By RICHARD BUNNER
For about 35 years, one car had provided the public with thrills and entertainment on both the road and the cinema screen: the Pontiac Firebird.
Released alongside the Chevrolet Camaro in 1967 by General Motors, it was based upon the F-platform. The first generation Firebird was sold as a competitor to the recently released Ford Mustang and Mercury Cougar. The Firebird was sold with both six-cylinder and eight-cylinder options, the largest engine being a 6.6 Litre V8 producing around 325hp. There was also a choice in transmissions with two speed automatic, three-speed hydromatic, three-speed manual, and four-speed manual options. Engineering issues with the next generation led to a larger number of 1969 models being produced than General Motors had planned, causing Pontiac to delete all model-year references for the 1969 year.
The second, and perhaps most popular, generation of Firebird was released in the 1970 model year and was produced until 1981. This generation had 14 engine options, including 12 different V8 sizes with 4 transmission options. In this generation, a larger V8 option was added, featuring a displacement of 7.5 litres with a maximum power output of 335 horsepower. Things became interesting for the models that were produced after the 1977 model year due to a popular facelift. A special Black and Gold Trans Am model was featured in the film Smokey and the Bandit and was driven by Burt Reynolds, who was commonly featured running from the police.
While the second generation Firebird is famous for appearances on the big screen and limitless engine options, the third generation should not be forgotten. Released in 1982 with a ten-year production run, the third generation Firebird was offered with six different engine options. The largest of the sort being a 5.7 litre V8 producing a maximum 240 horsepower. This generation had many new styling options, many of which were aerodynamically related, including the pop-up headlights and small but functioning rear spoiler. Much of this car’s fame is due to the television series Knight Rider, where the car functioned as a type of automotive superhero. The car had a distinct flashing red light strip, smooth black wheels, its own mind and a supposed top speed of over 300mph.
The fourth and final generation Firebird was produced from 1992 to 2002 and, like previous generations, shared its platform with the Chevrolet Camaro. Much of this car’s design was influenced by the Banshee IV concept car, including its long nose and sloping aerodynamics.
This generation only consisted of four engine options, the largest being the Chevrolet LS1 5.7 Litre V8, which produced around 305 horsepower at maximum. A special model of the Firebird was known as the Firehawk, which contained a Chevrolet LT4 V8 that produced around 330 horsepower. Around 29 of the Firehawks with an LT4 were ever produced.
The Pontiac Firebird has been an important vehicle in American automotive history for many years, while also serving another large role in American entertainment.