Differences Between Firebirds, Thunderbirds and Trans Ams

by Ilana Boyum
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pontiac image by Sainte-Laudy from Fotolia.com

There are three big U.S. automotive brands on the market, Ford, General Motors (GM) and Chrysler. Under each of these brand umbrellas there are smaller brands aimed towards specific markets. For GM, the Pontiac brand has always been marketed as a line of mainstream performance vehicles. Boasting models such as the Trans Am, and the Firebird, Pontiac never aimed to be particularly fuel efficient or family friendly. Ford's contribution to these muscle cars was the Thunderbird.


The Firebird was the first of Pontiac's current muscle or pony cars to hit the market, being introduced in 1967. The design of the original Firebirds was in the "coke bottle shape" that was popular in the late 1960's. Equipped with a both an inline V-6 or V-8 engine, the original Firebird was a monster with engine options that could put out as much as 325 hp.

Starting in 1970, Pontiac introduced a new body shape that is much more reminiscent of the modern Firebird. Since then, no fewer than five different generations of the classic muscle car have been introduced. The later models have taken a decided shift back toward the original styling, with a lot of the "swoop" that characterized the Firebirds of the 1980's and 1990's.

Trans Am

The Trans Am is actually a model of the Pontiac introduced to the market in 1970. Equipped with the same beefy, high horsepower engines, the Firebird and Trans Am could only be told apart by inspecting some of the features. The Trans Am often features lower body panels and a taller fin, along with body graphics that are not available on the regular Firebird.

The Trans Am also features a stiffer suspension and is basically the top of the line model of the Firebird. There were four different generations of Trans Ams produced from 1969 through 2002. The name Trans Am is actually trademarked by the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and is the name of its popular racing series. GM paid $5 per Trans Am car sold to the SCCA for the use of the name.


The Thunderbird, or "T-bird" as it is sometimes known, is a Ford vehicle that began production in 1955. Original a sporty two seat coupe, the Thunderbird has gone through quite an evolution, with 11 distinct generations under its belt. When Ford first released the Thunderbird in 1955, they marketed it as a "Personal Luxury Car" rather than a "Sports Car." Released two years after the Chevy's Corvette, the first Thunderbird outsold the Corvette by an impressive 23 to 1 ratio. Later models of the Thunderbird put a greater emphasis on performance, rather than just features, with the 1957 model boasting 254 hp.

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