(first posted 6/24/2014) It’s one thing to live through an era and quite another to analyze it using leftover artifacts. In the case of this particular Firebird, I’m not sure if using it to base judgments on car culture in mid-1980s America would lead to an accurate or wildly distorted understanding, but let’s give it a shot. Tastes and technology were changing rapidly enough that it seems like somewhat of a throwback even for 1983; in other ways, though, it’s such a perfect embodiment of the aspirations of its time.
It would help to look beyond all those decals and graphics to the car underneath. The new-for-1982 GM F-bodies were a commercial success, owing to their dramatic styling and the general popularity of coupes of all sorts. Handling, if not overall chassis refinement, was also a strong suit, but at a time when domestic car quality was nothing to write home about, these cars still managed to distinguish themselves as particularly shoddy.
Even taking the poor quality into account, along with front-wheel-drive mania, the Firebird still managed to win many customers over. It was the right car at the right time for a certain segment of the population, and with its Pace Car graphics, it’s hard not to treat this Trans Am as a cultural artifact. And if that is indeed a wise interpretation, the owner of this particular car undoubtedly “gets it,” having seen fit to keep the car in near-original condition with raised white letter rolling stock.
Powertrain offerings were varied, just as was the case for the Camaro and Mustang, with 2.5 Iron Duke fours and 2.8 Chevy V6s on the low end. This top-of-the-line offering, one of 2,500 made, was given a Chevy 305 (5.0 liter) V8 with dual throttle body fuel injection (aka Crossfire); the new five-speed cars got a computer-controlled carburetor instead. The decision to can Pontiac’s V8 was made late in development; no-doubt Pontiac might’ve been interested in keeping its turbo 301 on tap for the new 1982 F-body, but the decision to rationalize powertrains across the board meant that was never to be. If getting small-bore Chevy engines was a disappointment for Pontiac partisans, at least the Crossfire brought improvements over the standard LG4, with its 8.6:1 compression ratio and 145 horsepower in 1982.
The Crossfire 305 (code name LU5) doesn’t quite enjoy the reputation of the Mustang’s High Output 302 (which could have more to do with the Ford’s lower curb weight and more depressing 1970s nadir) but with a hotter cam shared with the L83 Corvette engine and 9.6:1 compression, it made solid out-of-the-box numbers for the day: 175 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque (five-speed cars made 150 horsepower out of their carbureted LG4s).
Routed through a four-speed 700R4 Turbohydramatic, it didn’t provide much in the way of performance, but as with the Mustang, upgrades would keep these fundamentally traditional sports cars relevant through the coming decade, making plans to replace them with front-drive successors redundant. Indeed, the following year would see the Crossfire injection system replaced with the computer-controlled Quadrajet V8 (the Chevy L69) making 190 horsepower. As was the case for Ford, high-output V8 options would be swapped between four-barrel carburation, throttle-body fuel injection and port fuel injection depending on the year and the transmission ordered.
When planning for the new model in the face of an initially declining performance image, Pontiac hedged its bets by offering an array of creature comforts comprehensive enough to give this more upmarket ponycar some dual-use capability as a grand tourer. This is a decently well-preserved interior and while the leather/suede seats imbue the car with a suggestion of quality, the wide, flat console is a more honest presentation of the car’s craftsmanship. Open headrests and pale grey upholstery keep it from being too depressing inside and it works far better than the coal-bin treatment usually seen in the third-gen F-body.
Superior craftsmanship or cutting-edge technology weren’t what attracted people to the F-bodies; they were about putting on a show. And if the few hundred extra pounds over the Fox Mustang went anywhere, it was in the larger, more expansive and more expressive bodywork. Luckily for the Trans Am’s reputation, the look was thoroughly contemporary and there was a functional benefit, with a coefficient of drag of about .32. This Daytona 500 edition, with its ground effects, lowered the number to .29. The contemporary Mustang wasn’t as slick, but I think the general consensus is that it’s aged better.
The Camaro, with its exposed quad-headlight face and blockier, wraparound taillamps managed to avoid some of the Trans Am’s gimmickry, but back when it was new, the Pontiac wore a very hot look. Though this particular car isn’t pristine, it’s been kept up well enough for to faithfully represent its designers’ intent for onlookers in 2014. And it’s ultimately a good thing so much effort was put into making such a dramatic statement; if a car wasn’t going to actually go fast, it at least needed to justify itself in some other manner–especially for about 18,000 1983 dollars–and more importantly, the look was fashionable enough for the Firebird to remain an attractive choice once hotter engines became available.
As this car must be someone’s pride and joy, it’s almost wrong to dismiss it as a hilarious relic, but with rapid improvements made to powertrains beginning only months after this car rolled off the line, those in the know have been aware of its lame duck status for most of its life. For casual enthusiasts, however, hotter follow-up models only bolstered its mean image, and as long as its owner wasn’t compelled to demonstrate, more than a few people in 1989 could have been fooled into thinking this was the equivalent of the hot 20th Anniversary Edition Turbo Trans Am which paced the Indy 500 that year. Now that car would’ve made quite the find.
