1970s Pontiac Firebird

The 1974, 1975, 1976 Pontiac Firebird

Besides the wrap-around rear window, the 1975 Pontiac Firebird had few styling changes.
Besides the wrap-around rear window, the 1975 Pontiac Firebird had few styling changes.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The 1974 Pontiac Firebird received a much-needed facelift. Directed by John Schinella, it included a switch to a sloping, "shovel-nose" Endura front end, with the traditional divided grille inserts recessed into rectangular frames.

Ads promoted the Firebird as "Part engineering. Part soul." Yes, soul -- a factor generally thought to be disappearing from American automobiles. Sure, Trans Am dropped back to a standard 400-cid V-8; but the Super-Duty 455 could still be ordered.

Despite high fuel prices, Firebird sales rose appreciably. A total of 73,729 were built, including a record 10,255 Trans Ams (more than double the 1973 output). This at a time when Pontiac's overall sales were down sharply.

Clearly, the Trans Am nameplate was gaining a following -- and an image -- of its own. Exposure in movies and on TV didn't hurt; James Garner, an auto racer in private life, began to drive Firebirds on TV's The Rockford Files. A few years hence, hard-driving Burt Reynolds would pilot a black Trans Am in Smokey and the Bandit and its sequels.

Detuning slashed the Trans Am's 455-cid V-8 (not available as the 1975 season began) to 200 horsepower, while the 400 V-8 lost 40 horses, dropping to 185. Engines adopted performance-sapping catalytic converters as emissions standards tightened. All models wore a new wraparound rear window.

Prices rose again, yet Firebird sales edged upward. In what was a bad year overall for the industry, output reached 84,063 units, of which nearly one-third were Trans Ams.

Production shot up further yet in 1976, as 110,775 Firebirds left the plant. Trans Ams accounted for a whopping 42 percent of the total, as the 455-cid V-8 hit the options list for the last time.

The Endura front end got a modest aero reshaping, taillamps were modified, and integral body-color bumpers installed. Formula Firebirds could get bold graphics along rocker panels and door bottoms. For those who couldn't quite afford a Trans Am, the Formula was emerging as an attention-getting alternative.

Options for 1976 included a canopy-style half-vinyl roof and a T-top. Because of production problems, only 643 T-tops were installed, but it would become a popular item later. All went on the first "Special Edition" Trans Ams: black/gold beauties that marked Pontiac's 50th anniversary.

On the next page, read about how the Firebird continued to grow in popularity as the 1970s came to a close.

To learn more about muscle cars, see: