Although the Pontiac Firebird finally found its way into auto dealerships in the United States in 1967, plans for General Motors, owner of the Pontiac brand, appeared much earlier, in the 1950s.
The Pontiac company that has been closed for years of its presence in the auto market is identified primarily with sports cars, and one of its flagship models is the Pontiac Firebird, which contributes significantly to increased brand recognition. It then ended with several prototypes of the Pontiac Firebird, some of which were also built a little later, in the early 1960s.
The Pontiac Firebird is part of automotive history, although it is primarily known in the United States. Interestingly, the Pontiac Firebird probably wouldn’t exist at all, if it weren’t for the Ford Mustang. It was the success of the Ford Mustang that ushered in a new segment of compact sports cars, known as “pony cars.” From the start, this category also included the Pontiac Firebird, which is also classified as a “muscle car” due to its high performance and roomy engine.
However, the designer behind the Pontiac Firebird drew less inspiration from the Ford Mustang and more from the Chevrolet Camaro. After all, they were one hundred percent entitled to do so, because Chevrolet and Pontiac belonged to the same attention, powerful General Motors. As a result, the Pontiac Firebird is widely known as a close relative of the Chevrolet Camaro – after all, the two cars were made in the same F-body, and even in the same year.
The most dangerous competition for the Pontiac Firebird in the US market is the Ford Mustang, as well as the forgotten Mercury Cougar.
Firebird Exterior Design
Interestingly, the Pontiac Firebird was originally made like a bottle of cola. It’s about the Pontiac Firebird’s shape, which has a wide hood and trunk, as well as a distinctive notch in the center of the body that contrasts with the two. As a result, the Pontiac Firebird looks very neat and modern.
The Pontiac Firebird is sold as a 2-door convertible and 2-door coupe. The second-generation Pontiac Firebird is an exception, offered exclusively as a coupe.
As for the Pontiac Firebird generation, this model has a total of 4 versions which usually takes a long time, but is worth it. Reason? Every next generation of the Pontiac Firebird means engine improvements and significant changes to the car’s design.
Firebird Problems And Reliability
The greatest advantage of all generations of the Pontiac Firebird is the engine, which almost every version has been highly praised by users. Of course, the Pontiac Firebird’s resulting fuel consumption, as befits a sports car, is much undesirable, but the excellent acceleration and high power are outweighed by the higher fuel costs. Additionally, the Pontiac Firebird usually has a very efficient ventilation system.
The disadvantage of the Pontiac Firebird is of course the frequent minor defects, which turn out to be very troublesome in the long run. In addition, the Pontiac Firebird is more of a car for drivers with a more affluent wallet, as the maintenance costs of this model run into the thousands of dollars.
Firebird First Generation
The Firebird is a sports car model manufactured in 1967-2002 under the Pontiac brand by the American auto company General Motors. The first generation Firebird was produced for only 2 years (1967,1968,1969). The car was produced at two factories: in Lordstwon and Norwood.
Exterior & Interior Design
The firebird from the first series was a tsarist pony with a characteristic body shape reminiscent of a Coca-Cola bottle. A stylistic curiosity is that the manufacturer did not go for the classic and fashionable chrome bumpers at the time. There are minor styling and aerodynamic elements on the front instead of the bumper.
The headlamps consist of dual headlights with chrome roving, which are also radiator grille, and the taillights are inspired by Pontiac GTO lamps.
Produced as a two-door coupé and a convertible, the Firebird was originally a “comfort vehicle” for Pontiac management. He wants to produce a full-fledged sports car, which will be an extension of the Bunshee project.
As General Motors management was concerned that such a car could compete directly with the Chevrolet Corvette (which of course was of no use to anyone), it allowed the construction of a low-end sports car based on the F chassis.
In 1968, the manufacturer undertook a minor facelift which consisted of adding a marker light, enlarging the directional indicator and adding a distinctive Pontiac badge – Arrowheads on both sides. The small ventilation window has been removed from the door and replaced with a single sliding glass.
A year later, another major modernization was carried out which involved modifying the front and rear of the car. The dashboard with instruments and steering wheel has also been stylized.
