The Truth About Cars » firebird The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 20:45:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » firebird Monday Mileage Midget: 8,193 Miles On A 1997 Chevy Camaro Z28 Mon, 17 Dec 2012 17:27:41 +0000

Let’s say you had to move out of the country. Forever.

There are only so many things you can take with you. A few pieces of furniture. Family albums. Your antique collection of 1970′s beer bottles.

The play car you rarely drive… has to be ditched. So you unload it at a nearby dealership and hope for the best.

It’s hard to believe. But what you see here is the real McCoy. A soon to be 16 year old Camaro Z28 with all of 8,193 miles.

By 1997 these Camaros had nearly caught up with the Mustangs in terms of sales volume. 100k for a Mustang. 95k for the Camaro. Throw in a healthy five-figure sales volume for the Firebird, and it seemed like the F-bodies would indeed endure for the long run.

Then something happened… and that something was nothing. GM more or less let both models shrivel on the vines of cost containment and amortization until May 2001 when, after only about 29k sales, GM finally pulled the plug on the last great cheap Chevy musclecar. Sales were so bad at this point that many of these models had to be badged as 2002 models to remain marketable.


Just look at that interior.A cheap, drab, plastic fantastic. I can tell you from personal experience that the dashboard alone shatters with frightening normalcy while nearly everything else just falls apart over the course of time.

Cheap seats. Cheap doors. Cheap dash. It was as if all the old accountants from the Roger Smith era had a party and all the retirees from the finance division were invited as well.  I’m sure you could find some 1980′s parts bin surplus if you looked hard enough.

Which is a shame. Because these vehicles are an absolute blast to drive. I recently got a 1997 Firebird model and to be frank, it offers one of the best powertrain combinations from that era. In a pure bang for the buck calculation, these F-bodies are tough to beat.

Should this one go to a museum? Ebay? A collectors garage? Beats me. However it did sell for quite a price. Feel free to make a guess and share with the Best& Brightest your F-body story du jour. Extra credit if you can associate with my home state of New Jersey.


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Piston Slap: It’s Not A Fox Body… So What Is It? Wed, 10 Aug 2011 18:03:42 +0000

TTAC’s personal window into the CAW, mikey writes:

Sajeev, as spring approached our frozen north, I couldn’t face another summer sans convertible. As a proud, retired UAW and CAW member, my choice was limited to domestics. What to buy?

The Sebring? No way. New is out of my reach, so rule out a 5th gen Camaro. Having owned a 4th gen F-body…one was enough. Did I really say that? A Solstice or Sky, maybe?  Can a 50 something couple pack up and go for two days? I couldn’t find a place to store a cell phone, never mind two suit cases, and a Beer cooler.

I looked at a used “Pontiac G6″ hardtop convertible. Wow! all that mechanical stuff that runs the retract? Hmmmm, lets put it this way: too many years on the assembly floor, tells me to give that baby a wide berth. Draw your own conclusions.

So today we find ourselves the proud owners of a 2008 Mustang convertible. In my way of thinking, knowedge rules, and I have zero experience with Fords, except a 1969 Marquis that was a POS when I bought it, 35 years ago. So I need to update. So I’m asking the B&B to help me out.

Its not a Fox body, so what is it? What other Fords, if any, share the same platform? It’s a 4 litre automatic, without a lot of options. So I guess it’s a base model? Were Pirelli tires standard equipment? How about the “Shaker 500″,it can’t really be 500 watts? Why the phone button on the radio? I don’t think its got Bluetooth, or does it?

So it’s a 4 litre sohc? Where’s the camshaft? Does it have push rods? Why three valves? Two intake one, exhaust? 210 HP, is it me, or why do I feel that my old Firebird 3800 had a lot more cookies?

In all, the Mustang is far more comfortable, for a couple our age. It’s roomier, and quieter than the Firebird. It certainly has less rattles, and squeaks. That being said, I don’t find the Mustang as much fun to drive. That might change with time eh.

So any input/knowledge, negative, or positive, from you guys would be welcome.

Sajeev answers:

As much as I hated the 4th Gen F-bodies, I gotta admit they were a ton of fun and better than the 5th Gen in so many ways.  Plus, your particular Firebird was one of our first Piston Slaps, so pardon me for my nostalgia.

