Why has it taken over ten years for an early (1970 – 1973) gen2 Firebird to make its first appearance in a CC? The answer is simple: they sold poorly, so there’s just not a lot of survivors. The gen2 F-Bodies (Camaro and Firebird) were such sales laggards that GM came very close to pulling the plug on them in 1972, when only 30k Firebirds found buyers, of which a mere 1,286 of them were Trans Ams.
We all know how the story turned out: the market rediscovered the F-Bodies, sales went up every year thereafter, and in 1979, Pontiac sold a whopping 212k Firebirds, of which over one half (110k) were Trans Ams. Perhaps it should have been named the Phoenix. This is the story of a car that arrived in the dying days of the pony car market and eventually came to define a market of its own.
Why were these stunning new Firebirds and Camaros such slow sellers? They arrived at an awkward time, just as the pony car market was melting down. The Mustang, which had solely created this market segment, was down some 70% in 1970 compared to its peak years (1965-1966), and its sales would fall significantly further yet. Chrysler had always been the laggard in the segment, and their new 1970 E-Bodies (Barracuda and Challenger) were DOA.
What exactly was behind the phenomena of the original Mustang? It’s rather simple: ever since WW2, there was a steadily growing segment of the US market that wanted something other than a big American sedan, which is the just about the only thing the Big Three built until 1960. Hence the huge import boom of the 1950s: These buyers wanted something different, with flair, sportiness, economy, trimmed nicely, and most of all…different. This was the beginning of the great fragmentation of the car market, as a younger, more affluent and better educated segment of the market wanted to express their identity through their cars.
One American maker, Nash, successfully entered this market with its stylish and nicely-trimmed compact Rambler, resulting in buyers’ demographics that were substantially higher in income, education and more female than average. It was the key element that allowed American Motors to survive and prosper into the early sixties, when it then failed to innovate and was badly hurt by the Mustang. The Rambler was the first American antecedent of the Mustang.
The Big Three sat on their hands until 1958, when they suddenly saw how serious this segment was getting and were forced to jump in. The Ford Falcon mostly just cannibalized big Ford sales. The Valiant was the odd outsider that appealed to those that could appreciate its qualities despite its quirky appearance. But the Corvair was something all together different, especially so when Chevy introduced the Monza coupe as a mid-year 1960 addition to the line.
With its standard bucket seats, floor shift, nice trim and optional higher-output engine, it created a new market niche, defined by those very characteristics. It brought in new buyers, many of them former import owners who had become disenchanted with reliability, service and parts issues. A domestic car that had genuine import car qualities: what’s not to like?
I called the Monza “The Most Influential Car Of The Decade” because it revolutionized the thinking at the Big Three. Isolated in the suburbs of Detroit, their executives had been utterly stuck on the notion that imports and compacts were penalty boxes, bought by those that simply couldn’t afford a proper (full-sized) car. The Monza changed everything: suddenly compacts were seen as having serious potential, if marketed as sporty, high-trim cars with a decent profit margin instead of just something to offer to cheapskates.
And it wasn’t just the Monza; cars like the 1962 Olds Cutlass and Buick Skylark, and starting in 1963, the Dart GT, Falcon Sprint, Comet S-22 and other other high-trim compact coupes all sold well, for all the same reasons: They were trim, stylish, well-equipped, and projected a sophisticated and/or sporty image. This last quality was the most important one.
There’s no need to regurgitate the Mustang story again. But its wild success was just the convergence of this trend that had been building since the Monza arrived in mid-1960. It hoovered up all the sales that had been going to the sporty/high trim compacts, and then some. Who would buy a Falcon Sprint, Nova SS or Dart GT or Valiant Signet or such after the Mustang arrived? Compact car sales tanked starting in 1965, unless you count the Mustang as a compact, which it rightfully was, along with the other early pony cars.
But small import car sales started soaring again, none more so than Toyota, whose Corolla took the market by storm. Why? Early Mustang (and pony car buyers) were not baby boomers, unless they had generous parents and were born very early in that demographic group. By 1969-1970, an avalanche of boomers were coming into the car buying market, and not surprisingly, they wanted something low-cost and economical, fun to drive that projected the right image as their first new. Imports, increasingly Japanese ones, filled all those priorities.
