Used 1999 Pontiac Firebird Convertible
Pros & Cons
- Powerful V6, spectacular V8, true muscle car performance package at bargain-basement price.
- Boy-racer-in-gold-chains image, cheesy interior plastic, sky-high insurance rates for V8 models.
Edmunds' Expert Review
Except for a small period of time during the early '80s, the Pontiac Firebird has been synonymous with performance since it debuted in 1967. When considering famed Firebirds from the past, the blue-striped Trans Am from 1969 comes to mind, as does the 1974 SD-455. How about the 1977 black-and-gold 455 T/A abused by Burt Reynolds in the original Smokey and the Bandit movie, or the gold 78 Firebird Esprit piloted by James Garner in TV's The Rockford Files? And when any Firebird history is written, the 1987 turbocharged Indianapolis 500 Pace Car version will deserve mention, as will this, the current iteration of Pontiac's F-body.
The 99 Firebird, in base form, is meant to convey sex appeal. Its blend of angular greenhouse lines and softly bulging sheetmetal creates the automotive equivalent of a supermodel in a silk nightgown. Unfortunately, the bespoilered Trans Amwith its aero skirting, decklid 'batwing'' and louvered side scoopsruins the effect. Not to worry; the mid-level Formula model provides all of the T/A's hardware goodies in a more restrained, lighter, less-costly package.
The Firebird's cockpit is a futuristic blend of style and function, and is better executed than that of its corporate twin, the Chevrolet Camaro. Dual airbags and antilock brakes are standard, and the optional traction control system can now be ordered on all models. Additionally, convertible versions of Firebird and Trans Am are available, for a corresponding boost in price.
Performance from the Corvette-derived LS1 V8 is nothing short of astounding, providing enough power to get the Firebird to 60 mph faster than your 10-year-old can get to 40 yards. The pushrod 5.7-liter that comes standard on Formula and Trans Am makes 305 horsepower, and a more-important 335 pounds feet of tire-blistering torque. Need more power 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 LS1, resulting in 15 extra ponies. WS6 suspension tuning and 275/40ZR-17 rubber keep the Ram Air Firebird planted to the ground, while a new dual-outlet exhaust system offers a meaner look than the old twin pipes on the same side setup.
All V8 models come standard with a four-speed automatic transmission; a six-speed manual is a no-cost option. Base Firebirds are powered by a 3800 Series II V6 that makes 200 horsepower, and can be optioned with a performance package of their own. This 'insurance special'' includes bigger tires, a limited-slip differential, dual exhaust and uplevel steering. A slick-shifting five-speed manual transmission is standard on the V6.
Pontiac has further improved the breed for '99, making traction control available for all models, including the V6. To further help in the traction department, a Torsen II limited-slip differentialonce an exclusive option on the WS6is now standard on V8 cars and V6 Firebirds with the Performance package. Fuel tank capacity has been increased (16.8 gallons) for extended range, an oil life monitor is now standard, and two exterior colors have been added. Convertibles get the eight-speaker Delco/Monsoon sound system standard, while a Hurst shifter is optional on cars equipped with the six-speed stick. And autocrossers take note: a power steering cooler is now available on V8-powered models.
With world-class powertrains and hot sheetmetal at a low base price, the 1999 Firebird fries Ford's Mustang, not only at the stoplight but also at the dragstrip or racetrack. Problem is, Ford's beloved pony car, now newly revamped for '99, is pummeling Pontiac's performance flagship in dealer showrooms, outselling the F-Body at better than a 3-1 clip. While Mustang's packaging and refinement may have earned it a wider audience, and the once-mighty performance coupe empire is drying up, Firebird wears its modern-day muscle-car crown well. Just stay away from the over-adorned Trans Am, because the Formula provides all the performance and image you need, yet keeps your budget well in the black.