In-Motion Classic: 1979 Pontiac Firebird – Moves Like Rockford

(first posted 4/3/2018)          During the filming of the ’70s TV detective drama “The Rockford Files”, lead actor James Garner, in the titular role of Jim Rockford, always drove the latest model of Pontiac Firebird Esprit.  Granted, Rockford’s ride was finished in Sierra Gold and not black, but with each new season, the model year of his Firebird kept pace… until the fall ’78 season.  Reportedly, Garner was aghast at the frontal styling of the ’79 Firebird and insisted on keeping the ’78 in action through the end of this series in January of 1980.  The show’s original run had begun in the fall of ’74.

I don’t consider all of my tastes to be outside the mainstream.  In fact, I’d say that my preferences generally split the difference between those of a quiet, cerebral, arty type and the dude at the party who just wants to make sure you’re having a good time.  With that said, and apparently contrary to the opinions of many, I genuinely like the ’79 Firebird restyle.  A lot.  Some might try to wreck it for me by saying the front end looks like an anteater or the two Snowths from that famous musical number from “The Muppet Show”.  It won’t work.  The style of the 1979 – ’81 Firebird, to me, will always look hot.

The timing of its introduction probably has something to do with this.  By ’79, the buds on the tree of my car-love had just started to bloom, and the Camaro and Firebird were two of the must fascinating, beautiful, powerful-looking cars, both in my eyes and also in those of many other young kids like me.  Taking the elements of this restyle on their own merits, the full-width-look taillamps (which were separated on all models by a central, plastic-covered fuel filler door) were a solid win, or at least a push, compared with the slatted units of the previous design.

The absence of the grille openings in a traditional spot above the bumper line looked positively radical, and I mean that in a good way.  Even if this look, when originally conceived, was supposed to include retractable doors over the four headlamp cavities, I like the headlights better exposed, as the production models ultimately turned out.  Hindsight may be 20/20, but the somewhat hard slope of that plane on the header panel combined with just a flat surface with cutouts for the headlight doors would have looked far too plain.  (I do like the aftermarket smoke-effect headlight cavity covers that many of these cars were fitted with.)

The sight of this car, rounding the northeast corner of Monroe & Wells in the Financial District in The Loop made me wonder about what the story was, here.  Was the female passenger impressed with this car?  Was the driver trying to do so?  One doesn’t take your vintage F-Body out into the city instead of the Camry just to get from Point A to Point B.  Had I just maybe witnessed part of an action shoot for a TV program?  Regardless, this scene put a huge smile on my face.

Perhaps, somewhere, on a somewhat empty stretch of industrial road in Cook County, Illinois, the driver was able to successfully execute one of James Garner’s / Jim Rockford’s famous “J-Turns” – not that we necessarily advocate that kind of thing here at CC.  Still, both the car and this stunt remain two of my favorites.  Cue Mike Post’s excellent instrumental theme music, a Billboard Hot 100 top-ten hit in 1975, and fade out.

Downtown, The Loop, Chicago, Illinois.
Wednesday, September 6, 2017.