While Wikipedia has most of your answers, let’s try to put a more interesting spin on the facts. Yes it’s an D2C (a.k.a. S197) platform, and while it is the most authentic platform in Ford’s passenger car lineup, they chose to run the Volvo-D3 platform for their premium sedan and crossover offerings.  This platform is an evolutionary dead end…for now.  But could you imagine if Ford came out with a “foxtrot” lineup?  Can you imagine the sweetness of a 5.0L coyote powered Ford Flex or Lincoln MKS?

The Cologne V6 in your Mustang also has a well-documented wiki page, and Pirelli tires were indeed standard equipment: not so surprisingly, the timing of the Ford-Pirelli deal was soon after the Firestone tire debacle.  I haven’t seen the rubber on the new Mustangs, but many new Fords roll on Hankook donuts.  Not that I put much faith in a tire’s brand name, but some brands go for more green…and sometimes damage control is very important. More to the point, lucky you: you got yourself some fancy eye-talian tires, man!

The rest of your questions are good fodder for the B&B. If they don’t answer ‘em all, owner’s manuals are rather cheap on eBay.  If you have a manual but didn’t read it, well, shame on you and RTFM!

One last thing, if you feel the Mustang doesn’t have the balls of your old Firebird, remember that V6 Mustangs (except the latest model with the performance pack) are tuned for softness in throttle response, power delivery and overall suspension mushiness.  That whole “Mustangs are secretary’s cars” thing from the 1960s never really left.  Luckily, an SCT tune is pretty cheap and easy, people with Mustang GT’s dump their stock sway bars on a regular basis, and shock upgrades are plentiful. If you really care.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Curbside Classic: 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Tue, 31 Aug 2010 15:00:20 +0000

Instead of a “screaming chicken”, the 1979 Firebird Trans Am should have a pterodactyl on the hood. This is truly a living dinosaur, the very last direct descendant of the the original big block/hi-po pony car. Once a thriving species during the golden performance car era, it was all but wiped out by that great natural calamity, the 1974 energy crisis. Challenger, Barracuda, Mustang, Javelin; even its stablemate the Camaro Z28; by 1975 they were all extinct or in deep hibernation. Only the Trans Am hung in there, and then just by a whisker, or a feather, in this case.

But Pontiac’s risky gamble to press on against the odds had a huge payoff: not only did Trans Am sales explode by the end of the decade, but it came to symbolize the whole genre. Rarely has one car so dominated the American public’s awareness: in the second half of the seventies, the Trans Am became the icon of the American performance car, for better or for worse.

In 1972, GM had a huge internal battle going as to whether the new-for 1970 F-Body Camaro and Firebird should be scrapped by 1973, rather than invest the sums necessary to re-engineer them for the new mandated impact-absorbing bumpers being phased. Sales of the handsome coupes had been hampered by production delays, strikes and the general fall-off of the whole segment, in response to rising insurance and other factors. Ford was pulling the plug on their oversize Mustang in favor of the Pinto-based Mustang II, and Chrysler and AMC walked away from the market altogether.

GM had the Vega-based H-bodies coming for 1975, to do battle with the Mustang II and the import sporty coupes. That seemed to be where the future action was, and big-engined performance cars were out, a relic of the good old days that ended so abruptly. But the right side won, GM hung in there, and it turned out to be one of the best choices they made in that era. Americans were not all ready to embrace a future of little four-banger Shetland-pony cars. And once gas prices stabilized in 1975 and 1976, and the economy revived, GM’s decision turned out to be a gold-pinstriped mine.

The Trans Am retained its big block 455 CID V8 through 1976, long after the Camaro jettisoned both the 396 or the the 350 CID Z28. The glory years of the big Poncho engine were of course the earliest ones, before lower compression ratios and smog controls eroded its once awesome Ram Air. And the Super Duty 455 still managed a respectable 290 (net) hp despite them. A genuine terror through 1974, by 1975 the TA 455 had its wings clipped, but was still the only thing of its kind on the market.

The legend was firmly established, and it was a rip-roaring success. So much so, that Chevrolet brought the Z28 out of hibernation for 1977.5. And although it sold well enough, the Trans Am was now firmly established as a cultural icon, thanks in part to its starring role in the classic car-chase/stunt movies of the times, Smokey and the Bandit and Hooper. The Trans Am and Burt Reynolds are inextricably intertwined, reflecting the good-old boy reaction and renaissance that was taking place as an antidote to the seventies’ massive cultural changes.