1989 Camaro RS: GM’s Deadly Sin #6 – 46 Trips To The Dealer In The First Year
1980-1981 Pontiac Firebird Turbo Trans Am: The Final Blow-Out
I’ll take it for a Saturday night cruise with some Twisted Sister and Motley Crue cassettes.I like it more than the 83 Mustang and Camaro.
One of the librarians (you heard right!) at my high school had one of these. It was stolen out of the faculty parking lot barely a month after she bought it. (this was 1985, when owning an 3rd gen F-body in Houston meant “not if, but when”) Fortunately the cops found it a few days later with minimal damage.
For its time it was a very nice car. Those suede/leather seats were Recaros with the old blood pressure cuff lumbar support. Our librarian’s car had the white wheel option and no decals, identical to the one shown below.
Let’s just say this particular librarian may have been who Van Halen had in mind when they wrote Hot For Teacher. She’s gotta be in her early 60s by now, and probably still smokin’ hot!
Great years to be 20-something, I bought a GTI because I didn’t have the green for an F-body with a small block, and I knew the 4 or 6 wouldn’t push it.
The last decade my son and i have had various 4th gens, and they have some of the 3rd’s sparkle… and the 3800 II really made them fine road cars with a stick. And unlike the 3rd gens, our t-tops never leaked!
These F-bodies were always on the list of “most stolen” cars in the 1980’s. I had an older cousin that had a silver 82 S/E that was stolen from right in front of her parents house.
I bought the car pictured here from Foster Pontiac in Milwaukee Wi. And sold it in1994 to my stepbrother with 21,000 miles. He sold to a friend of his and during a trip to South Bend to see my father my son who was 16 at the time inquired about the car to my stepbrother, had his friend bring it over and sold to my son. We lived on Long Island at the time so i trailered home with many on lookers (2009) after high school my son attended IU taking the car there his junior year graduating a month before this picture was taken. Don’t be fooled by the article, this car was faster than any squad car !
I was 10 yrs old by the time this generation Firebird debuted. I thought this was the best looking car since the first generation Firebird.
It’s hard to see this car now through fall-of-1982 eyes — especially since it’s impossible to unsee the later F-bodies that got a case of the mumps — but at the time the styling of the new Firebirds was incredibly fresh and modern. It probably set a record for the steepest windshield rake on a production car. It wasn’t the first wedge-shaped car with hidden headlights, but as a bigger car than the TR7 or X1/9 (what else came before?), GM was able to make a more cohesive and sleek shape.
The Camaros looked fresh, too, but the Pontiac was the far more futuristic of the two. Why did Knight Rider drive one of these? Because if you’re going to make a car into a talking computer, you wanted to choose the most advanced-looking car on the road. The Firebird had a lock on that in the mid-80s.
I was 16 y.o. when these hit the road, and to me they looked like a rolling rocketship, especially compared to the Smokey & The Bandit black & gold Trans Ams that were everywhere in those days. The previous-generation F bodies didn’t appeal to me; they were were too closely associated with Red Man, Schaefer Beer, tractor pulls, and marrying your cousin. But the ’83 Firebirds got my attention.
Amen. After to too-long run of the prior generation these were a very welcome change. Perhaps those that didn’t live through the time (or were not car-cognizant then) and can only look backward on this generation F-body series have no idea how thoroughly modern (or futuristic) looking these cars were, how exciting it was to see them after so many years of dated curves and sagging doors of the 2nd generation F-bodies or the afterthought performance mods for the Mustang IIs.
These F cars and their fox-bodied brethren started a very welcome performance renaissance – and one that included more than just straight-line performance.
So chuckle over those horse power ratings, deride them for their build quality, lament the dated wedge-shaped bodies…but back when I was 17 it was damn nice to have cars to get excited about again.
The 3rd Gen F bodies and the return of the 302 Mustang effectively ended the ‘Malaise era’. HP actaully going up, even if a little, was unthinkable during Oil Crisis II.
This would be my fiancee’s dream car – as long as it had T-tops. I’ve been keeping a quiet eye open for one for her that we can afford. Engine/transmission combination is not important, condition and T-tops is critical.
And yes, my Maggie is a, to the bone redneck, country girl.
What area of the country are you in?
There are actually quite a few of this vintage popping up in this area lately.
Are you specifically interested in the Pace Car model? I’d be more than happy to keep my eye out for you.
My own redneck woman — who’d leave her Christmas lights up on her front porch all year long if only she wasn’t in an apartment and actually had a porch — likes my Camaro. Especially the T-tops. Which on my car, at least, do not leak.
But then she drives a red Acura Integra done up “Fast and Furious” style with a big stupid whaletale bisecting the view throught the rearview mirror. (I have photo I took of what it looks like from the driver’s seat, will try to dig up and post.) So, compared to her ridiculous ricer, my subtle take on the mulletmobile is a comparatively serious, sophisticated auto.
Cool find. I went to a Buick Pontiac GMC show a few weeks ago that had one of these and a 20th Anniversary model sitting side by side.
Just want to add : “Superior craftsmanship or cutting-edge technology weren’t what attracted people to the F-bodies; they were about putting on a show.”
They are fun to drive too…
” The contemporary Mustang wasn’t as slick, but I think the general consensus is that it’s aged better.”
Only the Mustang guys would say that…both are relics of the 80’s. Both built with about the same quality (or lack of), although I think the pre-87 Mustang interior is a little nicer. The 87+ got a little too fisher price feeling.
