Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Greenlight 1980 Pontiac Firebird FHP and Johnny Lightning 1979 10th Anniversary Trans-Am

Personally, I prefer the 1977-1978 Pontiac Firebird over this updated 1979-1981 version, you know the one famously used in the first "Smokey and the Bandit" movie.  While i'm not a big fan of these model years, and i've seen worse (hint: starts with M ends with X), but these two offer their own unique way of doing things.

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Turbocharged into the '80's

The 1979 Firebird was a mid-cycle refresh for the Firebird that first appeared in 1971, and has gone through a few changes more than the Camaro.  The second refresh was a total redesign with a body that looked slimmer than the previous 1971 body-style.  This version gained more status in 1977 with Burt Reynolds in "Smoke and the Bandit", especially in black with gold screaming chicken on the hood.  In 1979 the shape remained, but was revised with a front-end that has a smoother look complete with four square headlights, a revised hood scoop, and slightly-revised taillights below the duck-tail spoiler.  The interior still carries the same dashboard layout as the 1971 models with the machine-finished aluminum trim surrounding the gauges and radio controls, 3-spoke steering wheel, and seating for four.  Yes, you can still get one with the removable t-tops: the closest way you can get a convertible in this decade.  Engine's were carry-over Pontiac mills, but drastic changes would take place.  The first was a new 301 cid turbocharged V8, most notable for its turbocharger mounted next to the carburator just above the right-side valve cover, to produce 155 hp. through a 4-speed manual in 1980.  In 1979 you had a choice of a 400 cid V8 through a 4-speed manual or three-speed automatic.  After 1981, GM decided to share engines across brands, meaning the Pontiac-only mills would end after 1981.

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Florida Highway Patrol Greenlight

I used to live in Florida, so it was special for me to have a FHP police car in my collection, which was a challenge for years to find one because apparently its a popular police scheme (especially in Florida).  Finally I find one on a 1980 Pontiac Firebird, and yes the FHP used at least a few of these Firebirds for special service before the Fox-body Mustangs took over the department later in the 1980's.  This is also one of Greenlight's not-so-great castings as i've heard the negatives from collectors regarding this casting, so let's see what we can find.  The front has headlights detailed into the deep cove with the split grille on the lower bumper, while the Pontiac logo on my tester is floating a bit too high.  The hood has the new side scoop and opens and closes with smooth precision.  The sides have the FHP logo on the doors (rather small) with the tan roof outlining the separation from the black paint; a FHP tradition on police cars.  The rear has the rather ducktail rear spoiler with the rather large (height-wise) taillights; I think this might be the one section of this casting collectors do not like.  I do give credit for the dual exhaust poking out of the rear bumper and the Florida license plate.  The mag wheels are a nice touch, though their finish is a bit off on some other castings that use these rims.  The base shows off the detailed drivetrain with dual unrestrictive(!) exhaust layout.  The hood opens up wide to the detailed motor with blue block and silver intake and AC hose visible in the otherwise sea of black engine bay.  Finally, the interior has the correct dashboard layout, controls, seats, and the proper shifter.  However, the t-tops are still visible on a car designed to be a coupe.  Overall it looks great as a stock Firebird coupe casting designed for the FHP, with only the rear taillight and visible T-top cutouts the only distractors.

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Johnny Lightning's 10th Anniversary Trans Am

But how does that compare to the Johnny Lightning version?  Well I pulled out this 10th anniversary 1979 edition to find out.  One thing you'll notice is the incorrect wheel covers on plastic tires that somehow look cool on this casting.  The bodylines are more finer and loaded with details, from the headlights with the black cave surround and twin grilles with surrounding stripes and more visible aero flaps just ahead of the front and rear wheels.  The detailed screaming chicken is amognst the hood scoop poking out in the center with 6.6 Litre on the sides of the scoop.  The side fender badges, if you look close, say 10th anniversary, and while the T-tops are not a separate piece like the Greenlight, it is detailed to show you its there.  The rear spoiler is bigger, the taillight panel is slimmer, the exhaust less noticeable.  The base, ironically in plastic, shows off the correct drivetrain detailing, including the restrictive catalytic converter before the split of the dual exhaust, though the end quad tips of the exhaust is small and again barely noticeable.  The silver interior really pops out the detailing of this interior, and it's pretty accurate and more favorable over the Greenlight version.  Finally, under the hood it's a tight squeeze with the hood scoop in the way, but you can see the blue block and, if you look closely, you can see the exhaust entrance and exit pipes for the turbo on the right-side of the engine.

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So yeah the JL version has a few imperfections and some cost-cutting areas (plastic base and tires???), but overall I recommend this casting over the Greenlight version, though the FHP Greelight Firebird doesn't look too shabby as well.

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