After a few years of tumbling, domestic compact sales roared back, also fueled largely by young boomers. The Maverick and Duster in particularly satisfied the segment that wanted a stylish domestic low-cost coupe, and the Duster 340 was the coup de grace for the high-power pony cars (and muscle cars).
The Chevy Vega and Ford Pinto, which arrived in 1971, also played their part in eroding pony car sales, especially so the sporty-looking Vega.
Ironically, it was John DeLorean that created the car that was perhaps most responsible for the death of the pony cars: the 1969 Grand Prix. It and the 1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo defined the affordable personal luxury coupe, which became a much more dominant and vastly longer lasting phenomena than the Mustang and pony cars had ever been. Somewhat older Mustang buyers traded up to these larger and more comfortable coupes en masse.
The new Firebird (and Camaro) arrived in the very zenith of this upheaval of the market. Despite their stunning shape and style, they were actually rather out of tune with then-current rapid swings of the market, and renderings like this one projected a rather confused image. Was the Firebird targeted to the Thunderbird demographic? It rather seems so.
1969 – 1972 was a rather tumultuous time in America, and not just in the automobile market. The anti-war movement was peaking and a wide range of other social issues were in full boil. Despite a healthy economy, younger buyer were drawn to imports and cheap domestic compacts. These projected the zeitgeist profoundly more accurately than the Firebird. Cars like it were suddenly out of fashion, as much as that woman’s hat in the rendering above. She and the rest of those folks look so…1964, and just dying for a new Mustang.
Well, that is, unless your middle-aged Mom drove you there in the big Fury wagon (not likely in the Citroen).
That’s been a rather long-winded preamble to our featured car, but the inevitable question always seems to come up: Why was the Mustang so madly popular? It was simply a fortuitous convergence of trends that had been building for a long time, and that finally found one single car to focus on, because it was seen to be new, different, stylish, and cool. But all that changed quickly, as it invariably tended to, at least back then.
As we’ve covered in great depth before, the social changes in the seventies brought a reaction, expressed in the automobile market in two dominant trends: broughams and the side-burn/mullet mobiles. They were both powerful conservative trends, projecting traditional American values in the face of what appeared to be a dismantling of many of them. The culture wars were off and running, and the Firebird TransAm (and Burt Reynolds) became the poster boy of the non-brougham side of the two, the forerunner of today’s jacked up, coal-spewing diesel 4×4 trucks.
That explains it huge resurgence. These were not pony cars anymore.
Let’s take a closer look at our featured car. It’s a 1971, based on the high back bucket seats, one of the very few obvious differences from 1970. There were some differences were under the hood too, as the 1971’s had some revisions to their engines due to the requirement to be able to run on unleaded regular, meaning no more high compression engines.
That’s not to say the 455 HO wasn’t still potent: the 1971 brochure, which conveniently has both gross and net hp ratings, shows it with a still impressive 305 net hp. Its 335 gross hp rating was obviously grossly underrated. On the other hand, the 350 V8’s disparity between gross (250) and net (165) is about as wide as I’ve ever seen.
I know gross hp ratings were not always spot-on, and were commonly reduced after 1969 or so, due to insurance reasons, but the net ratings I generally consider to be fairly accurate. Clearly the 250 gross hp rating on that 350 included some wishful thinking, especially since it had just a two-barrel carb and single exhaust. The disparity on the 400 two-barrel is just about as great.
It was a sunny day and the windows were dirty, so it’s a crappy shot (as were a number of other shots of this car, for some reason). The Esprit was one trim level above the base Firebird. In 1970 and 1971, those two versions made up the lion’s share of sales.
The Formula, which was called Formula 400 in 1970 and just Formula in 1971, was the third most popular version. As befitting its name, it came standard with the 400 V8 in 1970, but starting in 1971, it came standard with the 350, and the 400 and 455 (not 455 HO) were optional. Suspension and wheel/tire upgrades improved handling, which was already quite good on the base cars.