Mustangs of this vintage were better built than comparable F-bodies, although, by 1982, Ford already had three years to work the bugs out of the Fox-platform Mustang. But Ford’s push for quality in the early 1980s wasn’t just advertising hype. The cars really did get better, both from a reliability and a build quality standpoint. The 1980s, meanwhile, were an extremely difficult decade for GM.
Car and Driver had a 1982 or 1983 Camaro Z-28 for a long-term test, and it had numerous, serious problems, including one that required the replacement of the rear axle.
Our neighbor bought the first 1982 Firebird in town – a Trans Am version. He did like the car, and it was very sharp for the time.
After the introduction of the X-car, front-wheel-drive A-bodies, Chrysler’s K-cars and the Ford Escort/Mercury Lynx, the new Firebird and Camaro really were a breath of fresh air at the time. I remember how much attention our neighbor’s Firebird received from everyone – even from people who weren’t particularly interested in cars.
Years of the X-car, A-body, K-cars…
You make it sound like an eternity even though it was 2 years at most.
I’ve got some experience with an 88 GT and a 2004 GT, as well as a couple of 4th gen F-bodies (only casual experience with 3rd gens).
I’d say that materials and build quality of the Mustang and GM twins was about even, with the GM twins having slightly nicer interior materials (after the dash of the Mustang was redesigned in 87 to look like the GM G-body pods)
The string of boring introductions predated the debut of the X-cars in the spring of 1979, although the X-cars made the big headlines, as they were heralded as “The Future” by GM and the reviewers.
If you were young and aware of cars at that time, as I was, two years WAS an eternity.
Also remember that, by the end of 1979, we’d endured two gas shortages within the last 10 years, the 55-mph speed limit was the law of the land (and the federal government was actually requiring states to enforce it), and pre-computer emissions controls and CAFE requirements were killing any semblance of performance.
And that was just by the end of 1979 – we had two more years before these cars would debut.
To add the icing to the cake, we were entering on the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Chrysler only survived because of government loan guarantees, and Ford itself teetered dangerously close to bankruptcy.
In that environment, plenty of people were predicting the “death of the automobile,” or at least the death of automotive excitement. That is why the debut of this generation of Firebird and Camaro was a big deal. Two years of consistently bad news does seem like an eternity.
Regarding the build quality of these cars versus that of the Mustang, reviewers were quick to note the lack of structural rigidity in these cars, and a lack of consistent quality control was a real problem at GM during these years. The 4th generation of these cars was a hefty improvement over their predecessors.
My 1980 and 1985 Mercury Capris were no paragons of quality, to be blunt. I spent serious money (for a young guy in 1980) for my 1980 Capri RS Turbo, it had problems right from the start. By the time I went back for the 1985 Capri RS V8, it went a whole year before the catastrophic problems started.
I guess that’s progress.
“The contemporary Mustang wasn’t as slick, but I think the general consensus is that it’s aged better.” Can’t say that I agree. To me, with its tall cabin and full frame doors, the Fox Mustang always looked like too much like the shortened two-door Fairmont that it was. The 3rd gen Firebird was a very advanced design when it was introduced.
Couldn’t have put it better myself. Well said.
I was 29 years old , when the new 82 “F” bodies were introduced. I so wanted to buy one.
With two kids, and a big fat mortgage?….Nah!…. The Firebird, just never happened.
I do like this particular car. With the whole, survivor/ patina trend, it nice to see that over the years this vehicle hasn’t been molested. No fake patina on this old F body.
The scratches, bruises, and general wear, IMHO anyway, makes for a much cooler car. I can appreciate the time, and work that goes into a complete and correct restoration. With my budget, I’d take that old Firebird just the way it is. Any day of the week
I wouldn’t want to ride in one of these again, much less own one, but strictly as a piece of design, this was a real home run for the Pontiac studio. Space-efficient and practical it was not, but it was welcome reminder that GM Design could still do something other than awkward pseudo-hatchbacks and various-scale knockoffs of the ’75 Seville. It’s a pity its interior detailing was mostly in the preschool toy category and that it was still a fairly crude beast mechanically, but that certainly wasn’t the stylists’ fault.
I always though the same with the Fiero – which debuted in the same period. Nice design, cheap decisions made that took away from what could have been pretty cool.
I have ’89 Camaro RS (an official CC DS!) and so know more about gen3 F-bodies from Chevy rather than Pontiac. But there are definitely things to be said in these cars’ defense. OK, not that “Pace Car” in the photos with the stickers all over it, that’s ugly, but the gen3 F’s in general.
First, they managed to shave 300 – 500 pounds off the weight of the gen2, despite remaining roughly similar size. The drag coefficient got pleasingly lower (ironcially, the bucket-headlight Camaro’s Cd is even lower than the swoopier hidden-headlight F-bird’s, wind tunnels are funny places). The T-tops got bigger, for the first time stretching the full width of the roof, like a Corvette; rather than with a big body-colored divider up the middle and smaller glass panels, like the ’70s Camaros and Firebirds.
