The Pontiac Firebird was a pony car built by the Pontiac division of General Motors between 1967 and 2002. The Firebird was introduced the same year its platform-sharing cousin, the Chevrolet Camaro. This coincided with the release of the 1967 Mercury Cougar, which shared its platform with another pony car.
The vehicles were, for the most part, powered by various V8 engines of different GM divisions. While primarily Pontiac-powered until 1977, Firebirds were built with several different engines from nearly every GM division until 1982 when all Pontiac engines were dropped in favor of corporate units.
The first generation Firebirds had a characteristic "coke-bottle" styling. Unlike its cousin, 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 coupe and a convertible were offered through the 1970 model year (the next generation, minus the convertible, being announced as 1970½ 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 share 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.
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). But most buyers opted for one of the V8 engines: the 326 CID (5.3 L) 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 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) 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 CID (5.3 L) engine was replaced by one with a displacement of 350 CID (5.7 L). An "H.O." version of the 350 CID with a revised cam was also offered starting in that year, developed 320 hp. 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 respectively. The 350 "H.O." engine was revised again with a different cam and cylinder heads resulting in 330 hp. During 1969 a special engine was designed for SCCA road racing applications that was not available in production cars.
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 stopped 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.
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 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 modular iron crankshafts with minor enhancements. Forged rods and forged aluminum pistons were specified, as were unique high flow cylinder heads. A 1967 GTO Ram Air camshaft with 301/313 degrees of advertised duration, 0.407 inch net valve lift, and 76 degrees of valve overlap was specified for actual production engines in lieu of the significantly more aggressive Ram Air IV style cam that had originally been planned for the engine (initially rated at 310 HP with that cam), but proved incapable of meeting the tightening emissions standards of the era. This cam, combined with a low compression ratio of 8.4 (advertised) and 7.9:1 actual resulted in 290 SAE NET HP. The initial press cars that were given to the various enthusiast magazines (e.g., Hot Rod and Car and Driver) were fitted with the Ram Air IV style cam and functional hoodscoops - a fact that has been confirmed by several Pontiac sources although none of those sources are listed here. There is still some controversy about what cam was used in the early press cars due to an article written by Jerry Heasley for Musclecars magazine titled "Mexican Shooutout." Mr Heasley did not start out with the intention of addressing that question, but in an odd turn of events, he did just that. It all started with a "shootout" between a 1973 SD455 Trans Am and a 1967 440 Dodge Coronet R/T set to take place at the Houston International Raceway in Texas. The R/T backed out at the last minute so Heasley decided to run Mike's 81K mile stock Trans Am for comparison against the times that had been published by Car and Driver magazine back in 1973. Out of three runs, Mike bettered the times published by Car and Driver twice, with a best run of 13.75 seconds. While some actual production test cars ran considerably slower and yielded 1/4 miles times in the 14.5 second/98 MPH range in showroom tune - results that are quite consistent for a car with a curb weight of 3,850 pounds and the rated 290 SAE NET HP figure that some sources suggest was "under-rated," High Performance Pontiac magazine dyno-tested an SD and gave it an honest 371 SAE Net rating. 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 CID V8, and 175 to 225 hp 400 CID 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 and Formula models 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 (RPO W72) rated at 200 hp, as opposed to the regular 6.6 Litre 400 (RPO 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 power by raising the compression ratio in the Pontiac 400 through the installation of different cylinder heads with smaller combustion chambers (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). 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 1979 Pontiac sold 116,535 Trans Ams which still holds the record to this day. 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.
The third generation F-body weighed less 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-energize its fading pony car image.
This generation of the Firebird is known among tokusatsu fans as the basis of the Super Police Machine Reson, the police car in Kidou Keiji Jiban, and remains the only tokusatsu car of American origin.
The fourth generation F-body continued the aerodynamic formula initiated by the previous generation but 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 1993 Firehawk (only available in Formula trim for 1993) received the SLP package with a functional hood scoop and other performance enhancements that increased power to 300 hp. Only 201 were built for 1993, and they routinely out-performed 1993 Corvettes, leading many to believe that the power 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.
1995 models were the same as those of previous years, but traction control (ASR: Acceleration Slip Regulation) was now available. The steering wheel was also changed. It was borrowed from the Grand Prix.A performance package was also offered. The package offered Polyurethane Bushings, suspension upgrades,as well as a freer intake/exhaust similar to that on the Chevrolet Corvette, supplying 310 hp to very few of the Firebird models; those that did receive this set-up were able to accelerate from 0-62 mph in 4.9 seconds and cover a quarter-mile in 13.2 seconds at . The 'Transmission Perform' button, which was available in the 310 hp Trans Ams, gave a 25% increase in torque with every kickdown, and resulted in a maximum of of torque. Although the redline displayed on the tachometer was 5000 rpm, the engines were capable of revving to 7000 rpm.The Firebirds which had the package were among the fastest cars at the time.
1996 and later models had a 200 hp 3.8L V6 as the base engine, and the power rating of the LT1 had been raised to 285, thanks to a new dual catalytic converter exhaust system which was offered in previous years by order only.
