|More Information on the Pontiac Firebird|
The Pontiac Firebird is an automobile that was built by Pontiac from the 1967 to the 2002 model years. The Firebird was introduced the same year as the automaker's platform-sharing model, the Chevrolet Camaro. This coincided with the release of the 1967 Mercury Cougar, which shared its platform with another pony car, the Ford Mustang.
The name "Firebird" was also previously used by Pontiac's parent company General Motors for the General Motors Firebird 1950s and early-1960s concept cars.
First generation (1967–1969)
The first generation Firebirds had a characteristic Coke bottle styling. Unlike its cousin the Chevrolet Camaro, the Firebird's bumpers were integrated into the design of the front end. The Firebird's rear "slit" taillights were inspired by the Pontiac GTO. Both a two-door hardtop and a convertible were offered through the 1969 model year. Originally, the car was a "consolation prize" for Pontiac, who had 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 share the F-body platform with Chevrolet.
The base model Firebird came equipped with the OHC inline-6 and a single-barrel carburetor. The next model, the Sprint, had a four-barrel carburetor, developing 215 hp (160 kW). Most buyers opted for one of the V8 engines: the 326 CID (5.3 L) with a two-barrel carburetor producing 250 hp (190 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 CID (6.6 L) from the GTO with 325 hp (242 kW). A "Ram Air" option was also available in 1968, 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 CID (3.8 L) engines were subsequently replaced by 250 CID (4.1 L) engines, the first developing 175 hp (130 kW) using a single-barrel carburetor, and the other 215 hp (160 kW) with a four-barrel carburetor. Also for the 1968 model, the 326 CID (5.3 L) engine was replaced by one with a displacement of 350 cubic inches (5.7 L). An "H.O." version of the 350 CID with a revised cam was also offered starting in that year, which developed 320 hp (240 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,", named after the Trans Am Series, which included a rear spoiler, was introduced. Of these first "Trans Ams," only 689 hardtops and eight convertibles were made. There was an additional Ram Air IV option for the 400 CID engine during that year, complementing the Ram Air III; these generated 345 and 335 hp (250 kW) respectively. The 350 "H.O." engine was revised again with a different cam and cylinder heads resulting in 330 hp (250 kW). During 1969 a special 303 cu in (5.0 L) engine was designed for SCCA road racing applications that was not available in production cars.
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 turn signals 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. The front door vent-windows were replaced with a single pane of glass. The 1969 model received a major facelift with a new front end design but unlike its big brother the GTO, it did not have the Endura bumper. The instrument panel and steering wheel were revised. 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 delayed the 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 (the other 1970 Pontiac models had been introduced on September 18, 1969). 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.
Second generation (1970–1981)
The second generation debut for the 1970 model year was delayed until February 26, 1970, because of tooling and engineering problems; thus, its popular designation as a 1970½ model, while leftover 1969s were listed in early Pontiac literature without a model-year identification. This generation of Firebirds were available in coupe form only; convertibles disappeared after the 1969 model year.
Replacing the "Coke bottle" styling was a more "swoopy" body style, while still retaining some traditional elements. 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 cu in (6.6 L) engines for 1970: the 335 hp (250 kW) Ram Air III (366 hp (273 kW) in GTO) and the 345 hp (257 kW) Ram Air IV (370 hp (280 kW) in GTO) that were carried over from 1969. The difference between the GTO and Firebird engines was the secondary carburetor linkage which prevented the rear barrels from opening completely. Bending the linkage to allow full carburetor operation resulted in identical engine performance.
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 cu in (7.5 L) engine made its first appearance in the Firebird in 1971 as the 455-HO, which continued through the 1972 model year. In 1973 and 1974, a special version of the 455, called the Super Duty 455 (SD-455), was offered. The SD-455 consisted of a strengthened cylinder block that included 4-bolt main bearings and added material in various locations for improved strength. Original plans called for a forged crankshaft, although actual production SD455s received nodular iron crankshafts with minor enhancements. Forged rods and forged aluminum pistons were specified, as were unique high-flow cylinder heads.