The F-Bodies benefited greatly from new front suspension and steering geometry, and although the rear axle was still suspended on leaf springs, there was increased suspension travel and other enhancements. These were the best handling American cars at the time, hands down.
And of course the Trans Am was the ultimate performance version, and arguably the best all-round performance car of that time period. Pontiac included every chassis and performance item in their arsenal, which was quite well stocked. I’m not a fan of the gaudy “screaming chicken” TA’s of the later seventies, but these early more understated TA’s, along with their Camaro Z/28 cousins, speak to me considerably. They were rightfully the crowning achievement of all that represented the best of American sporty cars; genuine driving machines of a world-class caliber, especially given their prices.
The Endura nose was still something of a novelty, even after two years since first seen on the GTO. It was even more bold and pronounced, and was something of a sensation at the time. I still struggle to reconcile myself with the later versions that were necessary due to the 5-mile bumper regulations. This is what the Firebird was meant to have up front.
It was of course the key identifier from the Camaro, along with the round wheel openings. The tail is as weak as the front is strong: the Camaro’s bumper, concave panel and twin round tail lights are much better. But then the Firebird was really just a Camaro handed to Pontiac, somewhat reluctantly, and Pontiac did what it could to differentiate it given the modest budget at the time.
For that matter, I prefer the Camaro’s wheel openings too.
Let’s close out with a chart showing the Firebird’s sales from 1967 through 1981, the last year of the gen2. undoubtedly 1970 would have been higher if that had been a full year, since the ’70s were not introduced until January of that year. And 1972 sales were depressed by the protracted UAW strike. But the trend line is all-too obvious, as is the amazing climb back up. That was of course rudely nipped by the energy crisis and recession of 1979 – 1981; who knows how long that momentum would have lasted otherwise.
Born into a rapidly changing market and almost axed, who would have thought then that the Firebird would come to define a market essentially of its own making: the chicken-car market.
Looking at the hight of the roof of the gold car besides the dune buggy .Way off. Roof from a Pacer perhaps. This must be one of the very few casein.s in which the car looked better than the artist impression.
The proportions on the blue car at the ski lodge are way off too. Part of this is the artist (Art Fitzpatrick) trying to make the hood and cowl-to-front-wheel length look longer than it really is (rather than the exaggerating the width as usual in AF’s Pontiac drawings), but the side door glass looks like it was drawn from a different perspective than the rest of the car. The roof on the dune buggy car does look a bit Pacer-esque.
Ummm…Pontiac did name something Phoenix starting in 1980…and we all know how that turned out. Sarcasm aside, I always preferred the Pontiac F body over the Camaro, both first and second generation. A ’69 Trans Am is a sight to behold…
The Phoenix actually started in 1977; it was a Ventura with a handsome and distinctive new nose, and was the first car to use the new single rectangular sealed beam headlamps that had just become legal. The Ventura of course was a Nova with a few details, and only a few, changed.
I agree completely with Paul on the Gen 2 Trans Ams. That car was peak US, and the white/blue color combo was perfect.
Popular here but values have been skyrocketing and of course they are hard to get in any flavour not sold here new so only imported used examples exist I like this era Firebird not so much the Burt Reynolds version.
Our neighbor Mr. Bordner bought one, either a 70 or 71, I don’t recall. It was a six/4 speed car (and replaced a 67 LeMans Sprint with the 4 speed and OHC six). I don’t think it wowed him, as his next car was a 73-ish Capri, the first non VW or Pontiac in that driveway I had ever seen. It was that Firebird I crashed into on my bike, breaking the fiberglass panel between the taillights.
I think a big part of Mustang’s success was timing and the growing affluence of American car buyers. Financially comfortable families with high school/college age kids were a big market, and the Mustang hit a sweet spot with both parents and their kids, and there was a level of affluence that supported cars that were not purely practical.
