At first, the head of Pontiac was resistant to the idea of a Firebird. The brand had just delivered the GTO, and in head executive John DeLorean’s mind, that was sufficient. The world didn’t need another muscle car…or so he thought. But then Ford delivered the Mustang and Chevrolet came up with the Camaro. Soon enough, DeLorean did a 180, and in 1967, Pontiac unveiled the first-ever Firebird. It rapidly became one of the most successful cars in the segment. In 2002, it was retired, but not before we’d got to enjoy some world-class motors. As to the line’s finest moments… find out what they were as we unveil the 10 best Pontiac Firebird models of all time.
10. 1967 Pontiac Firebird
Where better to kick things off than at the very beginning? In 1967, Pontiac unveiled the very first Firebird. Available as either a two-door coupe or a convertible, the 1967 model had overtones of the Chevrolet Camaro, albeit with a more aggressive attitude. Lean, mean, and most definitely designed to make an impression, the Firebird quickly became one of the most popular muscle cars of the year. The sales figures may not have been in the same league as the Camaro, but as first impressions go, Pontiac couldn’t have done better.
9. 1968 Pontiac Firebird 400
In 1968, the Firebird got a new look. Wrap around side marker lights were added to the front and at the back, the Pontiac Arrowhead logo was added. The front door vent windows of the previous year’s model were ripped out and a single pane of glass and a fresh air inlet system were added in their place. The instrument panel and steering wheel got a brand new look, and the entire front end received a major facelift. The result was attractive, performance-driven, and a very worthy successor to the original.
8. 1981 Pontiac Firebird
1981 signaled the end of the second generation Firebird. As ends go, you couldn’t have asked for better. With a mighty engine capable of delivering up to 200 ponies and an aesthetic that couldn’t help but turn heads, the 1981 Pontiac Firebird was a masterful addition to the Firebrand legacy. Its only downfall was an environmentally friendly, water-based paint that had to be repainted again and again and again.
7. 1987 Pontiac Firebird Formula
In 1987, Pontiac released the Firebird Formula, an affordable, capable machine positioned somewhere between a regular Firebird and a Trans Am. Aimed to compete with the Z/28 Camaro and Mustang GT, the Formula was a mid-level car with a gutsy engine, respectable top speeds, and an aesthetic that, if not quite as star-spangled as a fully souped-up Trans Am, was still pretty enough to draw admiring glances. Sure, it wasn’t the best Firebird ever released, but it was still of a good enough value and a good enough performance to make our list.
6. 1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Special Edition
By the late 1970s, muscle cars were out of fashion and out of respect. With their sluggish engines and laughable horsepower, they had all the looks and none of the performance. Pontiac didn’t escape the curse entirely, but in 1978 it released what would rapidly become a classic. The Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Special Edition came with either a 4.9-liter turbo engine or a 400 NA V8. Despite the fact neither were great engines, they both managed to outperform the competition. The real draw, however, was the design. It wasn’t the first time we’d seen the “Screaming Chicken” logo (as hagerty.com notes), the design was conjured up in 1970 and attached to its first car in 1973), but never had it been such a focus before. When the model featured in the movie “Smokey and the Bandit,” its status as one of Pontiac’s best-selling and most iconic models was cemented.
5. 1970 Pontiac Firebird Formula 400
In 1970, Pontiac released the second generation of the Pontiac Firebird. The convertible option was dropped (not to return for a decade), the size was reduced (muscle cars were already on the wane), and the previous engine was replaced with a very respectable 400 V8 engine delivering 330 HP. Smaller, more agile, and in many people’s eyes, better looking than the first generation, the 1970 Pontiac Firebird Formula 400 proved that whatever else the Firebird was, it had the potential to become a classic.
4. 1969 Pontiac Firebird
Named by Hot Cars as one of the 10 best Pontiac Firebirds ever released, the 1969 model featured several very impressive upgrades on previous additions, including a potent engine capable of delivering as much as 365 horsepower. Strong, aggressive, and with a potency that could blow your socks off, the 1969 Pontiac Firebird was the very definition of a muscle car.
3. 2002 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am WS6
As motor-junkie.com notes, by the early 2000s, the Firebird was dead in the water. The market wanted light, modern cars, not hefty, muscle-bound machines. The age of the muscle car was over. But what a way to go out. The 2002 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am WS6 was a fast, potent, menacing beast of a car. Its 5.7-liter V8 engine trotted out 325 hp with ease, while its six-speed manual transmission and numerous suspension upgrades gave an acceleration of 0 to 60 mph in just 4.8 mph. Lightning fast and with looks to kill, the final Firebrand ever released proved a very satisfying way to close a chapter.
2. 1999 Pontiac Firebird Convertible
By 1999, the Firebird was on its way out. The age of the muscle car was almost over, but before it ended for good, Pontiac still had a few tricks to play. The 1999 Pontiac Firebird Convertible was fast, furious, and very, very good-looking. A new electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) system delivered better brake performance than ever before. The engine was loud, proud, and capable of delivering top speeds that would leave the competition coughing in its dust. The end may have been in sight, but the fat lady still hadn’t sung her last song.
1. Pontiac Firebird Special Edition: Firehawk
In 1993, Pontiac released the Firebird Special Edition: Firehawk. With an impressive engine capable of delivering 346 horsepower, a jazzy, all-black exterior with gold stripes, and capable, 17-inch tires, this was a car that performed just as well as it looked. The end may have been in sight for the Firebird, but Pontiac was still delivering the goods, as this very special limited edition more than proved.