1993-1994 Pontiac Firebird


After a brush with extinction, Firebird roared back in 1993. See more Pontiac Firebird pictures.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

After a close call with extinction, the Firebird's future now seemed assured with the 1993 Pontiac Firebird.

In attempting to recapture its flock of lost customers-and to ensnare a throng of newcomers-Firebird demanded more than a freshening. Instead of a cosmetic facelift, it required a new shape. Rather than relying on style and performance images from the past, it needed to gaze at the future.

Pontiac Firebird Image Gallery

Yes, it would have to build upon the ponycar tradition that had commenced way back in the muscle-car world of the Sixties. But heritage wasn't enough. This would have to be a Fire-bird aimed squarely at the Nineties, but one that didn't neglect its carefully nurtured status as an automotive legend.

Amazingly, the conspicuously restyled Firebird that appeared at Detroit's auto show in January 1993 seemed to have succeeded on all counts. As the richly rounded 2+2 coupe went on sale, Road & Track magazine declared the bold new Firebird a "reaffirmation of the ponycar concept . . . updated with Nineties technology." Motor Trend concurred, noting that while Camaro and Firebird were clearly new, they kept "one technological leg planted firmly in a fun-filled past."

That technology encompassed an updated concern for safety features. Air bags for both the driver and front passenger were standard on every Firebird. Anti-lock braking was available for the first time, and 5-mph bumpers were installed (beating the 2.5-mph federal requirement).

Just how new was this latest Firebird? Pontiac claimed that only 10 percent of its content carried over from 1992.

Performance also earned a great deal of attention. Engine choices dipped to two, but both were more powerful than their predecessors. Base Firebirds carried a V-6 again, but this one displaced 3.4 liters (enlarged from the previous 3.1-liter engine). Running with sequential fuel injection, it delivered an impressive 160 horsepower-20 more than the last 3.1 V-6.

Both the 5.0-liter V-8s and the former 5.7 were gone, but standard on Formula and Trans Am was a 275-horsepower 5.7-liter V-8. Tagged LT1 (identical to the Corvette designation), the modernized big V-8 yielded 25 fewer horsepower than a 'Vette version-but that was still 35 more than the top Firebird engine of '92. Trans Am was initially a Formula-based appearance/trim option rather than a separate model, and the GTA edition was history. Nevertheless, this was the most powerful regular-production Firebird since the Super-Duty 455 of 1973-74.

A five-speed gearbox was standard again on the base model, while V-8 Firebirds employed a new six-speed. Unlike the Corvette's six-speed, this one didn't automatically shift from first gear to fourth under light throttle (a fuel-economy measure). A four-speed automatic transmission remained optional.

Chevrolet's Camaro again shared Firebird's under-the-skin engineering and powertrains. Traditional rear-wheel drive continued, on the same basic platform with a 101-inch wheelbase. Only a three-door Firebird hatchback went on sale in the first season, but a convertible was planned-and destined to arrive during the 1994 model year.

If you want to learn more about muscle cars and Firebirds, check out these pages:

1993 Pontiac Firebird Styling

A steeply raked, 68 degree windshield was the focal point of the 1993 Pontiac Firebird.
A steeply raked, 68 degree windshield was the focal point of the 1993 Pontiac Firebird.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Styling for the 1993 Pontiac Firebird was greatly influenced by the dramatic Banshee IV, which toured auto shows in 1988, and also by the "California Camaro" that had been created by the Advanced Concepts Center. Chief designer John R. Folden later explained that Chuck Jordan, GM's now-retired head of styling, advised the staff to "Be brave."

In a startling departure from conventional practice, head Camaro designer John A. Cafaro Jr. met regularly with Folden to exchange ideas. Old rivalries wouldn't be allowed to stand in the way of progress. Engineering development was credited to teams under Ted Robertson, Harvey Bell, and Norm Fugate.

Brave they all were, but practical as well. The curvaceous new body was half an inch longer, two inches wider, and two inches taller than its '92 predecessor. Interior dimensions remained virtually identical, with a touch more headroom in both front and back. A steeply raked (68-degree) windshield served as a focal point. Rear spoilers-standard even on the base model-held a built-in high-mounted stop lamp.