The way these grew in popularity, I think, comes from the way they outlasted everything else. Those in the second half of the baby boom had watched older siblings/cousins and their families enjoying fun cars like Mustangs and such, but by the time they were that age, their parents had gone brougham and there was nothing else but these F bodies for someone who wanted a smaller, sporty American V8 coupe.
The main reason for the sales woes of the ‘72 Firebird (and Camaro) was the 174 day UAW strike, the longest in GM history. The strike wasn’t settled until late September of 1972, which also affected early ‘73 models. That’s almost six months of production lost.
This situation affected me personally, as in mid ‘72 I was a recent college graduate with a good job eager to buy his first new car. I really liked the Firebird and Camaro, but none were available. Dealer lots were empty and factory orders couldn’t be guaranteed. GM lost a sale as I bought a Cougar instead. After the strike sales bounced back to pre-strike levels, then soared in the late seventies for the reasons given.
Yes, the omitting any reference to the strike is a big oversight. The Camaro outsold the Firebird about 2 to 1, so we are looking at about 100,000 units at the lowest point…not bad.
I think the featured Firebird, or any 71-73 Firebird, especially the non-T/A versions, may well be the best-looking American car ever made.
These “plain” 350 versions drove pretty well in the early 1980s, a friend let me drive his and I really liked it.
Best looking car–and possible the worst space utilization…
I’ve amended the text reflecting the impact of the UAW strike.
Yeah, the UAW strike really killed 1972 sales. Combined with the still existing ponycar competition from the other domestic manufacturers (such that it was), it goes a long way to explaining the relatively meager f-body sales numbers of the early seventies.
It’s worth nothing that, by 1975, after Chrysler and AMC had ditched their ponycars, and Ford had moved the Mustang and Cougar into completely different markets, that the GM cars began their upward trajectory, eventually eclipsing even the late sixties’ glory years.
I suspect that, for all their typical bungling, GM executives forecast this exact scenario and was the reason they made the (lucrative) decision to hang onto the Camaro/Firebird.
The F-cars were the only muscle cars left, which helped.
Also, by the standards of 1975-79, they were superlative cars, other than lack of room for anyone but driver and passenger and the mediocre (by American standards) fuel economy.
Cars are relative. A new 76 Scirocco stickered for as much as a new 76 Trans Am. A 280Z cost more. Besides a 280Z, what else was there in 1976? Corvettes started at around $7500, Porsches (real ones, not the 924) a lot more than that.
While 1976 was the last year for a Dart/Valiant/Duster with a 360-4bbl, they were auto only, and while they offered comparable straight line performance, like the 340-4speed mentioned, they were cheaper looking inside, didn’t wear the post-1974 bumpers so well, and in ride and handling, while sharing rear leaf springs, they were markedly inferior to the the basest F-cars.
So the F-car was a hit! And even the secretary specials with 305 or 301 V8s, or even the sixes, came with decent steering and ride and handling.
For a half year, in 1979, the Fox Mustang with a 302 4spd was a viable alternative…then the 2nd gas crunch hit, and that was it. The Camaro Z-28 soldiered on, but the Turbo T/A was not in the same league, and the 302 took a sabbatical for 3 years.
This reminds me of one of the last, old-school type musclecar comparisons in a 1976 Car and Driver with the vehicles being a 360 Mopar A-body, 455 Trans Am, 454 Chevy pickup, and a Cobra II. As one might imagine, the ancient Mopar came out on top, with the Cobra II woefully lacking in every category. It was kind of surprising they didn’t choose a Torino as the Ford entry since it was still possible to get a 460 in one.
Wasn’t there a strike in 1970, also?
If there was another strike in 1970, it was probably at good ‘ole Norwood Assembly, too. Those yahoos were complete idiots. GM kept the plant open through 1987 but, due to continuing problems (like rampant absenteeism), they wanted to close it unless the UAW local agreed to what, at the time, seemed like reasonable concessions. This is borne out by the UAW local of the nearby Fairfield GM plant (also on the chopping block at the same time as Norwood) which quickly agreed to the concessions.
