Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Coupe
The Firebird was Pontiac Division's version of the Camaro, and used the same sheet metal, with its own distinctive front end, engines were not shared with the Camaro, being Pontiac units from 165bhp six to a 325bhp V8.
Trans AM version was introduced in March 1969 and featured a 345bhp engine, heavy-duty three-speed manual gearbox, aerofoil on the rear deck, and full-length body stripes on hood, to, and rear deck. Only 607 Trans AMs were made in 1969 and was priced at $3,556, while a regular Firedbird Coupe cost $2,831. Precisely eight convertibles were made and the only convertibles Trans AMs ever built.
The front air dam and rear spoilers on the Trans Am were made of fiberglass, and were developed not in a wind tunnel but by running on a dry lake. The Trans Am name has been retained for the top model of Firebird up to present day.
The 1970 Trans AM was equipped with a 345-horsepower Ram Air IV 400 was still a fierce muscle car. By 1973 most pundits declared the muscle car era over. Imagine their surprise when Pontiac unleashed the new Super Duty Firebird. In 1973, when every other manufacturer had jumped the sinking high-performance ship, Pontiac built something that everyone else thought impossible; a true muscle car.
By this time the last performance car in Pontiac's lineup was the Firebird. The sportiest Pontiacs were the Formula and Trans AM Firebirds. The Trans AM package had debuted midway through the 1969 model year, the last year of Pontiac's original Camaro-derived F-car. Even though the name "Trans-AM" implies that the car was designed for the SCCAs Trans-American Sedan Racing series, the car was built for the street and never homologated for racing. The name just sounded cool.
In 1970, when Pontiac introduced a redesigned Firebird, which allowed Pontiac to build the F-car it had always wanted to build, and the new Firebird quickly earned the reputation for killer handling, especially in Trans AM trim. In addition to sporty body-work and stripes, the Trans AM package included a number of suspension improvements.
In 1971, Firebird power levels started to drop. That year Pontiac offered a low-compression version of the 455 HO with an SAE gross horsepower rating of 335 as an optional engine in the Trans AM. Horsepower ratings fell again in 1972, though Pontiac used the better-breathing round-port heads to help compensate for the power drained off by new emissions control equipment.
Power appeared to fall again in 1973, but that was the case only for those living in the rarified world of numbers on paper. In the real world, 1973 marked a resurgence of Pontiac performance, in the form of the Super Duty 455 option available on the Formula and Trans AM versions of the Firebird.
The SD455 engine combined every high-performance piece remaining in Pontiac parts catalog - radical camshaft, big carburetor, four-bolt main-bearing caps, forge connecting rods, aluminum flat-top pistons - in a last-ditch effort not to let the encroaching nanny state strangle the fun out of performance cars. With a low 8.4:1 compression ration, the engine was only rated at 290 horsepower, not the stuff of which muscle car legends are made. But that horsepower rating told only part of the Super Duty story.
While the SD455 was rated at only 290 horsepower, it was rated at 390 ft-lb of torque, and that was using the SAE gross torque rating of 490 ft-lb., when measured using the SAE net method, that same engine generated 390 ft-lb of torque, as did the SD455. Any engine that generates as much torque as a 426 Hemi deserves a place in the pantheon of great motors. Without question the SD455 Firebirds were the true muscle cars, as their 13-second quarter-mile times bear out.
They were the last of the true muscle cars, as it turned out. Pontiac got a late start building SD455 Firebirds and only produced 396 examples in 1973. In 1974 Pontiac built 943 SD455 Formulas and Trans AMs before the engine fell victim to the OPEC-induced oil shock.
After that, the Super Duty engine disappeared from Pontiac's option list and with it the last of the true big-engine muscle cars. Pontiac would continue trying to maintain its reputation as GMs performance division, producing some admirable cars along the way. Pontiac engineers managed to massage 220 horsepower from the 400-cubic-inch engine used in the 1978 Trans Am, and even resorted to turbo charging when it was forced to scale back to a small 301-cubic-inch engine for the 1980 Trans AM. But they were fighting a losing battle. It would be nearly two-decades before performance once again rose to SD455 levels.
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