Pinpointing the coupe's squarish wheel arches and pointed snout, Road & Track claimed that it ranked closer in kinship to the first-generation Firebird than to its immediate predecessors. In any case, with such an assertive, eye-grabbing profile, there was little more need for garish decals and doodads.

Since the beginning, Firebirds had been made strictly of steel. Not anymore. Rust-, ding-, and dent-resistant composite material was employed for most outer body panels, except the rear fenders and hood. Body stiffness was claimed to be 20 percent better, allowing fewer squeaks and rattles -- a common complaint against older Firebirds.

MacPherson struts departed from the front suspension, supplanted by a short-/long-arm configuration, with standard De Carbon gas-charged shock absorbers. Suspensions were thus softened somewhat to glide more easily over bumps, yet managed to retain their legendary handling prowess. The switch also permitted a lower cowl and hood. Power rack-and-pinion steering ousted the old-fashioned recirculating-ball setup, producing more precise control and "feel."

Inside, a reworked dashboard with domed instrument panel made the full analog gauges easy to see, and radio/climate controls more convenient to reach. Rear seat space grew a bit, but remained a sore spot-literally so for adults. Cargo space also grew, but can charitably be described only as scant. Standard fittings included a low-oil warning.

If you want to learn more about muscle cars and Firebirds, check out these pages:

1993 Pontiac Firebird Technical Improvements

The 1993 Pontiac Firebird had numerous technical improvements, including a fortified safety cage and Solar Ray glass.
The 1993 Pontiac Firebird had numerous technical improvements, including a fortified safety cage and Solar Ray glass.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

What about technical improvements for the 1993 Pontiac Firebird? They ranged from a fortified safety cage structure and installation of Solar Ray glass to enhanced theft resistance. A delayed electrical relay disabled the door and rear hatch power-unlock functions 30 seconds after being locked from outside. Air conditioners contained CFC-free refrigerant.

Easily-removable exterior panels would allow simplified servicing. Wipers were designed to stick to the windshield at 100 mph, and shut off on command (with no extra swipe)-a minor point that nevertheless reflected Pontiac's desire to eliminate annoyances. Doors were designed to require 40-percent less effort when closing, and the radio and power windows operated for a while after shutting off the ignition. The roomier glovebox supposedly was "designed to hold Detroit yellow pages." Optional T-tops now included a trunk storage rack.

But down to the nitty-gritty: Did the modern Firebird's actual "go" match its stunning new countenance? Well, acceleration ranked as more than adequate with V-6 power, but utterly stellar with a V-8 under foot. Motor Trend managed to hit 60 mph in 6.1 seconds with a Formula edition. "Formula has 99 percent of the Corvette's performance at half the price," they explained, "plus it's got a back seat."

Road & Track registered 0-60 times of 6.3 seconds with its manual-shift Trans Am. Testers for Car and Driver beat those figures with their six-speed Formula, reaching the 60-mph mark in 5.4 seconds and sprinting through the quarter-mile in 14.2 (at 99 mph). Firebird is the "piece we've all lusted after," they insisted, "knowing it was too salacious ever to happen." But happen it did.

Unfortunately, wet-weather traction continued to be a Firebird flaw. Sure, a V-6 Firebird could be controlled well enough, but the high-performance models could be a frightening handful on slick pavement -- just as they'd been for more than two decades. Traction control was anticipated, but wouldn't arrive until later in the 1994 model year -- and then as an option only on selected models.

If you want to learn more about muscle cars and Firebirds, check out these pages:

1993 Pontiac Firebird Marketing

Marketing for the 1993 Pontiac Firebird included a spin as the Daytona 500 official pace car.
Marketing for the 1993 Pontiac Firebird included a spin as the Daytona 500 official pace car.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

1993 Pontiac Firebird marketing was all about up-selling. Starting at $13,995, the base Firebird ranked as a veritable bargain by 1993 standards. Another $4,000 bought a Formula edition, while the Trans Am package sent the total to $21,395. Throw in a few accessories, of course, and those figures could easily jump by several thousand dollars.