Unfortunately, as one might surmise, the Norwood UAW local stubbornly refused, telling their members that it was an idle threat and GM would never close Norwood. Predictably, that’s exactly what GM did, eventually moving all f-body assembly to Sainte-Therese when Van Nuys Assembly shuttered in 1992.
FWIW, to this day, the city of Norwood has never recovered.
The situation at Sainte-Therese wasn’t much better.
GM managed for a number of years to get exemptions from Quebec laws that mandate all business in Quebec must be in French, including all documents and office conversations. Even the engineering drawings had to be in French and only French.
With poor levels of absenteeism, low productivity and government interference in GM’s way of doing business it is not much of a surprise GM gave up and in 2002 closed the Sainte-Therese factory.
Didn’t know that Sainte-Therese had problems on the level of Norwood. The 4th gen f-body seemed to be built well enough (I had a trouble-free ’94 Formula) but with dwindling sales, it’s easy to see why GM finally threw in the towel on both the f-body and Sainte-Therese.
The angle of the stubby A pillars always looks weird to me. At first, I thought they were trying too hard to lengthen the hood visually, but with no vent windows, there wasn’t room for even larger side glass.
The tires look a bit large on the CC car.
I’ve always thought that this front end styling was heavily influenced by AMC’s Javelin.
The design history of the 1970 Firebird is known. Not linked to Javelin.
The 1970 Firebird was compromised by coordinating and sharing parts with Chevrolet, but Pontiac participated fully in the design process.
Starts at 3:00
Thanks for the link. The designer explained why the windshield ended up so vertical and small–Chevrolet was too cheap!
As a serial Buick owner, I’ve owned several Bill Porter designs. It’s fascinating to hear him criticize his own finished products.
Bill designed and approved of the aero add-ons that went onto the TA, but he thought the TA shaker scoop was ugly, dumb, and in the wrong location for actual cowl effect pressure. His own TA has his long snorkel scoops that went into the Formula package.
As far as the Pontiac shaker goes, I’m not aware of any of them ever coming opened up in anybway from the factory. I believe the sole purpose was aesthetic and cool/intimidation factor. It’s called a shaker because, you guessed it, it shook from the sheer meanness of the motor. The shaker made its most disgraceful and decidedly uncool appearance on the last gto in ’74.(a nova derivative itself). I refuse to capitalize the letters of the great one from 74. I am and always will be a Pontiac kind of guy, and their patented Ram Air option never looked anything but astounding on anything lucky enough to have it on the build sheet. In closing I would just add-to a very good article-that the Trans am was a firebird equipped with GTO options when it arrived in 69.
As far as the Pontiac shaker goes, I’m not aware of any of them ever coming opened up in anybway from the factory. I believe the sole purpose was aesthetic and cool/intimidation factor. It’s called a shaker because, you guessed it, it shook from the sheer meanness of the motor. The shaker made its most disgraceful and decidedly uncool appearance on the last got in ’74.(a nova derivative itself). I refuse to capitalize the letters of the great one from 74. I am and always will be a Pontiac kind of guy, and their patented Ram Air option never looked anything but astounding on anything luck enough to have it on the build sheet. In closing I would just add-to a very good article-that the Trans am was a firebird equipped with GTO options when it arrived in 69.
The 1970 Firebird Formula and Trans-Am had functional hood scoops. It was a Pontiac thing at the time.
IIRC, the 1970 Formula got open hood scoops if the Ram Air option was specified.
OTOH, I don’t know if the Trans Am ever got an open scoop. It wasn’t tough to make it functional, though, with a block-off plate that was held on with three pop rivets that were easily drilled out and the plate removed.
Later Trans Am scoops were more difficult to make functional with the entire scoop being molded fiberglass. This meant having to carefully cut out the rear openings (there was a thin divider that was hard to cut around to do it properly).
There was a solenoid operated flap for 70–72 TAs.
I also see the Javelin connection, and thought so a few weeks ago when the AMX pieces ran here at CC. It’s the twin-vent grilles of the ’68 and ’69 Javelins that look like what we see here.
I love that green! Same color as my ‘73 Vega GT, the interior as well. That was my mini F Body. For me, at the time, the Vega was a better car that stayed in my possession much longer than the real F Body TransAm I owned in 1981.
