1981 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

Soul Survivor

1981 was the last year for the second-generation Firebird and thus also the last year for the second-generation Trans Am. With the third-generation cars on the way, Pontiac’s eleven-year-old F-car got only minor changes. The “screaming chicken” decal on the hood was now two colors, compared to the four color decal from 1979 and 1980. Not much could be done about the general lack of space efficiency (the EPA rated the Firebird as a subcompact car), the relatively high weight (about 3,300 pounds when the Mustang weighed about 2,800), and the fairly primitive technology.

The standard Trans Am powertrain was the L37 150 bhp 4.9 liter/301 cubic inch V8 with 4-barrel carburetor matched with an automatic. The only choice for Trans Am purchasers who wanted a manual transmission was the Chevrolet-built LG4 145 bhp 5.0 liter/305 cubic inch V8 with 4-barrel carburetor, but you did get a $147 credit.

The top engine was the $437 LU8 200 bhp 4.9 liter/301 cubic inch V8 with 4-barrel carburetor and turbocharger, which included a new hood-mounted boost gauge. A Turbo Trans Am would accelerate from 0-60 in a little over eight seconds. Fuel mileage was predictably bad—14 mpg by the standards of the day for the combination of the turbo engine and the automatic. With a 21-gallon fuel tank, Trans Am owners could expect to travel about 260 miles before refueling.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment included in the $8,322 base price of the Trans Am (about $24,300 in today’s dollars) included black accent grille and headlamp bezels, dual rectangular headlamps, wheel opening air deflectors, side-split tailpipe extensions, shaker hood, power brakes, and P225/70R15 blackwall tires on Rally II wheels. Inside, power steering, air conditioning, console, bright engine-turned dash plate, and rally gauges with tachometer were standard.

The Trans Am Special Edition package cost $735 additional—$1,430 bundled with t-tops. There was also a special edition of the Special Edition—the NASCAR Daytona 500 Pace Car, resplendent in oyster white with a black and red interior. It included the LU8 turbocharged engine, the WS6 special performance package, four wheel power disc brakes, and limited slip differential. Inside, the most notable upgrade from other Trans Ams was Recaro seats—among the best available from any manufacturer in 1981. All this extra content was a good thing, because the NASCAR Daytona 500 Pace Car listed for $12,257; about $35,700 in 2017 dollars.

Options available for included WS6 special performance package, limited slip differential, tungsten quartz halogen headlamps, white-lettered tires, cast aluminum wheels, four wheel power disc brakes, power antenna, electric rear window defroster, and custom bucket seats.

Firebird pages of the 1981 Pontiac brochure, linked for the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures pages.

Long neglected by the collector market and with most now used up, late second-generation Trans Ams in good or great shape are starting to get interesting numbers at auctions. A black and gold 1981 Trans Am went for $19,000 at Mecum’s May 2017 auction in Indianapolis. According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1981 Trans Am in #1 condition is $38,200. A more normal #3 condition version is valued at $13,600.

Make mine the black and gold Special Edition, of course. The NASCAR Daytona 500 Pace Car is tempting, if only for those Recaro seats.

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1980 Pontiac Grand Am

“One exhilarating road machine”

The last of the rear wheel drive Grand Ams came in 1980. Unlike in 1978 and 1979, the sedan was no longer available— only the coupe remained.

The standard engine in non-California cars was the 155 bhp 301 cubic inch L37 V8 with four-barrel Rochester carburetor and electronic spark control (California cars got the Chevrolet-sourced 150 bhp 305 cubic inch LG4 V8). The only transmission available was a three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic TH200 automatic transmission. Mileage was 17 city/25 highway by the standards of the day. With the 18.1-gallon fuel tank, range was about 340 miles with a 10% fuel reserve. Period performance tests of the Grand Am are hard to come by, but 0-60 likely came in around 9 seconds.

New features for 1980 included a revised soft-fascia front end with three sections per side, an Ontario Gray lower accent color for the exterior, a silver upper body accent stripe, larger wraparound black-out tail lamps, and larger front and rear stabilizer bars for the optional ($45) Rally RTS handling package.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on the $7,299 car (about $23,900 in 2015 dollars) included dual sport mirrors, dual horns, power steering, power front disc/rear drum brakes, and 205/75R14 black sidewall radial tires on Rally IV cast aluminum wheels. Inside, Grand Am purchasers could expect cut-pile carpeting, custom vinyl front bucket seats with center floor console, rally gages with clock embedded in a brushed aluminum instrument panel, and a custom sport steering wheel.

