The third-generation Pontiac Firebird is the best of the worst, a brilliant aerodynamic design from an era that wasn’t too kind to performance vehicles, the 1980s. You might be surprised to learn that KITT from Knight Rider, an 82 Trans Am, is not the only movie-related 3rd-gen. That’s right, there’s a Pontiac Trans Am Bandit II, though it’s only semi-official.
The Bandit II was created to pay tribute to the 1977 special edition Trans Am from Smokey and the Bandit. The exact number produced isn’t known, but we do have a lot of the details regarding who, what, and where.
The Bandit II was a $4,500 conversion done by Chattanooga Customs Center, a division of Choo Choo Customs, in Tennessee. They’re the same folks who offered the El Camino SS when Chevrolet stopped making them. The project began in 1987 with 500 examples made and sold by local dealerships. This example is a 1990 model (#182), and by that time they were making 600 per year, with production ending in 1992.
The package is applied to normal Firebirds with the 305 cubic-inch V8 sold at the time, which produced 170 horsepower at the time. The Formula models at the time could give you an upgrade to a 5.7-liter making 225 hp. As I said, the 1980s (when this was developed) were unkind to muscle cars.
Even though it’s slow, the Trans Am Bandit II is so beautiful and interesting that it’s sure to be a hit with GM fans at car shows, especially when the body kit looks so clean. A full set of skirts and spoilers wraps around the aerodynamic shape, giving it an OEM+ style.
The Transit II also boasts a massive bulge cut into the hood, imitating the Shaker Hood of the late 1970s. However, it’s not functional and looks fake when you’re sitting behind the wheel. It even says “T/A 6.6” on there, which can’t be right because they didn’t even offer one for the 3rd-gen. Also, I believe this has the wrong exhaust; it’s supposed to be quad custom tips, as indicated by the size of the bumper cutouts.
The Bandit look would not be complete without a Screaming Chicken on the hood and some gold decals applied on top of the Bright Red paint. This particular example is coming up for sale at the Mecum auction in Chattanooga a couple of weeks from now and has the original gray interior, and gold wheels, plus the T-Tops with bags. It’s probably worth at least $20,000 just because it’s rare and interesting.
The fuel-injected 305 cubic-inch is a strong-running V8 that’s known for being smooth on the highway. The four-speed automatic transmission makes this collectible more of an interesting cruiser. The engine bay is well presented, but do be careful because parts for these old GM cars are becoming harder to find. After all, this is now a 30-year-old classic.
What makes the 3rd-gen Pontiac Firebird and Trans Am great
A lot of people prefer the look of an IROC-style Camero over this Pontiac model, but this was a very advanced design and will probably prove timeless. Introduced for 1982, this generation of two-door muscle cars shrank from a 108-inch wheelbase to a 101-inch wheelbase, partly because GM was targetting massive weight reduction.
Overall, it was about 500 lbs lighter, and the Pontiac also became more aerodynamic for the sake of efficiency. The General Motors Technical Center in Michigan had recently completed a full-sized wind tunnel. Engineers gave the Firebird a low front end using pop-up lights, flush wipers, pointy mirrors, and smaller grilles. The air was actually channeled to the radiator using the air dam underneath the nose.
Of course, the engines weren’t that impressive, which is why this Pontiac isn’t as popular as the previous two generations. The basic Firebird which retailed for just under $8,000 even came with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder. Yes, that’s the 90-horsepower Iron Duke, the same as the Fiero.