Great post. This one is very similar to a ’72 Esprit I had – cream with a black vinyl top, also with a 350 2 bbl. I’m a fan of these early versions too – the later elongated bumpers and large decals just take away from the basic good looks…
Good catch on the subtle difference in wheel arches between the Camaro and Firebird. And the Camaro definitely had better taillights, at least on the earlier cars.
Speaking of the rear end styling of these cars, while I generally detest rear spoilers, the GM ponycars really benefit from them, particularly the smaller, ducktale-type.
The only exception is Jim Rockford’s Esprit, which was just fine without a spoiler, and which probably should have been mentioned along with Reynolds’ Trans Am as being a significant influence in the big mid-to-late seventies jump in Firebird sales. Those were some big-time movie and television automotive product-placement marketing coups which are remembered to this day.
Ford certainly got into the act in the malaise era with cars like Farrah Fawcett’s Mustang II Cobra II and the Starsky and Hutch Torino but, for some reason, the Camaro has never received any of that kind of similar attention.
I only recently watched “Starsky And Hutch” for the first time.
The famous Gran Torino didn’t look very impressive going around turns at low speeds looking all floppy and front-heavy. It continued to bounce after they got out! Jacking up the back end probably didn’t help.
Why would they have such an attention-getting paint job on an undercover cop car?
I know. Because TV.
I much prefer the Firebirds of Jim Rockford, especially the early ones with the “400”. Of course Rockford/Garner could make any car perform or at at least appear to perform better.
But I do remember one episode where Jim is pursued all over town by baddies in a yellow Monte Carlo that obviously had the upgraded suspension. You could just tell they were holding it back similar to the way the “Bullitt” chase was filmed to favor the Mustang. Or how in “Ronin” the Citroen was able to stay ahead of the big Audi.
Got out on a tangent here. Luckily I left crumbs to find my way back.
The 70s Firebirds, all of them, just rock.
The stars of Starsky and Hutch hated the car, so much so that they took every opportunity to intentionally beat the hell out of it. David Soul, in particular, loved to stop the car by simply ramming the front tires into a curb.
Still, while the Starsky and Hutch Torino might have been a wallowing pig of a musclecar, the fact remains that a 460 was still available in its twilight year, and sans those garish stripes, too. I’m not positive, but I think a 4-speed might still even have been an option. If so, that would be one rare ’76 Torino to find today.
The bottom line is it would have been a more appropriate entry with the hottest 1976 vehicles from the other manufacturers. But the Cobra II was definitely much more photogenic and getting more press as Ford’s go-to performance car (even if it was unwarranted), so that’s the one C&D chose as the Ford representative for the comparison. A 460 Torino would have been unlikely to be better than last place, either, but, in a straight line atleast, it might not have been as bad as the 302 Pinto-Stang.
Paul, that rathe stubby and undetailed tail panel appears to be designed to fit inside the Firebird”s rear spoiler to complete the view from the rear. The Firebird”s taillights are one of the facets of the cove formed by the wraparound spoiler. Camaro never had a coordinated spoiler shape. It briefly had a plunked on spoiler like the 69 Z28, then it had the wrap over blade spoiler til the end of the run. The blade was a dramatic flourish, bit it wasn’t integrated with the shape and detail of the car like the 70 Firebird and its spoiler.
This continues to be a styling/marketing issue for Mustang. Ford designers openly say that the add-on spoiler/wing piece is a marketing requirement for Mustang’s performance option, because customers expect it. Part of the desIgn brief is to create a shape the looks good both ways. It essentially makes any sort of ducktail impossible on the base model, because a spoiler on top of a ducktail looks like a hat on a hat.
The rear end design is pretty closely derived off the Pontiac Banshee concept
Graphically, definitely. The Banshee has the sculpturing that Paul pointed out in the Camaro that is missing from the Firebird.
My 6th grade teacher had one of these. A ‘72 or ‘73 in dark blue metallic sans vinyl top. I think it had the 350 logo in the grille and it had a floor shifter for the manual transmission. Black interior and rallye wheels, IIRC. Strictly stock, though. It sure looked cool in the parking lot!
