Pontiac Firebird 1967-1981
This page covers the first two generations of the Pontiac Firebird (1967-1981). The Pontiac Firebird was introduced in February, 1967, 5 months after its Chevrolet Camaro corporate twin was introduced. The Firebird, along with the Camaro, was GM's answer to the astoundingly successful Ford Mustang, and were known as F-bodies. The Firebird would ultimately be offered in a few different variants, not the least of which was the successful and iconic Trans Am model.
- Pontiac Firebird
- Pontiac Firebird 1982-2002 for information about the last two generations
- Chevrolet Camaro
|Body Style|| 2-Door Coupe|
|Transmission|| 2-Speed Automatic, RWD|
3-Speed Automatic, RWD
3-Speed Manual, RWD
4-Speed Manual, RWD
|Engine|| 3.8L (230 cid) I6 (1967)|
4.1L (250 cid) I6 (1968-1969)
5.3L (326 cid) V8 (1967)
5.7L (350 cid) V8 (1968-1969)
6.6L (400 cid) V8 (1967-1969)
1st Generation (1967-1969)
Firebird's premier year, it differed from its Camaro twin by having a different nose and tail, and used its own Pontiac-produced drivetrains. The Firebird had quad headlights surrounded by a split, protruding-center chrome loop bumper and 2 long, thin vertical taillights with the reverse lights in the center in the rear (these taillights would reappear again on the compact 1973-74 X-body Nova-clone Ventura and 1975-77 subcompact H-body Vega-clone Astre). Bodystyles included a 2-door hardtop coupe and a convertible. Pontiac offered no fastback versions of the Firebird, unlike Ford and Plymouth, which offered fastback versions of the Mustang and Barracuda. Base engine was a 3.8L (230 cid) OHC I6 in 1bbl and 4bbl versions for the Sprint model (an overhead cam being a Pontiac-exclusive). Optional was the 5.3L (326 cid) V8 (in base and "H.O." versions), with the top engine being the 6.6L (400 cid) V8, borrowed from the GTO. The 400 could have a "ram air" option which included a larger-overlap, longer-duration cam, a beefed-up valvetrain for 6000 rpm operation - and functional dual hood scoops. All engines could have a 3- or 4-speed manual or a 2- or 3-speed automatic (the 3-speed automatic was the only automatic available with the 400 engine).
The 1968 Firebird used the same body as in 1967, but there were noticeable visual differences. Front side vent windows were eliminated, and the front parking lamps were moved outboard of the front valance and doubled as side-marker lights, which had been federally mandated this year. The rear side markers were in the shape of the Pontiac arrowhead symbol. There were substantial drivetrain changes, however: the base 3.8L I6 was enlarged to a 4.1L (250 cid) unit, and still had the unique overhead-cam design, and again available in 1- or 4-bbl guises. The 326 V8 had been discontinued in favor of the 5.7L (350 cid) V8, in 2- or 4-bbl versions. Both versions of the 400 V8 continued as before, as the previous year's transmission choices. Firebird's sales were not as strong as its Camaro twin (or Ford's Mustang), but it was definitely making an indelible impression among pony-car fans and was proving to be a solid contender. And as the years would progress, it would only get stronger.
The Firebird received a restyle this year, the basic body was slightly enlarged, the fender and wheel wells would become more pronounced and in line with the popular "coke-bottle" and "longer-lower-wider" styling themes. The hood had become longer, and the chrome loop grille no longer surrounded the headlights - they were now in their own separate individual openings (a look the GTO would copy a year later). Drivetrain choices would remain the same as in the previous year, but this year, an all-new Firebird model would appear, and one that would leave a permanent impression in Firebird history: the Trans Am. Trans Ams differed from the rest of the Firebird line by having the 400 V8 standard, in either standard or ram-air guise, 3- or 4-speed manual transmission or 3-speed automatic. The 1969 Trans Am would be a very limited-edition model, with only 697 coupes and 8 convertibles - making the '69 Trans Am one of the most coveted and collectible Pontiacs of all time. All Trans Ams shared a white body with blue hood and deck stripes paint scheme with a raised spoiler and blue taillight panel. It is believed that Trans Am convertibles all had blue convertible tops. There would be an all new Firebird planned for 1970, and since it would not debut until February 1970, the 1969 Firebird was offered through the end of December, 1969 as an extended model year.
