body, which shared same WS6 suspension with the top-end Trans Am GTA, it created a high-performance "sleeper" that could out-perform the heavier Trans Am GTA (even when equipped with the L98 engine) — at a roughly 30% lower sticker price. Although not an exhaustive comparison, these claims would seem to be supported by a simple examination of the weight-to-horsepower ratios of both models: a 230 hp Formula at a curb weight of 3,300 lb. versus a 240 hp Trans Am GTA at a curb weight of 3,600 lb.; the weight-to-horsepower ratio for the Formula is 14.3 lb/hp compared to 15.0 lb/hp for the Trans Am GTA. According to the same Car and Driver article, very few of these "hopped-up" Formulas hit the streets; only about 50 were built each model year, as almost all LB9-equipped Formulas came with an automatic transmission — which disqualified them from receiving the high-performance N10 and GM3 options.
Firebirds optioned with T-tops received new Lexan plastic tops. The new tops were lighter in weight and tinted darker, but were more dome shaped and aged rapidly. GM replaced many sets with tops made of glass under warranty, but the Lexan tops continued as standard-issue through 1992. All Firebirds optioned with rear disc brakes now received PBR brake calipers and larger brake rotors, which resolved issues encountered with previous-model rear discs and increased stopping power. Introduction of GM's Vehicle Anti Theft System (VATS) or PASS-Key made all Firebirds more theft-resistant. The system was adapted from GM's higher-end Corvette and Cadillac vehicles in response to an escalating trend among car thieves to target the Camaro and Firebird. VATS incorporated a small resistor into the ignition key shaft which was read by a sensor when the key was inserted. VATS-equipped cars also displayed anti-theft system warning decals in the lower rear corners of the side windows. A new CD player was offered, shoulder belts were added in the back seat, and the convertible model carried over.
The Trans Am was selected to pace the Indianapolis 500, and Pontiac marketed another pace car replica. This special, 20th Anniversary Turbo Trans Am (TTA), based on the GTA, was only available in white with a tan interior, and came equipped with the turbocharged Buick 3.8L V6, originally developed for the Buick Regal Grand National. At the time, these replicas were as close to the actual pace car as any replica previously offered; the only differences between the replica cars and those that actually were on the track during the race were the additions of strobe lights and safety equipment to the latter. 1,555 were produced, 5 of those being test cars. Out of 1,550 cars produced by PAS, the actual pace cars were randomly selected and sent to Indy for testing and modification, and when the TTA was released to the public, they were underrated in horsepower. Not all came with T-tops or with leather interior; there were hardtops and cloth-interior cars. But every TTA had an automatic transmission — the 200R4. Still, the TTA was, at the time, widely regarded as the fastest production car in existence — ironically a title it had briefly (at least for 1989) usurped from its GM stablemate that had supplied the engine: the Buick Regal Grand National (although as noted above, the LB9/N10/MM5/GM3-equipped Formula was quite possibly a close contender as well). The five test TTA's, because they were for pre-production use, were pulled off of the assembly line without regard to color, and therefore were not necessarily white. At least two of these test cars were sold to private individuals, so there are at least two extremely rare, non-white, factory TTA's in existence; in fact, one is known to be red. Only three convertible TTA's were built by ASC, one of which was bought by the president of PAS, with the other two falling into private hands.
A driver’s side air bag was made standard. The Firebird interior again received a re-design, this time the changes were much less drastic: the lower dash and under-dash panels were altered, and accessory switches were moved to a new panel above the heater and radio controls. The console got a new shift indicator and different leather boot, steering wheel mounted radio controls disappeared from the GTA (due to the addition of the airbag), and the L98 engine was no longer offered in the convertible due to purported torque limitations in the unibody construction. LB9 and L98 platforms were updated with new speed density fuel injection, and the elimination of the MAF sensor reduced production costs and supposedly improved performance.
Like the Camaro, the 1990 Firebird only received a half-year production run, as Pontiac labored to release the re-styled 1991 model.
