My love for cars started when my parents placed me in front of the TV and put on Top Gear. Years and years of watching the legendary trio shaped me into a petrolhead, with a specific taste in cars – European cars, to be exact. But, I recently started to go deeper and deeper into American car culture, and right now, one of my absolute dream vehicles is a muscle car – specifically, the Firebird.
Even though this might sound a little strange, I truly think the Pontiac Firebird, the second generation to be exact, is one of, if not the greatest muscle cars ever. In the face of the Camaro, Mustang, and Challenger, this might seem like a bold statement, but let me explain.
Before getting to the car itself, we should take a look at how it came to be. The Firebird story begins in the ‘60s, with John DeLorean – yes, that John DeLorean. He dumped a big ol’ V8 in the mid-sized Pontiac LeMans and called it the GTO package, thus giving birth to the muscle car and changing the course of American car culture forever.
The GTO proved that young people like fast cars – who would have thought? This new philosophy started a whole new exciting car market, and it got really crowded, really fast. Ford came out with the Mustang, Plymouth made the Barracuda, and Dodge brought out the Polara, Coronet, and Dart trifecta.
Seeing this wave of cars, GM was at risk of losing the market that it created. They needed a new car to take down the Mustang. To do that, Chevy came out with the Camaro, and Pontiac was tasked to create a sister car based on the same platform, but aimed at the Mercury Cougar, which was based on the Mustang.
The new Pontiac offering took inspiration from a concept car released a few years prior, called the GNX. They also stole a little from the GTO and the Camaro, adopted the classic coke-bottle shape, and gave birth to the Firebird.
The Firebird was based on an already existing platform, from the XP-833 prototype, which also inspired the third-gen Corvette. But there was another problem. The Firebird was too similar to the Camaro. So to differentiate it, it got a more up-scale treatment. That meant more interior options and five trim levels.
The masses loved the first-gen Firebird, due to the extra features over the Camaro. Even though its sales figures are lower than the competition, people took to it, and the best iteration came in 1970, when the second generation debuted. And here is a really cool Firebird Trans Am Ram Air III from 1970 out on the open market.
When the second-gen came out, it was extensively reworked, both on the outside and the inside. It still had some Camaro resemblances, but that didn’t matter, as it got meaner and angrier looking. It also received the rebellious, outlaw stigma that nowadays defines the Firebird thanks to the one and only Burt Reynolds in the movie ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ – but that is a story for another day.
Getting back to this ‘70 Firebird, the big, intimidating look comes courtesy of the Trans Am package. Besides the performance upgrades, which we’ll get to shortly, it also got appearance enhancements. The Polar White paint with Lucerne Blue stripping showcases a shaker hood, front air dam, fender vents, and a rear spoiler.
Also on the outside, you will find a fair share of chrome, specifically on the bumpers and the big dual exhaust. The chrome theme continues onto the wheels, which are the Rally II model and measure 15 inches in diameter. They are wrapped in BFGoodrich Radial T/A rubber, and behind them, you will find disk brakes in the front and drums in the rear.
Moving on to the interior, it is classic American muscle car business. Black vinyl is the norm here, being wrapped around big, comfy, seats and door cards. For your comfort amenities, you get lap belts, wind-up windows, and an AM stereo with an 8-track tape player – as ‘70s as it gets.
We’ll get to the power unit in a second, I promise, but the three-spoke Formula steering wheel is too cool not to mention. It also sits in front of a tachometer, a 160 mph (260 kph) speedo, and a clock. Ok, now it’s time we get to the engine.
Now, back in 1970, you could get the Firebird in two different configurations. The first one was the Esprit, which was the luxury-oriented one, and the Formula, the sportier version. Then, you could add the Trans Am package, and on top of that, you could get the Ram Air upgrade. The Ram Air pack had two different versions, the III and the IV. The car in question today has the Trans Am Ram Air III option.
This optional trims and packages addrf up to quite a performance beast. I’m talking about 345 hp (350 ps) out of a 400 ci (6.6-liter) HO V8. Power is sent to the rear wheels via a four-speed Muncie manual transmission and a Safe-T-Track diff. The second generation stuck around until the ’80s, receiving some redesigns along the way and, until the arrival of that pesky crisis that we mentioned once or twice, bigger engines.
This Firebird Trans Am Ram Air III is up at auction in Lewes Beach Delaware. It currently sits at 50,500 dollars with 72,000 miles (116,000 kilometers) on the five-digit odometer. It also comes with a clean Michigan title and a burning desire to make a lot of noise and a lot of smoke.
I know there are more popular, and arguably better, muscle cars out there, but, at least for me, the Firebird perfectly encapsulates the outlaw, rebellious spirit that defines that era.