|Body Style||2-Door Coupe|
|Transmission|| 2-Speed Automatic, RWD|
3-Speed Automatic, RWD
3-Speed Manual, RWD
4-Speed Manual, RWD
|Engine|| 3.8L (231 cid) V6 (1977-1981)|
4.1L (250 cid) I6 (1970-1976)
4.3L (265 cid) V8 (1981)
4.9L (301 cid) V8 (1977, 1979-1981)
4.9L (301 cid) Turbo V8 (1980-1981)
5.0L (305 cid) V8 (1978, 1981)
5.7L (350 cid) V8 (1970-1978)
6.6L (400 cid) V8 (1970-1979)
6.6L (403 cid) V8 (1977-1979)
7.5L (455 cid) V8 (1971-1976)
2nd Generation (1970-1981)
GM brought out a whole new F-body this year, one like the world had never seen. Not merely an update on the 1st gen models, the 2nd gens were completely new from the ground up, and its styling was clearly European-inspired as GM took the F-body away from its Mustang-inspired design of the 1st gen models. It was considered an awfully bold move by some, and some didn't quite to know what to make of it at first, but the buying public didn't take very long to embrace it, as it ultimately became on of GM's most successful designs ever. The 1970 Firebird was introduced late in the model year (February, 1970), prompting some to call this a "1970 1/2" model, and unlike the 1st gen models that was based on humble Chevrolet Nova underpinnings, this all new F-body was unique with its own design consisting of a unibody and separate front subframe.
There were now four different Firebird models to choose from as opposed to only 2 in 1969: the base Firebird, Firebird Esprit, Firebird Formula, and the top-dog Firebird Trans Am. Engines for the base and Esprit model were a Chevrolet-built 4.1L (250 cid) I6 (no longer with an overhead cam design, replaced with a more conventional push-rod design). Optional were the 5.7L (350 cid) V8 with a 2- or 4bbl carburetor, or a 6.6L (400 cid) V8 in 2-or 4bbl as well. Both the 350 and 400 were carryovers from the previous generation. The Formula came standard with the 350-2, with the 350-4, 400-2 and 400-4 optional. The Trans Am came with the 400-4 standard, but in either Ram Air III (345 hp) or Ram Air IV (370 hp) design. Transmission choices for all engines were a 3- or 4-speed manual or a 3-speed automatic. It is believed that the Ram Air IV was not available with the 3-speed manual. Repeating a similar theme from last year, the Trans Am was available in cameo white with the blue hood and decklid stripe (this time only one instead of two), but it could also be Lucerne Blue with a white hood and decklid stripe.
The Firebird Esprit model was a luxury-oriented model (similar to the Camaro Type LT), with more chrome, nicer interior and more sound deadening than the base. The Formula was an interesting model, splitting the difference between the base Firebird and the Trans Am, and had its own unique dual forward-facing hood scoops (much like the 1969 Trans Am had), and provided Trans Am power without the visual, look-at-me shaker hood and fender-flares.
After debuting its all new design last year, there weren't many changes in 1971, other than a revised grille and high-back bucket seats replacing the lower-back style with adjustable headrests. The front side-marker lights now flashed in unison with the turn signals. On all except the Trans Am, there was a new louvered grille on the lower front fenders behind the wheels. And speaking of wheels, the beautiful new honeycomb design debuted, becoming an option on the Formulas and Trans Ams. Trans Ams received the mighty 7.5L (455 cid) V8 this year, replacing the 400 "Ram Air" engines (the "regular" 400s were still an option on the other Firebirds, however). The 455 would be an option for the Formula. Other drivetrain choices carried over from last year.
GM seriously considered dropping the F body altogether this year, as the muscle/pony car market was taking serious sales (and horsepower) hits, plus insurance hikes were putting many muscle cars in general out of reach for much of their core audience. This, plus a United Auto Workers strike severly crippled F body production, resulting in many 1972 models never making it to the public and ultimately being scrapped. This would result in 1972 being the rarest year of the 2nd generation (something that would ultimately benefit it decades later as far as collectibility).
Nonetheless, Firebirds received a new honeycomb-style grille, and the base, Esprit and Formula would lose their lower fender louvers, making that a one-year-only feature. All engine and drivetrain choices would mirror the previous year.