All Firebirds received re-styled noses loosely fashioned after the "Banshee IV" show car while Pontiac was developing the all-new Fourth Generation platform. Trans Ams ground effects were re-styled as well, which were made available on the base model Firebird. The Trans Am and Firebird Formula received a new fiberglass-constructed, flat, wrap-around wing, and all L98-equipped cars now received the N10 dual catalytic converters as standard. The Trans Am and GTA received updated two-piece tail lights with "PONTIAC" scripted in orange across the panels, and the center, high-mounted stop lamps were moved to inside the top edge of the rear hatch. The Firebird convertible was now being built on the same production line as the coupes (previously, ASC had been converting customer/dealer ordered T-top cars, and the convertible option was not officially offered through GM), and was offered with one of three engine options: the LHO 3.1L V6, the L03 5.0L V8, or the LB9 5.0L V8. Production improvements led to use of new body sealants that improved body rigidity, long a source of complaints with the Third Generation F-body.
The new styling brought higher sales figures, up from the previous model year.
This marked the final production year for the Third Generation platform, and as the Fourth Generation model was imminent, provided few changes for the Firebird. Mid-year, TPI-equipped cars only received blank throttle body plates rather than ones that had been marked "TUNED PORT INJECTION" on similar engines from prior model years; and black-painted valve covers replaced the silver components from previous years. As use of the L98 in the Corvette had come to an end, rough-cast runners found their way into L98-equipped Firebirds, and some cars received special rubber snubbers on the rear hatch frame that were designed to make the hatch more stable. Ultimately, very few Trans Ams, GTA's, and Formulas were produced in this model year, as most buyers were waiting for the next-generaion models.
Beginning in this year, a company named Street Legal Performance(SLP) modified a factory-built Formula into what they called the "Firehawk". Once a Formula had been order or purchased, this limited-availability option (RPO code B4U) could be specified, and the vehicle was sent SLP to be modified. No two cars SLP produced were alike; they all were special orders. SLP had anticipated making 250 of these special Firebird Formulas, but in fact, only 27 were ordered; and of those, only 25 were ever built (numbered 1-25 for hardtops — with numbers 18 and 23 never being built — and the ONLY Firehawk Convertible was numbered 27). Of those 25 Firehawks, 21 were "Mandatory" Red, 1 Aqua, 1 White, 1 Blue, and 1 Green; 11 had the Competition Package, 3 came with Aluminum Engine Blocks, 1 had T-Tops, and as previously stated, 1 was a Convertible.
Fourth generation (1975-1979) Firebird
The Fourth Generation F-body continued the aerodynamic formula initiated by the previous generation, but while still a desirable sports car, it fell victim to declining sales. As before, the Camaro kept the exposed headlights and the Firebird its pop-up units, with some minor changes. The overall styling of the Firebird more strongly reflected the "Banshee IV" concept car than the 1991 "face lift" received by the Third Generation model.
From 1993 until 1995 (1995 non-California cars), Firebirds received a 3.4L V6 with 160 hp, or the 5.7L 275 hp LT1 V8. The Trans Am also recieved a Corvette engine with 305 hp LT1 V8. The 1993 Firehawk (only available in Formula trim for 1993) received the SLP package with a functional hood scoop and other performance enhancements that increased horsepower to 300. Only 201 were built for 1993, and they routinely out-performed 1993 Corvettes, leading many to believe that the horsepower rating was purposely underrated to allow the Corvette (also rated at 300 hp for the 1993 model year) to be the listed "king of power" (and price tag) for that year. In fact, the LT1 in the Formula and Trans Am was very similar to the one in the Corvette C4, except with 2-bolt mains and a more restrictive intake/exhaust system.
1994 marked the 25th Anniversary of the Trans Am, and another Anniversary Edition was released, painted white with a single blue stripe down the center of the vehicle — clearly reminiscent of the 1970 Trans Am.
1996 and later models had a 200 hp 3.8L V6 as the base engine, and the horsepower rating of the LT1 had been raised to 285, thanks to a new dual catalytic converter exhaust system.
The very rare 1997 Firehawk LT4 model made by SLP and sold through Pontiac dealerships had 330 hp (243 kW) and 340 ft.lbf (459 Nm) of torque.
In 1998, the Firebird received a "face lift" dominated by a new front fascia (now with four pop-up headlights) as well as other modifications, the most significant of which was the introduction of the latest Corvette small block V8 engine, the LS1. Initially, the color "Bright Purple Metallic" had been available, however it was discontinued due to production issues with the paint. The color was replaced with "Navy Blue Metallic," but not before a total of 12 Trans Am models (10 coupes and 2 convertibles) made it out of the factory dressed in "Bright Purple Metallic." For 1998-2002 Pontiac utilized the same heavy duty brakes, steering ratios, fuel pumps and shocks (non-WS6) on both V6 and V8 models.
