The final four years of the Pontiac Firebird also marked the last gasp of the classic muscle-car era that started in the 1960s. Like its corporate cousin of Chevy Camaro, the Firebird rode the ups and downs of the horsepower wars with boundless enthusiasm.
The last of the fourth generation of Firebirds that were introduced in 1993, the 1998 models received an expressive front-end restyling and honeycomb taillights that continued through the end of the line. A bit over the top for some, but spot on for others.
The 1998-2002 Firebirds managed to up the ante in performance despite strangling environmental restrictions and a young driving public whose attention was turning elsewhere. Formula and Trans Am models were treated to the latest Corvette LS1 small-block V8 along with an aluminum driveshaft and dual-piston front-brake calipers.
In standard trim, the V8 package cranked out 310 horsepower and 340 pound-feet of torque. But those in the know ordered their Firebirds with the high-performance WS6 Ram Air option that boosted horsepower to 325 and torque to 350 pound-feet. Plus, it added the most audacious quartet of hood scoops ever seen on a production car
In glossy black and with its massive rear spoiler that looked like the turned-up collar of an automotive Dracula, they have a bulging presence that’s hard to ignore.
The Trans Am WS6 cars from 1998-2002 already have shown strength at collector-car auctions, and their values should rise as overall interest in Detroit muscle comes roaring back after the market collapse of 2008. Witness the recent gains of Trans Ams from the “Smokey and the Bandit” days.
Non-WS6 Firebirds from the final years have languished, most becoming just used-up old cars or falling prey to extreme customizing efforts. In great original condition, they should see some upside in the future. Those equipped with the Hurst-shifter six-speed manuals are favored over the automatic versions.
A 205-horsepower V6 was also available for lesser Firebirds, but those values are expected to lag accordingly.
The last hurrah for the Pontiac Firebird was the 2002 Collector Edition Trans Am – known as CETA to their fans – with all of the coupes and convertibles equipped with the WS6 package and painted an aggressive shade of bright yellow. A relatively toned-down rendition of the emblematic “screaming chicken” motif from earlier years flows over the hood and onto the flanks. These attention grabbers have done fairly well at auction, with sales reaching the mid-30s at Barrett-Jackson sales.
For the final 2002 model year, all WS6-equipped Firebirds were produced in fairly high numbers, which does affect their values. Many of them were squirreled away with low miles by those expecting a big return in the future for the last-year performance Firebirds.
In terms of rarity, only a limited number of WS6 coupes and convertibles – something in the order of around 250 – were produced during the 1998 model year, and these are becoming noticed by collectors.