Pontiac originally planned to use the '77, '78 front end for the remainder of the second generation production run but when John Schinella showed the new "grilleless" design to Alex Mair, the Pontiac GM, he went "through the ceiling" and funding was procured for a new facelift. A new front end with the air intake down low, a breathtaking new rear end with a full width tail lamp (blacked out in Formula and Trans Am) and newly redesigned spoilers all around reamin controversial to Firebird enthusiast to this day..you either love it or hate it. In 1979 there was no controversy and the buying public went crazy for the new Firebird hitting a sales record that has never been beaten since by the Firebird line. At 211,453 units sales were up almost 13% more than 1978 with Trans Am accounting for more than half.
To celebrate the introduction of the Trans Am in 1969 a new model, the Tenth Anniversary Trans Am was available. Stunning in its Platinum paint with Charcoal two tone the TATA was a hit. The TATA also featured mirrored T-Tops, leather seats, and a huge hood bird that overlapped the front fenders. Black and red striping accented all body lines similar to the Special Editions along with one off name decals on the fenders and rear spoiler. The TATA was considered a separate model with the VIN stamped X87 instead of W87 and came standard with every factory option. The only choice the consumer got was engine choice, either the Oldsmobile 403 with Automatic transmission or the Pontiac 400 with manual 4 speed. With the 400 engine cruise control was deleted since this was not available with manula transmissions. The Tenth Anniversary Trans Am was the first Firebird to break the $10,000 cost at $10,620.
The Black Special Edition and Esprit Redbird were continued from 1978 in two tone red with gold accents. Black and Gold Special Editions with the W72 400 are very rare with only 1107 made making this even more rare than the Tenth Anniversary Trans Am with the same engine at 1817. The W50 Formula Appearance Package was continued but standard Formulas now had two tone paint very similar to the W50 without the FORMULA door decal or painted hood scoops. The W50 cars now loudly proclaimed FORMULA on the rear spoiler as well while standard Formula's carried the spoiler bird decal.
In the engine bay the big block would make its last appearance as strict new emmissions laws for 1980 would kill the engine altogther. Only 8.672 of the last Pontiac made 400 cubic inch engines were saved for installation as an option in Formula and Trans Am. The Oldsmobile 403 was also destined for extinction and came standard in Trans Am, optional in Formula. The Trans Am could be had with a 4bbl 301, the first year a small block would be installed under the hood of a TA, and was offerred as a credit option. Base Firebird and Esprit continued with the Buick 231 V-6 as standard equipment and could be had with either the 2bbl or 4bbl 301. In high altitude areas you could also get the Chevrolet 350 for the last time. For Califormia cars the Chevrolet 305 was the only option. Formula had the 2bbl 301 as standard equipment but could be had with the 4bbl 301, the 403, or the 400 except in California where the 305 was standard. The 350 was required in Formula as well in high altitude areas.
Formula and Trans Am were offerred with four wheel disc brakes this year as part of the WS6 performance package that included larger sway bars and wider 8 inch wheels. Pontiac could not keep up with demand causing them to offer the WS7 package that included everything from the WS6 package withour four wheel disc brakes.
Identifying a '79 from its predecessors is easy but '79 to '81 versions are almost identical. The '81 has a small bird relief in the center of the tail lamps but this is easily, and often, replaced. For standard interior equipped cars you can tell by the vertical ribs at the upper section of the seat that were smooth in '80 to '81. Trans Am graphics were substantially changed in '81 using a two color bird and logos with hollowed feathers. Identifying an '80 is much more difficult and short of checking the VIN you would have to know the colors available. A small feature in the dash is a clue where turn signal lamps were changed from arrows to circles.
1979 Production Numbers
1979 Base Firebird Production
1979 Esprit Production
1979 Formula Production
|All other engines||-||-||24,504|
1979 Trans Am ProductionSummary
|Trans Am Coupe||4,075||55,503||59,578|
|Trans Am T-Top||
|Trans Am SE*|
|Tenth AnniversaryTrans Am|
*Pontiac records indicate all Special Edition Trans Ams were equipped with T-Tops as it was standard. However option WV1: hatch Roof Delete offered a $695 credit and at least a few buyrs ordered it..
1979 Trans Am Breakdown
|Trans Am Coupe|
|Trans Am T-Top|
|Trans Am Y84 SE|
|Trans Am Tenth Anniv|
Firebird Optional Equipment
|6 Cylinder Engine||12,690*||6.0|
|Front Wheel Disc Brakes||175,500*||83.0|
|Four-wheel Disc Brakes||34,250*||16.2|
|Limited Slip Differential||126,030*||59.6|
|Adjustable Steering Column||133,000*||62.9|
Source: Firebird! America's Premiere Performance Car by Gary Witzenburg
*Source: Estimated based on percentages published in Witzenburg's Firebird!