New & Used Pontiac Firebird: In Depth
1967 Pontiac FirebirdEnlarge Photo
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The first-generation Firebird lasted only two years (1967-1969), but offered an in-line six-cylinder displacing 230 cubic inches (3.8-liters) and a range of V-8 engines displacing between 326 cubic inches (5.3 liters) and 400 cubic inches (6.6 liters). The top model offered up to 345 horsepower when equipped with the Ram Air IV option.
A sub-model named after the Trans Am series, appropriately called the Trans Am, was introduced in 1969. The Firebird Trans Am added special club-racing-inspired bits, including a dual-intake scooped hood, fender vents, a rear decklid spoiler, a lowered suspension with stiffer elements, and larger tires.
Moving into the second generation of the Firebird, the entire shape of the body was changed substantially. This new Firebird would last 11 years, until 1981. Again offering a single straight six-cylinder engine and a range of V-8s, the second-gen Firebird also offered the higher-performance Trans Am model.
Few aesthetic changes were made until 1973, when Pontiac first introducted the "screaming chicken" hood graphic. Now an icon of the Firebird line, the large stylized bird image covered nearly the entire hood. In 1974, changes to bumper regulations necessitated a slight change to the front end, which gained a somewhat wedge-shaped look, and the rear, with a body-color bumper, and also longer tail lamps.
Throughout the 1970s horsepower ratings tended to drop, though it wasn't until 1975 when the first catalytic converters were introduced to the range that performance began to suffer. The 400-cubic-inch V-8 shared by the Firebird Trans Am and Formula 400 models produced a measly 185 horsepower; the even larger 455-cubic-inch V-8 offered just 200 horsepower.
Further redesigns to the bumpers, headlights, and tail lights continued through the extended 11-year model run of the second-generation Firebird, but in 1981, the second take on the Firebird met its end. It was replaced for the 1982 model year with an all-new car.
The third-generation Firebird brought new chassis and suspension technologies to the line, and while the engines continued to be hamstrung by poorly adapted emissions controls, the Firebird's all-new look reinvigorated the model's reputation. The third-gen Firebird would again make a long run of it, lasting until 1992. Along the way, a 20th Anniversary Trans Am model was offered in 1989, using a turbocharged 3.8-liter V-6 from the Buick Grand National, rated at 250 horsepower.
When the fourth-generation Firebird arrived in 1993, its appearance was a dramatic departure from the previous models. Highly aerodynamic and modern (for the time), the fourth version of the Firebird also got a pair of new engines: a rather weak 3.4-liter V-6, and an all-new LT1 5.7-liter V-8 rated at a stout 275 horsepower. The LT1 was available with a six-speed manual transmission option, further enhancing the Firebird's enthusiast credibility.
Small updates continued through the nearly decade-long run of the fourth-generation Firebird, including the addition of traction control (1995), a new 3.8-liter "3800" V-6 rated at 200 horsepower (also 1995), the addition of the WS6 upgraded suspension package to the convertible version (1996), a new front-end design and an upgrade to the LS1 V-8 rated at up to 320 horsepower (1998), and a Torsen limited-slip rear differential (1999).
Few other modifications were made to the Firebird through 2002, when the car met its end, finishing its sales with a special 35th anniversary edition.