Chevrolet Camaro Vs. Pontiac Firebird: Off to the Races with a Pairing of Pony Cars
The history of cars in the United States is nothing short of interesting. From the first Model T through the decades and eras to self-driving vehicles today, the automobile industry has been colorful. Before the time when fuel efficiency was at the front of everyone’s mind was the time when revving engines and aesthetics reigned supreme.
“Pony car” is an American car classification that describes affordable, compact, and highly styled coupes or convertibles that were groomed with a “sporty” or performance-oriented image. The common characteristics of a pony car included rear-wheel drive, a long front hood, a short decklid, and a wide range of options to provide an individualized experience.
“Muscle car” is an American car classification that describes high-performance, intermediate-sized cars with a large displacement V8 engine. The common characteristics used to identify muscle cars are rear-wheel drive (which has changed due to technological advances), a relatively lightweight two-door body, affordable price, and designed for street legal straight-line drag racing.
The first pairing of pony cars is the Chevrolet Camaro and the Pontiac Firebird.
Competition for the Ford Mustang
The Chevrolet Camaro and the Pontiac Firebird were both models built by their respective manufacturers to compete with the Ford Mustang. The Mustang has been continuously produced by Ford since 1964 and fits neatly in the pony car category.
The Release of the Camaro and Firebird
The Camaro first went on sale on September 29, 1966, for the 1967 model year. The Pontiac Firebird also released its first pony car competitor on February 23, 1967. The Camaro and the Firebird were considered cousins in design, sharing the same type of F platform (F-Body) design. The Camaro and the Firebird are the only two vehicles ever built using GM’s F-Body platform. General Motors used this rear-wheel pony car automobile platform in models from 1967 to 2002.
Talkin’ About My Generation
The Camaro and Firebird both saw several generational changes over the years. The Camaro is still in production today. However, Pontiac stopped producing the Firebird in 2002.
Generations of the Chevrolet Camaro
The Camaro has seen six different generations thus far. There was a brief hiatus in the vehicle’s manufacturing from 2003-2009, which separates the fourth and fifth generation.
Generations of the Pontiac Firebird
The Pontiac Firebird was no longer manufactured after 2002, meaning that the only body style available for these pony cars was the GM F-Body. A total of four generations were released for the Firebird.
Both the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird have a history in racing. Both vehicles were a part of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Trans-Am Series. However, there was particular controversy when the Firebird Trans Am was released. Not only was the engine too large for use in the series, but the SCCA claimed that GM used the name without permission. GM agreed to pay the SCCA $5 for every car they sold under the Firebird Trans Am name to settle this.
A “funny car” is a type of drag race vehicle and a specific racing class in organized drag racing. Funny cars are recognized by the tilt-up fiberglass or carbon fiber body and custom-fabricated bodies that give the appearance of a showroom model.
During 1995 through 1997, 14-time funny car champion John Force used a Firebird body to replace the obsolete Oldsmobile Cutless and Chevrolet Lumina he had used in races since 1988 – he won all three years!
The Firebird was also used by other racecar drivers, including Del Worsham, Frank Pedregon, Tim Wilkerson, and Jerry Tolliver.
The Camaro’s racing history is a little more luxurious than the Pontiac Firebird’s. The manufacturer worked with Roger Penske to operate the unofficial factory-backed Trans-Am team, winning the title in 1968 and 1969 with Mark Donohue. During the 1970 season, Jim Hall’s Chaparral team replaced Penske.
Camaro-styled cars have also been used for racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, with all Chevrolet teams using the body style since 2013. The Camaro was also adopted as the official Indianapolis 500 Pace Car in 1967, 1969, 1982, 1993, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014, and 2016. Needless to say, the Camaro has seen its day at the races.
The Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was introduced in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2018, replacing the SS. The same model will be joining Australian Supercars Championship in 2022, replacing the Holden Commodore ZB.
The Pick of the Litter
When it came to choosing who to keep and who to discontinue, the answer was easy – both. When sales had declined enough, GM discontinued both the Camaro and the Firebird. During the early 2000s, GM found itself in some financial instability. In 2008 GM announced that Pontiacs would no longer be manufactured, following the same path they had taken with Oldsmobile in 2004 amidst their financial crisis.
The goal was to focus on the four remaining North American brands – Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, and GMC. With the focus shifted to only these four, it was soon after discontinuing the entire Pontiac line that the Camaro was reborn, only with a different body style. Even though the Firebird never stood a chance given the odds, both vehicles were worthy opponents of the Ford Mustang, which they were originally created to contend with.