1999 marked the 30th Anniversary of the Trans Am, commemorated by another white Anniversary Edition, this time with twin blue stripes which more closely patterned the original paint scheme of the 1969 Trans Am.
The final model year of the Firebird, 2002, offered a distinctive "Collector's Edition" Trans Am, painted yellow. Like the Chevrolet Camaro, the Fourth Generation Firebird and Trans Am were built in Sainte-Thérèse, Quebec, and the plant closed down after producing the last F-body cars.
The LS1 Firebirds, despite their poor sales, were among the fastest ever produced. Outfitted with the all-aluminum 5.7L V8 from the Corvette C5, and producing 305 hp (310 after 2000) or 320 hp (325 after 2000) in the WS-6 "Ram Air" version, these Fourth Generation Firebirds could out-perform just about any of their predecessors (including the original "muscle car" Firebirds). In 2001 and 2002, models equipped with a V8 received the higher-flow LS6 intake manifold and a higher-performance clutch. Firebird enthusiasts believe these engines were underrated by the factory, and that these cars often produce up to 40 more horsepower than rated. The rare Firehawk model, made by SLP and sold through Pontiac dealerships, had 330 hp (335 after 2000, 345 in late 2002 models). Even the last of the V6-equipped Firebirds were rated at an impressive 205 hp, which was more than some of the earlier-generation V8's could muster (in fact, the final V6 Firebirds are as quick as almost any V8-equipped Firebird produced before 1990)with a Dynomometer in stock configuration of 175HP and 200TQ. Average quarter-mile elapsed times for the Fourth Generation Firebirds were reported as 15.2 seconds at 90 mph for V6-equipped vehicles, and 13.4 seconds at 106 mph for those with the V8; in the hands of an experienced driver, the latter cars have even been known to "crack" the 12-second quarter mile mark. Top speeds for both the V6 and V8 versions were generally governed according to their factory tire ratings, which were typically 118 mph for the V6 models, with the governor programmed out and applying V8 speed rated tires, speeds will reach in excess of 130mph(4th gear limited) with the Y-87 performance package and a 5speed transmission, whereas V8 models that had Z-rated tires had a speed limiter set to 167 mph.
1993-1998 had angular cable driven throttle body units, which later changed in 1999 to a less restrictive drive by wire electronic controlled with 18 reference throttle position points. 1999-2002 also saw the change of mass airflow sensor technology. GM, ridding themselves of the cast rod Mass Airflow Sensor in the Throttle Body, chose the higher flow capacity of the top mount MAF sensor and eliminating the angled induction to a straight forward ram air style intake which removes a large portion of the restriction.
In 2000-2002 Firebird also received an upgraded exhaust manifold from rectangular cast Iron primaries to a round tubular style manifold giving further gains in performance.
Appearances in pop culture
- In the movie Donnie Darko, Frank drives a second-generation Trans Am.
- One of the best-known Firebirds was on television, in the James Garner series The Rockford Files. Garner's character drove a gold 1974 Firebird, updated each year of the series and apparently an Esprit in most sequences.
- The Ponch character on 1970s television series CHiPs drove a gold 1973 Firebird while off-duty, which had a mix of Trans Am (hood and side heat extractors) and Formula (hood air intakes) features.
- Three black Firebird Trans Ams featured in the Smokey and the Bandit movies, each of the model year in which the film was made (1977, 1980 & 1983).
- Knight Rider featured a modified 1982 Trans Am to portray KITT (and its "evil twin," KARR). Over the course of the show's run, the cars were subtly updated with 1983 and 1984 models, but due to the customization involved there was no impact on continuity. A 1979 Firebird and a baby blue 1982 model briefly appeared in one episode.
- In the movie Alphabet City, Vincent Spano's character drives a 1983 CFI Automatic Daytona 500 Trans Am.
- In the movie McQ, John Wayne's character drives a Brewster Green 1973 Trans Am 455.
- In the movie Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Jeff Bridges's character steals a white 1973 Trans Am (this was actually Clint Eastwood's personal car that he owned until selling it in 1981).