Yes, starting in ’82 the interiors got crappier (esp. the Camaro) and the engines got lamer and wheezier (would you believe a 170 hp IROC-Z?), but these problems can fixed with widely available and relatively inexpensive aftermarket stuff. Like an SBC that arrives on your doorstep in a big wooden box.
I’m in the (long, slow) process of turning a Secretary Special into a decent performance machine. I recently said to the owner of the garage that works on my Camaro, “These cars CAN be made into really terrific performers — IF you’re willing to replace just about every part GM put on them. By the time I’m through with my car, the only original items left on it will be the glass and the quarter panels.” He got a good laugh out of that, and agreed heartily. He’ll be the one installing the GTA front and rear sway bars I got off Ebay. (The widest sway bars ever installed on any gen3 were on Firebirds only, not Camaros. Also turbos were offered on Firebirds only. I guess Pontiac really WAS more of a Performance Division than Chev.) Handling, for a domestic car of its size, is very good; it can be made better still, with sway bars, subframe connectors, and a really useful little steering brace called the Wonderbar (as in, you’ll wonder why the hell GM didn’t install it at the factory).
I’m more than aware these 1982-92s don’t have a great reputation. They’re regarded as “The Bad Years” (although not quite as bad as the gen4’s from the ’90s). The Rodney Dangerfield of muscle cars. The butt of sitcom wisecracks. But they’re plentiful and cheap. Demand for them is at an all-time low, while parts availability is at an all-time high. With some effort and creativity, you can get a really fun, non-embarrassing road machine out of one of these things, without breaking the bank or growing a mullet.
They do have a bad rep and a laughable image, some people flat out hate them, but remember, there was a time that the 2nd F-body had the same or worse image, and today, people are paying through the nose for “Smokey and the Bandit” Trans Am’s, I predict the same for the 3rd gen. Nice ones of these are starting to gain attention, I was at a car show where I oogled pristine red 1984 Z/28 with the 5speed, I hadn’t really looked at one in a while, I had forgotten what a handsome car it is.
It has been so many years since I’ve seen a trashy 3rd gen f-body, that I had forgotten how depressingly common they were. (Even the 4th gen beaters seem to be mostly off the road now.) As the only survivors are nice collectors cars, I agree, people will appreciate them for what they are.
On another non-automotive forum I frequent one of they younger guys was showing off his IROC-Z, and everyone thought it was a cool ride. Nobody seemed to have any idea about the model’s infamous reputation.
It’s funny how they have been semi redeemed through nostalgia, last season on the FX series, The Americans, which is about deep cover soviet spies living in America in the early 80’s, one of the characters buys a brand new 82 Camaro Z28 at the urging of his son, they had pretty well done showroom scene involving the Z28 with some other very correct looking circa 1982 GM cars in the back ground.
No question it’s a real treat these days to see a stock or mostly stock 3rd gen. Fortunately we have a couple of them here locally that make the rounds of the car shows, One of them (an ’85 IROC) is a one owner car. It’s quite a feat for any of these cars to survive Norwood or Van Nuys’ build quality, their propensity to rust, and 20+ years of abuse at the hands of high school kids.
I will disagree on one point. To me 4th gens always seemed much more solidly built than the Gen 3s. I was in high school and college during the Gen 3 years and even when new they felt tinny when you closed the doors or leaned up against one. The interiors, especially Camaros, squeaked and rattled badly after only a couple of years.
The Gen 4 interiors were a little better, but they still look cheap. Their bodies on the other hand are quite solid, all the more surprising given that they were built at GM Canada’s version of Lordstown (i.e, a rep for poor quality and militant unions), Ste. Therese, Quebec. (now demolished)
That Cross Fire Injection sure has a large opening. If you put some Panty Hose over the opening to keep out mice and road debris would that hurt the engine?
Cross Fire Injection is known amongst owners as “Cease Fire Injection” 🙂 When buying a gen3, seeing the words Cross Fire is NOT a plus.
But that was on early years only. By the time my ’89 was built they were using a much more functional EFI system.
All anybody could ever want to know about these cars can be found here:
Air Filter….perhaps you’ve heard of this?
I have, but what if you can protect the air filter why not try?
I can tell you through the eyes of a then 11 year old car enthusiasts that the new 1982 F-bodies got my heart racing and I literally begged mom and dad to bring me down to the dealer to check them out. The cars them selves impressed me but the power trains did not. Why does the Trans Am have the offset hood bulge but only a weak 145 or 165 HP Chevy 305 I remember asking the salesman. Were is the turbo 4.9? Where is the optional 5.7 350 Small block on the Camaro? No 5 speed stick. No 4 speed overdrive automatic like on the full size cars for better mileage and performance. Even my 11 year old brain knew better. As per usual GM practice the best was yet to come. Late 1983 saw the 190 horse L-69 HO 305 which elevated these above the Stang for outright 0-60 times and by 1985 the tuned port 205 HP 305 was available which was a huge increase over the 1982 145 and 165 HP small blocks. 1986 saw a return of the 5.7 350 with 225 HP and to show how things changed the under powered Tech IV was dropped after this point in favor of the 130 HP 2.8 V6 as std fare.
1982 F-body Z-28’s and Trans Am’s were noted for rock hard suspensions which of course had the undesired affect of loosening the body’s up but the 1983’s were made more comfortable and quality control improved with each passing year but only in baby steps.
