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1981 Facts and Interesting Notes
The New Bird on the Fuel Filler Door 
1981 Firebirds can be recognized by the one year only silver bird decal on the fuel filler door.  This was a special molded door panel that will fit on 1979 and 1980 models but is incorrect for those years.
The California Turbo 4.9
Thanks to the miracle of electronic wizardry the Turbo 4.9 engine was now made available in California.  This was probably the most powerful Trans Am available since 1976.  The new Turbo 4.9 received GM's new Computer Command Control that allowed the engine to meet California's strict emissions laws. 
Standard 4.9 Liter
The W72 option for the 301 cid 4 bbl engine was dropped but the standard L37 301 for 1981 now made 150hp, 10 more than the 1980 L37 but 5 less than the W72. 
 
The LG4 5.0 Liter 4 speed
The shift for yourself crowd was pleased this year since a Trans Am or Formula could once again be had with a 4 speed.  The Pontiac purists were displeased because the only way to get the four speed was when it was mated to the Chevy 305 (5.0 Liter) V-8.  This was the start of things to come since 1982 would be available only with the 5.0 liter engine.  When ordered with the LG4 engine the Trans Am hood scoop received call out decals announcing 5.0 LITRE.  The LG4 305 cid engine was available only with the 4 speed in 1981.  Interestingly the Camaro Z28 also received this engine for its 4 speed version since its 350 cid engine was available with an automatic only.
 
The V-6 Formula 
A Pontiac Car Distribution Bulletin  dated October 21 announced that effective October 1, 1980 the standard engine in Formula would be the LD5 3.8 Liter V-6 engine.  This engine would be available with an automatic transmission only.  The Rally Gauge Cluster and Clock, UPC W63 was removed from the Formula standard options list because these gauges were not available with the V-6 engine.   Due to the changes in the dashboard without the W63 Gauges the V-6 Formula would receive a simulated wood grain dash appliqué.  The V-8 Formulas would continue to carry the engine turned aluminum dash appliqué. 
 
The Daytona Pace Car Trans Am Edition
Another pace car edition debuted for 1981 in the wake of the 1980 Indianapolis Pace Car.  This time the Daytona 500 Limited Edition Pace car would  enter the scene.  Once again decked out in White this Trans Am received a special black hood bird, black accents on the bumpers, roof, and A pillars.  Again the Turbo 4.9 powered this pace car.  Inside the interior was a drastic departure from previous years.  The black and red two toned interior was marked by new Recaro seats.  This was the first Trans Am to have seats that offered a rake adjustment and race style lumbar support.  This Trans Am truly was a limited edition with only 2000 made.
Skybirds, Redbirds, or Yellowbirds
For 1981 there were no special edition Esprits.  The Skybirds, Redbirds, and Yellowbirds were now a memory.
 
New Birds and Decals
The hood and sail panel birds were redesigned for 1981 using a new two color scheme and the Trans Am Fender/spoiler callouts were redesigned to match.  The disco era was coming to an end and these decals were quite les audacious than their predecessors, some might claim more tasteful.  Five different colors were offered: Red, Gold, Silver, Blue, and Orange in both standard and turbo versions.  With 14 car colors on the palette and 5 different birds the Trans Am offered diversity beyond any other car with a theoretical 70 different exterior color combinations.  The limited edition Daytona Pace Car had a unique black turbo bird.  Early versions of the Gold and Orange birds were a lighter shade than later versions.  Presumably the gold decals were not  very noticeable on gold cars and the orange not very noticeable on orange cars.  See the Exterior colors page form more information.  The Trans Am rear spoiler call out decal was much smaller than previous, again giving the car a more sophisticated appearance. 
Formula Changes
The two tone color combination for the standard Formula was dropped in 1981 and all standard Formulas came with monotone paint and body color scoops and lower.  Because the standard Formula did not have two tone paint anymore the W50 Formula Appearance Package added it causing the price to increase from $100 in 1980 to $212 in 1981.  The W50 Formula Appearance package continued mostly unaltered.  The Formula decals for the W50 Formula Appearance Package were unchanged even though the Trans Am decals were all redesigned, with the large FORMULA decal on the spoiler in four colors and multicolored tape stripes separating upper and lower body colors.  The sail panel bird was the new two color design, however.  The W50 package was offered on only seven exterior colors this year: Orange Metallic, Dark Charcoal Metallic, White, Silver Metallic, Dark Blue Metallic, Black, and Dark Maroon Metallic.  The rear spoiler once again returned to the Formula's list of standard options.
 
New Cloth Standard Interiors
The Millport cloth material was introduced for 1981 optional for the standard interior replacing the Strada cloth inserts introduced late in the 1980 model year.  This textured cloth was available in Blue or Camel Tan.
New Custom Cloth Interior
Although the seat style remained the same new fabric, called Pimlico cloth, was offered for the cloth interior option.  This fabric replaced the previous hobnail fabric and featured monotone colors with vertical ribs providing an elegant texture.  Interestingly in the cloth material a Beige interior could be specified in addition to the Camel Tan cloth interior.  The Beige was a step lighter in color but it is difficult to tell looking at the cars which is which unless they are side by side.
Turbo Cast Aluminum Wheels
The Turbo Cast aluminum wheel now became a regular option for the Esprit, Formula, and Trans Am and did not require with the Turbo 4.9 engine as in 1980.  However this Turbo Cast aluminum wheel was 7.5 inches in diameter.  The Turbo Cast aluminum wheel that was used in 1980 was 8 inches and was still available with the WS6 performance package and the 4.9 Liter Turbocharged engine or the Y84 Black Special Edition when coupled with the WS6 option. 
Trans Am Limited Slip Differential
The second generation Trans Am always had the G80 Limited Slip Differential standard until this year.  The Limited Slip Differential was included with the WS6 Performance Package if the Trans Am was so ordered.