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      Car History: Car History Year 1973
    Posted on Monday, September 27 @ 13:04:47 UTC by Cars
      Cars By just about any yardstick, 1973 wasn't exactly a vintage year - although the signing of the Vietnam War ceasefire agreement on January 27 seemed to indicate that there was some cause for optimism. Unfortunately, the aftermath of the Watergate break-in was about to engulf The White House and both President Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned following a tax evasion scandal. And, if this upheaval wasn't demoralizing enough, there was the oil crisis caused by the OPEC embargo which resulted in long queues at gas stations. The automobile industry was further hampered by the imposition of a nationwide 55mph speed limit.

    Given those cir*****stances, it would seem unlikely that a car born in the youth-driven Sixties - when performance was everything and fuel economy didn't matter - could even survive, let alone nearly double its sales. But the Pontiac Firebird has always been a rather special automobile and, anyway, nobody ever said there was much logic in the reasons people had for choosing which car to buy. In many respects, it is actually quite remarkable that there was a '73 Firebird at all, given the situation in 1972. Pontiac faced problems on several fronts, the most damaging for the Firebird line being a five month-long strike by the United Auto Workers union at the Norwood, Ohio, plant where the cars were built. By the time the stoppage ended in September, the losses amounted to thousands of cars representing millions of dollars that the company could ill-afford. With the situation as it was, there is little wonder that there was considerable pressure from the GM boardroom to drop the model from the catalog altogether. Further complications arose from the increased number of Federal safety regulations being introduced and the power-sapping emission control systems required - all of which tended to work against the pony car brigade. It was as if the fun had been taken out of driving and, as a result, many of the cars being produced lost their individuality as the design and engineering teams struggled to incorporate the new changes dictated by legislation. It is no surprise to learn, therefore, that the '73 Firebird showed few obvious alterations from the previous year. Well, unless you look at the hood of the Trans Am that is! Nobody could possibly miss that huge "screaming chicken" decal which has since become the enduring symbol of the Firebird. The idea for the gigantic stick-on had originally come from chief designer Bi!I Porter and his assistant Wayne Vieira for a pair of show cars being prepared in 1970. However, GM's tyrannical head of styling, Bill Mitchell, took an instant dislike to the big bird and put a stop to it being used. Bill Porter was promoted in '71 and in his place came young designer, John Schinella, who set about resurrecting the huge hood motif and managed to persuade Mitchell to accept it. Schinella redesigned the decal so it differed from the smaller version that had appeared on the nose of earlier cars and the Porter/Vieria design that Mitchell objected to. The name of the artist responsible for the very first rendition of the Firebird logo remains unknown, simply for the fact that it was copied from a mural on the wall at the airport of Phoenix, Arizona! But that initial design was far more traditional in execution and was only used as a small decorative feature on the fenders and rear of '68 and '69 models. For a model that started out in 1967 as basically a Chevrolet Camaro with a nose job and a different rear end, the Firebird quickly developed its own separate identity, partly thanks to some clever styling work -initially by Pontiac's head of design, Jack Humbert, followed by Bill Porter. Ski I If u I engineering of the suspension and drivetrain, and the use of Pontiac's own range of engines helped to establish this identity all the more. However, the Pontiac powerplants did face one draw back when it came to calling the model, Trans Am, after the race series of the same name - the V8s were all of too big a capacity to run in the championship. The highly successful Trans Am series was organized by the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and, in the 1960s, it attracted a lot of media attention and factory-backed entries of Ford Mustangs, Chevy Camaros, Mercury Cougars, AMC Javelins and others. But the 303 cu.in. maximum limit on engine size presented Pontiac with a problem in that their smallest production V8 displaced 350 cu.in. In a bid to get round the regulations, Pontiac co-operated with the T/G Racing Team of Jerry Titus and Terry Godsall who entered "Canadian" Firebirds (actually Camaros with Pontiac front sheet metal) equipped with Chevy 302 cu.in. engines. After a while, Pontiac produced a special destroked version of the 400 cu.in. engine and managed to convince SCCA officials that this was going into series production, and so allowing them entry to the series. However, with this hurdle overcome, winning was to prove elusive. As it happened, track success wasn't necessary for the Firebird Trans Am to be triumphant on the street and, after its low key introduction in '69, the model went on to evolve into a great American sports car. Bedecked with spoilers, air dams, hood scoops and flares, the Trans Am looked just like a race car should, and handled better than most of the competition too. From 1971 onwards, the only engine available was the 455 cu.in. V8 and, if by '73 its power had been strangled down to a meek-sounding 290 horsepower for the optional Super Duty version (250hp was standard), there was still sufficient "grunt" to give some seat-of-the-pants excitement when the right hand pedal was pushed to the floor in anger. Exactly how well the people at Pontiac had preserved the Trans Am's performance in the face of the ever-increasing restrictive legislation can be judged by contemporary road test reports. Hot Rod magazine cranked out a 13.54 second quarter mile at 104 mph, while Car & Driver were only a fraction slower at 13.75 sees and 103 mph. These were impressive numbers by any standards, and Car & Driver also made the point that the '73 Trans Am was actually quicker than the 1970 version with 340 horsepower on tap. It is no wonder that the SD-455 has become something of a legend among Firebird enthusiasts ever since. And it wasn't just the car's capability to go fast in a straight line that C&D liked; the Trans Am was just as quick off the mark when going round corners: "...the Trans Am's second most endearing quality - next to its ability to out-accelerate anything not assisted by a rocket motor - is handling." They were less than happy with the brakes on a car timed at 132 mph though, and suggested that the semi-metallic front brake pads from the heavy duty Police Package were a must. The report concluded: "The Firebird Trans Am is a genus of an automotive species approaching extinction. It could be the last of its kind. Just the car you need to carry you through the upcoming years of automotive sterility..." With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps it is only now that we can fully appreciate that this statement was really quite an amazing piece of prophetic writing. The 1973 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am was virtually the final fling of the mass produced, cheap, high performance car for a couple of decades. And, even over twenty years later, it remains as an exceptional example of just how good an American sports coupe can be, no matter what obstacles are imposed by the law makers. Specification PONTIAC FIREBIRD TRANS AM Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 455 cu. ins Bore and stroke 4.15x4.21 ins. Horsepower 250 (optional 310) Body styles Coupe No. of seats 4 Weight (lbs) 3,504 Ibs Price $4,204 Produced 4,802     Specification CHEVROLET CORVETTE STINGRAY Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 350 cu. ins Bore and stroke 4.00 x 3.48 ins. Horsepower 200 Body styles Coupe; Convertible coupe No. of seats 2 Weight (lbs) 3,326 Ibs-3,333 Ibs Price $5,635 - $5,676 Produced 30,465 (all models)     Specification FORD LTD COUPE Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 351 cu. ins Bore and stroke 4.0x3.5 ins. Horsepower 159 Body styles Hardtop coupe No. of seats 5 Weight (lbs) 4,059 Ibs Price $3,950 Produced 120,864     Specification CADILLAC COUPE DE VILLE Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 472 cu. ins Bore and stroke 4.30x4.06 ins. Horsepower 220 Body styles Hardtop coupe No. of seats 5-6 Weight (lbs) 4,925 Price $6,268 Produced 112,849  
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