1983 was a turning point to my then 13 year old eyes and an obvious end\start to the malaise and better things. Both Ford and GM were re-instating 5.0 engines and power started climbing up with fuel injection and performance cams and the small 255, 260,265, 267 etc V8’s were history. Also the 4 speed overdrive was expanded along with 5 speed sticks and build quality became more tolerable to some degree. We may carp on much of the auto industry back in this era today but to a car enthusiasts each passing year had me racing for the Motor Trend “charting the changes” section in the magazine to see what new tricks wee being offered and how much power improved and what new interior colors and features were being offered. Today not so much!
I still love the look of the early 3rd gen F-bodies. I bought the ’82 Z28, but it took me a while to decide which F-body I wanted. These, and the ’82 Mustang/Capri were such a breath of fresh air at a time when cars seemed to lose performance every year. Yes, I clearly remember the Car and Driver long term test car, and my Camaro suffered many of the same issues; a wheezy LG4, and durability was terrible. The interior was lousy, but no where near the junk they stuffed in my ’90s Grand Am.
I wouldn’t want to relive the ownership experience, but seeing one of these early 3rd gen Fs really tugs at my heart.
My own subjective impression of these cars was the worst examples of “sports car” redneckery. Granted it was a few years after they were on the new car lot, but in my mind at the time and as it has carried on through prejudice, there was nothing I’d rather not have. They seemed to always be driven by some dude that never mentally left high school or 80s curly blond (and now starting to thin) big hair driving one of these things, usually white with cheap custom bird on the hood and rust bubbles forming under the gas door, wheel wells, and rocker pannels and with Sister Christian or Panama blaring from the T-tops. That, or some broke kid that tries to rock it after that guy until it completely falls apart.
I know its entirely subjective, but, hell naw and no thanks.
I wanted to make a “Panama” reference in the title, actually. When they say “burnin’ down the avenue,” it’s hard not to think of these cars.
As far as the redneckery goes, that’s hard to justify in a short article, because the focus on aerodynamics, and handling along with some aspects of the shape represent a definite European influence. Obviously that’s a different matter than the audience which adopted the cars, but I didn’t want to be insensitive and like I said, it seems GM aimed to express a different sentiment with the F-bodies. NOW, if we were talking the G-bodies…
Of course, its just in my subjective opinion based on observations of who I tended to see drive them well after they left the new car lot. Honestly, I don’t have much of a grasp on the good or bad points of the car itself, and who drives it and what they end up as ten years down the road says nothing objective.
Like many things, people form opinions about cars bases on things irrelevant to the car itself. I was just reminded of that upon scrolling down to the picture and immediately remembering that visceral dislike of this type of Pontiac. I also have less than flattering visceral memories of certain kinds of Caddy, yet for some reason I love them all the same no matter how much I can also say how craptacular certain ones were.
What a Ridiculous stereotype… Oh wait… http://www.autoweek.com/article/20140320/CARNEWS01/140319775
In 1983, a C/D writer named David Fisher wanted to buy a new car. He chose the new gen3 Firebird. He then went to the assembly plant in Norwood, OH, for a week and watched his purchase being built from beginning to end. He then documented the whole fascinating process for C/D’s June ’83 issue.
Here are scans of original magazine pages:
Neat article, also, his car had snowflakes? Which I never knew were still available on a 3rd gen.
VERY interesting scan and slice of life. I feel so bad for poor Norwood and greater Cinci/Dayton area.
Norwood closed just four years after that article was written.
Hence my comment.
My point was that it happened so soon. Even if ’87 had been a good year (sales of the F-bodies and even the newly-refreshed Mustang were way down), Norwood’s days were probably numbered anyway. It was an old school multi-floor plant that didn’t lend itself well to automation. Other plants (notably Ford’s original Rouge plant in Dearborn and GM Janesville) were just as old, if not older, but they were of single, or at most two story design and were able to survive much longer.
I know what you mean about Cincinnati and Dayton. At least Cincy has always had a somewhat diversified economy. Dayton was GM and the Air Force – period.
When he was done with that Firebird he did the same thing with a Saturn SC2 in 1994 or 1995. I believe he bought a purple one.
Not sure if that article is online, but I know I have it somewhere at home. I believe he worked for Autoweek at that point.
I remember that issue of C/D. I was in the hunt to buy my first new car at the time, since my ’68 Mustang 289 had recently snapped a crankshaft. I got the Mustang fixed, but I knew it was only a matter of time before I needed new wheels.
I think in the same issue of C/D there was a neat ad insert which showed a Camaro or a Firebird Gen 3 and how you should detail it, do the routine maintenance, etc. Boy I wish I had that issue now!
Anyway, in those days, the F-bodies were built at two plants: the infamous Norwood, O. plant and Van Nuys Assembly near LA. Both plants are gone now, the LA plant being turned into a shopping mall.
I devoured the big 3 car mags in those days, Road&Track, C/D, and Motor Trend doing my research. I finally special ordered an ’84 Z28 with the L69 motor and the 5-speed toward the end of the model year. It came from Van Nuys and it took about 8 weeks for delivery. The ’84 model year was the last where you could check off options from a very long list; the next year, a lot of options were collected into so-called ‘performance groups’ or ‘appearance groups’, which shortened the list considerably.