Like other automakers, Pontiac had specific target markets for each model. Base Firebirds aimed at college-educated singles, mostly female, with incomes over $35,000. In short, people who might otherwise choose a Ford Mustang LX, Nissan 240SX, Ford Probe, or Dodge Stealth. Single men were the top prospects for the Formula. With options like high-performance tires and an alternative axle ratio, a Formula Firebird could deliver "as much muscle as the Trans Am without as muscular a price." And, swapping understated, minimalist subtlety for pretentious pizzazz, it lacked the aero add-ons that attracted more attention than some owners preferred.

Trans Am buyers would be mostly male (as before). For their extra dollars, they'd receive what Pontiac described as "[u]nprecedented performance, control and excitement with a bold muscular appearance and features required in a high performance sports car for the 90s." Trans Ams displayed a pedestal-mounted rear spoiler and aero side skirts, as well as an extended snout with integrated foglamps.

Jack Folden, Exterior Studio II design chief, explained that the restyled Firebird had "an international design flavor to it, and yet it very much says, 'I'm an American and proud of it.'" Considering that long-standing "all-American" image, some customers may have been surprised to learn that the latest Firebirds (and Camaros) hailed from Canada, built at Ste. Therese, Quebec, instead of in California.

Fuel economy never had been a big selling point for ponycars of any stripe. Even so, the V-8's EPA rating of 17 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway could be equalled in real-world driving-providing that one's foot didn't lean too heavily on the gas pedal.

"Driving excitement" continued as the theme in Pontiac ads, but evolving to "embrace '90s sensibilities." Most ads featured the $17,995 Formula. Even so, the base coupe led in sales volume, offering "spirited V6 performance with styling that's head-turning yet sophisticated and appealing to both import and domestic intenders of sporty cars."

"Pontiacs are bold, purposeful, athletic, and personal," insisted the division's general manager, John Middlebrook, as the '93 Firebird debuted. He noted the car's "aggressive exterior, driver-oriented interior, powerful powertrains and precise handling suspension systems."

By the time the first new Firebirds went on sale, SLP Engineering was readying a souped-up Firehawk edition, just as they'd done for the last of the third generation. This time, the price was a lot more modest ($24,244); but packing 300 horses, a Firehawk could run the 0-60 dash in 4.9 seconds and devour the quarter-mile in 13.5 (reaching 103.5 mph). Few drivers needed to achieve such velocities, of course; but it was nice to know that such feats were possible.

If you want to learn more about muscle cars and Firebirds, check out these pages:

1994 Pontiac Firebird

1994 was the final year Pontiac offered the Firebird. Fans of the nameplate await its return.
1994 was the final year Pontiac offered the Firebird. Fans of the nameplate await its return.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

For the 1994 model year, the 5.7-liter V-8 adopted sequential fuel injection, but retained the same horsepower/torque ratings. Trans Am became a separate model, adding a GT edition, for a full four-model lineup. The GT had so many standard features, Pontiac proclaimed, mat only five options were offered.

An electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission with driver-selectable controls replaced the former hydraulic unit. Drivers could choose "normal" or "performance" modes on Formula/Trans Am, or "normal" or "second gear start" (snow) modes on base Firebirds. "Second gear start" reduced power to the drive wheels during initial acceleration. Mean-while, the six-speed manual gearbox added a forced first-to-fourth-gear shift under light acceleration, like Corvette's.

Pontiac promised to offer traction control as an option later in the model year, but only for V-8s with automatic. The system would detect tire spin at either drive wheel, eliminating slippage via controlled application of brakes and reduction of engine torque.

Another midyear addition was a 25th Anniversary Trans Am decked out in white paint with a bold blue stripe running nose-to-tail-much in keeping with the original Trans Am's color scheme. Other exterior styling cues included white five-spoke aluminum wheels and an assortment of special decals and badges. Inside, white leather seats (as well as the white door panels) sported blue "25th Trans Am" embroidering. According to introductory press material, division manager John G. Middlebrook proclaimed that "Pontiac will only build around 2,000 of the highly contented 25th Anniversary Trans Ams."

If you want to learn more about muscle cars and Firebirds, check out these pages: