The cars we loved.
1970’s era Firebirds often evoke images of big V8’s and tire smoking. Pontiac recognized that for every V8 powered Trans-Am that it sold, four or five V6 powered cars would leave dealerships, often to women. Women had become 30% of the Firebird market by 1977 and as much as 40% of the specialty Firebird market. Potential Firebird buyers regardless of sex may have appreciated the gruff image of the Trans-Am, but practical measures made it necessary to offer more low-key (and insurable) models.
While these grand touring “Color birds” were being released, Pontiac did not forget the Trans-Am buyer as it released special color editions of the Trans-Am like the 1978 Gold Edition and the Black and Gold Editions in 1980-1981 of the Turbo Trans-Am. The notion of color coding wheels to a car was not new for Pontiac, who had been doing it as early as 1973 with early Firebirds, Grand Ams and GTO’s.
To that end, Pontiac figured out that it could make the bread and butter Esprit models more appealing (and profitable) by simply adding color coordinated flair and a few choice decals that might appeal to the fairer sex (or less macho men). Starting around 1977 Pontiac would start offering “Color birds”. These designer Firebird Esprits with a themed color and options had their own versions of delicate looking bird graphics with plenty of curves and flowing scripts. The first was the 1977 Sky Bird, called Sky instead of Blue due to a Georgia company owning the rights to the name. Sky Bird was a wonderful excuse to make a pretty bird logo just for this car. Finished with a light blue exterior and interior; it marked a juncture where automakers got serious about marketing to women. 1978 was a great sales year for the Firebird and Pontiac could not resist releasing more special editions, sometimes overlapping in availability. 1978-79 would be the years of the Red Bird, while in 1980-81 saw the release of the Yellow Bird.
These cars were always Esprits, usually with 3.8 or 4.1L V6/I6 engines. Some may have been ordered with one of the smaller optional V8s (265/302 cu). With just over 100 hp the 1977 Sky Bird was not the fastest car around when saddled with the smaller V6. Most Esprit buyers were more interested in looks and comfort than raw performance anyway. The light weight of the Esprit with performance was usually sought after in the form of the Formula. Being pretty was the “Color bird” car’s reason for being. Pontiac would color code nearly everything from the tail light lenses and wheels down to the door handles. The famous machined instrument panel from the Trans-Am was even color coded, often to match the exteriors of the Color bird edition cars.
Total sales numbers for the Color bird cars are hard to come by. Pontiac records were sketchy and the cars seemed to be released on a haphazard schedule that responded to previous quarter sales numbers. The “ColorCar” craze seemed to die out with the release of the next-gen Firebird in 1982, but similar special editions would be released with much less frequency. If you just so happen to own a blue, red or yellow 1977-1981 Firebird and want to add your car among the flock of Color birds or stand out at the next Firebird show, a GM approved decal kit is available from 78ta.com. The company sells kits for each of the color series for just over $100 giving base or Esprit the look of one of these beautiful and rare birds.