In those days I was an automatic driver, but I remember in the long-term tests that the 700R4 auto was somewhat trouble prone. Since I was driving a lot of interstate miles at the time, I decided to go with the Borg-Warner 5 speed box, which proved trouble-free for the 250k miles I put on the car before I retired it.
’84 was also the last year before they went to a single serpentine accessory belt, and the L69 had four belts to maintain, the worst being the alternator belt which had only a short run between the alternator pulley and an idler at the top of the engine. It was very hard to keep this belt’s tension adjusted properly: too loose, and the alternator didn’t put out (I even got the high-amp alt.), too taut, and you risk snapping the belt.
All-in-all, the Z28 was a fun car to drive, but it did attract car thieves.
There’s a Firebird of approximately this vintage in town, with the same wheels, but minus the stickers and I think a base ‘Bird rather than a Trans Am. It screams “80’s” but I do think it’s a good, pure example of the early 80’s design aesthetic. Dated, yes, but still looks good, if you view it as a product of its time. And the late 3rd-gen GTA models are damn good looking; the changes they made were all the right ones.
The Camaro? Nope. Beginning or end of the 3rd gen cars, just doesn’t do it for me. And I’ve never ridden in a 3rd-gen Firebird, but if it’s anything like the one 3rd gen Camaro I’ve had the displeasure to be a passenger in, count me out. One of the more uncomfortable seating positions I’ve encountered, awkward getting in and out, and just in general a visual and ergonomic nightmare. Too bad given the nice styling of the Firebird version at least.
Given a wad of cash and a choice between this and an ’83 Volkswagen Scirocco I’d have to go with the VW. I’d recently had personal experience of the typical GM build quality of the time and that soured me on them until the 90s.
Me too, though I’d hesitate to really talk up VW’s build quality in those days, but for handling and feel through the controls, the Scirocco is hard to beat. I’d choose an RX-7 before either, or if I could find an 83 Prelude with manual steering, one of those.
That’s funny because I had an 81 Scirocco before I got my 85 Trans Am. And you were right, the VW was a better car. Just wasn’t as cool for picking up girls when cruising the strip at the beach. Honestly, I miss both cars equally for different reasons.
My crowd in high school was a GM crowd, and everyone wanted one of these. My best friend had an ’87, and somehow after graduation I was able to score a deal (and buy here pay here financing) on an unwanted ’85 with a salvage title, a manual transmission and the base 305 carb’ed V8. It would do burnouts like nobody’s business but wow was it slow. IIRC I got smoked by my other friend in a GTI 16V and another guy’s CRX Si. After a few months I realized I couldn’t afford the insurance and my dealer friend took it back without any penalties, mostly because I cleaned it up better than when I got it. After that I got into imports and Mustangs but I will always like my first and only muscle car.
…while the leather/suede seats imbue the car with a suggestion of quality, the wide, flat console is a more honest presentation of the car’s craftsmanship.
That big, black, squared-off plastic console molding is indeed an eyesore. Your kids’ toys from the dollar store are made of better quality plastic than this. Awful.
…it works far better than the coal-bin treatment usually seen in the third-gen F-body.
Here’s my personal coal bin. I’ve made a couple of upgrades (Grant slotted three-spoke steering wheel, chrome “barefoot” gas pedal, chrome skull cig lighter) since this pic was taken, but FTR this is the late-80s base interior, fully stock. Photo does not adequately convey the absurd overhang of the dash pad over the IP. That dash overhang really must be some sort of record. Dumb and unattractive. Ergonomics generally just not good at all. I know this, but it doesn’t make me hate my car. And I actually don’t mind my door panels at all, esp. once the Eldorado courtesy lights get installed in the mousefur at the bottom.
Like I said earlier: great potential in these third gens… just as long as you’re willing to replace absolutely EVERYTHING with aftermarket upgrades. IOW, to do all the stuff The General should’ve done way back when.
To each his own, but I’d have kept that stock steering wheel (it’s so ’80s) and the lighter is in a prime location and shape to be discarded entirely and replaced by an el-cheapo but period correct LCD clock. I did the same with my ’87 Dodge Colt, but in lime green (!) – if the one I found has a cardboard back like the old ones, pull it off and the display’ll be lit by the dashboard light.
Didn’t the late ’70s downsized Eldorados have a big dash overhang too? Weird.
I like the look of these Pontiacs, the styling hasn’t dated nearly as much as the Hoff. One thing my antipodean sensibility couldn’t understand is why the GM product range had two models that appeared to be so close to each other (Camaro/Corvette). I’m assuming there was a greater disparity in sticker price than there was in vehicle sub-category (low-slung two door sporty car). I realise one had extra seats, but was that the only real difference between them?
Well, the difference between them was more evident here on those models’ home turf in N. America than would have been apparent Down Under. The Corvette, despite being smaller and having fewer seats, has always been a much more expensive car, in a much more exclusive category. There were no Secretary Special editions of the ‘Vette. The Camaro/Firebird was much more proletarian and affordable — both in purchase price and also in insurance rates. Your average ’80s wage-slave couldn’t have kept up the insurance payments on a ‘Vette, let alone the monthlies (on new) and/or the upkeep (on used). Actually, that’s still true. And certain ‘Vettes still get treated to serious high-end/hi-po stuff that no lowly Camaro will ever get.