In this same time frame, the 2nd grade teacher had a yellow ’69 Chevelle coupe and the nuns were driving a copper colored ‘67 Fairlane coupe with a black vinyl top. This sure brought back some cool early gearhead memories!
I’m an ardent defender of the later nose jobs on these, they carry on the Pontiac Endura look excellently while managing to comply with the 5mph standards, nothing looked as clean and unfettered by battering rams and rub strips in 1977. But what I will say is the later second gens only really looked right as Trans Ams with all the kit, where the 70-73 looked just fine(better?) without the various spoilers and shaker.
I’m biased as the owner of a ’74 Esprit, but these are great looking cars, worthy of their reputation. This is the first time (somehow) that I’ve noticed the difference between the wheel opening shapes of the Camaro and Firebird. I think I like the squared off look better, actually.
As much as I like my ’74, I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t say I’d prefer a ’70-’72 (maybe ’73). The front overhang on the ’74 makes it obvious that, although the ’74 has a really nice front end for having a five-mile-per-hour bumper, it wasn’t the original plan. With that being said, ’70-’73 models are going for significantly more than the ’74-’76 models, which made my choice easy because I’m cheap.
’73 & ’74 had the worst engine drivability due to emissions controls in the whole decade, particularly for cold starts, though performance continued to decline after that. I don’t know if the ’70 engines had hardened valve seats to prevent damage from no-lead gasoline. I think ’73 was the last year for the 455 Super Duty engine.
The Super Duty was available in ’73 and ’74…far more were actually sold in ’74 than in ’73 (a relative term: 295 in ’73 and 1001 in ’74). The ’70 engines wouldn’t have had hardened exhaust seats, but I’ve read differing things about when GM made the switch…somewhere between ’71 and ’72 would be a good guess.
You’re right about drivability. I had to tweak my the carb on the ’74 to richen up lower speed operation. It was cruising at 55 up in the 16.5:1 air-fuel ratio area, which made it a touch surge-prone.
I’m certain the Burt Reynolds movie “Smokey and the Bandit” played a big role in the resurrection of Firebird sales in the late 70’s. After the movie appeared I started seeing Black Firebird TA’s with the screaming chicken hood decal all over the place. Talk about a great advertising boon that dropped into Pontiac’s lap. I’ve always wondered if Potiac had anything to do with the appearance of the Firebird TA in the movie.
I don’t know how big a role Pontiac played on getting the Trans Am into the movie, but after the huge impact the movie played on increasing sales, some GM exec (maybe the head of Pontiac) let Reynolds drive a new Trans Am for every following year. Unfortunately for Burt, when the guy left GM, so did the free Firebirds.
The Firebird and Camaro bodies differed more than most think as the division studios were adamant of their door treatment – the Camaro has a pronounced ridge/character line mid way while the Firebird’s were without this feature.
This necessitated two sets of tooling to cater for this stylistic design difference.
As for the second generation Camaro not being used in any high visibility TV or movie role, Joe Mannix had a blue Camaro LT in the final season of Mannix.
I love CC pieces like this, which are the kind that originally got me hooked on this site in the first place. Some great details here.
The meteoric rise of the popularity gen-2 Firebird is something that has long fascinated me. It could well serve as a metaphor for someone who feels ready to give up after an inauspicious start at / in something, where if one hangs in there long enough and applies oneself, great things are possible.
I had forgotten about the front fender vents on this era of Esprit.
I really like your story on the firebird , I enjoy learning history on Pontiac’s and all the old cars.
My first car was a 72 Firebird. Silver base model with 350 2 barrel auto with black vinyl top. Loved that car, but of course dreamed of driving the Trans Am. Always liked the 70-73 style best, and really considered that the last great Firebird, excluding a 74 T/A and Formula 455 SD. Today I have intrest in the 70-73 Formula but I better get with it because they harder to find than a Trans Am. The 70 Formula might be the best Firebird ever produced.