The basic engine and available from the start on the Pontiac Firebird is an R6 unit with an OHC timing system and a single carburetor. The Sprint version has an upgraded four-barrel carburetor engine that develops 217hp.
However, most buyers opt for one of the V8 engines. The smallest – 326 CID – has a displacement of 5.3 l and 253 HP. An amplified version called HO (High Output) differs in the carburetor – it has four throats. This motor develops 288 hp. An enormous 6.6 liter V8 engine – 400 CID – adapted from the Pontiac GTO is also available. It reaches a maximum power of 328 HP.
Since 1968, a Ram Air option has been available, so a slightly improved version with a different camshaft, stiffer valve springs, and a revised input port. The Ram Air version matches the strength of the HO variant, but peaks at a slightly higher crankshaft rotation.
As soon as production started, the base engine – 230 CID – 3.8 liter R6 was replaced by the larger 4.1 liter variant. In the basic version it has 175 hp, and in the version with a four-barrel carburetor, the power is increased to 215 hp.
In 1968, the 5.3 liter V-eight was replaced by a larger 0.4 liter unit. In the HO variant, this engine develops a maximum power of 320 hp.
Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
A year later (1969), a top version of the Pontiac Firebird appeared, called Trans Am. They not only strengthened the engine with the Ram Air system, but also improved suspension and better steering for a better road feel. The package costs US $ 725 and is very popular with Pontiac customers. Soon “Trans Am” became the Pontiacs’ most powerful symbol – much like the “ZR1” for the Corvette.
Pontiac Firebird Trans Am is offered with only one engine – V8, 6.6 l, but in three versions of the Ram Air. At the weakest (Ram Air III) the engine reaches 366 hp, in the more powerful Ram Air IV under the hood it is 4 hp more than in Ram Air III, and above Ram Air V (installed by car dealers), Firebird Trans Am can boast as much as 500 hp. maximum strength.
The last first-generation Firebird was launched from the assembly line on 18 September 1969. Due to constraints on the implementation of the 2nd generation Firebird, Pontiac did not produce this sports car for 5 months.
Firebird 2nd Generation
Firebird II was produced for 11 years (1970,1971,1972,1973,1974,1975,1976,1977,1978,1979,1980,1981). Manufacturing takes place at Van Nuys and Norwood in the US. Unlike its predecessors, the new Firebird is only available as a 2-door coupé.
Exterior & Interior Design
Compared to the first generation Firebird, the new car is 5 m longer and longer without 1 mm. At the same time, it is lower than its predecessor by about 50 mm.
His body shape changed drastically. The Pontiac has gone from a sleek Cola bottle-shaped body to a very elongated front end with a long hood. At the rear, the body line drops sharply downwards and ends with a spoiler. The hallmark of all Firebirds up to 1975 was the wide C pillar, which narrowed as the Pontiac increased the size of the rear window.
Depending on the machine version (eg Trans Am), the bodies of Firebirds differ from one another. For example, the Trans Am has slightly larger air intakes to the engine and a completely detachable front bumper.
In 1973, the curb weight of the Firebird increased significantly. This is determined by the installation of a heavy telescopic bumper and reinforcement of the safety structure. For example, the Trans Am version with the 455 CID engine weighed 1,750 kg after the change.
The following year, Firebird underwent its first major body facelift. The front and rear body parts have undergone significant changes. The front becomes more tilted and the rear has lights that cross the width of the car.
In 1977, the body was once again modified. It is the most serious change to the car body. Pontiac replaced the round headlights on the Firebird, which were previously used with the Camaro, a double square. The nose of the vehicle was also modified.
The engines in the two versions of the Ram Air were removed from the old car. In the weaker version, the 6.6 liter V8 power unit has 366 hp, and the more powerful engine has 4 more hp. In 1970-1976, the basic power unit was a 4.1 liter in-line six-cylinder engine, producing only 100 HP of power. In the same year, a 5.7 liter V8 engine was offered, producing 155 hp.
