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Pontiac Firebird & Trans Am: buying guide and review (1970-1981)

Pontiac Trans Am Pontiac Firebird Pontiac Trans Am Pontiac Trans Am When the Ford Mustang went on sale it quickly became the fastest-selling car in history. So it was no wonder that Ford’s rivals wanted to enjoy the same sort of success with their own ‘pony cars’, and GM’s take on the formula was the Pontiac Firebird (alongside the Chevrolet Camaro).

While it was the Camaro that arrived first, the Firebird carried a higher price and was more highly equipped – which is why twice as many Camaros were produced. Nowadays, both cars have a following, often brought about by each car’s exposure in the media. In the case of the Firebird it was the 1978 film Smokey and the Bandit that turned the Trans Am into an icon, which is why these later cars with their black and gold colour schemes are now among the most sought after of the breed.

Which one to buy?

There’s a bewildering array of Firebird models to choose between, thanks to a range of engines, transmissions, model year changes plus T-top or standard roof configurations. But unlike with the first-generation Firebird, there’s no convertible option.

While the first-generation Firebird Trans Am was a special edition, by the time the second-generation Firebird was launched the Trans Am had become an integral part of the range. As the most powerful variant of all, many Firebird fans gravitate automatically towards the Trans Am, but ‘lesser’ versions aren’t necessarily any less desirable.

By now many Firebirds have been modified and there’s a massive disparity between the well-maintained cars and those that have been neglected or run on a shoestring, so rather than home in on a specific model, try out a few and see what suits you best. Admittedly you’ll want to avoid the six-cylinder versions because the whole point of having an American car such as this is to enjoy that fabulous V8 rumble, but focus as much on condition as on specification when you’re spending your hard-earned pennies.

Performance and specs

Pontiac Firebird 6.6
Engine 6558cc, V8
Power 220bhp @ 4000rpm
Torque 320lb ft @ 2800rpm
Top speed 118mph
0-60mph 6.3sec
Consumption 15mpg
Gearbox Four-speed manual

Dimensions and weight

Wheelbase 2743mm
Length 4867mm
Width 1864mm
Height 1280mm
Weight 1626kg

Common problems

• The Firebird wasn’t very well rustproofed, so expect to see plenty of corrosion on pretty much any Firebird you inspect, if it hasn’t already been restored. Some cars that have lived in the sunshine states may have escaped the worst ravages of rot, but don’t count on it.

• Start by analysing the floorpans along with the mountings for the rear suspension leaf springs. The rear screen seals tends to fail allowing the boot to fill up with water, leading to the boot floor rotting out. A damp interior might point toward hidden rust.

• Also inspect the lower quarter panels, fuel tank and sills, all of which are likely to be holed. Rot in the base of the windscreen pillars is also to be expected, along with corrosion in the battery tray. Check for poor restoration work and poorly aligned body panels.

• Poorly repaired crash damage is another common issue; lots of torque being fed to the rear wheels combined with a relatively crude suspension set-up means oversteer isn’t hard to summon up, whether or not it’s wanted.

• All engines are strong and unstressed, and neglect isn’t unusual so check for oil that’s like tar. The oil pressure should be 40-60psi when hot; if it’s much lower and there’s blue exhaust smoke the engine is on its way out and will be due for a rebuild soon.

• Firebird gearboxes are tough but the limited-slip differentials are not. Listen for whining from the latter denoting it’s due for an overhaul; the parts are available and costs aren’t especially high.

• The Firebird is no featherweight so expect tired suspension unless it’s been overhauled relatively recently. There’s an array of bushes and ball joints that age; if the whole lot needs to be done, the costs will soon add up, although generally spares are quite affordable.