The Corvette was/is GM’s, and possibly America’s, “one true sports car.” A large part of the F-body’s customer base over the past decades has been frustrated would-be Corvette owners. The ‘Vette serves as Chevy’s performance “halo car.” To a large extent it’s a class thing. We F-body owners merely chase the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table.
Thanks Alexander. Just for interest, what were the prices for both at this time?
Camaro starts at $23,555; Corvette: $53,000.
Back in the 60s and again in more recent times, the Corvette has been a world-class sports car. Its had its unique frame, chassis and suspension for pretty much forever, if you overlook the fact the the C1 (’53-’62) rode on what was essentially a shortened ’53 Chevy sedan frame, along with its suspension and brakes (stiffened, and beefed-up). What really put the original Corvette was the brilliant new small-block V8, starting in 1955.
Beginning with the new ’63 C2, the ‘Vette got a unique frame and irs, while the Camaro shared a shortened unibody with the Chevy II/Nova, and always had a live rear axle. Later generations like these gen3 and gen4 F bodies had their own platform, but still a live rear axle.
The highest-performance versions of the Camaro and Firebird were sometimes competitive with the Corvette, performance-wise, but generally not as sophisticated.
Wow. I didn’t realise the price differential was so great. I think my confusion stemmed from the similarities in styling for the C4 and these Camaro/Firebirds, particularly the Pontiac with its flip-up headlights. The models from the 60s and 70s were more distinctively different with the ponies still featuring a relatively conventional grille. I suppose its the loss of the grille that threw me.
Still, with that kind of price differential, the Vette must’ve been a real money-maker for GM.
Still, with that kind of price differential, the Vette must’ve been a real money-maker for GM.
It still is, but sales have been way down (fewer than 15K units per year) since 2009. Combination of a bad economy, GM’s troubles and customers holding out for the new C7.
The ’83 Trans Am started around $10K. The Daytona Pace Car package was over $6K extra, and since most of the Pace Cars had the Crossfire engine (only available with an automatic), T-tops and other options the bottom line ended up over $18K. Base model Camaros and Firebirds started around $8K or so.
The ’84 Corvette (which went on sale in the spring of ’83) started at around $22K.
One other thing that set the Corvette apart from the F-bodies was their build quality. While never quite up to German or Japanese standards, by and large Corvettes were much better built than other GM cars. The notable exceptions were 1968 (first year of the C3) and the ’78-’79 models, where the ancient St. Louis Corvette plant (built in 1920 as a wooden body factory) struggled to keep up with demand of around 50,000 units per year.
I recall the insurance being ridiculously expensive on these things, at least if you were teenaged, male, and looking at a V8.
(Probably rightfully so. Not one of the smarter guys from my high school received an inheritance at age 18 and bought a Trans Am. Within a couple months it was dented up, and he wrapped it around a pole lot long later.)
Plus the aforementioned theft risk…
Oddly enough in 1982 when the 3rd gen Firebird came out it was more sleeker and stylish then the Corvette. The Corvettein 1982 was still riding around in C3 guise which arrived in 1968 and was dated by 1974. There would be no 1983 Vette and the C4 Vette did not arrive until Jan 1983 as an early 1984 model.
I quite like these Firebirds, they’re dated in 2014, sure, but then again every sports car with pop up headlights from the 70s/80s is dated too, that doesn’t mean they don’t look good. I never was much of a fan of the 3rd gen Camaro though(really I didn’t like the Camaro from 1974 to 1992 in general), it’s funny how that long front overhang on the 3rd gen Camaro, often pointed out when that car is written about, works perfect on the Firebird twin, dare I say it had proportions of a Ferrari 308 or BB.
And of course, I loved Knight Rider when I was a kid so this car is forever cool to me. If I saw Smokey and the Bandit 3 at that age the car might not be as endearing 😛
To impress a young lady, I bought a 1983 Trans Am. Like others here mentioned, that time period in the early 1980’s when performance came back was a wonderful time to be a young guy with a few bux in his pocket.
It didn’t work out between me and beautiful Clevelander, and my time with the WS6 T/A was as stormy. My example of early production 3rd gens was as bad as reported elsewhere. But damn, if that car wasn’t as good as a puppy for attracting the opposite sex.
But, I would take that turbo Pace Car edition in a heartbeat! Or any of the post 1986 ones, they were muuuuuch better.
I’m not overly fussed about the lack of straight line performance, because it does somewhat make up for it in looks, especially this particular example. You would turn a lot of heads around here with this car. The heyday of the 3rd gen F body was a bit before my time, and my attention was turned to the 4th gen. (Which I thought looked great at the time, but I now believe aged horribly) Still, I’ve always really liked the look of these cars, particularly the sleeker firebird. I will forever associate the camaro IROC Z as the vehicle of choice for high school jock d-bags in 80-90’s movies. The interior design of both cars always puzzled me. The lack of a proper glove box, and blocky plastic panels with fake hex screws moulded in the plastic (or was that early fox body’s?) I’ve driven a 1985 fierro plenty of times, and I image it would be similar inside. I prefer the fox 5.0 mustang only because I owned one. It wasn’t exactly the paradigm of quality either, but it was very simple and easy to work on. The Fairmonts and mercury zephyrs at the local pick-a-part helped me keep it alive. I’ve heard the f bodies were generally harder/more expensive to work on.
