1999 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am (272)


The Pontiac Firebird Trans Am that I tested was the convertible model. It also had the Ram Air Performance and Handling package. I looked but couldn’t find the “oxygen” system I expected to be included. It wasn’t in the trunk because that was just large enough to put my golf clubs in.

But it didn’t lack for excitement. This is as close to being an astronaut as you and I will come. If a car looks like a rocket and sounds like a rocket it’s reasonable to assume it is a rocket. The 5.7-liter V8 engine develops 305-horsepower and comes with a 6-speed manual transmission. The traction control is awesome and makes this fastest of production cars (in the US) much safer. Steve asked, “is it as fast as that 911 Porsche C4?” and you know I said yes, but the Porsche is smoother and more sophisticated. The Firebird is typical “All American Muscle Car”. “Yeah, but the Porsche cost three times as much”, says Steve.

Steve is absolutely correct and that got me reflecting back on my Porsche review. For the dough this Trans Am is a performance car that’s equally fun to drive. The problem is you have nowhere to drive it the way you’d like to. Angeles Crest highway, north of the LA suburb of Los Angeles is a great road to feel the performance and the “Crest Test” will make you a believer. The speed limit there is 55 and that will be good enough to sense the great handling characteristics.

I took the trek over the Crest as the sun was just starting to rise. My destination was Willow Springs racetrack down the road from Edwards Air Force base. After 3,000 shifts on that 6-speed transmission over 40 miles of winding road over the San Gabriel Mountains I was kinda pooped. But after a good breakfast I was up for a full day of zipping around the track to test all the 2000 models. Over lunch I had a discussion with another journalist and found agreement from yet another auto columnist that there are very few differences in makes and models any more. They are very homogenous in overall design and propulsion systems. We haven’t changed much over the past 100 years – not really. Automakers seem to be shuffling paper and marking time in the industry waiting for some magical breakthrough in technology. Perhaps we’ll be flying in hovercrafts next.

And in the meantime, real world, this Firebird for all its improvements still has a “push rod” type engine. Well, I guess “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” applies here. And why not? Does dual overhead cam make the car better? They’ve even managed to get 28 miles per gallon out of this very powerful Trans Am car.

The 2000 model sports 17-inch high-polished aluminum wheels included in the Ram Air package, and the throttle linkage has been revised on all V8 engines equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission. In other words not much change and there hasn’t been much change over the 33 years since its introduction in 1967. Today it remains as one of only three of the so-called “pony cars” of that era.

For the new millennium they come in five trims: Firebird (base) Coupe and Convertible, Formula Coupe, and Trans Am Coupe and Convertible. If you’re in the market for a ride to the moon at economy ticket prices, you have to test this Trans Am, (but don’t let the salesman tag along).

The competition:

Chevrolet Camaro $16,840 – $28,365, Dodge Avenger $18,970 – $21,215, Ford Mustang $16,520 – $31,605, Honda Prelude $23,500 – $26,000, Mitsubishi Eclipse $17,697 – $20,187, Toyota Celica $16,695 – $21,165.

Good News:

Great fun to drive because it’s speed and handling are awesome, good range of models and prices, easy to operate top, very decent mileage.

Bad News:

Starts with P and that rhymes with T and that stands for Trouble – the trouble you can get into driving this high performance car.

Standard Equipment:

5.7-liter V8 305 horsepower engine with 6-speed manual trans, Ram Air Induction with functional air scoops, low restriction dual exhaust, tuned suspension, dual airbags, four-wheel anti-lock power disc brake system (ABS), traction control, power top, power windows, door locks, antenna and keyless entry, cruise control, air conditioning, fog lights, rear spoiler, 17-inch 5-spoke high polished aluminum wheels, a rear window defroster, AM/FM stereo with cassette and 12 disc trunk mounted CD player, low-profile Z-rated tires and power bucket leather front seats.

Gas Stats:

19 City and 28 Highway MPG.


MSRP $35,030.

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