Model history

1970: The second-generation Firebird is launched in February, with a 400ci (6.6-litre) V8 rated at 335bhp (Ram Air III) or 345bhp (Ram Air IV).
1971: A 455ci (7.5-litre) V8 is now offered in the 455-HO.
1974: The Firebird gets a redesigned front end, slotted tail lights and a 250ci (4.1-litre) straight-six engine option. The latter is rated at just 100bhp while there’s also now a 155bhp 350ci (5.7-litre V8) too.
1975: There are more sheet-metal changes with a new wrap-around rear window and a revised roof line.
1976: Pontiac celebrates its 50th birthday with a limited edition Trans Am that features black paint with gold decals – the first of several such specials.
1977: Another facelift brings a new nose design and it’s this car that becomes famous in the film Smokey and the Bandit.
1979: Another special edition marks 10 years of the Trans Am. This year would prove to be the high point in terms of Trans Am sales.
1980: The 6.6-litre engine is killed off, leaving 4.3, 5.0 and 4.9-litre V8s, the latter in normally aspirated or turbocharged forms.
1982: The third-generation Firebird goes on sale.

Key clubs and websites

• www.bandittransamclub.com - Club that celebrates the Smokey & the Bandit connection
• www.facebook.com/firebirdclub - Social group for Firebird owners
• www.firebirdnation.com - Pontiac Firebird Forum
• www.firebirdtaclub.com - US-based Firebird and Trans Am club
• www.poc-uk.org - UK owners’ club for all Pontiacs

Summary and prices

Despite its reasonably iconic status as an all-American muscle car, and movie star, the Pontiac Firebird is still a reasonably affordable car to buy in the UK, although importing from the USA always opens up a lot more options.

Finding a Trans Am for sale isn’t a difficult task, but many have been neglected. You might be able to find something road legal for £5000-plus, but good examples start at more than £10,000. The best examples can be had for less than £20,000, although special versions can always sell for more.

Words: Richard Dredge
Pontiac Trans Am Pontiac Firebird Pontiac Trans Am Pontiac Trans Am
Last updated: 1st Oct 2015
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Pontiac Firebird cars for sale

6 Search results
Pontiac Firebird
16185 34990 GBP
  • Pontiac - Firebird 350ci - 1973

    €22,500 - €29,250 est. (£20,099.25 - £26,129.03 est.) €22,500 - €29,250 est. (£20,099.25 - £26,129.03 est.)
    Online Auction
    Auction Date: 01 Jan 1970
    Catawiki Auctions
  • 1968 Pontiac Firebird Convertible

    £16,185 £16,185

    Numbers match 350 ci 265 hp V-8, turbo 350 hydramatic transmission, 14” Rallye II Sport rims with recent 225/70 R-14 tires. Showing ,871 miles with nice original Buckskin interior and matching power top that operates smoothly with factory boot included. This was a factory a/c car, however, that has ben disconnected. Compressor is included but system will need additional work to be functional. The car runs and drives well. A very attractive car with great potential. #7543 $24,900.00

    • Year: 1968
    For sale
  • Pontiac Firebird

    £34,990 £34,990

    Investment Opportunity, Extremely Rare Right Hand Drive, Restored, Low mileage, Power Hood, Power Steering, Power Brakes, Alloy Wheels, Front Disc Brakes Upgrade, Manual Windows. All operational 1967 PONTIAC FIREBIRD CONVERTIBLE Automatic. Finished in a Glorious Triple Black.Converted to RHD from new, by Ruddspeed. The original ''T'' bar automatic gear selector, is also in place. A recent body restoration includes: all new panels front to back, floor pans, plus a quality repaint. Numerous new parts have been fitted * a new Holly Carburetor* alternator*exhaust* tyres*fuel tank* Front Disc Brake upgrade* new hood* carpets and panel trim. Originally a 400 cu'' engine, now replaced with a 350cu. The hood is electrically operated and although the interior trim has been replaced, the seats are original and in good condition. A Fabulous American Muscle Car that can only appreciate in value. See it to believe it. A wonderful car.

    • Mileage: 1890 mi
    • Engine size: 6557
    For sale
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