The 480737 code cam (identical grind to the RAIV "041" cam) was originally specified for the SD455 engine and was fitted into the "pre-production" test cars (source: former Pontiac Special Projects Engineer Skip McCully*), one of which was tested by both HOT ROD and CAR AND DRIVER magazines. However, actual production cars were fitted with the milder 493323 cam and 1.5:1 rocker ratios, due to the ever-tightening emissions standards of the era. This cam and rocker combination, combined with a low compression ratio of 8.4:1 advertised (7.9:1 actual) yielded 290 SAE net horsepower. It should also be noted that production SD455 cars did not have functional hood scoops, while the "pre-production" test cars did.*
Actual production cars yielded 1/4 mile results in the high 14 to 15.0 second/98 MPH range (sources: MOTOR TREND MAGAZINE, July '73 and Roger Huntington's book, AMERICAN SUPERCAR) – results that are consistent with a 3,850 pound car (plus driver) and the rated 290 SAE net horsepower figure. (An original rating of 310 SAE net horsepower had been assigned to the SD455, though that rating was based on the emissions non-compliant "pre-production" engines, as discussed above. That rating appeared in published 1973 model year Pontiac literature, which had been printed prior to the "pre-production" engines "barely passing*" emissions testing, and the last minute switch to what became the production engine. 1974 model year production literature listed the specifications of the production engine (290 SAE net horsepower).
A production line stock SD455 produced 253 rear wheel HP on a chassis dyno, as reported by HIGH PERFORMANCE PONTIAC magazine (January, 2007). This is also consistent with the 290 SAE Net horsepower factory rating (as measured at the crankshaft). Skip McCully verified that no production SD455s released to the public were fitted with the 480737 cam.* When asked about the compromises for the production SD455 engine, Mr. McCully responded, "Compression, camshaft, jetting, and vacuum advance." He followed by stating that he would have preferred a compression ratio of 10.25:1, a camshaft with 041 valve timing, slightly richer carburetor jetting, and as much vacuum advance as the engine would tolerate.* (*May, 2005 issue of HIGH PERFORMANCE PONTIAC Magazine). Regrettably, that proved to be impossible due to the emissions regulations of the era.
During a 1972 strike, the Firebird (and the sister F-body Camaro) were nearly dropped. Pontiac offered the 455 through the 1976 model year, 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.
Curb weights rose dramatically in the 1974 model year due to the implementation of 5 mph (8.0 km/h) telescoping bumpers and various other crash and safety related structural enhancements; SD455 Trans Ams weighed in at 3,850 lb (1,750 kg) in their first year of production (1974 model year; actually '73).
The 1974 models featured a redesigned "shovel-nose" front end and new wide "slotted" taillights. In 1974, Pontiac offered two base engines for the Firebird: a 100 hp (75 kW) 250 cu in (4.1 L) inline-6 and a 155 hp (116 kW) 350 cu in (5.7 L) V8. Available were 175 to 225 hp (130 to 168 kW) 400 cu in (6.6 L) V8 engines, as well as the 455 cu in (7.5 L) produced 215 or 250 hp (160 or 186 kW), while the SD-455 produced 290 hp (220 kW). The 400, 455, and SD-455 engines were offered in the Trans Am and Formula models during 1974
The 1975 models featured a new wraparound rear window with a revised roofline and the turn signals were moved up from the valance panel to the grills which distinguished it from the previous year model. The Super Duty engine, Muncie 4-speed, and TurboHydramatic 400 automatic were no longer available in 1975. Due to the use of catalytic converters starting in 1975, the THM 400 would not fit alongside the catalytic converter underneath the vehicle. The smaller TurboHydramatic 350 automatic was deemed enough. The 400 was standard in the Trans Am and the 455 was optional for both 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.
A distinctive, slant-nose facelift occurred in 1977. Pontiac offered the T/A 6.6 Litre 400 (RPO W72) rated at 200 hp (150 kW), as opposed to the regular 6.6 Litre 400 (RPO L78) rated at 180 hp (130 kW). The T/A 6.6 equipped engines had chrome valve covers, while the base 400 engines had painted valve covers. 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.
From 1977 to 1981, the Firebird used four square headlamps, while the Camaro continued to retain the two round headlights that had been shared by both Second Generation designs. The 1977 Trans-Am Special Edition became famous after being featured in Smokey and the Bandit. The 1980 Turbo model was used for Smokey and the Bandit II.
Changes for 1978 were slight, with a switch from a honeycomb to a crosshatch pattern grille being the most obvious from the outside. Beginning in 1978, the Pontiac group introduced a new special edition vehicle. The Firebird Formula LT Sport Edition which featured a revised 10% raised compression Chevy 305 V8 powertrain producing 155 hp (same as 1977 Chevy Monza Mirage) combined with a floor center console 4 speed Manual T-10 BW Transmission coupled to a limited-slip differential final drive. The Limited Touring package (LT) also included a cabin roof, door, fender and hood graphics scheme, the Trans-Am sports handling package with HD gas shocks, Modular Alloy Wheels and the SE Trans-Am rear deck Spoiler with "Formula" word graphic detail.
