By Patrick Smith
The second generation Firebird (1970-1981) was one of Pontiac's strongest image vehicles. It has appeared in more movies than any other Pontiac, often as an adjunct to a character's identity. It also has a lot of cultural baggage compared to other muscle cars. Firebirds were available as a base Firebird, an upscale Esprit, the budget performance Formula and the high performance Trans Am. We'll be concentrating on the Trans Am but many of the details apply to the other models as well.
The screaming eagle on the hood and shaker scoop are the Trans Am's calling cards. These Motown icons are being restored in record numbers.
Year to Year Changes: On the surface, Firebirds look similar from 1970 to 1981. The truth is there were a lot of changes to drive trains, sheet metal and interiors. A 1976 Trans Am doesn't even share the same shell as a 1974. The 1970 Trans Am features the endura nose with two large grilles and a shaker hood. It was available only in Polar White or Lucerne Blue with contrasting stripes. The 1971 Trans Am is almost identical except for new bucket seats with integral head rests and the all new 455 HO engine. 1972 featured Trans Ams with different honeycomb patterned grilles; otherwise they were similar in appearance to the 1971. More cars started to appear with honeycomb mag wheels which became optional in 1971.
1973 was the first year for the full size Trans Am hood decal. It was optional and some cars did not have it. Color choices expanded to include Buccaneer Red and Brewster Green with Cameo White. Lucerne Blue was dropped. For 1974, Trans Am had new vertical finned grilles and the chrome rear bumper was gone, converted to body color molded endura like the front. Color choices expanded to include Admiralty Blue. The large hood bird decal grew in popularity and the small nose cone decal was changed to an emblem.
By 1974, Pontiac Trans Ams were available in new colors including Admiralty Blue.
1975 was the first year for the wrap around rear window. The grilles were changed to horizontal fins with integral turn signals. You could get Trans Ams in many colors by now. 1976 featured a new front end with blacked out grilles and turn signals under the bumper. 1976 was the first year for what became known as the Special Edition package. It was a black Trans Am with gold pin stripe accents and gold hood bird. Marketed that year as a 50th Anniversary model, it returned in 1977 as a top of the line Special Edition Trans Am.
1977 introduced a new front end featuring curved grilles similar to a 1959 Pontiac but with new modular headlamps. The 1978 model is virtually identical in appearance. 1979 was the biggest change in appearance for the Trans Am with a new front and rear end design. The grille virtually disappeared, shrinking to small vents with the turn signal lenses. The rear end gained a massive tail lamp assembly that lit up across the back when brakes were applied. The fender spoilers grew larger as well. The hood decals were the largest and most colorful of the series. In 1980 the only notable appearance change was a new hood with a bulge for the turbo 4.9 Trans Am engine option. It included a unique decal.The Trans Am stayed the same to the end of 1981 in appearance. A 1981 can be identified by the use of a firebird emblem on the gas tank lid.
The 1977-78 Trans Ams look alike except for small details.
By 1979, the grilles went under the bumper while decals and spoilers grew immense.