For the better part of its existence, Pontiac was GM’s noted performance brand, and since 1967, the Firebird was Pontiac’s purebred pony car. But by the early 1980s, the second-generation Firebird had become a relic from before two oil crises. Arriving for the 1982 model year, the third-gen Pontiac Firebird was a far more modern car in both form and function.
The focus with the new design was on weight reduction and aerodynamics. The windshield was raked to a slippery 62 degrees, sharper than anything GM had designed before. The front end featured retractable headlights that folded away, helping contribute to the 0.33 drag coefficient—the most aerodynamic Firebird so far.
Though the body began to differ from the Camaro, which also debuted in ’82, the underpinnings and even engines were closely tied to its Chevy Camaro cousin. The base engine for the 1982 Firebird was the 2.5-liter “Iron Duke,” which was the first use of a four-cylinder in a Firebird. It made just 90 horsepower, but provided more than 30 mpg on the highway.
There was also the 2.8-liter V-6, making 105 horsepower. Two 5.0-liter V-8s were offered; a carbureted version with just 145 hp, and a “Crossfire Fuel Injection” model making 165 hp. These were not bright days for GM engine performance.
Trims were Base, S/E, and Trans Am. A WS6 performance package was available, adding four-wheel disc brakes, stiffer springs, upgraded sway bars, tighter-ratio steering box, and a limited-slip differential. The WS7 package was also offered, but had drums instead of discs.
Following the popularity of the black-and-gold second-gen Firebird from “Smokey and the Bandit,” Pontiac offered the RPO Y84 or “Recaro T/A.” It had a black-and-gold paint job, but sadly no massive “Screaming Chicken” on the hood.
In 1982, “Knight Rider” made its debut, featuring a modified Firebird. This contributed significantly to the popularity of the model with the public, and there are several You’ll homage cars done up like KITT out there.