More than just a pretty face would be needed to sell plenty of 1982 Pontiac Firebirds. It would have to offer serious performance and handle like a veteran and -- in this era of attention to aerodynamic efficiency -- slice through the air with some ease. No problem there, as the new Firebird's body rated 0.33 on the coefficient-of-drag scale, helped by the dramatic, 62-degree windshield slope.
Each of three Firebird models adopted a distinct identity. Base coupes were considered compact cars, and carried -- of all things-a standard four -- cylinder engine. No Firebird had ever run with fewer than six cylinders, but Pontiac's fuel-injected "Iron Duke" four delivered an adequate, if uninspiring, 90 horsepower. Next in line was the luxury touring edition, dubbed S/E, with a Chevrolet 173-cid (2.8-liter) V-6 underhood and special suspension below.
Trans Am again served as performance king, even if its standard carbureted 305-cid (5.0-liter) V-8 delivered a rather feeble 145 horses. At least Pontiac offered a hotter option, borrowed from Corvette: a 305 V-8 with dual throttle-body ("Cross-Fire") fuel injection, rated at 165 horsepower.
Road & Track called the fuel-injected Trans Am "a dramatic improvement on predecessors," managing a 0-60 time of 9.2 seconds-sluggish compared to muscle cars of a decade earlier, but swift by 1982 standards. Handling was deemed softer than Camaro's, more European in nature. Car and Driver declared "America's latest shot at a modern GT coupe . . . worlds better than the car it's replacing," even though Camaro/Firebird "engine displacements have been trimmed more aggressively than their curb weights," and the editors bemoaned their test car's "10.6-second waltz to 60."
Consumer Guide® testers took their carbureted Trans Am with automatic to 60 mph in 10.8 seconds. Although the ride was declared shaky and stiff, and the car's character brutish, no fault was found with its super handling and flat cornering behavior.
Subtle it was not, with brash front-fender air extractors and flared wheel openings. Trans Ams might no longer wear their immense and insolent decals, but the new hood did feature a rear-facing scoop.
Dazzling looks doubtless accounted for the impressive sales figures of the newly diminutive Firebird. A total of 116,362 were built in the abbreviated model year-more than 45 percent Trans Ams. Four-and six-cylinder Firebirds had their followers, but 64,116 customers selected a moderately vigorous V-8 instead.
On the next page, we'll look at improvements made on the Firebird in 1983.
For more information on cars, see:
- Firebird Reviews by Consumer Guide
- Muscle Cars