From 1970 to 1979, except 1973, there was a 6.6 liter V8 engine from Pontiac. Depending on the version, it has 175 hp, through 180 hp and 200 hp, up to 225 hp (Trans Am). Interestingly, from 1976 to 1979, the Firebird was sold in parallel with the slightly larger Oldsmobile V8 engine. It has a higher compression ratio, and the vehicles offered with it are sold primarily in California and in areas that are located high above sea level.
The largest of all engines was the 7.5 liter V8, available from 1970 to 1976 in various configurations. It has 215 HP (version 400), 250 HP (variant 455) or 290 HP (SD-455) and is installed in the Trans Am variant. In 1972, a Trans Am with this 304hp engine was available for purchase on the European market.
In 1980 there were major changes under the Firebird hood. Due to increased exhaust gas purity restrictions, Pontiac had to withdraw from the large power unit assembly. Although the 3.8 liter engine offered as entry level in 1977-1979 was replaced by the 4.3 liter engine, the biggest engine was no longer the 7.5 liter engine, but the smaller 2.5 liter engine. The most powerful engine available at the time was the 4.9-liter V8 turbo.
Depending on the version, a 3-speed manual gearbox and a 3-speed automatic transmission are combined with the drive unit. The last generation II Pontiac Firebird launched off the assembly line in 1981.
Firebird 3rd Generation
The 3rd generation Firebird started production in 1982 and was produced for 10 years (1982,1983,1984,1985,1986,1987,1988,1989,1990,1991,1992). Like its predecessors, production was carried out in Van Nuys and Norwood (USA).
The change of generations from the second generation to the third generation occurred during the period of the fuel crisis. An increase in fuel prices and a decrease in fuel availability affect the design process of many cars. That is a key requirement for new Firebird designers. For this reason, the new car engine should not be too big and powerful, because it will have a big impact on fuel consumption.
Exterior & Interior Design
To compensate for the loss of performance with a weaker unit, Pontiac management decided early on in the design that the chassis had to be technically sophisticated, allowing for the installation of a more powerful engine in the future without having to rebuild it.
When designing the Firebird, engineers focused on building a suspension, steering and braking system that would provide the performance it deserves. An important change regarding the Firebird II is the use of MacPherson suspension with shock absorbers and coil springs at the front, as well as an independent system at the rear. The brakes are also upgraded.
Thanks to the fact that General Motors had a new wind tunnel, the designers were able to create a sleek body. It has a drag coefficient of only 0.33, and in subsequent years even 0.29. It should be noted that the retractable headlights play a big role in reducing drag (such a good value is noted with the recessed headlights) and, among other things, the windshield wipers are tucked under the hood.
Another important thing that makes Firebird III different from the second generation is that it is almost 230 kg lighter. As a result, smaller, weaker engines can be used without major performance losses.
The new Firebird’s body was characterized by sharp lines and angles that did not change until the end of production. It is true that some adjustments have been made over the years, but it wasn’t until 1991 that stylists decided to radically modify the front of the car.
In place of the corner elements there is a soft styled section with a hole in which the turn signal is hidden.
More improvements were made to the passenger compartment. Over the 10 years of production, it has changed quite a lot. In the following years, driver air bags appeared in the interior as standard equipment.
The smallest engine installed under the hood is no longer a 6-cylinder engine like in the first and second generations, but a 4-cylinder inline engine with a capacity of only 2.5 liters. Despite its low capacity and low power, the 3rd generation Firebird is a car with better acceleration and faster than its older brother. All thanks to the low weight and low aerodynamic resistance mentioned above.
In 1986, the 2.5-liter V6 was replaced by the 2.8-liter V6, which was later enlarged to 3.1 liters. During its production year, a large 5-liter V8 was also installed under the hood of the Firebird. In the early stages of production, it was developed to no more than 170 hp.
That is dictated, among other things, by maintaining a relatively low fuel consumption. With the passage of time and the development of electronics (the 3rd generation Firebird was the first Firebird to be equipped with fuel injection), the Pontiac increased engine power, which eventually reached 350 hp.
