Pontiac was tired of viewing from the sidelines, while Ford introduced the Mustang, and Chevy brought out the Camaro, so in midst of 1967 Pontiac finally jumped in the ring with the all new Firebird. Available with either six or eight cylinder engines, the Firebird was based heavily on the Camaro chassis, though Pontiac did attempt to make it their own. The Camaro featured a styled split front grille, GTO-slitted taillights and a beaked hood. Complete with an entire range of Pontiac engines, the Firebird featured five different engine choices. The lowest version being the 230 cubic inch OHC six-cylinder engine with a single 1bbl carb, it was rated at 165 bhp. The next version was the 'Sprint' version that arrived with 230 I6 with a 4bbl carburetor rated at 215bhp. Either of these six cylinders could be linked to either a three or four speed manual, or a two-speed automatic transmission.
Though the six cylinder engines were more powerful than what Chevy had to offer, most buyers instead chose to opt for the available V8 engines. The 326 V7 from Pontiac featured a two barrel carburetor that was rated at 250 bhp. Also a special 'H.O.' version of the 326 V8 was rated at 285 bhp when fitted with a four barrel carb.
The 400 V8 was borrowed from the GTO and was placed at the top, rated at 325 bhp. The 400 was available with or without Ram Air. The Ram air took advantage of the otherwise decorative hood scoops and the engine included a hotter cam and stronger valve springs. The Ram Air option carried an expensive price-tag though, and at $600 and a not much publicized power increase, and was ordered very often. Optional were four-speed manual and two and three automatic transmission, meanwhile all V8's came with a standard heavy-duty three speed manual transmission. Performance axle ratios were now up to 4.33.:1 while front disk brakes were also available.
Unfortunately the Camaro outsold the Firebird two to one in the beginning, and the Firebird was priced nearly $200 more. For the first year 15,526 convertibles were produced, while a total of 67,032 hardtop coupes were sold.
The Pontiac Firebird underwent numerous styling updates during its second year of production. The Firebird received new fender marker lights, and lost its side vent windows. The interior was also updated as the rear suspension was refined and the staggering shocks in the rear along with the use of multi-leaf rear springs. A standard 400 engine was underneath the hood and had gained an additional 5 bhp to 330 while the Ram Air engine option was now rated at 335 bhp. The engine was replaced by the 340 bhp Ram Air II halfway through the year.
The H.O. a third 400 V8 was placed between the two other engines and it came with free-flow exhausts along with its own revised cam when mated to the four speed manual and was rated at 335 bhp. A new 250 I6 replaced the 230 I6 and the 326 V8s were replaced by all new 350 V8s. A total of 90,152 hardtop coupes were produced in 1968, while 16,960 convertible were built.
The following year, Firebird underwent a huge update that included the front end being completely redone while the rear end and interior only changed slightly. It was a shame though, because customers didn't appreciate the redesign and sales fell incredibly, even despite the fact that production lasted for 17 months.
The Ram Air 400 was renamed the Ram Air IV and received a slight increase in power. The 400 option was known as either the Ram Air or Ram Air II while the HO was simply called that, though it did receive a slight increase in power.
The Trans Am Performance and Appearance package was introduced during March of 1969. Only 689 Firebird coupe and 8 convertibles were ever built with this option, probably due to its hefty $725 price-tag.
Though it wasn't totally apparent at the time, the Chevy Corvette and the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am would be the only American high performance vehicles that would remain in continuous production since their inception. The Trans Am arrived standard with the HO engine with Ram Air. The 400 Ram Air IV was the only engine option, and was ordered on only 55 coupes. All Trans Am's arrived painted Polar White with blue racings stripes, decals and tail panels. The hood was quite exclusive and featured functional air intakes that could be closed by the driver along with functional fender scoops that were designed to vent the engine bay. On the trunk was mounted a 60 inch rear foil, or spoiler.
It was looks and handling that made the Trans Am special, not just more. Representing the peak of Pontiac performance excitement, the Trans Am was actually no faster than the similarly equipped Firebirds. A total of 11,649 convertibles were sold, 76,059 hardtop coupes, 689 Trans Am Hardtop Coupes and 8 Trans Am Convertibles.
The second generation of Pontiac Firebirds went on sale in February of 1970 as a '1970½' model. The second generation Firebird shared much of the general shape and engineering of the second-generation Camaro, though the Firebird kept its own fenders and wheel-well shapes. The Firebird also featured a very distinct plastic 'Endura' nose that completely surrounded the split grille and single headlamps that produced a bumper-less appearance. A muscle car with styling that seemed to have been hand-built in Italy, the second generation of the Firebird was absolutely stunning.