Available exterior and mechanical options included a power sunroof —either metal ($561) or glass ($773), dual remote sport mirrors ($73), Soft-Ray tinted glass ($107), and electric rear window defroster ($107). Inside, air conditioning ($601), power door locks ($93), power windows ($143), a six-way power driver’s seat ($175), a tilt steering wheel ($81), automatic cruise control ($112), and an AM/FM stereo radio with stereo cassette player ($272) were all available. A nicely configured Grand Am could easily push past $9,600—real money in 1980 and over $31,000 in today’s dollars.

Page from 1980 Pontiac full-line brochure, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures section.

Grand Ams didn’t sell at all well in 1980—Pontiac moved only 1,647 of them, after selling almost five times as many coupes only two years prior in 1978. Despite this, Pontiac would not give up on the Grand Am name—it would be back in 1985 as a small front-wheel-drive coupe.

Most of the Grand Ams being collected are the larger and more powerful first-generation Colonnade versions sold from 1972 to 1975. You do occasionally see second-generation Grand Ams for sale in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors.

Make mine Starlight Black, please.

Other G-bodies in this blog:

1981 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme coupe

1983 Chevrolet Malibu sedan

1984 Buick Regal Grand National coupe

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1989 Pontiac 20th Anniversary Turbo Firebird Trans Am

For the fourth of July, here’s some eighties American iron.

“The Only Modification It Needed To Pace The Indy 500 Was A Decal.”

For 1989, there was big news in the Pontiac camp with the release of the 20th Anniversary Turbo Firebird Trans Am, which was essentially a Trans AM GTA coupe with a special engine option and some specific trim elements.

Rated at 250 bhp but actually making about 300 bhp, the LC2 3.8 liter sequential fuel injected turbocharged and intercooled V6 was teamed with the 200-4R four speed automatic transmission. Mileage was 16 city/24 highway by the standards of the day (15/22 by today’s standards) and nobody cared. What they did care about was the acceleration—Car & Driver managed to achieve a 4.6 second 0-60 time (Pontiac had claimed 5.5 seconds) and a top speed of 153 mph. At least in power, the third generation Trans Am had come a long way from 1982

For $31,198 (about $59,900 in 2014 dollars) 20th Anniversary Turbo Firebird Trans Am buyers got all the Trans Am GTA exterior and mechanical equipment which included four wheel disc brakes, fog lamps, special performance suspension, a rear limited slip axle, and 245/50-VR16 tires mounted on gold 16 x 8 diamond-spoke aluminum wheels. Turbo Trans Am-specific additions included larger brake rotors and softer front springs. The only color available was white with Turbo Trans Am emblems on the fenders and 20th emblems on the nose and rear pillars.

1989 Pontiac Firebird brochure cover, courtesy of Flickr user Alden Jewell.
1989 Pontiac Firebird brochure cover, courtesy of Flickr user Alden Jewell.

Inside, standard GTA equipment included power door locks, power windows, power mirrors, power antenna, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, rear window defroster, and remote deck release. Turbo Trans Am owners also got a turbo-boost gauge inside the tachometer face.

Pontiac built a total of 1,550 Turbo Trans Ams for sale (there were another 5 test cars), with 85% of them being t-tops with a leather interior (buyers could order a cloth interior and/or the hardtop, but few did).

Unlike many other eighties cars, Turbo Trans Ams hold their value just fine. According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1989 20th Anniversary Turbo Trans Am in #1 condition is an astounding $47,700. A more “normal” #3 condition example is valued at $20,700. Turbo Trans Ams often come up for sale in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds. As I write this in July 2014, there’s one with 835 miles advertised for $31,500.

1983 Pontiac 6000 STE

“Enter the realm of the senses”

The 6000 STE was Pontiac’s 1980s attempt to make a car that could effectively compete with the BMWs and Audis of the age. Of course, Pontiac had been trying to do this for at least a decade, including two different generations of the Grand Am (1973-1975 and 1978-1980). Though hampered by the basic constraints of the front wheel drive A platform, the 6000 STE was a fairly impressive try.