In the road race film Cannonball (not to be confused with the Cannonball Run films), David Carradine drives a 1970-72 Buccaneer Red Trans Am with incorrect stripes.
- Roy Scheider drove a black 1979 Trans Am in Blue Thunder. Steve McQueen rented an all black 1979 in The Hunter. And Sylvester Stallone in Rocky II also drove a black 1979 Trans Am.
- A Firebird Turbo Trans Am police car was seen in the movie Cannonball Run chasing a Lamborghini Countach.
- In The Simpsons Apu owns a red late-'70s Bandit-style Trans Am that you see in a few episodes. Snake, who has a habit of robbing Apu's Kwik-E-Mart, drives a 1968 Firebird that Homer purchases in a police auction in the episode Reality Bites.
- In An Innocent Man, Tom Selleck's character drives a black 1979-81 Firebird.
- Also, a Trans Am was seen in the movie Corvette Summer starring Mark Hamill.
- In American Beauty, Kevin Spacey's character trades his Toyota Camry for a red 1970 Firebird Formula.
- In the movie Teen Wolf Too, Jason Bateman's character Todd Howard almost gets run over by a 3rd gen Trans Am.
- In the movie The Last Ride, a grey 2002 convertible model was featured.
- Daryl Hannah's character Elle Driver drives one in the movie Kill Bill 2. When filming ended, she bought the car which she rarely drives.
- The freeway chase scene in The Matrix Reloaded featured a first-generation coupe.
- Mark Wahlberg's character Melvin Smiley drives a yellow third-generation Formula in the movie The Big Hit.
- In the movie Gone In 60 Seconds, Kip Raines is seen driving a red third-generation Firebird at the start of the movie before stealing the Porsche and is later seen being crushed with it in the compactor.
- In Blur's music video "Parklife", a couple can be seen posing outside their house beside their white 1978 Trans Am with a "couple" decal at their sun visor area of their windscreen.
- Ryan Dunn drives a black 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am in his show Homewrecker.
- Will Ferrell's character Frank "The Tank" Ricard is seen working on a red 1978 Trans Am and wearing a Firebird T-shirt in the movie Old School.
- A second-generation Firebird hits a character in the 2:00 AM episode of the first season of 24, and a blue second-generation coupe can be seen in a garage in the 2:00 PM episode.
- At least three different Firebirds can be seen throughout the three seasons of the TV series Roswell; a red second-generation Trans Am, a purple fourth-generation Trans Am, and a white fourth-generation coupe.
- Niobe drives a Firebird in the 2003 video game Enter the Matrix (the car is usable in the game as either her or Ghost).
- Daniel Desario drives a red 1970s Pontiac Firebird in several episodes of Freaks and Geeks.
- In the movie Dazed and Confused, Clint drives a 1974 model. This is one of the few SD-455 Trans Ams ever to be shown in film.
- In the TV series The Transformers, Windcharger transforms into a Trans Am. However, in the cartoon, no effort is made to make the character resemble the popular American car. On the other hand, his near-duplicate Tailgate resembles a third-generation Firebird with symmetrical Trans Am hood. Also, a Decepticon named Runamuck transforms into a Trans Am as well.
- Adam Sandler's character Billy Madison drove a black Trans Am to high school in the movie Billy Madison.
Villainous thugs used a red Trans-Am to get away from the airport parking garage in Big Trouble in Little China starring Kurt Russell.
- Dwight Schrute in NBC's The Office drives a 1987 Firebird GTA.
- In the book Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson, a golden Firebird is a central part of the story.
- In Shaker Run (1985), stars Cliff Robertson and Lisa Harrow drive a pink-and-black, right-hand-drive, third-generation Trans Am.
- Amir drives a third-generation Firebird in the opening sequence of Office Space.
- In the Nelson DeMille book The Charm School, minor character Gregory Fisher drives a Metallic Blue Trans Am (given the publication year it can be assumed to be a Third Generation) through Russia while on vacation. The Trans Am makes another appearance towards the end of the book as well.
- In the 1978 movie Hooper, Burt Reynolds drives a red and black Trans Am
- In the 1974 movie Gone in 60 Seconds, H.B. Halicki's personal black Trans Am was in the background.