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New Car/Review

1997 Pontiac Firebird Formula

by Larkin Hill

OUCH! It looks like a bullet. Sharp, pointed, long, lean, and mean. The added Ram Air hood scoops in the front add to the "muscle car" image. This is one bad boy!

From the moment you slide into the contoured bucket seats to the second the sun splashes your body, the bliss is only finalized the moment you turn the ignition. The growl brings instantaneous if that's enough. The moment your foot taps the gas, the adrenaline bolts though your body without mercy, you know you're in a beast. You can't help but punch the pedal; the smoke rises behind you in the distance, the sun in your face, the wind in our hair, and the roar of a monster all around you.

The only things that we lacked were spandex mini skirts, Barbie Doll bodies, and the Ken's that go with them.

The car we test drove was a classic candy apple red, with a pleasantly blended taupe and black interior. The controls were easily accessible and aesthetically pleasing. The only really silly function was the power outlet for a cellular phone was positioned directly in the path of the emergency brake, like you had to choose between using one or the other. Other than that everything was quite comfortable inside. A taupe power convertible top with a glass rear window nicely complemented the candy exterior. Even with the top down the streamline body was not distracted. The package was entirely impressive to look at and to drive. The front seats had enough room to comfortably fit full sized adults. The rear seat, however, was a different could fit; you'd just better be flexible, or very small. There were cup holders in the rear, nice gesture but entirely too optimistic, the back seats were much better suited for storage

The low profile and Z-rated tires created stiff suspension and a racecar feel. Such sporty features, while making the car look good, lead to a bumpier and noisier ride overall. The 5.7-liter V-8, with the Ram Air package whooped a hefty 305 horsepower; there was no mountain too steep that this powerhouse couldn't conquer. Unfortunately, you would not want to race up a hill, for you could watch the gas get sucked up before your eyes. The classic image that pops into mind is the commercial with the manly man and his muscle machine at the gas station with the hot babe...he fills up for $50...then revs his engine...and has to fill again. Funny to watch, not so funny in person. The Firebird need not have all that fire. With 305 horsepower "practical" is definitely not in the vocabulary...but, screams sex appeal!

Overall, For the amount of car you get, the Firebird is nonetheless good value. The one we drove was about $32K, pricey, but considering the fact that it uses a corvette engine, pins you to your seat, and makes you stand out anywhere, it's still fair. The main competition is the Camaro. Both the Firebird and Camaro are built on the same styling platform and share similar attributes: large, streamline without many curves...complete "American Muscle-Car" look. The Firebird, while having more shape than the Camaro, lacks the stylish curves and sneaky appearance of the European and Japanese sports cars.

While this was a fun car to drive, I tired of it easily, especially when it came to city traffic. There wasn't any place that you could even begin to test its true potential, it came to be too much car...loud...intrusive...and just too much testosterone for its own good. If you're the type of person that wants to scream "I'M HERE" every time you pull up, then this is the car for's fun, it's fast, and it demands attention. More power to you!

Personally, for everyday use and comfort I'd prefer the comparably priced Mustang Cobra.