Versus the competiton:
Squeal a tire, shed a tear, do what you must do to honor a legend worthy of legendary mention.
The Pontiac Firebird is flying away for good.
May it rest in peace. May your neighbors finally gain some peace and quiet.
When the final bird rolls off the Quebec assembly line later this year, critics will say the Pontiac sports coupe’s time has finally come. Sales charts will show its biggest rival couldn’t stop hitting its stride. Where the Firebird, and its F-body Camaro cousin, couldn’t hold a candle to the Ford Mustang in recent showroom muscle, both were worthy tire-shredding competitors. No more.
And what a shame.
Six months ago, we spun the Camaro out for a final time. Now, just in time for spring, we dropped the top (and the hammer) on the final Firebird Trans Am convertible, all decked out in “Collector Yellow,” and, ultimately, all decked out for a funeral.
Indeed, come the final quarter of this year, it will be a sad day.
Head-snapping, rip-snorting fun says so. And so does 5.7 liters of a blowtorch V8 mixed with all the tasty tread of 17-inch alloy wheels, mixed with the symphony of dual exhaust, mixed with danger.
Don’t believe it? Ask a friend at General Motors Corp. who pushed the pedal a little too hard during a test spin a summer back and was snapped back by a state trooper. Or ask a friend who insisted he have a ride in the final Firebird, then couldn’t hold on hard enough when the clutch was popped and he was deposited into the back of the seat.
“What a rush!” he said, his nails digging into dash.
Indeed. What a classic.
On its final lap, where the Camaro lost some of its appeal over time by not rolling with the times, the Firebird still seems to have that lust factor about it.
From the street, it’s as attractive as ever: a blend of angular lines, louvered side scoops, and bulging sheet metal (as one auto critic said, “a supermodel in a silk nightgown”). From the driver’s seat, it’s a thrill and mainly because it’s after one factor: Pure gusto.
Performance is delivered from the aforementioned Corvette-derived LS1 V8 , a standard 310 horsepower that pushes the Firebird to 60 mph in a tick over five seconds. With the raw energy of 340 pounds-feet of maximum torque, this is a car that demands to be driven, and driven hard. Pop the clutch, and the beast comes to life. Pound the accelerator, and hang on for dear life. Your stomach will hardly thank you for it.
Add “Option Group 1SA” and you can really mix up some internal organs.
It’s $3,290 more for the ram-air induction system (that gives you 15 extra horses), but it’s worth every fiber of Pontiac Firebird muscle. Not to mention it adds the dual-outlet exhaust, power steering cooler, a specific tuned suspension and 275/40ZR17 high-performance tires that stick the Trans Am to the street. The 17-inch tires carry a solid traction rating and allow the driver to munch up a tight corner.
But be careful. The Pontiac Firebird will still slide sideways in a serious push, but it is predictable and not without effort.
Icing never made the cake this tasty.
Available in a base, Formula, and Trans Am hatchback coupes, as well as a base and Trans Am convertible, this year the 2002 Firebird also arrives in a “Collector Edition” trim package.
Base models have a 200-horse, V-6 engine with five-speed manual transmission or an automatic, which is an option on coupes and standard on convertibles. All V8 models come with a four-speed automatic transmission, but you want the six-speed manual transmission with a $325 Hurst shifter. It’s a throwback to what muscular driving is all about.
Inside the Pontiac Firebird, the Trans Am’s cockpit is a mix of standard GM equipment and a futuristic blend of style and function. But what that means is a little too much GM plastic and not enough unique Firebird equipment.
Materials are still a dulled-down variety of what you’ll find in almost every GM vehicle, from a Cadillac Escalade to a Cavalier. But the audio system, secondary controls, seat comfort and overall headroom are first-class.
Wind and noise are also noticeably respectable, as is storage space – a surprising 13 cubic feet in a coupe this sporty.
Visibility from behind that large front end can be a bit tough, especially for vertically challenged drivers and entry and exit in the Firebird takes a little getting used to.
On safety, dual airbags and antilock brakes come standard and traction control can be ordered on all models. Removable roof panels (T-tops) are standard on Formula and Trans Am coupes, and are optional on base versions. Convertibles have a power top and glass rear window which were both easy to operate.
Fuel economy for this model year is a respectable 19 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway, especially when you find sixth gear and 1,500 rpm on the highway.
But this isn’t about saving gas, creature comforts or convenience. It’s all about the drive. And, in a way, it’s all about Pontiac’s expensive frustration.
With a world-class powertrain, hot-as-summer sheetmetal and a tachometer that begs to be dug into, the Firebird is a roaring lesson in what could be, but eventually can’t and won’t. This car is meant to be hammered in the quarter-mile but, without buying your own track, where can you do that?
Ultimately, it becomes a stoplight-to-stoplight adventure. A machismo festival with the guy in the Mustang next to you. An arm-flexing contest with bragging rights reduced to a smile.
And it’s expensive loaded up. The Firebird Trans Am convertible rolls in at just over $30,000 and goes to $205 short of 40k loaded up. That’s an expensive price for nostalgia and lasting memories.
But, riding off into the sunset, the Firebird still wins in many ways.
Catch it while you can.
2002 Firebird Trans Am Convertible SPECS
High Gear: A gutsy V8, an attractive stance and all the bravado of an American legend, the Pontiac Firebird roars into the sunset with a great past and a powerful present.
Low Gear: Price becomes a serious issue once all the extras are tacked on. And for that price, some of the interior materials could have been upgraded.
Vehicle type: Rear-wheel drive, front-engine, two-door, four-passenger sport convertible.
Standard equipment: Four-speed automatic transmission; P245/50ZR16 all-weather tires; rear-wheel drive with limited slip torsen differential; dual outlet exhaust; dual front airbags; theft-deterrent system; anti-lock brakes; power top with glass rear window; fog lamps; power antenna, mirrors, windows, door locks; air conditioning; AM/FM stereo radio with CD; cruise control; remote keyless entry; steering wheel control; power driver’s seat.
Competition: Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, Chevrolet Corvette
Engine: 310 horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8
Torque: 340 foot-lbs. @ 4,000 rpm
Wheelba se: 101.1 inches
Length: 193.8 inches
MPG rating: 19 mpg city/28 mpg highway
Manufactured: Ste. Theresa, Quebec
Warranty: Basic warranty is three years/36,000 miles; powertrain warranty is three years/36,000 miles; rust perforation warranty is six years/100,000 miles; roadside assistance is three years/36,000 miles.
Base price: $31,560
Price as tested (includes options, destination and delivery charges): $39,795