Curbside Classic: 1985 Pontiac Firebird – Fast Fashion

I listened to a lot of Depeche Mode as a depressed teenager.  There was much in the often-dark lyrics of Dave Gahan and Martin Gore that spoke to me in a way that the more cheerful pop and urban contemporary music I had been listening to only a few years before just didn’t as much anymore.  Growing up in a strict, conservative household probably gave me a bent toward rebellious thinking if not behavior, as I was a very well-mannered young adult who, most of the time, kept his ennui and questioning nature simmering just underneath the surface.

Without delving too much further into my boring psyche, I wanted to point out that “depeche mode” translates roughly as “fast fashion” en français, which is a term that refers to trendy styles of clothing that are quickly mass-produced to capitalize on what’s popular at the moment.  Several retailers that come to mind are H&M and Uniqlo, both places from which I made purchases just a couple of weekends ago.

Where my musical tastes had started to morph in my teenage years from innocuous top-40 and R&B into edgier, slightly more angst-ridden territory, my sartorial sense still stayed mostly in the mall until toward the middle of my first year away at college.  I’ve referenced in previous essays here at Curbside Classic about how I’ve often incorporated vintage clothing into my everyday, non-work wardrobe.  Though this started around the end of my high school years, most of the time one could find me at places like Chess King and Merry-Go-Round almost as often as at Goodwill or the Salvation Army.  Some of my favorite brands at the time were Levi’s (an evergreen), Bugle Boy, Girbaud, and a few others.

What could any of this possibly have to do with a mid-’80s Pontiac Firebird?  My premise is basically this: Pontiac’s F-Body included a smattering of styling features that were very much of their time and haven’t necessarily endured as being current in present day, much like baggy, pleated Z. Cavaricci trousers.  There are the pop-up headlamps, the smoke-effect taillamp lenses, ground effects (I’d be willing to bet our featured car is a base-model with the rear bumper cover and taillights sourced from a Trans Am), dramatic swoopiness, and long-low-wide dimensions.  Don’t get me wrong… I genuinely like the style of the third-generation Firebird.  I’m not going to kid myself either, though, that the looks and general image of these cars do not land solidly in the flashier, trendier side of the continuum.  There’s no Gap-esque subtlety here.

By ’85, the Firebird was still a fairly popular car, selling about 96,000 units that year against 180,000 (almost twice as many) Chevrolet Camaros, 157,000 Ford Mustangs, and just 19,000 Mercury Capris among the domestic, rear-wheel-drive alternatives.  (I’m going with model year 1985 based on the front fascia and the absence of the central high-mounted brake light, if I recall this example correctly.)  This was at higher starting prices ranging from 5% (Camaro) to 19% (Mustang) over the hatchback versions of those two other cars.  The base Firebird also cost 9% more than distant-fourth Capri, but also within 2% in either direction of both FWD Dodge Daytona / Chrysler Laser G-Body twins, against which it was likely also cross-shopped among domestics.

Believe it or not, one could still purchase an Iron Duke-powered Firebird with about 90 horsepower for ’85, and again (for the last time) in ’86.  The top-shelf mill was a Tune Port Injected Chevy 305 with 205 hp coupled with the automatic transmission (a 190-hp variant was available with the manual).  Starting weight for the ’85 Firebirds ranged from just under 3,000 pounds for the base cars, and just over 3,200 pounds for the Trans Ams.  According to two different sources I was able to locate, the 5-speed-equipped Trans Ams with the high-spec motor were capable of 0-60 times in the lower/mid nine-second range, which was a great time for the mid-’80s, even if it couldn’t touch the 6.4-second 0-60 time Car & Driver clocked with a 5.0L-equipped ’85 Mustang GT in January of that year.

Your author as a Depeche Mode-listening, depressed teenager, Fall 1991.


From a purely aesthetic standpoint, the looks of a concurrent Euro-sedan with better everything else than a Firebird will never quicken my pulse the way that looking at a nice example of a Pontiac F-Body (even a base model) will.  I like the ’80s-era BMW 3-Series (E30) the way I like a classic pair of Dockers khakis that fit well, last a long time, and are able to be worn with pretty much anything conservative.  Being solidly into my forties, that’s the way my clothes shopping has been trending with increasing frequency.  So, what was I doing in H&M and Uniqlo just a couple of Saturdays ago?  Looking for just a few pieces that had just a bit of youthful edge to them.  Will I be able to wear them for more than a few years?  The sweater will likely last and look decent, even if the t-shirts may not.  Am I a slave to (fast) fashion?  Nope.  But I know what I like.

Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Tuesday, December 11, 2012.