Cars & Racing | 17 January 2017The Last of the Firebirds Share article facebook twitter google pinterest Most car enthusiasts are well aware that many of the mighty 1960s-era muscle cars have made huge comebacks in this century; Camaro, Mustang, Charger, etc. But what ever happened to the popular Pontiac Firebirds, Trans-Ams and GTOs? Are any of them still made by GM? Will we only ever spot them in car shows and old Burt Reynolds movies? The answer lies in the final chapter of the new Motorbooks publication Pontiac Firebird: 50 Years where readers can find all the details on the last Firebird ever made (excerpted below). Because this was the final year for Firebird production, Pontiac used 2002 as a way to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Firebird. It was the only time that the Firebird, rather than the Trans Am, got a birthday celebration. 2002: END OF THE LINE On September 25, 2001, General Motors announced that the Camaro and Firebird had reached the end of the road. Citing a 53 percent drop in sales since 1990, and the apparent infatuation for SUVs that the public was buying in droves, GM said that it would shutter the Sainte- Thérèse, Quebec, plant in September 2002. Most of the workers were eligible for retirement, and the facility, which had been in operation since 1965, was no longer going to build anything. The once mighty pony-car segment, started by the Ford Mustang and spawning a wide range of competition, including the Firebird, would, after model year 2002, be reduced to a single vehicle: the Mustang. Ford would play in a field of one until Chevrolet’s release of the 2010 Camaro. But by then, Pontiac would be gone—killed in 2009, a victim of declining sales. In its eighty-two years, Pontiac had “built excitement.” But markets had moved, specifically to China. Sister division Buick, long a fading marque in America, was now built in China and was selling like crazy. So General Motors took a long look at Pontiac, and the numbers just didn’t work. GM had to shed itself of four of its eight nameplates to qualify for federal loans, and one of the nameplates was Pontiac. The others were Hummer, Saab, and Saturn. It was natural selection on a corporate scale. Every one of the 2002 Collector Edition Trans Ams came equipped with the desirable WS6 suspension and performance package. The flowing tape stripe motif was used only on these T/As. Huge dual Ram Air scoops ingested large volumes of air into the induction system at speed, helping to supply the 5.7-liter V-8 under the 2002 Firehawk’s long hood. For its last year, the Firebird line did not go gentle into that good night. Pontiac unveiled the yellow “Collector Edition” Trans Am, replete with a modern version of the famous Hood Bird decal. Or in this case, decals, plural. Each of the long Ram Air tunnels sported a smallish bird, but long, flowing “feathers” slipped back toward the cowl. With some seventeen birds scattered throughout the vehicle, it could qualify as a rolling aviary. But few dispute that the 2002 LS1-equipped Firebird line could fly. Shod with Goodyear Eagle F1 tires on black WS6 alloy wheels, it could do a pretty good imitation of a slot car. The window sticker on this 2002 red convertible—the last Trans Am built—shows that the T/A went straight into Pontiac’s hands. Talk about a collector’s item . . . Pontiac was not going to spend a dime on changes to the Firebird, so it was essentially a continuation of the year before. Like the prior year, the standard 5.7-liter engine developed 310 horsepower, while the Ram Air package had 325 horsepower living under the long hood. The staff at High Performance Pontiac magazine (September 2002) flogged a Collector Edition T/A coupe at a drag strip, finding that a run of 13.13 seconds at 104 miles per hour in the automatic transmission-equipped vehicle was easily repeatable. All this in a car that gave 26 miles per gallon on the freeway. Its sharp nose cleaving the wind, the 2002 Trans Am featured a drama-rich design. Trying to find the end of the nose while parking was a drama-rich experience as well. Sales in the Firebird’s last year were in line with the prior few years, with a total production tally of 30,690 units. The base V-6-equipped Firebird’s production totaled 8,423. Formulas sold, like in years before, in relatively small numbers; only 901 were built for model year 2002. A total of 14,908 Trans Ams were ordered. And the vibrant Collector Edition saw an impressive 2,391 sold. The potent Firehawk sold in impressive numbers, 1,503 total, showing that right up to the end, there was a hardcore group that relished true performance and exclusivity. SLP built 168 Firehawk Formulas, 1,133 Trans Am coupes, and 202 Trans Am convertibles for 2002. This was the high-water mark in sales for the Firehawk. Talk about going out on a high note! In all of these cars, manual transmissions were the numerical favorite. The final Firehawk built was a black Formula coupe. SLP fitted a high-flow induction system to the 2002 Firehawk, giving it a 10-horsepower bump from the preceding year. The $4,299 base Firehawk package could be fitted to any Formula or Trans Am model. Only three options were available on the 2002 Trans Am Collector Edition: traction control, a twelve-disc CD changer, and a Hurst shifter. Pontiac sold 549 convertibles equipped with manual transmissions in the United States. Emotion is a funny thing. The F-body series, and the Firebird especially, have maintained the passion that these cars evoke. When the Firebird was rolled into the sunset, General Motors said that it was retaining the Firebird and Trans Am naming rights. So can the Firebird return? In the car business, the last thing you ever want to say is “never.” Bob Lutz, GM’s new product development chief at the time of the cessation of Firebird production, said that “the Firebird’s day is done.” One thing that no one can debate is that the Firebird and Trans Am had one hell of a great run. Buy from an Online Retailer Celebrate 50 years of Pontiac’s iconic muscle car. The early 1960s saw American auto manufacturers desperately trying to sell cars to the emerging baby-boom market. Pontiac attained success with its original muscle car, the GTO, but as successful as the GTO was, it was handily outsold by Ford’s grand-slam home-run pony car, the Mustang. In response, Pontiac entered the pony car market in 1967, its new Firebird, a model that became one of the most iconic cars of the classic muscle-car era. Eventually the top Firebird model, the Trans Am, became the standard bearer for automotive performance in the U.S. market, kept the muscle car flame alive throughout the dark years of the 1970s and led the charge when performance reemerged in the 1980s. Pontiac Firebird: 50 Years chronicles the Firebird’s rich history, from the early attempts to reach the youth market in the early 1960s, through the potent and turbulent years of the classic muscle car era, the resurgence of muscle in the 1980s, to the car’s continued popularity today. Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.