Pontiac Firebird – By The Years


Through good times and bad, the Pontiac Firebird was at the forefront of America’s muscle car generation. Introduced in 1967 and following through to 2002 shows just how successful its reign was.

1st Generation (1967-69)

Some refer to this as the ‘coke bottle’ years, due to its body style. The bumpers were designed into the front end and the rear had slit taillights. Until 1969, a two-door hardtop and a convertible were only available.

1967 : This marks the year Pontiac creates the Firebird, to be in competition with the Camaro. Five different Firebirds were available, with over 82,000 produced. Four speed manual and two and three speed automatic transmissions were optional.

1968 : Production increased to over 100,000. Not too many exterior changes this year, but the engine did undergo upgrades to compromise with the growing number of muscle car enthusiasts.

1969 : The exterior changed but the end result never produced to Pontiac’s expectations. The total number of cars in production barely beat the initial year by only a few thousand. This year also marked the beginning of the ‘Trans Am Performance’ package.

2nd Generation (1970-81)

With a longer show room life, this generation replaced the ‘coke bottle’ years with a more flowing design.

1970 : Pontiac decided to change the appearance substantially to help it’s declining sales. Among those changes were painting the bumpers the same color as the body. Other handling changes involved a tweaked suspension and the addition of a rear stabilizer.

1971 : Body changes remained nearly un-altered during this year. Making its debut is the 455 V8 engine with 480 lb-ft at 3600 rpm.

1972 – Proven with sales, this year was one of the worst regarding the fate of the Pontiac. Some minor changes were made, but most of the 1971 Firebird was carried over into 1972.

1973 : With decals covering the hood, the ‘Screaming Chicken’ was born. Adding to the available engines was the ‘Super Duty’, an admired all-powerful engine that would help Sales climb and pull the Firebird back into its original popularity.

1974 : Staying with the popular theme, few major design changes were the introduction to rubber bumpers.

1975 : Regulated emissions would control much of the production for this year. Pontiac dropped the turbo, the Super Duty, and lowered the overall horsepower drastically on their best selling engines.

1976 : T-Tops and a new bumper design lead to a great production year. Sales climbed to over 100,000.

1977 : With a drastic facelift and Hollywood advertising, America would keep with the buying trend and propel the Firebird’s popularity even further.

1978 : With effects of emission controls taking an impact on the Firebird, Pontiac would continue the long struggle for larger and more powerful engines.

1979 : This year, the 400’s would be laid to rest. Chrome was out, black was in. This subtle alteration changed the persona of the Firebird with its strong contrast. A new nose design combined with the reconstructed taillights played a big part in the physical aesthetics.

1980 : Without keeping the 400’s, Pontiac added a Turbo to the 4.9L engine. With only 210 horsepower, some were disappointed in the performance results. The most noticeable exterior change was the bulge in the hood, which was to create more space for the turbo.

1981 : This year marks the end of the 2nd generation. Due to the lack of sales in the turbo models, the firebird would be in the need of a whole new image.

3rd Generation (1982-1992)

This generation marks a more narrow design resulting in a lower coefficient of drag. With this new look, sales would be back on the rise.

1982 : Beginning the 3rd generation was the ‘F-Body’ Firebird. Engines wouldn’t produce much power this year, with the largest only pushing 165 horses, but you were forced with an automatic version.

1983 : Styling changes remained the same but engines grew in power slightly. Additional transmission choices also helped.

1984 : Again, only minimal changes. Pontiac let go of the ‘Cross-Fire’ and expanded the L69.

1985 : With a look even more threatening, the Firebird extended its quarter panels, reshaped its nose, and added different taillights.

1986 : Changes were so minor for 86′ that at a quick glance, no one would even notice. Even the engines kept up with the same consistency.

1987 : With direct competition of the Ford Mustang GT 5.0 and used on the Corvette, the 350 cubic inch Tuned Port Injection engine rated at 210 horsepower was introduced. Dropped but not missed, was the less expensive, but slow four-cylinder engine.

1988 : Subtle physical changes occurred in 89′, but the biggest change was no longer offering the 5.0 V8 engine.

1989 : Celebrating 20 years, was the special anniversary Trans Am. Fitted with the turbocharged 3.8L OHV V6, it would produce 250 horsepower.

1990 : Since 1991 would bring many changes, this year’s production would be cut short. One victim of this was the dropping of the Buick turbo engine and the increase of the V6 to 3.1 liters.

1991 : The return of the convertible, a new front nose, side and rear spoilers were the staple for winding down the end of this generation.

1992 : The final year of the 3rd generation Firebirds. Besides stabilizing the trim and adhesives, the most significant change was the homecoming of the SLP’s Formula Firehawk.

4th Generation (1993-2002)

Due to tougher competition, the 4th generation was a victim to low sales. But this generation would be the fastest and most powerful one yet. The lineup involved three versions, Base, Formula, and Trans Am.

1993 : The design of the Firebirds was redone considerably, more aerodynamic, plastic fenders, rack and pinion steering, and new front suspension.

1994 : The 25th Anniversary would bring back the Trans Am special edition. Powered by the LT1 350 ‘Corporate’ V8 that had a 4 speed automatic transmission.

1995 : Offered in 95′ were traction control and the L36 3.8 Liter 200 horsepower engine. Production at only 41,000 would drop even further for another two years.

1996 : At this time, a bigger engine was brought back into the picture. The 5.7 Liter V8 gained 10 horsepower to total 285, while adding the ‘Ram Air’ again bumped the engine to 305 horses.

1997 : Daytime Running Lamps were introduced for the first time on all F-bodies. The new 500 watt Monsoon sound system replaced the Bose stereo.

1998 : The fascia was redesigned, and the 320 horsepower, Corvette small block V8 was modified and known as the LS1. Some would suggest the 1998-2002 models to be called the ‘fifth generation’.

1999 : New items were a 16.8 gallon fuel tank and the standard oil monitor system which determined when oil changes were needed. Limited slip differential was included on the V8 and V8 models with the 3800 package. Also added to the V6 versions was optional traction control.

2000 : Very little was done differently, the V8 models had updated 10-spoke wheels and the low coolant indicator was dropped.

2001 : Engine power on the LS1 was increased to 310 horsepower. Pontiac also decided to drop the Ram Air engine on the Formula trim.

2002 : Finalizing the last year, the 35th Anniversary Firebird was issued. This model was available in yellow with black wheels and a graphics package. The engine choices remained the same.

Evolving into the muscle car era, the Pontiac Firebird had its fair share of ups and downs. Even Hollywood made an effort to boost its esteem and potentially produced more customers. But through the good time and the bad, this true American muscle car impacted the lives of restorers, collectors, and everyday people with its sleek looks and massive power.