Would You Get Behind A Modern Pontiac Firebird?
Updated: Aug 24, 2019
Of all the iconic vehicle nameplates that remain on the road today, a beloved classic is yet to find ground in the “NEW GM”. The Pontiac Firebird was, for many years, a grand touring halo vehicle, or shall I say pony car, for the Pontiac brand. Much like its cousin, the Chevrolet Camaro, the Firebird was Pontiac’s version of a sporty muscle car, and for many years it had unique styling, performance topping that of the Camaro, and a distinct customer base. While the Camaro has hit performance milestones in recent years, purists still ponder at the “what if” concept if Pontiac had not died back in 2010.
While customers can find an aftermarket knockoff in Trans Am Florida’s Trans Am, essentially a heavily modified 5thor 6thgeneration Camaro, it is not a full on GM product. Costing over $100,000 alienates buyers to a very elite class, which the old Firebirds did not typically do. While Pontiac’s return could do a lot for GM today, both in terms of sales, opportunity for new style, technology, and performance for the everyday consumer, and even a new route to take on future electric vehicles, no brand rebirth is complete without its signature halo vehicle. While my case for a modern Pontiac is growing, I can’t help but ponder what a modern Pontiac Firebird would be for GM. Below I will outline the essential must have list, both for the traditional purist and modern sports car enthusiast. Please comment if you agree or if there are more features you would want to see in a modern Firebird!
Design: Inspired by Gen 2 Firebirds
Styling is always the make or break it factor on new cars, especially ones with heritage. Camaro has done a good job remaining somewhat retro in its styling for its 5thand 6thgenerations, although its high belt line has severely hampered outward visibility. If Camaro does continue onto a 7thgeneration on an upcoming GM platform (explained in my previous article, check it out if you haven’t already), then the Firebird already has a good opportunity for styling. Since Corvette has moved up a class, Camaro, and now Firebird, have the opportunity to shine, more so as sports cars than just traditional muscle cars. They would still be muscle cars, the design would simply be sleeker, as were the second generation Firebirds and Camaros in the 1970s. With this design, better sightlines, trunk space, and interior volume can be found, essential to making these vehicles more practical for everyday driving.
Inside, technology needs to be up to par with what’s out on the market today, with a large center touchscreen and reconfigurable driver instrument cluster. Tech focused, but with a twist, if the right approach is made, the cluster could be configured to look more retro or modern, however the customer chooses. Given the Firebird would share a lot with Camaro, as in the past, interior panels need to be slightly different, such as the center console and door panel designs. Softer materials on the center console and door panels, standard, brings Firebird into a more premium space than Camaro, and with added graphics, it can be more unique as well.
The Return of T tops
I was once told by Al Oppenheiser that GM never brought T Tops back to Camaro simple for the reasoning of: A. poor storage in the vehicle for the roof panels and B. you can get almost the same experience out of a sunroof. Regardless, any diehard fan knows that T Tops are nothing like a Sunroof, as the car is much more open around you when driving, and it looks unique and cool! There were water leaking issues in the past, but back then, T Tops were Hurst or Fisher add ons, they were NOT engineered and installed by GM. Today, engineering is so well done, GM could certainly figure out this hurdle, in addition to ensuring a structurally sound vehicle in the case of a collision and in trunk storage. It is not an impossible feat and would add a cool element and vehicle experience that most new buyers have never had the opportunity to experience!
The Camaro Cannibalization Conundrum: Firebird Trim & Performance Strategy
Perhaps the biggest hurdle for a modern Firebird is the fact that it will sit in the same headspace as a Camaro, not the most compelling selling factor for GM executives. When you stop and examine how Firebird could be configured, it wouldn’t be too bad though. As in the past, Firebird would be produced along the same production line as Camaro, so there would, perhaps, be a slight decrease in Camaro sales, but overall sales numbers should still remain strong, and most likely higher due to the return of a legend!
To further ensure the Firebird does not take away Camaro sales is properly placing it within the GM lineup. Pontiac’s tend to be slightly more premium and higher end than Chevrolets, and the Firebird would be no different. With the option of T Tops, there goes away the need for convertible version, so I would propose no convertible Firebird’s, so Camaro will still be exclusive to the convertible space. In terms of trims, Firebird could find its place among Camaro by only offering 2 trim levels: the iconic Formula and Trans Am. They would be different in styling and mechanical offerings as follows:
V6 Engine Powertrain
Manual or Automatic Transmission
2 Hood Vents
Rear Lip Spoiler
$30-40k Price Range
Firebird Trans Am:
V8 Engine Powertrain
Manual or Automatic Transmission
Iconic Hood Scoop & Screaming Chicken Decal
Multiple Unique Interior & Exterior Graphics
$40-50k Price Range
Trans Am use to be more powerful than any Camaro offered, but in order to remain accessible to more consumers, using the same V8 as in the Camaro SS, and V6 as in the Camaro LT, serves to make Firebird Models obtainable. As in the past, engineers will find ways to tune the Firebird to perform slightly better than standard Camaros, such as a standard performance exhaust, upgraded suspension, and brakes. Also taking into account the more premium interior, Firebirds would cost slightly more than Camaro, but nothing too considerable.
If one did desire more, there is room for a range topping Super Duty to be re-introduced, it just depends on overall demand for the product when the time comes. It could be a fully available product, or be produced in limited quantities, or not at all. It really depends on consumer demand and GM headspace during time of development, so it’s perhaps the most unknown factor if the Firebird can come back.
Pontiac, in my mind, is a grand touring vehicle brand, but I am not one to stand in the way of making exactly what consumers demand if numbers are high enough. As such, a host of performance accessories will be available, including Recaro seats and a performance data recorder, to allow further customization by customers.
The return of the legendary Firebird would make a lot of diehard fans happy, and probably bring great sales success for the brand if GM considers doing something different. I know a lot of people are frustrated by the likely disappearance of Camaro, for at least a few years, starting in 2023. We can only hope the nameplate does return, and that the wait is well worth it. My bet is on 2025 or 2026 at the earliest if it is done, and a Firebird would be a welcome addition to the iconic nameplate. We can only hope GM is willing to take the risk.
I have many more Pontiac related articles coming, as the return of the brand, overall, could work if done right. So stay tuned and comment below with your thoughts, opinions, and ideas!