Overview & Reviews
Once in a blue moon, a car achieves icon status via Hollywood that spans all demographics, one that burns its image into the memory of everyone from serious car nuts to folks who wouldn't know Ram Air from air-conditioning. During its 10th year in production, the Pontiac Firebird achieved screen idol status thanks to the appearance of a 1977 Firebird Trans Am SE (the black and gold edition) in the movie Smokey and the Bandit.
Thankfully, there's been much more to the Firebird than just its cornball association with Burt Reynolds (or even cornier relationship with David Hasselhoff in TV's Knight Rider). As with its corporate twin, the Chevy Camaro, the Pontiac Firebird was born in 1967 to do battle with the original American sport coupe, the Ford Mustang. Although the sheet metal was virtually identical between the Camaro and Firebird, a different nose and tail, as well as slight differences inside gave the Firebird a little more excitement in the looks department. Coupe and convertible body styles tempted buyers.
In the car's early years, performance buffs gravitated to the Pontiac Firebird thanks to its enticing array of power plants that included the same 400 cubic-inch V8 used in the GTO. Pontiac even offered a high-output overhead-cam inline-6 in hopes of making the Firebird more appealing to those who preferred less weight, more nimble handling and a higher-revving engine. This was also the period when the legendary Trans Am trim first debuted, wearing white paint with two blue stripes running over the body.
At the dawn of the 1970s, a redesigned Pontiac Firebird emerged, available only in a sleek coupe body style. But as that decade progressed, the Firebird's performance diminished while body graphics and spoilers, as if to compensate, grew more extroverted. The third-generation Firebird appeared for 1982, wearing a lighter, wedge-shaped hatchback body with flip-up headlights. Although performance of this generation was weak at first, handling was a strong point and by mid-decade, powerful V8s were again becoming available.
Staying true to its heritage, the fourth-generation Firebird, which bowed in 1993, still offered V8 power, a rear-drive chassis, swoopy styling and a choice of a coupe or convertible. It also offered more than 300 horsepower and 13-second quarter-miles in the Formula and Trans Am versions.
Though an outstanding performance bargain, the Firebird from this era became increasingly aged as the years went by. For many consumers, it came across as unrefined and even crude, especially when compared to other sport coupes and convertibles. Sales were weak, and Pontiac finally pulled the plug after 2002.
Most Recent Pontiac Firebird
Running from 1993-2002, the last Firebird generation continued the age-old tradition of performance and style above all else. Initially only a coupe body style was offered in base, Formula and Trans Am trims, the former coming with a 3.4-liter V6 (160 hp) and the latter pair with an "LT1" 5.7-liter V8 (275 hp). Transmission choices included a five-speed manual (V6), a six-speed manual (V8) and a four-speed automatic.
The following year saw the return of the Firebird convertible, while 1995 brought a 3.8-liter, 200-hp V6 for the base Firebird. For 1996, the V8 made 285 hp and Ram Air induction returned for that engine, boosting output to 305 hp.
A midcycle refresh took place for 1998 with a new front-end look and powerful new "LS-1" 5.7-liter V8s that made 305 hp or 320 hp (with Ram Air). Apart from minor trim differences and a bump in power to 310 hp for the V8 in 2001, the Firebird soldiered through 2002 mostly unchanged. Ironically, that last year also marked the Firebird's 35th birthday, which was celebrated with a special yellow Trans Am with strange graphics splashed over its body.
Although fast, stylish and affordable, this Pontiac Firebird lacked refinement, particularly in regards to the interior. The clunky steering wheel design was about as sporty as a taxicab's and there was an abundance of low-grade plastic trim. Furthermore, the seats were rather plain, and short on lumbar and lateral support. On the upside, there were large gauges, decent cargo capacity and buttoned-down handling (though midcorner bumps could upset the solid rear axle suspended out back).
In our road test of a 1999 Firebird Formula, we found ourselves intoxicated by the rumbling V8 performance and racetrack-friendly handling. Major gripes concerned the harsh ride, awkwardly operating ABS, low seating position, dicey rearward visibility and low-quality interior trim.
Consumer feedback is mostly favorable toward Firebirds from this era. Praises center on the strong performance for the money (even with the V6), mechanical reliability, cargo capacity, handling and styling. Chief complaints concern cheap cabin construction, a smallish interior considering the body size and occasionally leaky T-tops.
Past Pontiac Firebird Models
The previous-generation (1982-'92) Firebird was slow out of the blocks, but soon blossomed into a road burner. At first, this hatchback coupe came in three trims (base, luxury S/E and Trans Am) and power ranged from a 90-hp, 2.5-liter inline-4 to a 165-hp 5.0-liter V8. A four-speed manual and three-speed automatic backed those engines up.
Mid-decade saw the return of the Formula (which offered Trans Am performance without the added flash and for less money) and engine options up to 210 hp (5.7-liter V8) and the addition of a gear to each transmission. Sub-15-second quarters with the 5.7 were possible, and the Formula and Trans Am were known for their tenacious roadholding. By the time this generation ended, the S/E was gone, the convertible was back and the 5.7 V8 was producing 240 hp.