The structure and chassis elements were also shared with the Camaro and were only an evolutionary development of the first generation. The front-subframe-bolted-to-unibody design was carried over along with the leaf springs on the solid rear axle and front A-arm suspension. The Firebird lineup for the '70½ year was divided into base, luxury-oriented Esprit, muscle minded Formula 400 and the intimidating Trans Am. The Pontiac OHC six at the base level moved aside for Chevy's 250-cubic-inch straight six and making a unimpressive 155 horsepower. Buyers had every incentive to step up to the V8's with such a basic base power-plant, and most customers went with this option.
An Esprit brought a two-barrel version of Pontiac's 350 V8 that was rated at 255 horsepower, along with a standard three-speed manual transmission, although most customers opted for the three-speed automatic. The Formula 400 placed a 330 horsepower four-barrel version of the 400 V8 underneath its very unique twin scooped hood. Most buyers opted for either a four-speed manual or the automatic instead of the standard three-cog gearbox.
The Trans Am with its rear-breaking shaker hood scoop and deep front spoiler were on the main stage for the '70½ model year, along with its full-width rear spoiler and its front fender vents. This Trans Am was featured in either Polar White with blue tape stripes or Lucerne Blue with white tape stripes. Both colors features a relatively modest bird stencil at the edge of the nose and the words Trans Am spelled out across the rear spoiler.
Buyers had the option of either the Ram Air III 400 V8 that produced 335 horsepower, or the optional Ram Air IV that produced 345. Four-speed manual was standard, while the suspension received immediate acclaim for 'providing the best handling of any American car– including the Corvette…' During that strange ½ model year, only a total of 3,196 Trans Ams were sold, but this would definitely change.
For 1971 the new arrival was high-back bucket seats. Though some of the power slipped away due to emissions control regulations, but the four-model Firebird series continued on. The largest update for this year was the addition by Pontiac of the largest version of their V8; a 455-cubic-inches rated at 332 horsepower, and the option of the 350 in the Formula for the first time ever.
Sadly though, sales continued to swoop, and 1971 was a depressing year for the Trans Am with a mere 2,116 Trans Ams sold. GM threatened to delete the car for 1972. Barely any changes were made for this year, as the threat of GM was too great. Once again engine outputs dropped, but the famous 'honeycomb' wheels made their debut. The Trans Am's 'Code M' 350 in the Esprit plummeted to 160 horsepower, while the Trans Am's 'Code X' 455 was rated at only 300 horsepower. Production only reached 1,286 for 1972 due to a strike at the plant.
At the beginning, things look pretty bleak for the 1973 model year, but thankfully two huge updates would turn the tables in Pontiacs favor. Nearly covering the entire hood was the new graphic, a large 'screaming chicken'. The other update was the available of the 455 Super Duty engine an engine that was so incredibly close to an authentic race engine.
Having only a 310 horsepower rating, the SD-455 came with a reinforced block, special cam shaft, oversize valves, aluminum pistons and header-like exhaust manifolds. In 1973 only 252 Trans Am's received the Super Duty while only 43 Formula 455 models received this power-plant. The 1973 Firebird also received a new 'egg crate' grille texture but unfortunately even less power. The V8 on the Formula 350 was now rated at a mere 150 horsepower, while the most intensely powerful Formula 400 only was able to reach 250 horsepower.
For 1974 a brand new front end was introduced due to bumper regulations with a slight wedge shape and a revised rear end with a body-color bumper and longer slotted tail lamps. Engine ratings were changed, but the model lineup continued to remain the same. The impressive Super Duty 455 was now rated at 290, while the 350 V8 was rated at 155 horsepower now. For the 1974 model year a total of 953 Trans Am's were built with the Super Duty while a total of 57 Formula 455s were also equipped.
For 1975 the Firebird received all new wraparound rear window. The 455 and Esprit's standard engine were deleted and replaced with the Chevy inline six. The Trans Am and Formula's 400-cubic-inch V8 only measured a sad 185 horses, while the 455 was reintroduced once again but only reached a depressing 200 horsepower.
One year later the Firebird was growing into its element and a much more sexy car was introduced. Changes were slight but this would be the first year in which the car sold more than 100,000 units. Bumpers were now more angular, and this would also be the final year for the 455 in the Trans Am, and the first year for the black-and-gold Special Edition Trans Am.
For 1977 Pontiac unveiled the new 'Batmobile' front end. While engine choices started to become a bit more complex, the new quad square headlamps were the greatest new thing to happen to the Firebird. Buick's 105-horsepower 231-cubic inch V6 replaced the Chevy inline six as the base engine, and an all-new 135 horsepower 301-cubic inch version of the Pontiac V8 was featured in Esprits and Formulas. Achieving 200 horsepower, the Trans Am's newly redesigned shaker hood covered either the Pontiac 400 or the made 185-horsepower with the Oldsmobile-built 403-cubic-inch V8. Mostly in California, a few Firebirds arrived with the Chevy 305- and 350- cubic-inch V8s.
