After 15 successful model years, the Pontiac Firebird would become an entirely different animal with the 3rd and 4th gen models. The Firebird (and of course the Chevrolet Camaro) would now put a much greater emphasis on utility, modern aerodynamic styling, and, of course, fuel economy. The 3rd gen Firebird would last almost as long as its 2nd gen predecessor, lasting 11 model years, and would be redesigned in 1993. The final 4th gen Firebird would ultimately be the best built, most economical and fastest Firebird ever before GM pulled the plug on them at the end of 2002 after 36 model years.
- Pontiac Firebird
- Pontiac Firebird 1967-1981 for information about the first two generations
- Chevrolet Camaro
Here's a brief rundown on the 3rd and 4th gen Firebirds:
|Body Style|| 3-Door Hatchback|
|Transmission|| 4-Speed Manual, RWD|
5-Speed Manual, RWD
3-Speed Automatic, RWD
4-Speed Automatic, RWD
|Engine|| 2.5L (151 cid) I4 (1982-1985)|
2.8L (173 cid) V6 (1982-1989)
3.1L (191 cid) V6 (1990-1992)
3.8L (231 cid) Turbo V6 (1989)
5.0L (305 cid) V8 (1982-1992)
5.7L (350 cid) V8 (1987-1992)
- 1 3rd Generation (1982-1992)
- 2 Photos
- 3 Main Competitors (1982-1992)
- 4 4th Generation (1993-2002)
- 5 Main Competitor (1993-2002)
3rd Generation (1982-1992)
The Firebird was still a rear-drive 2+2 design, but it weighed in at about 300-400 lbs lighter than the 2nd gens. The sleek, aerodynamically styled body sported pop-up headlamps, and while it retained the same basic taillight design, the new body was also a hatchback with a fold-down rear seat. This greatly added to its utility, and was much better than the footlocker-sized trunk of the previous version. Dashboards eliminated the conventional glovebox, replaced with what some referred to as an "oversized wallet" in its place, a change not everyone approved of. There were now the base Firebird, the S/E (which replaced the Esprit), and of course the Trans Am. The Formula model unfortunately gone, but its absence was only temporary as it would return 5 years later.
There was a major shakeup in the drivetrain department as well. The base engine in the base model was now the 92 hp "Iron Duke" 2.5L (151 cid) I4. Optional was the Chevrolet-built 112 hp 2.8L (173 cid) V6, and the 150 hp Chevrolet-built 5.0L (305 cid) V8. There would be no more Pontiac-produced V8s at all in this generation (or any other car, for that matter) - these were now all considered "corporate" engines. This was a decision that would disappoint many hardcore Pontiac fans - to them, a Chevy-powered V8 Pontiac just wasn't right... but if they wanted a new Pontiac, they didn't have much choice. The S/E models had the 2.8 V6 as standard, with the 305 as an option, but the Trans Am had a choice of 2 305s - a 150 hp 4bbl version, or an all-new 165 "cross-fire injection" version, which only came with a 3-speed automatic. The crossfires got an off-centered bulged hood similar in design to the previous Turbo 4.9 hoods, and they were optional on the base 305 T/A. Pontiac had originally planned to use the Turbo 4.9 in the 3rd gen models but that plan was scrapped when it was decided that they were to use GM's "corporate" V8 engines instead. The crossfire-injection setup was the same system also used on the 1982 Corvette. Some critics chided GM for the name "crossfire", joking that it sounded like a condition that should be covered under warranty instead of a fuel-delivery system ("Stand back, kid! That engine is about to crossfire!")
Performance was down a little bit compared to the 1981 Firebirds, and even a cross-fire Trans Am got sand kicked in its face by the reborn Ford Mustang GT, to add further insult to injury. Transmission choices for all models were a 4-speed manual (except the crossfire edition) or a 3-speed automatic. The WS6 option returned, and included 4 wheel disc brakes, P215/65R15 Goodyear Eagle GT radials with 15" cast aluminum wheels, stiffer springs, thicker front and rear sway bars, and a high ratio 12.7:1 steering box.
