You can feel the ground pounding from as far off as a quarter-mile. In the span of time that it takes you to gasp, the snarling beast is upon you, slavering, nostrils flaring. Within an aural cloud of frenzied war drums pierced by banshee wails is the stampede of 320 sweat-lathered horses making straight for your vitals. From out of the dim Triassic past, Pontiac’s hoary Firebird Trans/Am is making a terrorizing charge into the 21st centuryperhaps a final charge.
What are we to make of the feral Trans/Am in this oh-so-civilized age of chic automotive understatement? With an effrontery that’s courageous if not ingratiating, Pontiac’s elemental muscle car apologizes for nothing: not for its prickly, nearly unconscionable power; not for a famously cramped and unfriendly interior; not even for an extrovert fashion sense that displays all the subtlety of a wet T-shirt laminated to a female mud-wrestler.
The Trans/Am is a bona fide piece of automotive living history. It is rolling, growling proof that history is fun. Equipped with the $3,150 optional WS6 performance package (which includes functional Ram Air induction, trick wheels, and sport-tuned suspension), the 2000 T/A is a straight-line acceleration monster that feels especially at home in 5.3-second zero-to-60 territory. Do not ignore the no-cost optional six-speed manual when you’re spec-ing out the car. My own tester also featured a brute-strength Hurst shifter option for $325. In sixth gear, at around 80 miles an hour, the 345 ft.-lbs. of torque still manage to lope along at only about 1,500 rpm. Stand on it at a stoplight, however, and watch your /A swap ends with your T in a triceunless you’re shrewd enough to keep $450 worth of optional traction control in permanent standby mode.
You spend the first few miles driving the Trans/Am for your own benefitthat is, to become accustomed to the neck-snapping power and its snake-bite consequences, to steel yourself to the racetrack-biased, hard-ass suspension. Ever after, you’re in it for the adulation, execration, humiliation of the crowd. It is simply not possible, while you’re behind the wheel of the T/A, to be unaware of the lustful looks of wayside wannabes on the one hand, or the finger-wagging, moralizing sneers of Mrs. Grundys on the other. Every act behind the wheel is an act of outright atavism, from the guttural burps of rampant acceleration to those shrieking blitzkrieg passes at triple-digit speeds. And it works out best if you’ve removed the T-top roof panels, jack up the Monsoon CD stereo to 11 out of 10 on the volume scale, and have some extraneous piece of clothing flapping wildly in the breeze.
It’s a genuine measure of Pontiac’s savvy that Trans/Am is designed to seduce an owner’s ravenous id so as to distract the more intolerant superego from this car’s animal brutishness. Inside a Trans/Am, a driver doesn’t so much sit behind the wheel as slither down under it. Once thus ensconced, the power adjustable seats and mirrors render a decent enough driving position; but those of, shall I say, horse jockey stature like myself look for all the world like a small walnut bobbing along at the level of the window sill. All you see is the head, from about the mid-jaw line upwards.
At least the driver is spared the indignities of being a passenger in the Trans/Am. A companion up front must negotiate his or her legs over and around a gargantuan goiter in the passenger foot well under which a catalytic converter resides. We’re supposed to be grateful that it’s thereand so well insulated at that; otherwise, there’d be blisters from the exhaust system glowing orange just below. The two rear passengers have the privilege of plopping their collective derrières into deep-set bait wells impersonating seating pods; the option to travel in full-tuck ”cannonball“ position is strictly up to individual tastes.
One cannot, however, genuinely countenance such mundane criticisms about a Trans/Am whose very raison d’être is to make the loudest, fastest, baddest impression upon the most number of people. In an uncharacteristic nod to respectability, moreover, Pontiac has managed to coax all this horsepower out of its Trans/Am while meeting California’s onerous Low Emission Vehicle pollution standards and improving mileage efficiency to a quite responsible 18 mpg/city, 27/highway.
It may not be enough, just the same. It is true that last year Pontiac’s Firebird sales were up 6.8 percent to 33,850 units total. But the F-Body ”design platform“ that Firebird shares with Chevrolet’s Camaro fell by 5.9 percent in combined sales, with the unavoidable implication that Firebird sales came at the expense of Camaro. Meanwhile, archrival Ford Mustang outsold the twin F-bodies by more than 2-to-1, with sales zooming 15.3 percent to 166,916 units.
Say what you will about the martial savagery and selfless courage of Highlanders, Cossacks, and Ghurkas, but most civilized people don’t usually invite them over for Sunday dinner. It’s starting to look like the same thing goes for inviting a stomping, snorting Trans/Am into the typical suburbaneer’s garage. A spirited gallop through the wild pampas is one thing; reining in a bucking bronco for a trail ride down tree-lined neighborhood lanes is another matter altogether. Don’t take my word for it: Get an insurance quote for a hypothetical, 320-horsepower Trans/Am WS6, and see for yourself. ”I’m sorry, Tarzan, but maybe the city is too small for you. Maybe the jungle is where you belong.“
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