How Pontiac Works

By: the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide

1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 Pontiac Firebird

Blue dorsal striping and monogrammed white leather seats were just a few of thefeatures for the 25th anniversary 1994 Pontiac Trans Am.

Firebird started 1994 with a "decontented" and downpriced Trans Am, though the previous T/A was still around as the Trans Am GT.

V-8 buyers choosing six-speed manual got CAGS, GM's Computer Aided Gear Selection feature. Long familiar in Corvettes, it basically "forced" a first-to-fourth upshift under light throttle as an aid to fuel economy -- and to CAFE numbers. GM refused to build cars that would qualify for the Gas-Guzzler Tax. Purists widely disdained the electronic intrusion, but it was easily avoided with a careful right foot. And its mpg benefit allowed substituting a shorter rear-axle ratio (3.42:1 versus 3.23) for better off-the-line snap.


As planned, Firebird convertibles returned at midseason in base, Formula, and T/A GT trim, now factory-assembled wares with a standard power top. Also appearing in the '94 run was another nostalgic birthday Firebird, the 25th Anniversary Trans Am. An option package for T/A GTs, it was strictly cosmetic: blue dorsal striping, white paint, monogrammed white leather seats, specific body-color five-spoke alloy wheels, and, of course, the requisite celebratory logos. At least the price was right at just $995, and installations were limited to some 1500.

For reasons only Pontiac marketers could explain, the T/AGT was dropped for '95 and the regular Trans Am restored to its former standard-equipment glory. It shared with Formula an appreciated new traction-control system as a $450 extra that was worth every penny.

The base Firebird wasn't neglected, gaining a 200-bhp 3.8 V-6 as a late-season option in concert with automatic transmission. That evergreen engine then replaced the 3.4 V-6 for all base models. V-8s also got more power for '96, going to 285 bhp standard and to a healthy 305 via a new Ram Air package featuring a big hood air scoop (with twin intakes), plus larger tires on five-spoke alloy wheels.

After a quiet 1997, Firebird followed V-8 Camaros by adopting the impressive new aluminum-block LS1 engine from Chevy's C5 Corvette. In the ponycars, it made 305 bhp, up 20 from the final iron-block LT1; the optional Ram Air package (code WS6) upped the count to 320. At the same time, the six-speed ­manual became a no-cost option to automatic for Formula and Trans Am.

All '98 Firebirds wore a modest facelift marked by honeycomb-pattern taillights and a slightly shorter, more rounded nose. A pair of aggressive nasal air slots distinguished Trans Ams -- and Ram-Air cars now had four. Changes for '99 were few but worthwhile. V-8s adopted a more effective Torsen limited-slip differential, traction control was newly available for V-6s, and all models got a slightly larger fuel tank.

Another milestone Trans Am birthday rolled around in 1999. Pontiac observed it with a 30th Anniversary Package comprising the WS6 engine, Arctic White paint, more wide blue dorsal striping, unique 17-inch alloy wheels -- and even "Screaming Chicken" decals, albeit much less blatant than in the old days. There was the usual logo-bedecked cockpit, this one with a numbered commemorative plaque on the console.

Production was restricted, of course: 1065 "targa" coupes (with 65 reserved for Canada), 535 convertibles (35 for up north). Amid all these warm fuzzies, few might have guessed that Firebird had but three years left to live.

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