At the end of production, the Firehawk version appeared with a 350 hp motor. The car takes about 4.6 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 96 km / h and reaches 260 km / hour. Unfortunately, the Firehawk sold very little. The reason is not only because of the high price, but also the sellers’ ignorance of the existence of this version. Pontiac headquarters failed in this respect.
In 1992 it became clear that the Firebird III had to be replaced with a newer car. A year later, the next generation of cars appeared.
Firebird 4th Generation
Production of the 4th generation Firebird model began in 1993 and lasted for 10 years (1993,1994,1995,1996,1997,1998,1999,2000,2001,2022).
Exterior & Interior Design
Like its predecessors, the new Firebird is offered with a coupé and convertible body. Car-like dimensions are also maintained. The Firebird is once again a very large car, reaching (and in some years exceeding) 5 m in length.
The overall style is a reflection of the concept of Banshee IV. The Firebird has curved body lines, and the front is somewhat reminiscent of the restyled old model. Retractable headlights are also maintained.
Like its predecessor, the new Firebird was developed on economic principles. Designers pay great attention to low air resistance and economical engines. Designed on the new F platform, Firebird has been extensively tested again in wind tunnels.
However, this time there is more freedom in approaching the styling of the car, which results in a slightly higher air drag coefficient. Pontiac could afford it, because in the early 1990s the fuel crisis was only a memory.
A more powerful engine was back in favor, but it didn’t use up fuel as it used to. Reduction of fuel consumption is possible thanks to the use of electronically controlled fuel injection. In Firebird IV, it’s the next generation of this injection type – steadily improving over the years of production.
Two engines were available from the start of Firebird IV development. The smaller, basic one has a displacement of 3.4 liters which is capped in 6 cylinders arranged in a V-shaped arrangement. This power unit develops 160 hp. The bigger engine is the famous LT1 V8, which has a displacement of 5.7 liters and an output of 275 hp.
In 1993 the short 201 Firehawk series was released, which was only available with a Formula body finish. In this variant, Firebird has an LT1 engine with power increased to 300 HP. A year later, multi-point fuel injection was introduced in the smaller 3.4 liter engine.
In 1994, Pontiac sold the anniversary version of Trans Am (25 years). In the same year, a new 4-speed automatic transmission with electronic controls appeared, which replaced the outdated 700R4 gearbox.
In 1995, Firebird entered without major changes. In fact, the only difference is a different steering wheel and the possibility of installing an ASR system. An additional package of modifications appeared, with the help of which, at the request of the customer, the power of the 5.7 liter engine was increased to 315 hp.
After 3.5 years of production, the 3.4 liter engine disappeared and was replaced by a 200 HP 3.8 liter V6 engine. In turn, the LT1 engine, after modification, was upgraded to 285 hp. He didn’t even mind installing two catalytic converters.
In 1997, in addition to the 3.8 l and 5.7 l LT1 units, the offering also included the LT4 engine, an upgraded version of the LT1. Thanks to the SLP Performance package, this engine power reaches 330 hp.
The following year, the Pontiac Firebird underwent a facelift. The body hasn’t changed much, a much more important modification is under the hood. The LT1 engine was replaced by the LS1 (known from the Corvette). The two engines differ mainly in the fact that in the first the hull is made of cast iron, and in the second – aluminum alloy.
In the following years, Firebird had not changed as intensely as before. Engine power was increased slowly and minor changes were made to the interior. The LS1 units first had 305 hp, then 310 hp, and finally, after 2000, developed 325 hp. In the Firehawk variant with SLP and Ram Air Package, Firebird was developed up to 345 HP.
Due to high production costs and low demand, GM decided to discontinue production in 2002 and did not replace the Firebird with a new model. Eight years later, General Motors abolished the Pontiac brand.
Production of the Pontiac Firebird over the years did not go beyond the United States, where factories from California and Ohio were involved. Only the last fourth generation Pontiac Firebird production was moved outside the US, particularly to Canada.
In fact, the last new Pontiac Firebird in the history of the Pontiac Firebird has left the Canadian factory located in Sainte-Thérèse near Quebec. That was in 2002.