Base, Esprit and Formula models received little change other than a new eggcrate grille, replacing the previous year's honeycomb design. The Trans Am, however, was in for a few changes, visually and mechanically. As far as visual changes, there were no more hood or deck stripes, Lucerne Blue was regrettably dropped as a color choice, but 2 new choices were added along with Cameo White: Buccaneer Red and Brewster Green. Brewster Green would be a one-year-only color choice, and while being the least popular Trans Am color choice this year, it is now nonetheless one of the most sought-after color with collectors. This was also the year of the "screaming chicken", being the brain child of Pontiac designer John Schinella. This could be deleted, however, and the small bird design atop the front clip was still available if one so desired.
When every other car maker was scaling back its horsepower ratings and effectively trying to distance itself from its "politically incorrect" (yes, it existed back then too) muscle/pony cars, Pontiac, in one of its boldest moves ever, introduced what would become one of the holy-grails of muscle car engines: the Super Duty 455, rated at 310 net horsepower, though its actual output was likely significantly higher. Each SD-455 was hand assembled and used many unique parts from the "regular" 455 such as aluminum pistons, oversized valves, a radical camshaft and round-port exhaust manifolds, and needless to say its production was very limited. Only 252 Trans Ams would be equipped with this prized engine, but 43 of them would also find their way to the Formula as well. Formulas so equipped would share the Trans Am's reverse shaker hood, the only such Formulas ever to receive this hood setup. The SD-455 in recent years has gained a reputation once reserved only for Chevrolet's L88 427 or Chrysler's 426 Hemi, and if an original, number-matching example can be found, be prepared to fork over a king's ransom for it.
The Firebird had its first major restyle this year, as it received a new nose (beak?) and tail. Up front, the endura front bumper was replaced with a new federally-mandated 5 MPH bumper and a fiberglass front clip. The look was similar to the previous year's, but it was a little more laid-back and aerodynamic. In the rear, taillights were enlarged and stretched all the way to the license plate holder. The rear chrome bumper was also replaced by a rubber body-covered urethane unit that also complied with the new 5 MPH impact law. Base, Esprit and Formula models continued, and the Trans Am again received new color choices: Cameo White and Buccaneer Red were still available, but Brewster Green was gone, to be replaced by a new "Admiralty Blue", which was much darker than the previous (and missed) Lucerne Blue. Trans Ams got a new standard engine by way of the 400 V8 - the 455 was now an option. The Super Duty was again available in limited quantities and sold more this year than in 1973 (943 vs 252, as well as 58 SD-455 Formulas vs 43), but it was rated at a still-substantial 290 vs 310 for last year, making a '74 SD-455 less desirable than a '73, but 290 net horses in 1974 was still quite respectable and shouldn't be overlooked.
And then there was one...
Firebirds got a new rear window this year, it now came down at a 90-degree angle and went back until it reached the base of the back glass. Parking lamps were moved up to the grille beside the headlights, a look not everyone approved of, especially since the old spots underneath the headlights were now just blanked-off, giving it a bit of an unfinished look to some, but at least Pontiac, unlike other car makes that either substantially revised their pony cars or dropped them altogether, kept the Trans Am alive. Chrysler killed off the Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Barracuda, AMC dropped the Javelin, the Ford Mustang was now based on the lowly Pinto and the Mercury Cougar had now become a mid-size personal luxury car. Even Chevrolet dropped the Z28 this year, so the Trans Am had now become the sole survivor in the pony car market.
Pontiac initially discontinued the 455 at the first of the year, but it was reinstated mid-season, now called the "H.O." and was rated at only 200 hp, and was basically the same 455 you got in your grandfather's Bonneville... but at least it was there. The 400 remained standard. Sterling Silver became a new color option, and Admiralty Blue was replaced with Stellar Blue. The 455 would no longer be available on the Formula, the first time a Trans Am powerplant was not shared with the Formula, so the 455 was now a Trans Am-only exclusive. This would also be the first time the Trans Am would outsell the Formula, a trend that would continue until 1988 as the Trans Am was getting more popular than ever. Base and Esprit models still continued as before, and all models got 100 MPH speedos in place of the previous 160.
Firebirds acquired another nose and tail treatment, with larger body-colored urethane bumpers front and rear. Parking lights were relocated to the lower front valance panel, and the grille design changed also. Base and Esprit models carried on, and Formulas received a new hood with a new twin-scoop design. They also got a new optional "appearance package" (RPO W50), which got accents on the hood scoops and lower body that consisted of FORMULA block letters on the bottoms of the doors. Trans Ams expanded their color choices once again, but the most interesting of all was the 50th Anniversary package, which was black with gold accents (inside and out) and matching gold rims. Also new was a T-bar roof option (better known as T-tops). Trans Ams counted for over 46,000 sales this year (a far cry from the 3000 or so per year in the early '70s) and Pontiac was no doubt jubilant over the car's success... but as history would show, it would only be a small sign of things to come.
Many changes in store for this year. Beginning with the base Firebird and Esprit, the 250 I6 was replaced by the Buick-built 3.8L (231 cid) V6. A new 4.9L (301 cid) became optional and standard in the Formula - which received another new hood and dual-scoop design. The 455 was no more at all this year, and there was another 6.6L engine to go along with the Pontiac-produced 400; the Oldsmobile-built 403. The 403, however, was not offered with a manual transmission. Therefore all 4-speed cars came with the 400 Pontiac engine. Since the 455 was gone, the Trans Am and Formulas once again shared all engine and transmission choices. The honeycomb-design wheel was unfortunately discontinued, albeit succeded by the wildly popular "snowflake" rim.
The biggest visual change of course was the all new Banshee-inspired nose (some refer to it as the "batmobile" nose), which had quad rectangular headlights which were surrounded by a one-piece grille/bezel assembly on each side with a matte black honey comb grille texture and chrome edges. Rear styling stayed the same as in '76. The Trans Am was growing wildly in popularity, no doubt mostly to a certain low-budget Burt Reynolds/Jerry Reed movie that had Reynolds outrunning police, jumping river banks, "driving through people's back yards, knocking down mailboxes..." in a black-and-gold Special Edition Trans Am (sure the T/As were modified, but who cares?). Sales for the Trans Am topped 68,000 this year.
Aside from ever-so-slightly revised grille inserts, the 78 Firebird was visually unchanged from 1977, which wasn't a bad thing. There were some interior changes, such as revised seat and door panel designs. The Trans Am was the biggest "attention getter" once again (and not about to change anytime soon), and it would get some more color revisions - there was now a gold "special edition", which was in a way a reverse of the black special edition, with gold being the dominant color instead of black. The 301 V8 was dropped (temporarily), replaced by a Chevy-built 305 V8, but other drivetrain choices - the 231 V6, the 350, 400 and 403 V8s, continued as before. Trans Ams could have a new WS6 suspension package this year, which included new "deep-dish" snowflake wheels. Trans Am sales were over 93,000 units this year and it wasn't looking back.
Firebirds got another nose and tail treatment. This year, Firebirds became bottom breathers, as the traditional upper grilles were eliminated, being relocated underneath the bumper. All 4 headlights were now in their own individual, deeply recessed slots, and the parking lights were now in the outer corners of the grille. In the rear, the taillights (taillight?) now stretched all the way across the rear with a hinged fuel door where the license plate assembly used to be (it was now located in the lower bumper). The base and Esprit models used traditional red lenses, but Formulas and Trans Ams got blacked-out taillights that turned red when activated. Rear spoilers were also revised a bit too. Base and Esprit models still had the 231 V6 as standard, with the 301 (which returned this year) as optional. The 301 was again standard on the Formula, and was now a "credit option" on the Trans Am. The 350 was no longer available this year.
Formulas now got the Trans Am's "engine turned" dashboard design pattern and (finally) got temperature, oil pressure and volt meter gauges as standard. The WS6 suspension package could now be had on the Formulas as well, and included 4-wheel disc brakes for the first time. Trans Ams soldiered on with either the Pontiac 400 or Olds 403 (the majority having the 403). Black and gold special editions continued, but there was a 10th Anniversary model this year, which were all silver with revised decals (and hood bird design) and new "turbo" wheels. Sales for the T/A reached an all time high of over 117,000, selling more than the base, Esprit and Formula combined.
The phrase "the bigger they come, the harder they fall" certainly applied to the 1980 Firebird line. Up until now it seemed that the Trans Am especially could do no wrong, but sales were down a whopping 50% this year. There were many reasons for this, not the least of which was the elimination of both the 400 and 403 V8s, which had become the very essence of the Trans Am model among many buyers. This, plus another middle east oil embargo resulting in spiking fuel prices and long lines at the gas pumps (again) didn't help matters. The 301 was now standard. An easy thing for Pontiac to have done would have perhaps been to use Chevy's 350 V8 as its top engine option like the Z28, but instead it chose to take matters into its own hands and offer a turbocharged 301. The turbo 301 (or Turbo 4.9, as it was known) was rated at 210 hp, 25 horses more than the previous Oldsmobile 403 and base Pontiac 400, but 10 less than the previous W72 option Pontiac 400, effectively splitting the difference. The turbo 4.9 was only available with the automatic transmission, and was available on the Formula also. There naturally wasn't a 10th Anniversary model this year, but there was a Pace Car editon, and instead of silver, it was white, and it effectively replaced the 10th Anniversary model as the top-dog Trans Am model.
When equipped with the turbo engine, the Trans Am and Formula traded in their shaker and dual-scooped hood for a single, off-center hood bulge necessary to clear the turbo unit. It would be the first time since the 1974 SD-455 model that the Trans Am and Formula would share the same hood. Base and Esprit models continued, all-new 85 MPH speedos and revised dashboard graphics were a minor change for all models.
Not many changes at all for the last of the 2nd gen Firebirds. All four Firebird models were still present and accounted for, and there was a new engine addition: the 4.3L (265 cid) V8, which at first became standard in the Formulas and optional on the base and Esprit. The Trans Am still had the normally-aspirated 301 as standard, with the turbo 301 optional (and dropping 10 hp to 200). The Chevy 305 V8 had also made a return appearance for this year, and it was your only choice if you desired a 4-speed manual. Black special editions were still around, but this year's top-dog (as well as top-dollar) Trans Am was the NASCAR edition - basically a rerun of last year's Pace Car edition, but this one's biggest claim-to-fame was the addition of Recaro sport seats, a first (and only) for the 2nd gen F body. Naturally it was accompanied by the requisite decals and accent stripes, and body-colored turbo wheels carried over from the 1980 Pace Car.
Sales, however, were inevitably slower than the previous year, which had taken an unprecedented huge hit. The F body was now 12 years old, and while it survived 2 middle east oil crises, Watergate and disco, it had now become an old-fashioned, shadow-of-its-former-self gas hog in many people's eyes. An all-new model was due in 1982 that would usher in an entirely new era for the Firebird and Trans Am in particular.
- AMC Javelin
- Dodge Challenger
- Ford Mustang
- Mercury Capri (1979-1981)
- Mercury Cougar (1970-1973)
- Plymouth Barracuda
In Popular Culture
- In 1973, John Wayne drove a 1973 Brewster Green Trans Am in the movie McQ.
- The NBC series The Rockford Files that aired from 1974-1980 starring James Garner prominently featured a tan 1974-1978 Firebird Esprit (the year varied depending on the year of the series). It was not uncommon to see various years in the same episode, especially if there were high-speed driving scenes in that particular episode.
- In 1977, who can forget Smokey and the Bandit with Burt Reynolds driving a black 1977 W82 Trans Am from Atlanta, GA to Texarkana, TX and back in "only 28 hours". Look closely and you'll see a black and gold 1976 model with the gold honeycomb rims used briefly when they reach the Texas state line - hard to spot since it's only viewed from the rear, but it's the real thing.
- In 1978, Burt Reynolds again used his car of choice, this time a Buccaneer Red 1978 Trans Am, in the movie Hooper that was used in the finale, converted into a rocket car that jumped a 325-foot gully.
- In 1979, short-lived TV-series California Fever featured a highly customized 1970-1973 Trans Am that was driven by James McNichol.
- In 1980, Burt Reynolds re-teamed with the original Smokey and the Bandit crew for the sequel Smokey and the Bandit II in which a black Y82 Trans Am was used (again), this time a Turbo 4.9 model.
- A gold 1977-78 Trans Am was used in the movie The Real McCoys.
- A second generation red Firebird Trans Am was driven by Madonna in the filmclip Do You Know What It Feels Like For a Girl after stealing it from an owner at a service station.