1977 was also the year that a black-and-gold Special Edition Trans Am was driven by Burt Reynolds during Smokey and The Bandit, firmly establishing the Trans Am as the vehicle of the 1970s. Extremely popular this year, a total of 68,745 Trans Am's were sold as well as 86,991 other varieties of Firebirds that year.
Not much was changed the following year on the Firebird or Trans Am, except for numerous new 'special editions'. Some of these were a gold Trans Am complete with brown accents, a blue 'Sky Bird' and red 'Red Bird' Firebirds. For 1978 a total of 187,285 Firebirds were sold, making it the most successful sales year ever for Pontiac.
Celebrating ten years in the automotive world, a special silver 10th Anniversary edition Trans Am was sold. In 1979 the biggest change was a new nose on the Firebird, while the four rectangular headlamps were all placed on their own bezels and the split grille was placed down below them. Disguising the taillights on the Formula and Trans Am, the tail was updated with new blackout panels. Not many changes were made for this year, and the '78 and '79 were basically the same except for some revised graphics. 1979 was also the final year for the 400-cubic-inch V8.
For 1980 the main concern that seemed to be on everyone's mind was the rising fuel prices. Pontiac responded by turbo-charging the Trans Am and formula power. This resulted in a single Garrett turbo joined to the 4.9-liter V8, which produced the famous 'Turbo 4.9.' Rated at 210 horsepower, unfortunately Motor Trend was not a big fan of the new Turbo and commented that 'there's no boost indicator'. Unfortunately this had a lot to do with sales, and they plummeted for both the Trans Am and the Firebird in 1980. For the following year no changes were made and Pontiac sold a disappointing total of 70,899 Firebirds and Trans Ams combined.
For the third generation of the Firebird, Pontiac decided to spice things up! Losing the subframe construction, a full unibody hatchback with a modified MacPherson strut suspension in front replaced it and a solid axle placed on coil springs located by a large torque arm in the back. This newest generation had more in common with the Camaro than every before. The Pontiac's own engines were deleted by now, and from 1982 onwards all Firebirds V8's would receive GM 'corporate' motors.
Arriving in three trim levels; base, luxury-oriented S/E and Trans Am, the 1982 Firebird showcased its now hidden headlight. The base Firebird received the 'Iron Duke' 2.5-liter OHV inline four as a standard engine and made 90 horsepower. The Iron Duke was the original Firebird engine to carry a two-digit output rating.
Due to this, most customers chose instead to purchase the S/E's standard 2.8-liter OHV V6 with a two-barrel carburetor that reached 105 horsepower, or one of the V8 engines. While optional in the base and S/E, the standard V8 in the Trans Am was a 145-horsepower 5.0-liter four-barrel unit that could be backed by a four-speed manual or a three-speed automatic. Another option was the 'Cross-Fire Injection' version of the 5.0-liter. This version used throttle body injection to achieve 165 horsepower, but had to be joined to the automatic.
Loved for its solid handling and handsome demeanor, the third generation was a big hit. Not many changes were made from the 1982 model year to the 1983, but the power was increased slightly. A five-speed manual was now available for consumers and the S/E's V6 jumped to 125 horsepower. Entering late in the model year was a 190 horsepower 'L69' version of the four-barrel 5.0-liter engine. Though the 90-horsepower was still available in the base, most consumers chose to disregard that engine. An automatic gearbox with four forward gears also arrived for 1983.
Barely any changes were made for the 1984 Firebird, though the availability of the L69 was expanded while the Cross-Fire V8 was deleted. For this year a special 15th Anniversary Trans Am, white with blue trim that featured Recaro front seats.
The following year the Firebird was gifted with a newly updated nose, full rocker and quarter-panel extensions that made the Trans Am look even more intimidating, and the addition of with new taillights. Backed by a mandatory four-speed automatic, Tuned Port Injection was introduced this year and placed on top of the 5.0-liter V8 with a 205 horsepower rating. Also for this year, as part of a WS6 suspension package, 16-inch wheels with big P245/50VR16 Goodyear 'Gatorback' tires were made available.
Unfortunately 1986 received kind of an eyesore in the form of the federally mandated Center High Mounted Stop Light atop the rear hatch's glass. One year later consumers received a treat in the form of a big engine, which was the TPI version of GM's 5.7-liter V8 on both the Trans Am and the newly brought back Formula 350. Easily being named the best motor to have ever been yet installed, the 5.7 TPI was rated at 210 horsepower and had to be joined to a four-speed automatic. The TPI 5.0-liter engine was featured and available with a five-speed manual transmission.
The S/E left the Firebird lineup for 1987 also leaving was the CHMSL bump and four-cylinder engine. These were replaced by the Formula and the newly debuted GTA. 1988 saw the addition of a new steering wheel, revised radios, and new wheels for the Formulas. A throttle body system replaced the carbureted 5.0-liter V8 with an output of 170 horsepower.
A 20th Anniversary Trans Am was introduced in 1989 with plenty of Buick parts which included the turbocharged 3.8-liter OHV V6 which had been modified and squeezed into the Trans Am's engine bay. This version was rated at 250 horsepower and featured a fantastically tuned intercooled engine that was extremely efficient and also very quick. The Turbo Trans Am was clocked by Hod Rod for reaching the quarter mile in 14.2 second at 97.8 mph. Also new for this year was the notchback style hatch that was introduced on the Trans Am GTA and made it look very much like a coupe.
By 1990, the Firebird went back to being just part of the status quo as all of the turbo V6s were used up. Rated at 135 horsepower, the base V6 now displaced 3.1 liters. Not much changed for the following year of the Firebird. For 1992 the writing was on the wall that the third-generation Firebird was about reaching its end. The Performance Equipment Group boosted the TPI 5-liter V8 to a full 230 horsepower, but other than a few minor updates, not much else changed for 1992.
Carrying over much of the floorplan and rear suspension, the 1993 Firebird was basically the same as before though the body was now more aerodynamic and featured newly incorporated plastic front fenders. A new vast improvement was the new short/long-arm front suspension while the engine bay itself was also quite impressive.
The Firebird lineup was reduced to just three models in 1993, the base, Formula and Trans Am, but engine options were available in twos. A 3.4-liter version of the same V6 that had been used in the third generation model featured 160 horsepower. The second engine offered was 275 horsepower LT1 version of the original 5.7-liter small-block V8. The LT1 was the standard engine in both the Formula and Trans Am and it could be had with a six-speed manual transmission. Car Craft magazine recorded the LT1's performance at 14.1 seconds at 98.45 mph for the quarter mile and an impressive 0-60 mph in 5.6-seconds.
Pleased with the success of the Firebird, Pontiac chose not to make too many changes to the 1994 model. The convertible Firebird was reintroduced though, along with a special 25th Anniversary white and blue Trans Am. A special GT version was also unveiled that featured sleek leather seats and a 'skip shift' feature on the six-speed manual that would force an upshift from first gear to fourth to provide for better fuel economy. This new feature immediately created a market for aftermarket skip shift eliminator kits.
For 1995 the all-new feature for the Firebird was traction control. But that was basically the only major change. Unfortunately the Trans Am GT was deleted from the lineup and halfway through the model year, GM's 3.8-liter OHV 3800 V6 was featured as an alternative to the 3.4 V6 in base Firebirds. The 3800 was the most powerful of any V8-powered Firebird and produced 200 horsepower.
With the introduction of the 3800, consumers were now uninterested in the 3.4-liter V6 and in 1996 it was dropped from the Firebird line. An optional 3800 Performance Package was introduced in this same year on the base model and featured dual exhaust, four-wheel disc brakes, limited-slip differential and alloy wheels. The 5.7-liter V8 received 10 more horsepower for a total of 285 on the Formula and Trans Am.
The Ram Air name returned once again in 1996 for a cold-air induction system on both the Formula and Trans Am coupes with the WS6 package. The LT1 now had an output of 305 horsepower and Pontiac chose to throw in 17-inch wheels.
For the 1997 model yeah, the WSG Ram Air package was added as an option for both Formula and Trans Am convertible. The only other change for this year was the option of a fabulous 500-watt Monsoon audio system.
The following year the Firebird received a new nose, and behind this new nose was an impression all-aluminum 305-horsepower LS-1 V8. Considered to be the ‘best engine ever to have been installed in a Firebird' (Wikipedia), the LS-1 V8 was considered to be better than all of the 455s from the ‘70's and even better than the '89 Turbo V6. The only other changes were the Sport Appearance Package for base Firebirds and the addition of second generation airbags.
The 1999 model received only minor revisions. These updates included a new Hurst shifter for the six-cog manual, a power steering cooler and a Torsen limied-slip differential for V8 models. For the 30th Anniversary of the Pontiac Trans Am, Pontiac created a special version that was very similar to the 1994 Anniversary model. The '99 Anniversary model was painted white with a blue trim color scheme and also featured blue-tinted alloy wheels and inside was a sleek white leather interior. For 2000 barely any changes were made.
For 2001 the Firebird received the LS1 once again, but was re-rated at 310 horsepower while the Ram Air option no longer was made available for the Formula.
For 2002 the final Firebird was once again arrived on the market with very minor changes. The only major change was that the 35th Anniversary edition was painted yellow with black wheel and unique graphics. 2002 was the final year for the Pontiac Firebird.By Jessica Donaldson