Firebird Trans Am Convertible Review, Price

Except for a small period of history during the early '80s, Firebird has been synonymous with performance since 1967. The blue-striped Trans Am from 1969 comes to mind, along with the 1974 SD-455, the 1977 black and gold 6.6-liter T/A abused by Burt Reynolds in "Smokey and the Bandit," the orange 1978 Firebird Esprit driven to fame by James Garner in "The Rockford Files," the 1989 Turbo V6 Indianapolis 500 pace car, and this, the current iteration of Pontiac's F-car.

The Firebird, in base form, is a beautiful car. The blend of angular greenhouse lines and softly bulging sheetmetal creates the automotive equivalent of Kim Basinger in a silk nightgown. Unfortunately, the bespoilered Trans Am, with its aero skirting, decklid Batwing, and peek-a-boo driving lights ruins the effect. Not to worry; the Formula provides all of the T/A's hardware goodies in a more restrained, lighter, less costly package.

The Firebird's cockpit is a nice blend of style and function, and is much better executed than that found in its corporate twin, the Chevrolet Camaro. Dual airbags and anti-lock brakes are standard, and Firebird Formula and Trans Am can be equipped with an optional traction control system. Additionally, convertible versions of each model were introduced in 1994, so if top-down motoring is preferable, for a boost in price it is yours.

Performance from the Corvette-derived 5.7-liter V8 is astounding, providing enough power to get the Firebird to 60 mph faster than your ten-year-old can get to 40 yards. The LT1 V8 is good for 285 horsepower. Need more than that? A Ram Air WS6 Performance and Handling Package for the Formula and T/A is available, featuring twin hood scoops that force cool air into the LT1, resulting in 20 extra ponies. WS6 suspension tuning and P275/40ZR17 tires keep the Ram Air Firebird planted to the ground. Ram Air is available for the first time this year on convertible editions of the Formula and Trans Am. Base models are powered by a 3800 Series II V6 that makes 200 horsepower, 45 more than rival Ford Mustang. A Performance Package for base Firebirds includes four-wheel disc brakes, a limited slip differential, dual exhausts, bigger tires and a tighter steering ratio.

Pontiac has substantially improved the Firebird for 1997. In addition to the expanded availability of Ram Air, the Firebird can be equipped with a new 500-watt Monsoon sound system. Power seats can be covered in leather this year, and four-way seat adjustment is standard on all Firebird models. Air conditioning also makes the 1997 standard equipment list, along with a new center console with dual auxiliary power outlets. Base Firebirds get engine vibration dampeners and bodyside moldings, while Ram Air coupes receive 17-inch high polished wheels. Green Metallic joins the exterior color roster, and interiors can be dyed Dark Pewter if you please. Finally, GM makes good on its threat to add daytime running lights to the Firebird despite the car's hidden headlamp system. High intensity parking lamps glow all day long. Just great.

With world-class powertrains and hot sheetmetal at a low price, the 1997 Firebird fries Ford's Mustang. Stay away from the well-optioned Trans Am, because the Formula provides all the performance and image you need, and keeps your budget well in the black.