For 1983, the 6000 STE’s power was provided by GM’s Chevrolet-built corporate “High Output” LH7 2-barrel carbureted 2.8 liter V6, rated at a respectable for 1983 135 bhp, but the only transmission available was (oog) a three-speed automatic. 0-60 came in about 9 seconds. Mileage was 19 city/24 highway by the standards of the day (17/22 by today’s standards). With the rather small 13 gallon fuel tank, range was an unimpressive 250 miles or so.

Improvements over the standard Pontiac 6000 (and the other A body cars—the Buick Century, Chevrolet Celebrity, and Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera) included a special steering rack and suspension tuning with a self-leveling rear air suspension. Four halogen headlamps paired with two inboard driving lamps gave the 6000 STE a distinctive and fairly unique face. Power steering and 195/70R14 Goodyear Eagle GT tires on aluminum wheels were also standard on the 6000 STE.

The 6000 STE came comfortably equipped by 1983 standards. Standard features included air conditioning, rear window defroster, power door locks, power windows, power mirrors, cruise control, tilt steering wheel, rally gauges, and an AM/FM stereo cassette. One of the few options available was a $295 sunroof.

1983 Pontiac 6000STE, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures section.

6,719 buyers paid at least $13,572 (about $31,900 in 2014 dollars) for a 6000 STE in 1983 and it managed to make Car and Driver‘s 10 Best that year and the two following.

6000STE’s only occasionally show up in either the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds or eBay Motors. Please make mine the same two tone as there is in the brochure picture above.

1980 Pontiac Sunbird

“Sunbird offers new thrills for the thrifty.”

1980 was the last year for the rear wheel drive Pontiac Sunbird, Pontiac’s version of Chevrolet’s Monza. Initially available in base coupe, sport coupe, and sport hatch (a base hatch was added mid-year but the wagon was permanently gone), the Sunbird received few changes for 1980.

The standard engine was the LX8 Iron Duke 2.5 liter inline four with a Holley two-barrel carburetor, making all of 86 bhp. Optional was the LD5 110 bhp 3.8 liter V6, also with a two-barrel carburetor. The standard transmission was a four-speed manual, with an optional three-speed automatic available.

Mileage with the inline four and four-speed manual was a pretty impressive: 22 city/35 highway by the standards of the day (19/32 by today’s standards). Getting decadent by spending $545 for the three-speed automatic and the V6 combination took mileage down to 20 city/27 highway.

Not much came standard for the $4,623 base price (approximately $13,100 in 2014 dollars), especially to our 2014 eyes. Feature highlights for a base Sunbird included bright grill with park and signal lamps, whitewall tires, custom wheel covers, and “Sunbird external identification.” Inside, base Sunbirds included tinted windows, vinyl bucket seats, and a Delco AM radio.

Moving up to the sport coupe ($4,885) or the sport hatch ($4,996) added body color mirrors, “custom” vinyl bucket seats, and various moldings, but was still fairly austere. Luxury trim ($195) added cloth seats along with snazzier carpeting and door trim.

Available only with the sport hatch, the rare (only 1% of production) and expensive ($674, or about $1,900 in today’s dollars) Formula Package added a front air dam and rear spoiler, along with blacked-out grille, rally wheels with trim rings, and white lettered tires. It wasn’t all bark and no bite: the Rally Handling Package was included, with larger front and rear stabilizer bars. Inside, a tachometer and other rally gauges were included.

1980 Sunbird Sport Hatch with the Formula package, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures section.

Mechanical options included variable-ratio power steering (the most popular option and required with the V6) and power front disc brakes. Inside, you could add air conditioning ($531), a tilt steering wheel, and an AM/FM stereo cassette player (two different 8-track radios were also still available). A removable sunroof was also available for $193.

The rear wheel drive Sunbird sold well even in its final year, partially because the model year was extended. Almost 188,000 were sold with over 100,000 being the base coupe, making the Sunbird the best-selling of all the 1980 H-bodies. Make mine Agate Red, please.