Pontiac faced an uphill battle to keep the performance real in the TA, and frankly, it was mostly a losing one. That’s not surprising, given the ever-tightening emission and CAFE regs. The 455, now down to 215 hp, made its last appearance in the ’76 TA, to be supplanted by the smaller-bore 400 Pontiac as well as the Olds 403 in CA, where the emission standards were even tighter. And by 1979, the Olds 403 had taken up residence in all TAs, except for a handful of genuine Pontiac 400 engines left over from 1978, and used mostly in the 10th Anniversary edition.

But who cared if the Trans Am was powered by a 185 hp Olds 403 shared with a Vista Cruisers? The screaming chicken was still on the hood, the scoops and vents were sort-of real, and it looked like stink, even if it only went like a well-muffled fart. It was still the only game in town, if you wanted bragging rights to a sporty coupe with something big under the hood. Step right this way, you sideburned and mustachioed young (and not so young) men of America!

And did they ever, in droves. Firebird and TA sales soared during this period, and hit a phenomenal peak in 1979: some 210k Firebirds total, of which over half were TAs. And even though the Firebird was the more visible of the two, the Camaro sold in even bigger numbers. In 1979, GM moved about a half-million of these F-bodies; a mind-boggling number compared to today’s Camaro. It was the final blowout, before another energy crisis crashed the party again, in 1980-1981. Sales crashed, and by 1982, the downsized third-gen Firebird appeared with a standard 90hp 2.5 L Iron Duke four banger.

The Firebird eventually found its performance legs again in the late eighties, thanks to fuel injection, but it never recouped its old sales moxie. That 1979 number stands as the all-time high for the Firebird, by a healthy margin. And this 1979 is also the last year for the big V8 altogether in the TA; by 1980, only the smaller Pontiac 301 and Chevy 305 were available. In a last desperate attempt to keep performance in the TA, a turbo version of the 301 was developed.

Although it was rated at 210 hp, more than the Olds 403, its performance never lived up to its hype, thanks to the limitations of its crude electronics to control pre-detonation. GM’s turbo skills with Buick’s hot V6 were still a few years away. As impressive as the Turbo Trans Am sounded (in name), it was a flop; good luck finding one today.

I was happy enough to see this fairly clean but original ’79 TA roll up to the Cornucopia, a neighborhood cafe featuring the best grass-fed beef hamburgers in town. My eyes have been peeled for a good vintage TA since starting CC, and it only makes sense it would be here. I wouldn’t exactly expect a Trans Am to pull up to one of the many vegan eateries in town.

]]> 88 An Illustrated History Of Pontiac: Part I – 1926 To 1970 Sat, 13 Mar 2010 21:39:05 +0000

Grand Prix, GTO, Firebird, LeMans, Catalina 2+2, Bonneville. The names instantly evoke automotive excitement — provided you were an enthusiast between the ages of six and sixty during the sixties. For today’s pistonheads, these storied names; indeed, the entire Pontiac brand long lost its adrenal association long before it was euthanized. Bob Lutz’ attempts to inject some life into the once-storied excitement division all came to naught: GTO, Solstice and G8. He might as well have been mainlining meth into Pontiac, but decades of budget-priced, badge-engineered mediocrity had taken their toll. Pontiac’s fall from grace may not be the worst (best?) example of GM’s branding cataclysm, but it’s certainly one of the most emotive. Pass the Kleenex.

GM created Pontiac in 1926, naming it after a local Indian chief who led a failed rebellion against the British. The company’s first car was an inexpensive six-cylinder “companion” to GM’s more expensive Oakland brand. Ironically, Pontiac waxed while Oakland waned. The Depression undoubtedly played the role of killer, as it did to so many of the mid to expensive brands. Pontiac barely survived, and the fact that it did owes to the first use of cross-divisional sharing of manufacturing and bodies at GM. It was a prescient move that would eventually come to absorb all the GM divisions.

GM President Alfred P. Sloan, the “father of the modern corporation” spent his career shaping the delicate balance between once-independently run divisions into a coherent structure that still allowed creativity, initiative, and the divisions’ unique qualities to blossom. Pontiac was too close to Chevrolet and too small to survive the Depression, so for 1932, Pontiac’s manufacturing was combined with Chevrolet, saving enormous cost for tooling, engineering and production. It was the prototype for GM, and Pontiac spent the rest of its life trying to differentiate itself sufficiently from Chevrolet, despite their fundamental similarities.