The very rare 1997 Firehawk LT4 model, made by SLP Performance Parts 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 poor sales (not due to production issues with the paint, as rumors have implied). The color was replaced with "Navy Blue Metallic," but not before a total of 12 Trans Am models with the WS6 Ram Air package (10 coupés 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 since it's release in 1969, and Pontiac commemorated this event by creating another white Anniversary Edition Trans Am. This commemorative package came with twin blue stripes which more closely patterned the original paint scheme of the 1969 Trans Am. Along with the stripes, blue streamline graphics were added on the sides and blue anodized wheels were included with this package.
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. This marked the 35th anniversary of the F-Body cars since their initial release.
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 300 hp at 5,200 rpm; , 454 Nm @ 4,000 rpm (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 20 horsepower (30 kW) more than rated. The rare Firehawk model, made by SLP and sold through Pontiac dealerships, had 330 hp (335 after 2000, 355 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 1985). Average quarter-mile elapsed times for the Fourth Generation Firebirds were reported as 15.2 seconds at for V6-equipped vehicles, and 13.2 seconds at 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 for the V6 models. However, with the governor programmed out and applying V8 speed rated tires, V6 Firebirds will reach in excess of (4th gear limited) with the Y-87 performance package and a 5-speed transmission, whereas V8 models that had Z-rated tires had a speed limiter set to .
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.
|Engine||Year(s)||Power||0-60 mph||Top Speed||Comments|
|5.0L-16V V8 (LB9)||1989-1992||225 bhp|| ||> 135 mph / 217 km/h||Formula model equipped with N10/MM5/GM3 option codes|
|Turbocharged 3.8L V6 (LC2)||1989||250 bhp|| ||153 mph / 250 km/h||20th Anniversary Trans Am Pace Car|
|5.7L-16V V8 (LT1)||1993-1997||275-285 bhp|| ||155 mph / 250 km/h (electronically limited)|
|1995 (Performance Package)||310 bhp|| ||155 mph / 250 km/h (electronically limited)|
|1996-1997 (ram air)||305 bhp|| ||155 mph / 250 km/h (electronically limited)|
|5.7L-16V V8 (LS1)||1998-2002||305-330 bhp|| ||160 mph / 260 km/h (electronically limited)|
|1998-2002 (ram air)||320-355 bhp|| ||165 mph / 265 km/h (electronically limited)|
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, 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.
The second generation was available from 1970 to 1981 and was featured in the 1977 movie Smokey and the Bandit, the 1978 movie Hooper and the 1981 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 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 horsepower.
Although the Trans Am nameplate was discontinued along with the Firebird in 2002, the body is still used in the IROC Racing Series.
1969: Ram Air III 400 (Pontiac), Ram Air IV 400 (Pontiac) 345 hp, Ram Air V 400 (Pontiac) 500 hp
The Ban One has a 462 cubic inch traditional Pontiac V8 with aluminum heads, 9.5:1 compression and a hydraulic roller camshaft. The engine made 496 horsepower on the dyno. The transmission is a five-speed manual, and the suspension system features upper and lower tubular control arms with coil springs up front, and performance leaf springs in the rear, with sub frame connectors keeping everything properly located. Wheels are 18” x 9” billet aluminum snowflakes all the way around. It, along with all other models, come with a CB Radio.
The Ban Two has a 461 cubic inch, 430 horsepower traditional Pontiac V8, while optional powerplants include a 500-horsepower LS2 based fuel-injected engine, a 550-horsepower Pontiac V8 or a 600-horsepower supercharged LS2. A five-speed manual overdrive with short throw shifter is the standard transmission, and a four-speed automatic overdrive is optional. The suspension system is completely redesigned on Ban II-level cars, and features a tubular front subframe, rack-and-pinion steering, four-link rear suspension, with adjustable coil-over shocks all the way around. The chassis is reinforced with integrated subframe connectors and is mini-tubbed in the rear for additional wheel and tire clearance. Wheels are 18” x 10” billet aluminum snowflakes on all four corners, with 285-35-18 BFG tires. Brakes are from Baer Racing, with 13” two-piece front rotors.
The Ban Three has a 515-horsepower dry-sump LS7 7.0 liter engine, and upgrades include a 605-horsepower dry-sump LS7, or a monster 8.8 liter (540 cubic inch) Pontiac V8 making over 650 horsepower. A five-speed manual is the only transmission offered on the Ban III. Suspension consists of the Ban II’s tubular front subframe, rack-and-pinion steering, and four-link rear with adjustable coil-overs on each corner. Chassis reinforcements include integrated subframe connectors and a four-point roll bar with safety harnesses. Brakes are huge Baer Racing six-piston calipers with 14-inch two-piece rotors front and rear. The Ban III offers a level of performance rarely seen in a street-legal vehicle.
Firebirds were used in the Trans-Am series in the 1960s and 1970s. When the Pontiac Trans Am came out, 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. Firebirds have been used in the IROC Series for a number of years.
During the 1996 and 1997 NHRA seasons, 14-time Funny Car champion John Force used a Firebird body to replace the obsolete Oldsmobile Cutlass body he had used since 1986. He used it for two seasons, winning the championship in both years.