The engineers also revised the compression ratio in the 400ci through the installation of different cylinder heads with smaller combustion chambers (1977 Pontiac 400 engines also had the 350 heads bolted to the 400 blocks, these heads were known as the 6x-4 heads and were taken from the Pontiac 350). This increased power by 10% for a total of 220 during the 1978–79 model years. The 400/403 options remained available until 1979, when the 400 CID 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).
The front end was restyled in 1979. It also marked the 10th Anniversary of the Trans Am, and a special anniversary package was made available: silver paint with gray upper paint accents and 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. Pontiac produced 7,500 10th Anniversary cars, of which 1,817 were equipped with the Pontiac 400 engine (and coupled with the four-speed Borg Warner Super T-10 transmission). The only option on these cars was the engine (the 400 was not certified for California, nor was cruise control available with it), which dictated the transmission and the gear ratio (3.23 on the 400 cars, 2.73 on the 403 cars). In 1979 Pontiac sold 116,535 Trans Ams, the highest sold in a year.
Up until the 1979 models, the performance of 400-equipped Firebirds could still be brought up to near pre-1970 levels by removing the catalytic converter and opening up the block off plate to make the hood scoop functional. Static compression ratios dropped in the early 70s which crippled horsepower and torque output.
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 carburetion system.
The assembly plant code for Norwood, OH is "N" (from 1972 to 1980 this would be the 5th VIN digit, for 1981 it is the 11th digit), and for Van Nuys, CA it is "L" (for Los Angeles, of which Van Nuys, Los Angeles is a district). In the later second-generation cars, Norwood used lacquer-based paint (there will be an "L" on the cowl tag), and Van Nuys used water-based paint (there will be a "W" on the cowl tag), due to California's tightening pollution regulations. The water-based paint often failed and delaminated during the warranty period and subsequently; cars had to be repainted.
Third generation (1982–1992)
The availability and cost of gasoline (two fuel crises had occurred by this time) meant the weight and the fuel consumption of the 3rd generation had to be considered in the design. In F-body development, both the third generation Firebird and Camaro were proposed as possible front wheel drive platforms, but the idea was scrapped. The state of the art of computerized engine management was in its infancy, and as long as saving fuel was the primary objective, it was not possible to have high horsepower and torque numbers. They did manage to cut enough weight from the design so that acceleration performance would be better than the 1981 models. They also succeeded in the fuel consumption department, offering a 4-cylinder Firebird that would provide 34 miles per gallon. GM executives decided that engineering effort would best be spent on aerodynamics and chassis development. They created a modern platform, so that when engine technology advanced, they would have a well-balanced package with acceleration, braking, handling, and aerodynamics. For the time being, they would have world class aerodynamics and handling, and excellent fuel economy.
The Firebird and Camaro were completely redesigned for the 1982 model year, with the windshield slope set at 62 degrees, (about 3 degrees steeper than anything GM had ever tried before), and for the first time, a large, glass-dominated hatchback that required no metal structure to support it. Two concealed pop-up headlights, a first on the F-Body cars, were the primary characteristic that distinguished the 3rd Gen Firebird from both its Camaro sibling and its prior form (a styling characteristic carried into the 4th Gen's design). In addition to being about 500 pounds (230 kg) lighter than the previous 2nd Gen design, the 3rd Generation Firebird was the most aerodynamic product GM had ever released. Wind tunnels were used to form the new F-Body platform's shape, and Pontiac took full advantage of it. The aerodynamic developments extended to the finned aluminum wheels with smooth hubcaps and a functional rear spoiler.
Firebird-(I4/V6/V8)-Series 2FS (1982–86)
Fourth generation (1993–2002)
The fourth-generation Firebird amplified the aerodynamic styling initiated by the previous generation. While the live rear axle and floorpan aft of the front seats remained largely the same, ninety percent of the Firebird's parts were all-new. Overall, the styling of the Firebird more strongly reflected the Banshee IV concept car than the 1991 "facelift" did. As with the Camaro, major improvements included standard dual airbags, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, 16-inch wheels, rack-and-pinion power steering, short/long-arm front suspension, and several non-rusting composite body panels. Throughout its fourth generation, trim levels included V6-powered Firebird, and V8-powered Formula and Trans Am. The T5 five-speed manual transmission was standard with the V6s, as was the Borg-Warner T56 six-speed manual for the V8s. A four-speed automatic was optional for both, featuring built-in electronic controls beginning in 1994.
From 1993 until 1995 (1995 non-California cars), Firebirds received a 160 hp (120 kW) 3.4 L V6, an enhanced version of the third-generation's 3.1 L V6. Beginning mid-year 1995 onward, a Series II 3.8 L V6 with 200 hp (150 kW) became the Firebird's sole engine. From 1993 to 1997, sole engine for the Formula and Trans Am was the 5.7 L LT1 V8, essentially identical to the LT1 in the C4 Corvette except for more flow-restrictive intake and exhaust systems. Steering wheel audio controls were included with optional uplevel cassette or compact disc stereo systems. Beginning in 1994, "Delco 2001"-series stereo systems replaced the previous Delco units. This revised series, also introduced for other Pontiac car lines, featured ergonomically-designed control panels with larger buttons and an optional seven-band graphic equalizer. 1994 also marked the first year the fourth-generation convertible was available; every Firebird (and Camaro) convertible featured a glass rear window with a built-in electric defroster. The 1995 models were the same as those of previous years, but traction control (ASR: Acceleration Slip Regulation) was now available for LT1 Firebirds, controllable by a switch on the console. The steering wheel in all Firebirds was also changed; its optional built-in audio controls were more closely grouped on each side. The "Trans Am GT" trim level was dropped this year from the lineup after its model year run in 1994. For 1995, all Trans Ams received the 155-mph speedometer and Z-rated tires. 1995 was also the first year of the vented version of the Opti-Spark distributor on LT1 F-cars, addressing a common mechanical fault with the unit. The 'Transmission Perform' button was available only in the 1994 and 1995 Formula and Trans Am. This option was stopped for the 1996 and later models, but the connections remain for 1996 and 1997 Formula and Trans Am. While 1995 cars still used the OBD-I (On-Board Diagnostic) computer system (the last year of F-body to use OBD-I), a majority of them had OBD-II connector ports under the dash.
In 1998, as with Camaro, the Firebird received its mid-cycle refresh. Major changes included a new hood and front fascia with dual intakes, retracting quad halogen headlights, circular turnsignal and fog lamps, a front license plate pocket, lower fender air vents, unified-style lower door raised lettering for each trim level, and a new "honeycomb" rear light panel, with circular reverse lamps. In the dashboard, "Next Generation" reduced-force dual airbags became standard. As before, the Formula and Trans Am again received a close derivative of the Corvette's 5.7 L V8, the LS1 of the C5 Corvette, as the LT1 (and LT4) V8s were discontinued. The LS1 Firebirds were also equipped with an aluminum driveshaft, replacing the previous steel version, while all Firebird trim levels gained four-wheel disc brakes with dual-piston front calipers and larger rotors at each wheel, complete with a solenoid-based Bosch anti-lock system. The Formula convertible was no longer offered. Beginning in 1999, a standard 16.8-gallon non-metallic fuel tank increased potential traveling range. GM's Acceleration Slip Regulation (ASR) traction control system was extended to the V6-powered Firebirds, and all LS1 (V8) and Y87 (V6) Firebirds also received a Zexel/Torsen II slip-reduction rear axle. An Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) system replaced the old hydraulic proportioning valve for improved brake performance. An enhanced Sensing and Diagnostic Module (SDM) recorded vehicle speed, engine rpm, throttle position and brake use in the last five seconds prior to airbag deployment. In 2000, a Hurst shifter for 6-speeds and a power steering cooler became options for LS1 Firebirds; later, in 2001, the WS6 performance package was available exclusively for Trans Am coupe and convertible models. For 2002, more convenience items such as power mirrors and power antenna became standard equipment, while cassette stereos were phased out.
Firebird Trans Am
The Trans Am was a specialty package for the Firebird, typically upgrading handling, suspension, and horsepower, as well as minor appearance modifications such as exclusive hoods, spoilers, fog lights and wheels. In using the name Trans Am, a registered trademark, GM agreed to pay $5 per car sold to the SCCA. Four distinct generations were produced between 1969 and 2002. These cars were built on the F-body platform, which was also shared by the Chevrolet Camaro.
Despite its name, the Trans Am was not initially used in the Trans Am Series, as its smallest engine exceeded the SCCA's five liter displacement limit.
The second generation was available from 1970 to 1981 and was featured in the 1977 movie Smokey and the Bandit, the 1978 movie Hooper, the 1979 movie Rocky II, and the 1980 movie Smokey and the Bandit II. The third generation, available from 1982 to 1992, was featured in the 1983 movie Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 and the 1984 movie Alphabet City. KITT, the automotive star, and its evil counterpart KARR, of the popular 1980s TV series Knight Rider, was a modified third-generation Trans Am. The fourth-generation Trans Am, available from model years 1993 to 2002, offered between 275 and 325 bhp (205 and 242 kW).
The Trans Am GTA (Gran Turismo Americano) was an options package available on the Firebird Trans Am which added gold 16-inch diamond-spoke alloy wheels, a mono-chromatic paint scheme and special cloisonné GTA badges. The GTA (along with the Formula model that was intended to fill the gap between the base model Firebird and mid-level Trans Am) was the brainchild of former Pontiac marketing manager Lou Wassel. It was intended to be the "ultimate" Trans Am and was the most expensive Firebird available. The GTA equipment package officially went on sale in 1987 and avoided a gas-guzzler tax thanks to its lightweight PW 16-inch gold cross-lace wheels. The high-performance WS6 suspension package was also re-tuned to offer a more compliant ride while still maintaining tight handling characteristics. Engine choices consisted of a L98 5.7 liter (350 ci) TPI (Tuned Port Injection) V8 mated to GM's corporate 700R4 automatic transmission or the 5.0 liter (305 ci) TPI V8. A five-speed manual was available but was mated to the 5.0 liter only. The GTA trim level was available from 1987 through the 1992 model year.
For 1989, the 20th Anniversary Turbo Trans Am project (originally conceived by Bill Owen of Pontiac) was outsourced to PAS, Inc., an engineering firm led by Jeff Beitzel. Beitzel and his team did most of the TTA development work. The 3.8 liter turbocharged V6 engines were built by PAS at their 40,000 square foot City of Industry, CA plant. From there, they went to GM's plant in Van Nuys, CA to be installed into GTAs on the F-Body assembly line. The cars were then shipped back to PAS for final assembly, testing, and quality control. Incidentally, the GTA chassis were selected at random, thus there is no correlation between the VIN and production sequence number. The initial number of cars to be produced had ranged from 500 to 2,500 until GM finally settled on 1,500. In all, a total of 1,555 Turbo Trans Ams were manufactured.
The 2002 model-year WS6 Trans Am produced 325 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 350 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm out of its 5.7-liter LS1 V8 engine. A completely-stock WS6 completed the ¼—mile in 13.16 seconds at 106.05 mph on Eagle F1 street tires.
From 1982 onward, all engines are Chevrolet sourced, unless stated otherwise.
Post Pontiac Trans Am
In 2012, General Motors signed a licensing deal with the company, Trans Am Depot to use the Trans Am name and Pontiac logos in custom versions of new Trans Ams. Under this agreement, Trans Am Depot takes brand new model Chevrolet Camaros, strips them down to their basic components and rebuilds what looks like new Trans Ams. They make these in the designs of the 6T9 version Trans Am, 6T9 Goat ("GTO"), 7T7 Trans Am and the limited edition Hurst Trans Am.
Performance (Firebird / Firebird Trans Am)
Firebirds were used in the Trans-Am series in the 1960s and 1970s. When the Firebird Trans Am was released, there was controversy over the model's inability to compete in the Trans-Am because the smallest available engine was too large for use in the series at 400 cubic inches (6.6 liters). The name also caused controversy because it was used without permission from the SCCA, who threatened suit. GM settled the dispute by paying US$5 to the SCCA for every car sold. When the Trans-Am was last seen, model year 2002 Firebirds were in use. From 1996 to 2006, a WS6 Trans Am coupe provided the body style for the mechanically identical racing cars used in the International Race of Champions (IROC).
During the 1995, 1996, and 1997 NHRA seasons, 14-time Funny Car champion John Force used a Firebird body to replace the obsolete Oldsmobile Cutlass and Chevrolet Lumina body he had used since 1988. He used it for three seasons, winning the championship in all three years. The Firebird was also used by drivers such as Del Worsham, Tim Wilkerson, Frank Pedregon, and Jerry Toliver. The Firebird body also replaced the Oldsmobile Cutlass in the Pro Stock class in 1995, forcing drivers Warren Johnson, Jerry Eckman, and Mark Pawuk to replace their body styles for the 1996 year. None of them would win with the first year of the Firebird body, but Pro Stock driver Jim Yates, a second year driver, using the Firebird body, would.