2002 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Collector Edition

2002 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Collector Edition

A Bird for the Ages?

No doubt about it, as GM's F-body cars take their final bow, the 2002 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am with the highly desirable WS6 Ram Air performance/handling package is quintessential American transportation-and a very nice piece in its own right. It's a lot noisy, a bit rough around the edges and not a car for wimps. With market forces and insurance rates ushering the F-bodies off-stage at the end of the 2002 model year, Pontiac has marked the occasion by issuing a screaming-yellow Collector's Edition Trans Am, which takes the WS6 joy-toys and adds $3,000 worth of exclusive, purely visual, add-ons.

Call me crazy, but it may be worth it-in a purely monetary sense. Some quarters are quoting GM execs as saying that the Camaro-Firebird market retreat is purely a "hiatus"-too much brand-equity has accrued to permanently axe the lines-and artist renditions of next-generation cars are already making the rounds. But if you haven't noticed, market projections for the U.S. auto industry over the next five years are dismal at best, so this may indeed be the end of the road for the Firebird and its Bow-Tie brother.

If you're creating a "collectible," then your future is all in the numbers. Only 2,000 of these Collector Edition Trans Ams are to be built-1,360 coupes and 640 convertibles. Get your hands on one, keep the miles down and the maintenance top-drawer, and someday you may be able to make a killing on eBay.

The $3,000 premium on the Collector Edition Trans Am gets you these features: the "Collector Yellow" paint job, black-painted 17x9-inch wheels, black/chrome wheels caps, black-painted brake calipers and "undercarriage protection," an exterior stripe package, black exterior mirrors, black B-pillars (coupe) or black top (convertible), yellow/black rear fascia, a "Ram Air" decal, black "WS6" cloisonné badge, ebony leather interior with "Collector Edition" embroidery on the headrest, an embroidered leather trophy mat, "Collector Edition"-badged front floormats, and an owner's portfolio.

Of course, none of this changes the fundamentals of the WS6 package, so let's review the basics.

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The 5.7L LS1 introduced leading-edge technologies to the GM small-block V-8, including all-aluminum construction and a thermoplastic intake manifold. The Ram Air package delivers 325 horsepower and 350 lb.-ft. of torque, thanks to intake induction and low-restriction, stainless steel, dual-exhaust outlets. The mill barks and rumbles when the key is turned, and it doesn't have the smoothest idle in the world. Acceleration is head-snapping, and if you're not packing the optional traction control, it will be easy to burn through the rear P275/40ZR17 Goodyear Eagle F1s when the light turns green. The power comes on steadily even under reduced throttle pressure; the Trans Am happily lugged uphill in fourth on secondary Berkshire mountain byways at under 2,000 rpm, putting enough pressure in the small of your back to tell you there was plenty in reserve. Raw power, in short, is and has always been the essence of the Trans Am experience.

Available transmissions for the LS1 include a six-speed Hurst manual or a four-speed automatic. The clutch touch on the six-speed has always been on the heavy side, so our press-fleet tester came equipped with the four-speed automatic (darn!). Shift points were engaged rapidly enough under full-throttle launches, yet chip-mapping helped deliver overall fuel-economy numbers during our test better than 20 mpg-not bad for a gnarly ol' V-8.

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Pontiac has always claimed that the WS6 suspension is "specially tuned" but has been shy on divulging the specifics. The basic package is identical to the base Firebird-coilover monotube gas-charged shocks, a tubular stabilizer bar with links in front; and a Salisbury (solid) rear axle with a torque arm, trailing arms, track bar, and coil springs in the rear-with the only noticeable difference being a 30-mm front stabilizer bar, as opposed to the 28mm part on the basic Bird. Road isolation is reasonably detached, yet the ride is as stiff as one might expect. The solid rear axle provides some wheel hop, but discrete throttle pressure will keep the nose pointed in the right direction-no thanks to the rather vague steering.

Interior legroom remains rather cramped, especially for drivers over 5'10" and passengers over 5'8". The switchgear has a fussy, '80s, retro feel to it, brought home most forcibly when one fiddles with the seven-channel equalizer on the stereo faceplate. There's a fair level of ambient interior noise, thanks to the tires and the wrap-around rear spoiler on the deck lid.

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F-body numbers were never big enough to satisfy GM suits, but the Trans Am has always had its loyal admirers, despite its being caught between the Cavalier and the Corvette. The General always hoped there'd be a place for such a car, and the Collector Edition allows the Trans Am a flashy final bow-at least for now. Whether there's a curtain call remains to be seen. (www.pontiac.com)

2002 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Rear
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