Home/Regulars/Spotted/Pontiac Firebird: Spotted

Pontiac Firebird: Spotted

The Mustang burned many a rival during America's pony car war; could this Firebird be ready to rise from the ashes?

By Dafydd Wood / Sunday, May 12, 2019

Since Ford mastered the genre in the mid-60s there have been many pretenders to the Mustang’s pony car crown. Some have endured better than others, sure, but none have quite managed to match its success. So with a trip to the good ol’ US of A - and an opportunity to drive one of the cars that’s managed to stay the course - on the horizon, my thoughts have turned to those that have fallen by the wayside.

There have been dozens of them, far too many to list here; the majority produced by manufacturers which have long since folded, or been devoured by one of the Big Three. Noteworthy standouts include the Plymouth Barracuda - which, in making it to market two weeks before the Mustang, technically kick-started the pony car phenomenon -  the AMC Javelin and the Pontiac Firebird.

It’s the latter which is arguably the most culturally significant of those on this side of the pond, largely thanks to its star turn alongside the late, great, Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit. So, while not exactly the same as the 1977 model used for the film - 1976, technically, but we won’t get into that now - today’s Spotted carries with it an extra few cases of cool. As a 1981 car, it is more closely related to Smokey than most, however, with ‘81 being the final year of second generation production, before the styling took a decidedly 80s (read: worse) turn.

By the time our Spotted entered production, America’s fuel crisis had put an end to big displacement engines, the option of a 6.6-litre V8 having been phased out one year prior. This meant that the V8 in our Spotted had to make do with just the 5.0-litre unit. But while today’s muscle cars are locked in a seemingly never-ending power war, the manufacturers of the time seemed to be competing for a rather different accolade; going head-to-head to discover who could get the least power from the largest engine.

To that end Pontiac took those five litres and proceeded to eke a frankly appalling 150hp from them. Nonetheless, buyers received the easy pull and smooth burble of a V8 engine, four-speed manual transmission and pony car styling, all in a package which exuded the effortless cool of the Bandit himself. And now you can have it too.

Our Spotted looks to be in very reasonable condition for its 51,000 miles, the paint bright and bodywork clean. Of course, even if it was never refreshed by its single lady owner, that paint may not be entirely original. Due to strict pollution controls in California, Firebirds produced there were finished in water-based paint, while identical models built at Pontiac’s freely-polluting Ohio plant benefited from a lacquered emulsion. This bestowed the Californian cars with the unenviable trait of delamination, with Pontiac having to fork out for the costly in-warranty repair.

Other than that potential hiccup, this car looks to have enjoyed a relatively cushy life. And, having been garaged from new, never driven in the rain and coming complete with its original invoice and handbooks, is sure to find its way to an owner who’ll ensure that a similar level of care continues. The only question is, for £14,990, could it be you?

Find your next car