Not many visual changes for 1983 Firebirds other than very subtle ones. 4-speed automatics replaced the 3-speed units on the V6 and V8 engines (except the crossfire, which still used the 3-speed), and 5-speed manuals became available also (except the base I4 and, again, the crossfire). And speaking of the crossfire, it was dumped mid-season, replaced by a 190 hp High Output 305 4bbl V8, giving the Trans Am a big shot in the arm as far as power (and reputation) was concerned, and a Trans Am driver no longer had to lay low at a stoplight if a Mustang GT pulled along side of it. The H.O. engine would be available with either a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic. The Iron Duke I4, 2.8 V6 and "regular" 305 V8s continued as before.
Firebirds were enjoying great sales increases, and by now the 3rd gen Firebirds were definitely coming into their own among pony car fans with their sleek looks, hot engines, and raw, all-American V8/rear drive power. The Trans Am celebrated its 15th birthday this year, so Pontiac threw it a little celebration with the 15th Anniversary edition. While the 15th Anniversary Trans Am wasn't quite as outrageous as the 2nd gen 10th Anniversary model, it nonetheless had some very distinct styling cues, such as monotone white paint (which included the rims), white leather interior... even the taillights were striped white. On the white body were blue accents and hood decal. The WS6 suspensions were upgraded slightly, and they also borrowed the 245/50VR16 tires from the Corvette - the first time a 16" tire would be used on an F body. "Lesser" Trans Ams continued as before with little change, as did the base Firebird and S/E. A new rim design on the S/E and Trans Am replaced the previous "bowling-ball" capped design (used mostly for aerodynamics. Most owners trashed them, and one with the originals still intact would be a rare sight today).
The Firebird would receive its first real visual change across the board this year. The nose and tail were now more rounded than before - the nose deleted its faux-grille and could have integrated fog-lights for the first time, and the taillights were also revised with a new subtle vertical and horizontal grid pattern. The dashboard and console were changed slightly also, the automatic transmission selector was now a T-handle, replacing the ball with the button atop the shifter. The base I4 continued, but the 2.8 V6 saw an hp increase to 135 and received multi-port fuel injection. Base and H.O. 305 continued as well, but the big news this year was an all-new 205 hp Tuned Port Injection (TPI) 305. This would be the first 3rd gen Trans Am to break the 200-hp barrier, and it was available only with the 4-speed automatic transmission. 16" rims were standard on the TPI T/As. The "turbo-bulge" hood was discontinued on Trans Ams, replaced with twin, non-functional louvered nostrils.
And last but not least was the return of the "screaming chicken" hood decal option on Trans Ams, last seen in 1981. Its design was of course smaller and not quite as outrageous as the previous versions in which some of them even took up virtually the entire hood! There were some that applauded the chicken decal return, but many critics couldn't help but wonder if such a decal looked out of place on a 3rd gen model, especially since the 3rd gens didn't have a shaker hood to complete the look - in some eyes it just didn't work. Plus, even with the power increases, sales were down versus last year's figures.
The biggest across-the-board visual change for all models was the addition of the now-mandatory center-high-mounted-stop-lamp atop the rear hatch. The 305 H.0. was dropped early in the model year due to fuel-boiling issues. S/E models were also no more, as was (thankfully) the rarely-ordered I4 engine in the base models - the 2.8 V6 was now the standard engine. The "regular" and TPI 305s continued as before. Trans Am rear spoilers were now the wrap-around type, replacing the raised units. All others still had the raised spoiler.
The center-high-mounted-stop-lamp was relocated from atop the rear hatch and integrated into the rear spoiler, which was about the only visual change. The "screaming chicken" Trans Am hood decal finally flew away for good this year, never to return. Base and Trans Ams of course continued, but 1987 saw the addition of a new model and the return of an old one; The GTA and Formula, respectively. The GTA was now the top-dog Trans Am model, and has such visual enhancements as gold 16" flat mesh diamond spoke wheels and special badging. The Formula, back after a 5 year absence, reprised its role as a go-between for the base and the Trans Am. While it had the looks of the base Firebird, it could have the Trans Am powertrains (some called such models "sleepers"). It was basically the same idea as Ford's Mustang 5.0 LX. Base and Formulas got new taillights that incorporated separate amber turn signal lenses, and all Formulas used the previous "turbo" hood with the off-center hood bulge that was last seen as a Trans Am option in 1984.
