From a design standpoint, muscle cars of the 1990s are a unique breed, one that may not be perfectly understood today. These mostly did away with the boxy exteriors that had defined the breed since its 1960s inception. However, the more aerodynamic approach, while well-received at the time, only lasted for a decade or so, since the mid-2000s saw the debut of the retro-themed muscle machines we still enjoy today. And the mid-engined fourth-generation Pontiac Firebird sitting in front of us brings a perfect digital occasion to discuss that 90s styling.
The Pontiac brand may have been axed in the wake of the financial crisis—GM put the company to sleep in 2010—but the legacy of the Firebird will always live on. After all, given the sportier focus of the Pontiac label, the Firebird always tried to be cheekier than its F-Body sibling, the Chevrolet Camaro.
Even so, if you look up cool real-world builds online, you’ll find a shortage of fourth-gens, be they Firebirds or Camaros. And, as mentioned in the intro, one of the main reasons for this is the way people perceive the styling of these future collectibles.
For instance, the sheer fact that the forum for the LS1 engine—this migrated from the C5 Corvette to the Firebird and Camaro for the 1998MY revamp of the duo—has a poll asking if the 4th gen Camaro is ugly says something. In case you’re wondering, 285 people voted, with just 14.74% of them going for yes.
Sure, we could also discuss the tech setup, but this isn’t what’s keeping more people from building cool fourth-gens nowadays. For one, the 90s Firebirds and Camaros were miles ahead of their predecessors, as the American car industry was finally delivering proper-performance muscle cars in the fight against imports that are legendary these days: Mk IV Toyota Supra, OG Acura NSX and FD-gen Mazda RX-7. Besides, many projects of the sort, such as Hoonigan’s 1,000 HP ZZ632 third-gen Camaro, feature fully overhauled hardware, which means the original oily bits are of little importance.
The exterior design, along with the interiors, which have not aged well, neither in terms of the look, nor the quality, are why fourth-gen Firebirds are still relatively affordable today. If you’re looking for one that’s in good shape and packs a V8, this will set you back over $25,000 on average.
The mid-engined fourth-gen Firebird rendering brings top polish with a McLaren aroma
With all of the above in mind, it shouldn’t surprise you that the spectacular mid-engined Gen IV Pontiac Firebird parked on our screens is a rendering rather than a real-life build.
Digital artist Al Yasid, who is responsible for the work, does his magic (like this mid-engined RX-7) in London, UK. And while we’ll get to the relevance of his location shortly, you should know he went above and beyond for this pre-facelift, non-Trans Am Firebird. The widebody is perfectly integrated, making the Poncho look at least a decade younger.
Up front, the engine bay now serves the kind of aerodynamic purposes you’d find on a supercar. And the aero covers on the wheels show that you can mix performance and efficiency in a way that doesn’t ruin the whole deal—this is essentially what turned the mid-engined Pontiac Fiero of the 1980s into a flop. But hey, those who approve of supercar replicas will there you there’s a silver lining here, with the cheap Fiero chassis serving as a base for such projects. Oh, and here’s a Fiero with a 427 Chevy Big Block in its nose.
The traditional T-Top of the Firebird is still present, albeit with the heavily revised interior of the CGI machine seeing the competition-grade seats almost reaching the upper edge of the windows.
At the rear, the opaque engine cover includes cutouts for cooling. Then there’s the open posterior, with the twin exhaust sitting high on the center, the uber-slim LED stripe and the aggressive wing. All these elements have McLaren P1 written all over them, as the artist must’ve enjoyed his fair share of the otherwise rare hypercar in the British capital city.
Let’s get real—nobody’s going to build such a mid-engined fourth-gen Firebird in metal or composites, so I’m grateful Al Yasid gave us such a delicious taste in pixel land.