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1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

“From sabre-like nose to rakish tale the Trans Am is a brilliant orchestration of aerodynamic function.”

It is hard now to remember how new and wildly aerodynamic the 1982 Firebird Trans Am looked when it debuted. It suddenly made every other American car (and more than a few European ones) look like they were standing still.

The Trans Am didn’t just look aerodynamic, either: the drag coefficient of .323 is still respectable even in 2013. Pontiac’s choice of pop-up headlights (over the Camaro’s open headlights) and careful airflow tuning yielded an impressive result.

Unfortunately, the mechanicals did not come close to backing up the looks. The top of the line engine for the Trans Am was the LU9 “Crossfire” throttle-body injected 5.0 liter/305 cubic inch V8, with 165 bhp—and that was only available with a three-speed automatic transmission, yielding about a nine second zero to sixty time (Motor Trend managed to do it in 8.89 seconds). If you wanted the four-speed manual transmission, the best engine choice available on the Trans Am was the base LG4 V8 with 145 bhp—and approximately ten seconds from 0 to 60 mph.

These performance issues did not, however, prevent Pontiac from implying the world in their commercials.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on the $9,658 Trans Am (about $21,500 in today’s dollars) included hidden electronically-controlled halogen headlamps, an all glass rear hatch, and a rear decklid spoiler. Inside, reclining bucket seats were included.

Third-generation Firebirds have a strong following and 1982 Trans Ams make regular appearances in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds. As I write this in November 2013, there’s an LU9-equipped car with 28,000 miles for sale for $15,000. According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for an 1982 Trans Am in #1 condition is $12,600.

Please make mine Black, but I think I’d hold out for the 1983 and its 5-speed manual transmission/190 bhp L69 HO engine combination.

1986 Pontiac Fiero GT

While I was out today on the highway in my 1980s car, I saw a Pontiac Fiero coming up quickly from behind.

You just don’t see that many Fieros on the road in 2013—the youngest of them is now over 25 years old. This one was red, and I believe it was a 1987 or 1988 base coupe—the dead giveaway is that it did not have the black bumper pads but otherwise had the debut Fiero 2M4 look. I gave the driver of the Fiero a thumbs-up, he gave me a wave, and we went our separate ways.

“One red-hot with everything, to go.”

The Pontiac Fiero came to market in 1984 with ridiculous expectations brought on partially by Pontiac and partially by how the public sees two-seat mid-engine cars. What had originally been designed as a somewhat sporty commuter car became a major part of Pontiac’s We Build Excitement strategy.

At this point, the painful fact that the Fiero’s mechanical parts were from the low end of the General Motors parts bin became stunningly obvious. Citation and Chevette suspension parts abounded, and the only available engine was the distinctly uninspiring 2.5 liter/151 cubic inch Iron Duke inline four with fuel injection, featuring all of 90 bhp. Predictably, handling and acceleration did not meet expectations.

By 1986, Pontiac had gone a long way toward fixing some of the basic problems. The L44 2.8 liter/173 cubic inch V6 was made available in 1985, its 140 bhp and multi-port fuel injection both major upgrades. In 1986, the fastback body style was added and a five-speed manual transmission became available for the V6, though only late in the model year. With that powertrain, 0-60 came in a little under eight seconds. Mileage in the 2,500-pound car wasn’t bad, either—18 city/28 highway by the standards of the day (16/26 by today’s standards). With the small 10.2-gallon gas tank, range was about 210 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on the $12,875 GT (about $27,900 in 2013 dollars) included the V6, retracting halogen headlamps, and P205/60R15 front and P215/60R15 rear tires on 15-inch diamond-spoke wheels. Options included air conditioning, power windows, intermittent windshield wipers, tilt steering wheel, and a rear spoiler.

The fastback GT was a striking car—the flying buttresses in the rear and aero nose in front substantially changed the look of the Fiero. I liked the base design more at first, but the fastback has grown on me over time.

Page from 1986 Pontiac Fiero brochure, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures section.

According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1986 Fiero GT in #1 condition is $10,800. Fieros have a good club following and a fairly strong presence in Hemming’s Motor News classifieds—as I write this in October 2013, there’s a gold 1986 Fiero GT with less than 20,000 miles for sale for $11,500. Make mine red, please.

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