Throughout the 35 year history of the Firebird, the car was nearly consistently revered for both its styling and the performance it offered. With that said, there were definitely better and worse years for the car in terms of both.
While picking one “best” model would be impossible because of personal preference and numerous other factors, there are a few models that stand out from the rest of the pack as prime examples of what the Firebird name represented. Here, we’ll look at five that were among the best Firebirds of all time.
Pontiac sales literature introduced the Trans Am – new for 1969 – with these words: “Say hello to big daddy.” And the slogan was appropriate. Based on the styling of the other first-generation Firebird models that had been introduced in 1967, all Firebirds this year received more aggressive styling that was only offered one year since the second generation ‘Birds were introduced in 1970.
And the Trans Ams were even more rare, with only 700 sold. While the Trans Am featured the same performance as the other Firebirds that year, the look of the car hinted at where the distinctive styling of the Trans Am would be headed in future years as it became one of the defining pieces of Firebird history.
Only in its second year of production, the Trans Am had already made a mark on the Firebird line in 1969, and continued to make its presence known even more strongly in 1970. While Trans Am performance wasn’t markedly different than other Firebirds the previous year, 1970 models were distinguished by their standard 400 CID V8 High Output engine that produced 335 horsepower. The year model also was distinguished because it was the last year before government regulations began sapping engines of their performance in all pony cars.
Though the 1977 black and gold Trans Am may be more popular because of its use by Burt Reynolds in “Smokey and the Bandit,” it was the 1976 Special Edition that lent inspiration to that car. But it is really what was going on under the hood that put the 1976 model over the top.
1976 was the final year the Trans Am came with an optional 455 CID V8 engine. This engine produced 200 horsepower in a year when government regulations had neutered most sports cars that were still on the road. Along with the Camaro, the Firebird was the only remaining pony car on the road in 1976, and it was representing the class proudly.
Introduced to honor the Trans Am’s 20th Anniversary, the Firebird TTA was rightfully selected as the pace car for that year’s Indy 500. The car was outfitted with the Buick turbocharged 3.8 litre V6 that outperformed all of that year’s V8 Firebird’s with 250 horsepower. And many critics felt that number was a conservative rating.
It is a shame that the engine was only used for one year, because many now consider the engine one of the best ever put inside a Firebird. The version sold to the public was almost identical to the actual pace cars, something that had rarely happened before.
Though sales never reached their full potential, the entirety of the fourth-generation Firebird line is well respected among Pontiac enthusiasts. A slight restyle and a new engine option put the 1998 model ahead of the pack.
The new front end of the car was shortened, thereby tightening up the profile of the Firebird, but the 1998 Trans Am model’s biggest asset was under the hood. The new LS1 was swiped from the Corvette and produced 305 horsepower. With the addition of Ram Air, the car was rated at 325 horsepower.
Every Trans Am after this model until the make was discontinued in 2002 were basically carbon copies of this car, and for good reason. Pontiac had saved one of its best Firebirds for last.