The 1933 Pontiac enjoyed a handsome restyle, and a new straight-eight engine that would end up lasting until 1954. The “big car” look and the new engine helped Pontiac’s “Economy Straight Eight” revive the brand’s fortunes, and sales took a steady upwards trajectory. The 1935 Pontiacs were the beneficiary of a bold ribbed band, called Silver Streak, echoing the fluted streamlined trains of the time.

In Sloan’s “a car for every pocketbook” dictum, Pontiac’s prices slotted in exactly between the most expensive Chevy and the cheapest Oldsmobile. The positioning defined the brand; a Pontiac was a realistic step up the ownership ladder for the Chevy driver of the thirties. Pontiacs of the time did not emphasize performance; in fact a good running Ford could probably out run one. The goal was to entice low-end buyers to step up to a more stylish and higher prestige brand.

As the Depression eased, Pontiac stayed in the sweet spot, introducing its resolutely conservative, middle class customers to industry-firsts like the column-mounted gear shift and a choice of six and eight cylinder engines. And it worked handsomely, propelling the Silver Streaks to fifth place in the sales charts in 1937 with the stylish new cars of that year.

In 1941, the final pre-war GM cars were introduced. Pontiac had two distinct levels: the smaller cars shared Chevrolet bodies, and the larger ones used the corporate B-body along with the junior Oldsmobiles and Buicks. The three-body hierarchy was now solidly established, and would stay largely intact until 1959, when all GM cars (except Corvette) shared a single basic body design, with some variation in wheelbase length. These larger Pontiacs, like the Streamliner 8 below, were the equivalent of the Bonneville in the sixties and seventies, competing with the mid-level full-sized cousins at Olds and Buick.

Pontiac’s immediate post-War years were profitable, but the pricing and styling demarcations that protected Pontiac from cannibalism were increasingly under attack from below (Chevrolet) and above (Oldsmobile). By ’56, the division was once again in trouble, struggling to distinguish itself from its more successful brother brands. And this despite an excellent new V8 that came along in 1955, the same year that Chevrolet introduced its new lightweight V8.

1955 Pontiac styling was predicted by the Strato Star concept, one of the many delectable delights of GM’s touring Futurama road show that hit its peak years in the early fifties. The actual fifty-fives were handsome enough, but the front end was a bit blunt for the times and not as effective as the impeccably clean and handsome ’55 Chevys. Pontiac also had/got to share the stylish Nomad wagon, dubbed the Custom safari wagon.

In 1955 Semon E. “Bunkie” Knudson took over as General Manager, a job his father had held in the thirties. He brought a youthful energy and performance orientation that began Pontiac’s transformation into the (genuine) Excitement Division. Tri-power carburation (3 x 2 barrel carbs) was one of the hallmarks of Pontiac performance, and one it cultivated successfully until the performance era began to croak. As usual, the Mad Men went overboard, with a ridiculous claim of “Gives You two Engines For The Price of One”.

By ’59, a Pontiac’s tri-power 389 was churning out 345 horsepower. And Pontiacs were putting on quite a show on the Nascar tracks. But performance was just the first step of Knudsen’s make-over for Pontiac. For the new 1959 cars, he came up with a brilliant scheme to widen the tracks of his cars, since the whole corporate fleet looked like their new finned bodies were hanging out into thin air over their wheels. The simple fix gave the Pontiacs a distinct stance, and an enduring marketing slogan that propelled the Wide-Track Division to fourth place, a stunning validation of Knudson’s approach.

Although the marque had gone racing several years earlier, the new models’ purposeful stance and stylish sheet metal instantly redefined Pontiac as a performance brand. Their timing couldn’t have been better. Increasingly affluent and unflaggingly optimistic Americans were ready to fully embrace a car brand offering youthfulness, style, and most of all, excitement.

The 1960 models (above) were arguably the most successful of the controversial ’59-’60 GM finned space ships, and were captured so perfectly in the numerous rendered ads by the team of Fitzpatrick and Kaufman. A whole piece dedicated to their artistry is here.

But that excessive era gave way to the more compact 1961 cars, the first fully under new GM Styling Chief Bill Mitchell. And once again, the Pontiac studio came up with the most dynamic variation of the theme.  There is a spring to this Pontiac’s body, an enthusiasm to get up and go that simply isn’t there in any of the other corporate ’61s, despite their generally good looks that year. But this was just the warm up act for the Pontiac’s true summit year, 1963.

