How Pontiac Works

By: the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide

1990, 1991, 1992, 1993 Pontiac Firebird

Firebird was left to carry the "we build excitement" banner in the 1990s. As ever, it was the most stirring thing in Pontiac showrooms, and promptly became even more so -- mainly because it had to.

Firebird began its 1991 season in spring '90, about six months early. Base, Formula, Trans Am, and GTA came back with another deft facelift of the familiar vintage-1982 design, announced by a smoother snout recalling the recent Banshee show car.


A new Sport Appearance option gave the low-liner much of the T/A's show, but not the go. Engines ranged from a budget-grade 140-bhp 3.1 V-6 to a 240-bhp 350-cid/5.7-liter V-8. Though everyone knew a fresh Firebird was just two years off, Pontiac sprang a surprise at mid-1991 with its first convertible ponycar in more than two decades. Offered in base, Formula, and T/A guise only, the droptop Firebird was naturally much like the rag-roof Chevy Camaro that had been around since 1987. It spurred a modest sales recovery as a bridge to '93.

That season also began early, and why not? Abetted by a recent concept preview and fuzzy spy photos in newspapers and "buff" magazines, Firebird fans were clamoring for the fourth generation of their favorite. They weren't disappointed. Bowing in spring '92 with coupes only, the 1993 Firebird was a real looker: slick, slinky, even a bit menacing. Wheelbase was unchanged, but flowing new contours gave greater visual distinction from F-body cousin Camaro.

Fiero experience paid practical dividends in the use of dent-resistant plasticlike material for the front and rear fascias, front fenders, doors, roof, and rear hatchlid. Beneath was a spaceframelike structure that improved rigidity so much that the optional twin T-tops could be replaced by single lift-off panel -- the first Firebird "targa" coupe.

Powerteams were drastically simplified. Base models came with the corporate 3.4 V-6, here tuned for 160 bhp and linked to five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic transmissions. Formula and Trans Am shared a new-generation small-block V-8 dubbed LT1, still a 5.7 but chockablock with engineering improvements. Also found in Camaros and Chevrolet Corvettes, it delivered a 275-bhp wallop via the automatic or a newly standard six-speed manual gearbox.

Chassis changes were equally extensive, though the all-coil suspension was much the same in concept. The factory changed too, with F-body production moving from Van Nuys, California, to a more ­modern GM plant in St. Therese, Quebec, Canada.

All 1993 Firebirds came with dual airbags and ABS, a sop to insurance companies and the high premiums that still dampened demand for many sporty cars. Unfortunately, those additions pushed sticker prices much higher. A base Firebird previously listing at $12,505 with automatic now started at $13,995 with manual. Given that, plus surprisingly strong, sustained competition from an aged yet seemingly ageless Ford Mustang, the brand-new Firebird was no sales smash.

A slow production ramp-up for the sake of build quality held model-year '93 volume below 15,000 units. Yet even when production did hit stride in 1994, sales recovered only to the 50,000-unit level achieved by the last third-generation cars of 1992.

For more on the amazing Pontiac, old and new, see:

For more on the amazing Pontiac, old and new, see:

  • Pontiac New Car Reviews and Prices
  • Pontiac Used Car Reviews and Prices