The 2.8 V6 and the 305 4bbl on the base continued, but the big news this year was the much-anticipated arrival of the 210 horse TPI 5.7L (350 cid) V8 for the GTA, Trans Am and Formula models. The Firebird's 350 TPI was rated 10-15 less than the comparably-equipped Camaro IROC-Zs due to the Pontiac's lower hoodline, which necessitated a more stringent induction system, resulting in the hp decrease. The 350 TPI was available only with the 4-speed automatic, but the 305 TPI could now be had with a 5-speed manual. The 350 was standard in the GTA, although the lesser 305 TPI could be had as a "credit" option - plus it was your only choice if you desired a 5-speed manual. TPI models got a new 140 MPH speedo, while the "regular" 305 and base models got a 110 MPH unit.
The base 170 hp 305 finally gets throttle-body fuel injection (TBI) this year, so now all Firebird engines are fuel-injected. The Formula got its own aluminum 16" wheel design not shared with other Firebirds. Base models, Trans Ams and GTAs continued otherwise unchanged other than a slightly revised 16" rim design for the T/As and GTAs, and could now be had in various body colors instead of just gold. Digital dashboards became an option on Trans Ams and GTAs, which got a new steering wheel with integrated stereo controls. GTAs also got another interesting optional feature this year only: a notchback decklid design, which eliminated the wraparound rear window - it was now flat and nearly vertical. Supposedly only 718 were sold, making one a very rare sight today. Another interesting sales fact was that for the first time since 1974, the Formula would outsell the Trans Am once again, although that's surely a result of many potential Trans Am buyers ponying up extra for the top-dog GTA instead of settling for the "regular" Trans Am.
No visual changes to speak of for any Firebird model. All Firebirds would get the Vehicle Anti Theft System (VATS) this year, which included a special computer chip on the ignition key that would help prevent the vehicle from being "hotwired", so to speak. Rear seats (for those who dared to actually sit back there) now had shoulder belts. The GTA's unpopular one-year-wonder notchback option was dropped. This year, GM offered a dual catalytic converter option for the 305 and 350 TPI engines, boosting their respective horsepower ratings to 230 and 240.
All that was fine and dandy, but the big news was the 20th Anniversary Edition Pace Car Trans Am. This would be the first Anniversary Edition Trans Am that didn't concentrate solely on look-at-me paint shemes and decals like the previous Anniversary models (although it could be had with Pace Car door decals if so desired), and instead offered a powertrain not available on any other Firebird model; the (underrated) 250 hp 3.8L (231 cid) turbo intercooled V6 that last saw duty in the 1987 Buick Grand National. Although it was technically a Trans Am, it was based on the GTA, resulting in kind of a cross between the two. All were white with tan leather or cloth, and could have T-top or hardtop. This would be the first time a turbo engine was available in the Trans Am since 1981, the first time a Trans Am engine wouldn't be shared with the Formula since the 1976 455, and the first time a 6-cylinder engine was offered in a Trans Am... ever. Car and Driver magazine tested one, measuring a 4.6 second 0-60 time and a 13.4 1/4 mile time - almost unheard of back in 1989 unless you had a Lamborghini, and still very respectable times even today.
1555 models were sold, and supposedly a very small handful were a color other than white, but they were reportedly GM test mules and not believed to have been sold to the general public.
The turbo Anniversary model was gone, so things got back to normal for the Firebird line, relatively speaking. This was a shortened model year due to the early introduction of the 1991 models, but there were still a few changes this year, not the least of which was a now-standard driver's side airbag appeared (which eliminated the integrated stereo controls). Also the 2.8 V6 was dropped in the base models, being replaced by a new 140 hp 3.1 (191 cid) V6. Formulas and Trans Ams still came standard with the 170 hp 305 TBI, with the 305 and 350 TPI as optional. The 350 TPI was still standard fare in the GTA, with the 305 TPI available as a credit option. Dashboards were ever-so-slighty revised as well, and the digital dash option was discontinued. Rear seatbacks were no longer divided in the middle, they were now one piece.
Introduced in March, 1990 as early 1991 models, all Firebirds got a restyled nose modeled after the Banshee show car, and all models now shared the same fiberglass wraparound rear spoiler. The CHMSL was relocated inside the top of the rear window. Base, Trans Ams and GTAs received a new ground effects design, a look which didn't please everyone, but at least it was optional. The Formulas could not have the ground effects. Trans Ams and GTAs got updated 2 piece taillights with PONTIAC scripted in orange across the panels.
The convertible bodystyle returned this year, the first factory ragtop Firebird since 1969. It was available only as a base or Trans Am, and could not be had with the 5.7 engine. The 5.7's dual-cat option was now standard, putting hp now at 245. Another Firebird model, the Firehawk, would debut this year as an option package on the Formula. The Firehawk was the brainchild of Ed Hamburger of Street Legal Performance (SLP), and it had a 350 hp version of the 350 with a 6-speed manual borrowed from the Corvette. Needless to say its performance was phenomenal, but it was also horrendously expensive (stickering at over $50,000). A reported 8 were sold in 1991.
1992 models were pretty much untouched, as the design had pretty much run its course and surely most buyers were waiting for the all-new 1993 model. All models received improved sealants in the body in various places in an attempt to reduce squeaks and rattles (a tall order in a 3rd gen F body). Total production this year was less than 28,000, but Firehawk sales jumped to a grand total of 25.
An all-new 4th generation Firebird was waiting in the wings next year, and it was definitely time.
Main Competitors (1982-1992)
|Body Style|| 3-Door Hatchback|
|Transmission|| 5-Speed Manual, RWD|
6-Speed Manual, RWD
4-Speed Automatic, RWD
|Engine|| 3.4L (207 cid) V6 (1993-1995)|
3.8L (231 cid) V6 (1995-2002)
5.7L (346 cid) V8 (1998-2002)
5.7L (350 cid) V8 (1993-1997)
4th Generation (1993-2002)
After being threatened with extinction once again, an all new 4th gen Firebird debuted for 1993, along with its Camaro twin. While the 1st, 2nd and 3rd gen Firebirds were all very different from each other, the 4th gen was more or less an updated 3rd gen model, even sharing the same 101" platform, although it was 2 inches wider and taller, and about a 1/2 inch longer. The 4th gen was also a 3-door hatchback model like the 3rd gen and retained its pop-up headlights, but the body panels were all new and had new dent and rust-resistant fenders, doors and decklid. Curb weights were about the same, but power (and build quality) was way up over the 3rd gens. Dual airbags were standard (a first for a GM model), as well as anti-lock brakes. T-tops were available on all models.
In this generation, there were base, Formula and Trans Am models. The GTA would not be carried over. Drivetrains were greatly simplified in this generation also, starting with a 160 hp 3.4L (207 cid) V6 as standard for the base model with either a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic, while a 275 hp 5.7L (350 cid) LT1 V8 was standard fare for the Formula and Trans Am. This time the top engine not only got a standard manual transmission, it was a 6-speed to boot. 4-speed automatics were also available. Formulas once again split the difference between the base Firebird and the Trans Am. The SLP Firehawk package was available again, but this time it was available on the Trans Am (not until 1999) as well as the Formula, and had a 300 hp LT1.
Convertibles were back this year after a year hiatus, and available on all models (including the Formula, a first). There were no visual changes, but V8 models got the dreaded CAGS forced 1-4 upshift on light acceleration (although a quick blip on the gas while changing gears would cancel it). The LT1 got a few minor changes, but hp stayed the same at 275. A one-year-wonder Trans Am GT was available this year only. Being the 25th anniversary of the Trans Am, Pontiac of course offered a 25th Anniversary Edition, but this time it was very much like the 15th Anniversary, which meant this one was also white (inside and out) with blue accents, hood and decklid stripe. It was available as either a hatchback or convertible. Base, Formula and "regular" Trans Ams continued as before.
