Trans Am Summary - longest lasting muscle cars of all time

First Generation (1969)

Well, for starters 1967 was a great year. It saw the birth of a car model that would go down in history as one of the longest lasting muscle cars of all time, the Firebird.

While retaining most of its structural hard points from it's creation in 1967, the 1969 Firebird got a restyling similar to the same year Camaro's: It was broader in the fenders with a new front end that separated the headlights from the grille. Except for the revised body work and freshened interior, the basic elements of the '68 Firebird carried over to '69. The 350 H.O. gained five horsepower for a total of 325, and atop the mountain of 400s offered sat the new Ram Air IV making 345 horsepower. Those changes, though, were merely a prelude to the big news of 1969: Trans Am.

It wasn't more power that made the Trans Am special, but its looks and handling. Conceived to campaign in the SCCA's road racing series (with a special de-stroked 303-cubic-inch V8 never installed on the production car), Pontiac paid $5 to the racing organization for each Trans Am sold as a license fee for the name. With a special dual intake scooped hood, deck spoiler, fender vents and white with blue stripe paint scheme, the Trans Am was easily the flashiest Firebird yet. With its lowered suspension, big antisway bars, larger tires and Ram Air III (making 335 horsepower) or Ram Air IV 400 V8, it was also the best handling and most sophisticated. Going on sale in March of '69, only 697 Trans Ams were sold during this first model year (including eight convertibles). A slow start for what would become an automotive icon.

Second Generation (1970-1981)

Starring in '70½ was the Trans Am with its rear-breathing shaker hood scoop, deep front spoiler, front fender vents and full-width rear spoiler. It was available either in Polar White with blue tape stripes or Lucerne Blue with white tape stripes -- both with a relatively modest bird stencil at the tip of the nose and the words Trans Am across the rear spoiler. Under that shaker scoop was either the Ram Air III 400 V8 making 335 horsepower or the optional 345 horsepower Ram Air IV. The standard transmission was a four-speed manual, and the suspension (tuned by famed road racer Herb Adams who was then a GM engineer) was instantly hailed as providing the best handling of any American car -- including the Corvette. Only 3,196 Trans Ams were sold during that first abbreviated model year, but the car would go on to define the decade.

Sales of the '71 Firebird were miserable (a mere 2,116 Trans Ams were sold), and General Motors threatened to cancel the car for 1972.

Going into 1973, things looked grim for the Firebird, but two modifications to the Trans Am would change that. First was the appearance of the large "screaming chicken" hood graphic, which nearly covered the entire hood. And second was the offering of the 455 Super Duty engine, which was shockingly close to a race engine and appeared at a time when virtually all other cars were retreating from performance. The SD-455 (it said so right on the shaker scoop) had a reinforced block, special cam shaft, aluminum pistons, oversize valves and header-like exhaust manifolds but carried only a 310-horsepower rating. That was an understatement, as many experts estimated the output at 370 horsepower, if not more. Only 252 Trans Ams got the Super Duty in '73, and just 43 Formula 455 models were also blessed with this powerplant.
Revised, more angular bumpers made the 1976 Firebirds a bit more handsome, but changes were otherwise minimal. This would be the last year for the 455 in the Trans Am and the first year for the black-and-gold Special Edition Trans Am (which was also the first Firebird with a T-top and would soon become the best-known Firebird of them all).

A new "Batmobile" front end with quad square headlamps was the great innovation for the 1977. This was also the year the Trans Am became firmly established as the car of the 1970s when Burt Reynolds drove a black-and-gold Special Edition through the unexpected hit Smokey and The Bandit. The Bandit's Trans Am may have looked great, but it wasn't particularly quick -- Hot Rod magazine tested a similar car and could only muster a 16.02-second run down the quarter-mile at 89.64 mph. It sure was popular, though, as Pontiac sold 68,745 Trans Ams along with 86,991 other assorted Firebirds during 1977. Sales were no doubt helped by the movie appearance, coupled with the fact a gold Firebird and later a gold Trans Am was used extensively in the 1974 through 1980 TV crime show The Rockford Files, helping to put the Trans Am in front of a lot of viewers in the late 70's.

