Junkyard Gem: 1992 Pontiac Firebird

Last spring, this series featured a 1992 Chevrolet Camaro RS in a Northern California junkyard, an example of the final model year for the highly successful third-generation GM F-Body. On a later visit to that yard, I spotted the Pontiac sibling to that car, a Firebird that was born the same year at the same Southern California factory.

When the Chevrolet Division introduced the first Camaro as a 1967 model, the Pontiac Division got its own version of the F-Body called the Firebird. While the two cars were built on the same chassis and looked very similar, the first-generation Camaros got Chevrolet engines while their Firebird colleagues got Pontiac engines (including the innovative SOHC straight-six). The 1970-1981 second-generation Firebirds still had some Pontiac-only engines, but Chevrolet and Oldsmobile power crept under some hoods during that period. The third-generation Firebirds first appeared as 1982 models, and they drew from near-identical stockpiles of GM running gear (including the distinctly agricultural Iron Duke four-banger, which could be considered a Pontiac-derived engine).

When the Camaro got the axe after 2002, the Firebird’s neck was put on the same chopping block. When the Camaro returned for 2010, the Pontiac brand was sputtering to an agonized halt during its final year and there was no chance of the Firebird’s return.

This car is a fairly ordinary coupe, though it does have the mid-grade 205-horsepower 5.0-liter Chevrolet small-block V8 instead of the base 140-horse 3.1-liter V6. A 5.7-liter small-block was available as well.

A five-speed manual transmission was base equipment, but few Americans wanted a three-pedal setup by the early 1990s. This car has the optional four-speed automatic.

The MSRP with 5.0 engine, automatic transmission and air conditioning (which this car has) started at $14,304. That’s about $31,868 in 2023 dollars.

It was built at Van Nuys Assembly in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles County. By the dawn of the 1990s, the Camaros and Firebirds made at Van Nuys Assembly had become known as the worst-built GM cars made in North America, and the plant was shut down forever soon after this car was built. Today, a shopping mall lives where the factory once stood.

This car managed to drive more than 150,000 miles during its life, so it beat the odds.

The thrid-gen F-Body was pretty antiquated by the early 1990s, but the fourth-gen cars handled better and looked up-to-date for the era.

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