Formulas and Trans Ams got new 5-spoke rims and could now have traction control. Formulas no longer had "Formula V8" decals, they now read simply "Formula". A couple of new color choices became available, but the big news for the base model was the mid-year introduction of the 200 hp 3.8L (231 cid) V6 as an option.
The 3.4 V6 was dropped and the 200 hp 3.8 was now standard on the base models. For those keeping score, the base Firebird this year kicked out more horsepower than the most powerful Trans Am did in 1984 (ain't technology wonderful?) The base also got the 5-spoke rims of the Formula and Trans Am, doing away with the rather bizarre design of the previous base rims. Formulas and Trans Ams got a 10 hp power increase to 285, but the big news this year was the return of the WS6 package. Previously an upgraded suspension option, WS6 was now an engine upgrade (and suspension upgrade), and resurrected the Ram Air moniker, not used since 1970. Formulas and Trans Ams so equipped got a 20 hp increase to 305, and got twin forward-facing hood scoops, not unlike the 2nd gen Formula hood design.
Daytime running lamps became standard this year (using the parking lights). The WS6 package introduced last year was now available on the convertible Formula and Trans Ams. Air conditioning became standard on all models, and all models got a redesigned console that included 4 cupholders (2 in front, 2 in back) and 2 power outlets. Base, Formula and Trans Ams otherwise continued with no other changes.
Firebirds got their first (and last) real major upgrade this year. Visually, front ends were new with quad pop-up headlamps, replacing the duals, and all models got standard fog lamps. The rear stayed basically the same, but instead of the grid pattern on the taillights, it was now a honeycomb pattern. Formulas were no longer offered as convertibles. Base Firebirds still used the 3.8 V6, but the LT1s were discarded in favor of a new LS1, borrowed from the Corvette. The LS1 was still 5.7 liters, but it was a tad smaller than the LT1 (346 vs 350 cid)... but the LS1s had a 20 hp increase for a total of 305 (the same figure as last year's WS6 LT1). WS6s were carried over as well, and they were now rated at 320 hp. They got new, more pronounced twin hood scoops over last year's smaller scoops. T-tops were now standard on the Trans Am. Firehawks carried over, and got subsequent horsepower increases as well. The horsepower ratings for these cars were heavily underrated by General Motors to protect base model Corvette sales. The LS1 F-bodies were never "de-tuned". Dyno tests of completely stock LS1 F-bodies confirm this, as these cars put out over 300 rear-wheel horsepower consistently.
Some color changes and traction control was now an option on the base models. Gas tanks were enlarged to 16.8 gallons vs 15.5. Base, Formula and Trans Ams continued as well as the WS6 package for the Formulas and T/As. It was anniversary time again for the Trans Am, hence the 30th Anniversary model (and unfortunately the last anniversary model). This one was also white inside and out with blue accents (including the rims), and got 2 blue stripes for the hood and decklid, harking back to the original 1969 Trans Am. All 30th T/As were WS6 models, and were either a hatchback or convertible (with a blue top, again as a tribute to the original '69 model). And, adhering to the tradition of past Anniversary/Pace Car models, they were available with Pace Car door decals if so desired.
Base, Formula and Trans Ams continued unchanged, aside from some more color shuffling.
LS1 engines got a 5 hp increase to 310 for the non-WS6, 325 for the WS6. Again, these ratings were heavily underrated by GM. Base 3.8 engines stayed the same at 200. The WS6 package was unfortunately no longer available on the Formula, becoming a Trans Am exclusive this year. WS6 Formulas are very rare, less than 1000 total were made from 1998-2000. On the other side of the coin, WS6 Trans Ams were by now outselling the "regular" Trans Ams. A gorgeous new Sunset Orange Metallic color was introduced this year.
Base Firebirds now had power windows and locks as standard equipment, and T-tops became standard on the Formulas - both of which continued unchanged for their final year. A Commemorative Collector Edition Trans Am was offered, being yellow with black accents and rims, and was either the hatch or a convertible. All had the WS6 package. The SLP Firehawk package was still available on either the Formula or Trans Ams, and there were various other packages, such as GMMG'S 380 hp Blackbird that helped the Firebird go out with a bang before being grounded permanently after this year.