Im pretty torn on these 3rd gen F bodies. As a pro-Mopar, GM hating Gen Xer with a soft spot for Poncho’s, this is pretty much a bag of contradictions for me. I love the wheels, and overall I like the bodystyle of both the ‘Bird and the Camaro’s from these days. They look fantastic…slight edge goes to the T/A. I had a lot of friends in Jr high and high school who had 3rd gen F bodies, so there is a LOT of nostalgia here. I even dated a few girls who owned them, but most of my experiences come from a buddy named Ricky B *not Bobby* whose dad had a ’89 T/A and another buddy named Ryan S who had a ’87 Camaro RS. Neither was particularly fast but damn did they look cool. Ricky’s (dad’s) T/A was a well loved, pristine example that got plenty of looks while cruising the stip. Ryan’s ’87 was a 305 equipped shitbox whose T-tops leaked like screen doors, got outran by a female acquaintance’s (Read hoe bag) ’93 Grand Am…..SEDAN. The build quality on both was horrible. You could literally watch parts fall off, the ’87 that Ryan had was particularly squeaky and flimsy. Still, these cars were COOL. Being seen driving or even riding in one from the 80s up thru the mid 90s guaranteed that the ladies would come. From the mid 90s thru the present, they are seen as mullet-mobiles barely fit for a Walmart parking lot. Fox bodied 5.0 Mustangs and even Daytonas in Turbo II Shelby Z form were better built and faster. But in those days, muscle from the big 3 was one path, lowered minitrucks with pink splatter stripes, and neon lights was another. Still a worse route was to become a yuppie and drive a midsize semi-luxury sedan. I had my head in Jeep CJs. Which proves…um….something, I guess.
There’s a shocking amount of these daytonas on socal Craigslist right now although I have eye on the 5 speed l69 T/A
I’ve owned two including a cfi one and miss them terribly.
These are one of the few 1980’s American cars that were seen out here, brought in aftermarket and converted to rhd. Strangely there seem to have been very few Mustangs.
Smokey and the Bandit was mentioned earlier as driving a resurgence in the late 2nd gen cars, I don’t have the photo to hand but I saw a full-blown (and I gather recently built) KITT replica at a show a few months back, too bad it is a bit more difficult to capture the look than with a Bandit car.
I just want to know what the steering/maneuvering was like on this
generation F. Was it tight – or loosey-goosey like modern electric
power steering which I LOATHE?
Looking for floor mats and seat covers for my 83 Trans Am pace car.
Anyone have any leads?
This thread has me remembering lots of things once these were 3-5 year old used cars and older. I’m from the upper Midwest, and so many stereotypes from these 3rd gens. resonate with my own experience, it’s downright humorous:
“creaky” – I thought Beretta’s were more refined…
“redneck” – I remember lots of yet-married blue collar guys shift from a truck to this, so…
“leaky” – GM gets a pass; no leak-free T-Top existed then. Just forgo…
“Poison” – all I hear is RATT “Round and Round” myself, LOL…
All snark aside, they looked great overall, and still look good to my eyes. No hate on those who appreciate these. The last one I saw was our previous summer, one of the purple run-out RS editions of ‘92. It caught my eye, even if the interior is debatably *better* than a same year J car.
I’m patiently waiting for people to forget the stereotypes these had, but also avoiding the collector market values running up on them. Neither has happened yet, and I’m afraid I might fit a few of those stereotypes if caught driving one(it will definitely have 80s Metal squeezing past the bad T top seals).
I legitimately think the styling works well, the proportions flatter the slope nose/popup headlight styling better than the Camaro and I appreciate the continuity touches on the earliest ones ones coming from the late second gen models, taillight design, reimagined “turbo wheels”, the lower twin grilles and the offset hood bulge. Biggest problem I have with these in the engine department isn’t the iron duke base engine, but the corporate Chevy power at the top end. Obviously the Turbo 301 wasn’t exactly the best thing to come out of Pontiac but at least they tried having a mechanically distinguishing product from the Camaro Z/28. The SBC made the Firebird a redundant product overnight, which was never the case with the first and second gens despite their obvious design relationship.
I’m patiently waiting for people to forget the stereotypes these had
It’s going to be a long wait, at least with me. 🙂
This is when Ford caught up IMO.
Mustang went from being a sexy Falcon to a sexy Pinto to a total Fox…body. Its looks and cache sold it into the 1970s, but when the ’79 came out, Ford traded sexy but poor bones, for “this time we mean business!”
Whereas the 3rd-Gen Camaro/Firebird looked and handled better, as they always had, but…but…they couldn’t have looked or felt flimsier if they tried.
I remember doing live radio broadcasts, sitting in IROC-Zs on the showroom floor, thinking “this thing feels SO chintzy like it’ll fall apart after 500 feet!” And from there they just assumed people would continue buying these POSs, right to the day they closed the St. Therese plant where they were built.
I have an 82 TransAm, 85,000 interested? First year 3rd gen