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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Auto World 1993 Pontiac Trans Am, with Matchbox 1997 Formula and Racing Champions Hurst Firebird

While not as popular as the first-generation firebird's, the fourth-generation Firebird represents the last generation for the Firebird before the Pontiac brand was dropped from the General Motors line in 2009.  While it may have a love or hate relationship to consumers depending on who you talk to, the final generation was the most expressive of the Firebirds throughout the year (and for the fourth-generation Camaro as well).  The newest replica of this generation comes from Auto World, while I also brought out a few of my favorite older versions of this model from Matchbox and Racing Champions, both introduced in the late 1990's.  One car that I would like to share is the Ertl !:18 scale 1996 Trans Am, but i'll have to save that one (along with the matching 1:18 1996 Camaro Conv.) for another time.

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One Flared-out Firebird

The fourth-generation F-body Camaro and Firebird were the most expressively-styled F-body cars of all time.  Both styling started out as flamboyant concept cars before the actual production versions appeared, and surprisingly the styling of the production cars never veered from the original concept versions. Both cars were long and had the latest fab of the cab-forward look; this long dash and windshield look frustrated shade tree mechanics because the engines sits far back and out of easy reach.  For example, to access the spark plugs on V8 models, some of them require dropping the engine from the bottom of the car, but not from top of the engine compartment like previous-generations could do!  Other issues range from cheap plastics inside and front seats that dipped too low in the bottom cushion that made visibility difficult for those under six-foot tall.

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The Firebird's styling was based on the wild 1988 Banshee concept car.  The Banshee was futuristic, so much that the wheels looked out-of-place on a body that would look just as good as a wheel-less hovercar.  The Banshee also made an appearance as the new-age KITT in the 1989 Knight Rider movie.  The third-generation got the pointed nose of the concept car in the 1991 refresh, but the all-new 1993 version expressed even more. Interesting to note that looking at the Firebird, you could not find at least one panel in common with the Camaro platform mate! (really unusual for a GM product at the time).  The interior was much better ergonomics-wise than the Camaro with larger air vents, four-spoke steering wheel, and typical red dash lighting of Pontiac's in that era.  Also carried over from the previous generation is the unique for it's pony car class rear hatchback.  Engine choices was a V6 or a LT1 V8 producing 275 hp. through a six-speed manual.  Two V8 models were offered: Trans Am and Formula, the latter lacks the rear spoiler and uses the V6 models twin air intakes instead of the foglights.  1994 added a convertible and 1995 added new 5-spoke wheels which are much better, in my opinion, than the 3-spoke blade wheels.  1996 introduced a long-overdue return of the Ram Air hood, which directed air into a relocated air filter resting above the radiator mount.  Lest not forget the countless special models like 25th anniversary Trans Am, SLP, Hurst, and others.  Final years staring in 1998 featured revised front with more scoops and quad pop-up headlights and a new LS1 V8 from the C5 Corvette.

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Auto World:  1:18 in 1:64 scale

This Auto World version is, as usual, nicely done and I wouldn't be surprised if most of this was based on the older Ertl 1:18 scale models (in which Auto World now owns the Ertl tools and re-releases the 1:18 in limited numbers).  The sweeps and curves are nicely done and the teal color is gorgeous, though it's a few years too early (the color, Mystic Teal, arrived in 1995).  Look closely and you can see the body-colored front screaming chicken and Trans Am door logos.  The hood is separate and can be changed out later for a Ram Air-styled hood (though the hood does not open).  Nice details include the front turn signal lights with two different marker lens details, and the rear hatch, targa bar, T-tops, and spoiler that are separate plastic which means that you can expect to see other variants including open t-top, coupe, convertible, and spoiler-less Formula later on. 

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The interior is again nicely done with details from dash, door panels, seats, and console nicely done.  The base just as equally impressive with careful attention to every detail on this part.  Again it looks just like a miniature version of the older 1:18 Ertl tool!  The only other gripe, aside from plastic roof and no opening hood, is the wheels:  They look cheap, feel cheap, and more like aftermarket rims (though, again, better than the 3-blade stock wheels in 1993).

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Matchbox 1997 Firebird Ram Air: Short but sweet

Even though it lasted for only a few variations (including the 1997 yellow and 1998 black, shown), the 1997 Ram Air is one of the most favorite unused castings in the Matchbox line.  The bodywork is sharp, if it seems to be a bit bloated.  The simple badges with the screaming chicken, Ram Air, and Formula gives some more visual eye-candy.  The Ram Air hood is nicely done, and so is the PONTIAC carved out of the rear bumper.  The Ram Air is based on the Formula body with the twin front bumper scoops, yet retains the rear spoiler though not as large as the Trans Am version.  The interior through the open T-tops shows a nicely laid-out setup, though not as crisp as the new Auto World version  Same goes for the base, though it does allow some suspension movement, and the new for 1997 5-spoke Matchbox wheels that look fabulous on this model.  I kind of wish Matchbox got more use out of this model, but just like the Matchbox 1998 Camaro SS Convertible casting that arrived three years later, for some reason Matchbox seems to shy away from these nicely-done fourth-generation F-body GM cars.

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Racing Champions Mint Edition:  A rare Firebird

One of my first of the new Racing Champions Mint Edition line was the 1996 Firebird Trans Am with the Ram Air hood in black back in 1996.  It was cool, but seemed uninspiring to me at least.  Then three years later I found one heck of a surprise at Target one day:  This 1997 Hurst Firebird!  A little history behind it:  Introduced at the 1996 SEMA show, Lingenfelter modified a stock Trans Am with more power from the LT1, improved shift linkage from the Hurst Shifter, and the Iconic Black with Gold Stripes and wheels.  The response from the show was immense, leading GM to produce a limited run of just 9 of the 1997 models (a few more were produced in 1998).  Also another change was from the 4-speed automatic-only show car to both auto and manual transmissions offered.  This car was fast, fun, and super-rare.  Don't believe me, check this video out:

Motor Trend TV (1997): Pontiac Hurst Firebird LPE

As for the Racing Champion version, it's much better in my opinion than the all-black Trans Am from 1996, yet both share the same exact tooling features!  The only difference is the gold stripe, gold wheels, and two-tone black dash/tan interior.  The details outside are nicely done and give the proper aggressive look of the Trans Am.  The interior is nicely done, yet just like the Matchbox Ram Air, just a bit short of the Auto World version.  The base features a few driveline touches, though these Racing Champion chrome metal bases tend to get weak and stress crack (I have a few RC in my collection that have just done that).  Luckily my Hurst Firebird has not done this, but i'm crossing my fingers and hope it doesn't!  The hood opens up to revel the LT1 V8 with Ram Air filter just above the radiator (the 1996 Camaro SS tooling that Racing Champions also offered features the same engine).  Not the sharpest like the Auto World casting, but just looking at a variation based on a strictly-limited model and being the only replica of it's kind out there, i'm proud to have this piece in my collection!

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