It’s difficult to fully convey the impact the full-sized 1963 Pontiacs had on both the public and the industry. It may not be an exaggeration to say that they were the most influential cars of the whole post war era. Pontiacs simply were THE cool car of the era, the ultimate date-mobile of the time. And they solidified the dramatic jump to the third place in the sales standing Pontiac enjoyed from ’62 through ‘70.

But it was the other car makers that were perhaps the most blown away; stylists around Detroit were severely humbled by the ’63s, and they spent the next decade slavishly copying and rehashing its influential design features, including stacked headlights, a peaked nose, clean unadorned sides, judicious use of chrome, a tail worthy of the sculptural nose, and a cohesiveness that would rarely be achieved again.

Pontiac’s ability to successfully downsize the ’63′s styling to its mid-size cars was almost equally brilliant. It was something that had mostly eluded Detroit, but the new ’64 -’65 mid sized Tempest/Le Mans pulled it off, unlike their less than spectacular predecessors from 1961-1963.

The GTO story can’t be given full justice here, but it crystallized the ability of Pontiac to have their finger on the pulse of the youthful buyer emerging as a significant consumer force. John Z. DeLorean’s subversive ploy to get the GTO in production despite a corporate ban on mid sized cars with big engines was typical of the his youthful ambitions to fight the stultified GM culture.The result made the 1964 GTO the seminal performance car of the era. By dropping the big 389 engine into the light, mid-size Tempest (along with suspension, tire, appearance and interior upgrades), the American enthusiast car reached its zenith. As did Pontiac.

It’s important to note that in this pre-German/Japanese invasion era of fossilized British roadsters, the GTO (and its many imitators) offered the best overall bang-for-the-buck equation. Pontiac was BMW before BMW was cool (or available). And Car and Driver largely made its reputation extolling the virtues of the emerging American muscle car. It was a renaissance in the making, but one that also sowed the seeds of its eventual collapse. Let’s put that off as long as possible.

In 1965, GM unveiled a dramatic new styling theme with large hips and curvaceous sides, commonly referred to as Coke-bottle styling. A subtle version of the upswing in the hips had been seen in the ’63 Grand Prix. Although the ’65s were handsome enough in this new idiom, they were not the style leaders as they had been two years earlier. And the excessive weight and size made them increasingly irrelevant in winning the hearts and minds of the younger buyers, who’s idea of a cool car was as changeable as the Top 40. The heyday of large Pontiacs was over, and it was perhaps a foreshadowing of things to come. But there was still hay to make in the second half of the sixties, just not with the big barges.

The 1967 Firebird opened a new avenue for Pontiac in the rapidly expanding pony car segment. Arguably with a more handsome face than the rather modest Camaro’s, the Firebird would become the only carrier of the Pontiac flame well into the seventies. But that’s another chapter, still to be written. One of the Firebird flavors was the unique Sprint, which tried to woo a Euro-oriented buyer with its OHC straight six, based on the Chevy block. In four-barrel HO form, it made some 215 hp, and offered the type of handling with its lower weight over the front wheels that was rarely seen from Detroit.

Pontiac managed another styling coup with their 1968 GTO. With its Endura resiliant front end, it was a remarkable milestone in both technology and styling. For the first time, chrome was absent, and a unified and integrated front end was achieved for the first time. It’s not a stretch to say that this is the father of all modern car’s front ends, and successfully predicted the disappearance of the chrome bumper forever. It wasn’t a straight line, due to the 5 mph bumpers of the seventies, but this Goat, with its lack of a continuous belt line is a remarkable prophet of styling to come.

The golden decade for Pontiac ended with one more breakthrough car, the 1969 Grand Prix. Its significance was not only that it was remarkably handsome, which it was, but that it solely created a genre that would dominate the sales charts in the seventies and early eighties: the mid-priced mid-sized semi-luxury coupe.

Sitting on a stretched version of the new intermediate cars, it drew it inspiration from the thirties and forties, by adding a much longer hood to the front of what was essentially the same car under the skin as the GTO/Le Mans above. It was a tacit admission or prediction that the large cars were falling out of favor with buyers, due to their excessive size and the growing influence of imports that made small cars cool.

Even though the large Pontiacs were starting to slip increasingly into over-sized mediocrity by 1970, let’s leave this first Chapter of Pontiac on a high note, and acknowledge the brand as being the most dynamic and influential in that most exciting of decades.

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