Fourth Generation (1993-2002)
The 1993 Firebird was very close to, but not quite, all-new. The body was daringly aerodynamic and incorporated plastic front fenders, but much of the floorpan and rear suspension carried over. The new short/long-arm front suspension was a distinct improvement and incorporated rack-and-pinion steering for the first time, but the real leap forward was in the engine bay.
While the '93 Firebird line was pared down to three models (base, Formula and Trans Am), there were only two engines offered — a new 160 horsepower 3.4-liter version of the same V6 used in the third-generation car and the amazing 275 horsepower LT1 version of the classic 5.7-liter small-block V8. Not only was the LT1 thrillingly powerful, it could be had with a six-speed manual transmission, and it was the standard engine in both the Formula and Trans Am.
The LT1's performance was scintillating, with Car Craft magazine recording a conservatively achieved 14.1-second at 98.45 mph quarter-mile performance for a Trans Am and a thrilling 5.6-second 0-to-60-mph time. With practice, other magazines had LT1-powered Firebirds and Camaros regularly running 13s.
Realizing it had a good thing going, Pontiac didn't change much on the 1994 Firebird, but did reintroduce the convertible and offer a special white and blue 25th Anniversary Trans Am. Also new for '94 was a GT version of the Trans Am (that featured additional luxury features such as leather seats) and a "skip shift" feature on the six-speed manual, which, depending on throttle position, would force an upshift from first gear to fourth for better fuel economy. This instantly created a market for aftermarket skip shift eliminator kits.
Traction control was added to the 1995 Firebirds, but otherwise it was impossible to distinguish them from the '94s without looking at the VIN number. The Trans Am GT was dropped and, at mid-year GM's 3.8-liter OHV 3800 V6 was offered as an alternative to the 3.4 V6 in base Firebirds. Making 200 horsepower, the 3800 was more powerful than any V8-powered '84 Firebird.
With the 3800 available, no one really wanted the 3.4-liter V6 anymore, and it was dropped from the 1996 Firebird line. Making the base Firebird even more enticing was the optional 3800 Performance Package that added four-wheel disc brakes, dual exhaust, limited-slip differential and alloy wheels. On the Formula and Trans Am side, the 5.7-liter V8 got 10 more horsepower for a total of 285. The 300-horsepower barrier fell during this year, as the Ram Air name returned for a cold-air induction system on the Formula and Trans Am coupes with the WS6 package. Ordering the WS6 engorged the LT1 with enough air (via two "nostrils" in the hood) to take output up to 305 horsepower, and Pontiac threw in 17-inch wheels to boot.
Ragtop fans had reason to rejoice for 1997 as the rip-snorting WS6 Ram Air package was now an option for Formula and Trans Am convertibles. Other changes this year included the option of an aptly-named, 500-watt Monsoon audio system.
Yet the WS6 LT1 was not the ultimate in Firebird performance. For 1998, the Firebirds got new noses and behind those noses in the Formula and Trans Am, the spectacular all-aluminum 305-horsepower (320 with WS6) LS-1 V8. This all-new engine, introduced on the '97 Corvette, is easily the best engine ever to have been installed in a Firebird — including all the 455s from the 1970s and the '89 Turbo V6. Other changes included the adoption of second generation (less forceful) airbags and a Sport Appearance Package for base Firebirds to give them the look of their meaner brothers.
So good was the '98 that the 1999 Firebird got only minor revisions, such as a Torsen limited-slip differential for V8 models (and V6 cars with the Performance Package) and a few new options that included a Hurst shifter for the six-cog manual and a power steering cooler (V8 models). Of course, the Trans Am's 30th anniversary would not go unnoticed as a special version was created to mark the celebration. Similar to the 1994 Anniversary T.A., the 30th featured a white with blue trim color scheme along with blue-tinted alloy wheels and a white leather interior.
The 2000 wasn't much different from the '99.
And the 2001 didn't change much from the 2000, though the unchanged LS1 was re-rated at 310 horsepower (325 with WS6), and the Ram Air option was no longer available on the Formula.
The last Firebirds came along for 2002 with, yet again, minimal changes — the only notable exception to that being the 35th Anniversary version for the Firebird, celebrated with a Trans Am, which featured yellow paint, black wheels and special graphics. Not much of a send-off for a car that has such an indelible place in the hearts of America's motorheads.