In The Seventies, for the first time in American history, the government intervened in the auto industry. With the 1973 oil crisis, the Big Three were ordered to tighten their belts. Automotive design came to a halt, and the big-block Trans Am became the last of the really fast cars. The muscular Firebird had been around since 1969 and, with its rounded bulges, looked as if its skin had been forced out by the strength underneath.
Gas shortage or not, the public liked the ’73 Trans Am, and sales quadrupled. The 455 Super Duty V8 put out 310 horsepower and, while Pontiac bravely tried to ignore the killjoy legislation, someone remarked that the High Output 455 was the largest engine ever offered in a pony car. The game was up, and within months modifications to comply with emission regulations had brought power down to 290 bhp. The hell-raising 455 soldiered on until 1976, and that athletic fastback body until ’82.
But the frenetic muscle years of 1967–73 had irretrievably passed, and those wonderful big-block banshees would never be seen again.
Detroit’s oldest warrior, the Firebird is the only muscle car that’s been in the brochures for 30 years. Based on the Camaro’s F-body, the Firebird debuted in 1967, but the wild Trans Am didn’t appear until ’69. Surprisingly, there was little fanfare until the hot 1970 restyle.
The rear-facing “shaker” hood scoop was an indication of the Trans Am’s immense power.
Flared wheel arches made the Trans Am look even tougher.
For 1973 the fastback bodyshell was given a full-width rear-deck spoiler.
Second-edition Trans Ams had a standard engine-turned dash insert, Rally gauges, bucket seats, and a Formula steering wheel. The tachometer was calibrated to a very optimistic 8000 rpm. The speedo was just as untruthful, with a maximum of 160 mph (257 km/h).
The “screaming chicken” graphics gracing the hood were new for 1973. Created by stylist John Schinella, they were a modern rendition of the Native American phoenix symbol. The Trans Am now looked as distinctive as it drove.
BODY BY FISHER
Pontiac wanted to portray that bodies were hand-built by an old-time carriage-maker.
Steep insurance rates and a national shift away from performance iron didn’t help Trans Am sales, but in 1973, the year of the “screaming chicken” hood decal and Super Duty V8, Trans Ams left showrooms like heat-seeking missiles. Nearly killed off by GM, it soldiered on into the emasculated ’80s and ’90s.
New front valance panel with small air dam appeared in 1973.
NAME IN DISPUTE
The Trans Am name was “borrowed” from the Sports Car Club of America, and the SCCA threatened to sue unless Pontiac paid a royalty of $5 per car. The Trans Am was a seriously macho machine, with Car & Driver magazine calling it “a hard-muscled, lightning-reflexed commando of a car.”
Dual exhausts with chrome extensions were standard.
The big-block Trans Ams were Detroit’s final salute to performance. The 455 Super Duty could reach 60 (96 km/h) in under six seconds, and run to 135 mph (217 km/h).
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Pontiac Firebird Trans Am (1973)
PRODUCTION 4,802 (1973)
BODY STYLE Two-door, four-seater fastback.
CONSTRUCTION Steel unitary body.
ENGINE 455cid V8.
POWER OUTPUT 250–310 bhp.
TRANSMISSION Four-speed manual or three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic automatic.
SUSPENSION Front: coil springs; Rear: leaf springs with live axle.
BRAKES Front discs, rear drums.
MAXIMUM SPEED 135 mph (217 km/h)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 5.4 sec
A.F.C. 17 mpg (6 km/l)