Selling a pony car in 1975 was like throwing a wild party in a retirement community. There were just too many opposing factors trying to stop anything exciting happening. The world was still reeling from the OPEC Oil Crisis the year before. In America, insurance prices had soared and emissions standards were getting stricter. Chrysler and AMC exited the pony car market and Ford had basically done the same by downsizing its Mustang. Only GM remained, and even they were contemplating killing off the F-Body Pontiac Firebird and Chevrolet Camaro and focussing on the smaller H-Body Chevrolet Monza and its clones. But then a funny thing happened: sales picked up. GM was the only game in town if you wanted a real pony car, and they enjoyed the spoils.
The 1970-73 Firebirds had graceful, almost European lines. The 1977-81 “Bandit” Firebirds were aggressive-looking. These 1974-76 ‘birds represent a rather dull interregnum. While not unattractive, and boasting 5-MPH bumpers much better integrated than on other cars, they look a little plain.
Under the hood – which could be covered with a screaming chicken, of course, on the Trans Am – there was still plenty of power. Big blocks were supposed to be going extinct, but Pontiac hadn’t gotten the memo yet. The wild 290 hp Super-Duty 455, launched in 1973, was offered in ’74 Firebirds. There were also less powerful 350, 400 and 455 cubic-inch V8s.
Pontiac sales may have been trending downwards, but the Firebird was unaffected. For 1974, sales rose to 73,329 and Trans Ams were accounting for a growing portion of Firebird sales.
But for 1975, performance took a turn for the worse. Catalytic converters were now fitted, and all engines took a hit: the 455 lost 50 horsepower, the 400 lost 40 horses, and the Super-Duty lost its life. The 455 was actually axed for 1975, but Pontiac succumbed to pressure and reintroduced it mid-year. Firebirds gained a handsome wraparound rear window, something that was intended for launch much earlier but hadn’t eventuated due to build concerns. And in spite of events the year prior and the decrease in power, Firebird sales rose once again and almost a third were Trans Ams.
This ’75 Trans Am I spotted on a dealer lot (alongside a ’73 Plymouth Roadrunner, a ’72 Dodge Challenger and a ’68 Plymouth Satellite) looked like it had been slightly modified from stock. I did appreciate this period touch, though.
The final year of these plainer Firebirds, 1976, saw the launch of T-tops on the “Special Edition” Trans Am. These were the most beautiful of the ’74-76 models as they were painted black and gold. Of course, parked next to a ’77 in the same color scheme they just don’t look as impressive.
Sales had been trending upwards but the visual revisions of 1977 must have really made a difference. By 1978, sales had more than doubled from 1974 results. The old bird had caught a fresh wind, and was likely very profitable for GM. This was surely one of the few examples of a car becoming more popular in its senior years and after multiple facelifts. Not bad for a car that was almost axed!