Those considering one of these Firebirds would be wise to avoid the first couple of years, as the engines were dogs in terms of both performance and reliability, and build quality was hit or miss.
For more information on these and even older Pontiac Firebirds, go to our Pontiac Firebird history page.
User Reviews:Showing 1 through 10 of 385.00
Most Fun I've Ever Had On Four Wheels! - 1997 Pontiac Firebird
By frebo3 - December 29 - 12:33 pm
A 60-something sport touring motorcyclist - I bought my 1997 WS6 in 2000 replacing a ten year old Mustang GT. The WS6 had run out of warranty, so I bought an extension from the GM dealer for just over $1,000. It paid off. In the next four years I had about $3K of work done for free, replacing the Monsoon audio system and rear woofers, and the power window motors.This car is a blast to drive. It corners as if it were on rails, the power lumbar support is excellent, the throttle response is incredible - the exhaust note awesome. The only thing I can liken it to is an XKE V-12 that I once owned.My wife loves the lines - says it reminds her of a Ferrari.It's been a blast!
Firebird - 2000 Pontiac Firebird
By Adrian2004 - December 29 - 2:00 am
Incredible handling of road, great acceleration and continued high speed, turns in a dime and stops better than other cars tried. Will make heads turn as you drive by.
Surprising Performer on All Fronts - 1999 Pontiac Firebird
By Steve - December 29 - 2:00 am
After having done time in an overpriced and overrated Volvo, I bought the WS6 due to it's appeal. I love the engine, handling, interior, and styling. But be careful, this car can get you in over your head quick! The pleasant surprise has been the cheapness to own (not insurance,though!). The 22 mpg fuel mileage is respectable for what it is - a V8. Better still, with 85,000 on the odo - it has only needed brakes pads, battery, tires, and light bulbs. This was a welcomed change from the Volvo that started to come undone at 50,000 - nice going GM, my faith in domestics has been restored!!
1 Tough Bird - 2000 Pontiac Firebird
By WhiteQknight - December 22 - 10:00 am
well, to start this out, this is the 3rd firebird i have owned. the 1st was a 85 se w/ a 305 4bbl. the next ( a mutt) a 93 w/ a 3.4l (what were they thinking? ) and this one, a 2k w/ a LS1 5.7L monster with a 6 speed and the ws6 package to keep it on the road. to make this story short, buy one even if you cant afford it. i havent owned it very long yet, but its just like i just turned 16 again. you cant drive it enough, and if the road is curvey, its even better.
Last of a Generation - 2001 Pontiac Firebird
By Voice of Reason - December 18 - 11:13 pm
If you are looking for top down fun with gobs of power on tap this is the car for you! With the engine producing the same power output as a Corvette (don't believe the 310hp rating), you are just as fast and can have just as much fun as someone with a Corvette convertible only for $20,000 less! Buy one now before they dissapear forever after 2002.
Trans Am Ram Air - 1998 Pontiac Firebird
By tedmc - December 12 - 5:30 am
Love this car! Fun to drive and the 5.7 liter coupled with a six speed tranny is pure throwback American muscle. All the horsepower and torque of higher priced cars is readily available under your right foot! It's really hard to beat this car in the bang for your buck category.
End of an Era - 2002 Pontiac Firebird
By Jeepmanchuck - November 16 - 2:00 am
I had looked into purchasing a Trans Am in the fall of 2002. However, at the inflated prices they were asking, I couldn't fit this purchase into my budget. In February 2003, a local Pontiac dealer still had a WS6 convertible 6-speed left on the lot that they were practically giving away. Needless to say, it soon found a home in my garage. No regrets whatsoever on this purchase. Incredible car in all aspects. This car brings back fond memories of the 1969 Plymouth Roadrunner 383 4-speed I owned in my youth. Except it is faster, more comfortable, handles 100 times better, and gets 20-22 mpg. What more needs to be said?
Ram Air review - 1999 Pontiac Firebird
By K James - November 16 - 2:00 am
This is quite simply the best car I have ever owned. A rare combination of unmatched performance and reliability with pure automotive passion thrown in. I did not have even one repair completed on the vehicle since its purchase. My Bone stock 6 speed WS6 ram air has run 12.91 @ 108.82 mph in the 1/4 at Desoto speedway outside Tampa,Fl. The LS1 simply rocks and takes on all pretenders. Like all succesfull cars that evoke passion, the Trans-am remains true to its mission of performance on all fronts, from exterior/interior design, drivetrain and suspension. Take the T-tops off and enjoy one of the all time best muscle cars.
Hate to See it GO - 2002 Pontiac Firebird
By Top Off - November 14 - 10:00 am
What a CAR, None like it on the road, for feel and comfort, I drive mine hard and fast. AND IT HANDLES IT. Been a Firebird owner for years and it just KEEPS GETTING BETTER, Shame it is not coming back, WAKE UP GM!!!!!
One of the best muscle cars ever made - 1998 Pontiac Firebird
By TB420 - November 2 - 2:00 am
This car is great to drive even in the corners the car handles beautifully the most fun you will ever have in a car.