Third Generation (1982-1992)

While the third-generation Firebird appeared in many ways more different from the Camaro than ever before, in fact it was more like the Camaro than ever before. Gone forever were Pontiac's own engines. From 1982 onward, all Firebird V8s would be GM "corporate" motors which, in actuality, meant Chevrolet's classic small-block. And, with one notable and glorious exception, all fours and V6s would also be shared with the Camaro.

The standard V8 in the Trans Am (optional in the base and S/E) was a 145-horsepower 5.0-liter (305-cubic-inch) four-barrel unit that could be backed by either a four-speed manual or three-speed automatic. Trans Am buyers could also opt for the misbegotten "Cross-Fire Injection" version of the 5.0-liter, which used throttle body injection to manage 165 horsepower, but it had to be wed to the automatic. As unappealing as the drivetrain choices were, the new third-generation Firebirds were praised for their solid handling, good looks and ability to out-act David Hasselhoff as Knight Rider's talking car, Kitt. That the '82 Trans Am never earned an Emmy nomination in five seasons on NBC remains one of show business' great injustices.
The 1984 Firebird was changed only minimally, but availability of the L69 expanded, the Cross-Fire V8 was junked and a special white with blue trim 15th Anniversary Trans Am was offered that featured Recaro front seats. For 1985, Pontiac restyled the Firebird with a revised nose, new taillights and full rocker and quarter-panel extensions to the Trans Am to produce a more aggressive-looking car. This was also the year Tuned Port Injection (TPI) appeared atop the 5.0-liter V8 with a 205-horsepower rating and backed by a mandatory four-speed automatic. Furthermore, 16-inch wheels with big P245/50VR16 Goodyear "Gatorback" tires were now available on the Trans Am as part of a WS6 suspension package.

Fourth Generation (1993-2002)

The 1993 Firebird was very close to, but not quite, all-new. The body was daringly aerodynamic and incorporated plastic front fenders, but much of the floorpan and rear suspension carried over. The new short/long-arm front suspension was a distinct improvement and incorporated rack-and-pinion steering for the first time, but the real leap forward was in the engine bay. There were only two engines offered -- a new 160 horsepower 3.4-liter version of the same V6 used in the third-generation car and the amazing 275 horsepower LT1 version of the classic 5.7-liter small-block V8. Not only was the LT1 thrillingly powerful, it could be had with a six-speed manual transmission, and it was the standard engine in the Trans Am. 

The LT1's performance was scintillating, with Car Craft magazine recording a conservatively achieved 14.1-second at 98.45 mph quarter-mile performance for a Trans Am and a thrilling 5.6-second 0-to-60-mph time. With practice, other magazines had LT1-powered Trans Ams regularly running 13s.

Realizing it had a good thing going, Pontiac didn't change much on the 1994 Firebird, but did reintroduce the convertible and offer a special white and blue 25th Anniversary Trans Am. Also new for '94 was a GT version of the Trans Am (that featured additional luxury features such as leather seats) and a "skip shift" feature on the six-speed manual, which, depending on throttle position, would force an upshift from first gear to fourth for better fuel economy. This instantly created a market for aftermarket skip shift eliminator kits.

For 1996 on the Trans Am side, the 5.7-liter V8 got 10 more horsepower for a total of 285. The 300-horsepower barrier fell during this year, as the Ram Air name returned for a cold-air induction system on the Formula and Trans Am coupes with the WS6 package. Ordering the WS6 engorged the LT1 with enough air (via two "nostrils" in the hood) to take output up to 305 horsepower, and Pontiac threw in 17-inch wheels to boot. The Ram Air hood created a look like no other car of the time.

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