1970s Pontiac Firebird

Changes for the 1970 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

Styling for the 1971 Firebird was virtually unchanged from the 1970 model.
Styling for the 1971 Firebird was virtually unchanged from the 1970 model.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The 1970 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, again enticing an image-conscience crowd, wasn't just an option anymore, but a full-fledged performance machine. That meant a 400-cid V-8 with Ram Air induction delivering a 345 horsepower wallop.

But this time, Ram Air came courtesy of a new rear-facing "shaker" scoop that was part of the air cleaner assembly, and poked through a hole in the hood. Enthralled onlookers could watch the scoop shake and shimmy with every pulse of the brawny motor beneath.

Pontiac beefed up the Trans Am's suspension, while also adding body cladding that included an air dam, spoilers, and air extractors. Some of the raucous extras were for show, but others actually did aid aerodynamics. Developed by engineer Herb Adams, the Trans Am was intended as the most serious rival to the Corvette.

From the moment of its appearance at the Chicago Auto Show, the follow-up Firebird caused a sensation. However, it greeted a changing world. With government regulations growing and insurance companies boosting the rates on hot cars, consumer tastes were shifting. Unlike nearly all of its competitors, though, Pontiac elected to ignore the pressures and continue to focus on high performance.

Development had begun under John DeLorean's stewardship, but he was replaced by Jim McDonald as Pontiac's general manager in 1969. Nevertheless, DeLorean's belief in the market strength of teenagers helped ensure Pontiac's role as a major player in performance. After all, 46 percent of Americans were under 25, and therein lay the Firebird's customer base.

Bill Porter took over exterior design duties from Jack Humbert in 1968. Porter later acknowledged that for inspiration, stylists had contemplated such cars as the Lamborghini Miura -- and even DeLorean's personal Maserati Ghibli.

While designers sought a unique Pontiac personality, engineers demanded greater performance -- and a tighter grip around corners. Both factions were rewarded for their efforts. The result, according to GM historian Gary Witzenburg, was "at once voluptuous and muscular -- one-half Italian exotic, the other California hot-rod."

Hot Rod magazine branded the new Firebird "ahead of its time -- which only means the car is now what it should have been from the beginning." Ride quality was considered smoother and softer, courtesy of reduced spring rates and a driveshaft tunnel that allowed more suspension travel.

Due to the start-up ills and short model year, Firebird volume failed to reach expectations. Pontiac had projected 60,000 units, but settled for 48,739. Most were base or Esprit models; only one-fifth Formulas or Trans Ams.

On the next page, get detailed information on the 1971, 1972 and 1973 Pontiac Firebird.

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