The Musclecar Lives!

This year the centerpiece of Pontiac's display at the St. Louis Auto Show was the restyled WS6 Trans Am. While the Grand Am has received a major face lift, the Trans Am garnered most of the attention. If you've read my story on the '97 Ram Air Trans Am then you already know I'm partial to the look of the previous car. However, I certainly appreciate Pontiac's latest effort.

For '98 the entire Firebird line received a makeover. In the front a removable (for those states requiring a front plate) panel displaying our beloved screaming chicken leads off. Above it are two non-functional inlets. The hood is now unbroken sheetmetal raised slightly in the center to match the revised nose. Foglights are standard on the Firebird and Formula (they were unavailable last year) set on either side of the front matched with the turn signals.

Behind the front wheel openings are two honeycomb-covered outlets (air extractors?). All other sheet metal (plastic) remains the same. Moving to the rear of the car the taillight panel has been changed with all models receiving the same honeycomb patterned lense and round reverse lights.

As before the Trans Am receives a unique nose with its trademark round foglights close to the center allowing for cooling ducts to be placed below its turnsignals. The Trans Am package now includes the popular T-tops and leather interior as standard equipment.

This year both the Firebird and Camaro V-8 models inherit the new Corvette's LS-1 350. Interestingly LS-1 was Pontiac's designation for the Ram Air IV. Standard output in the F-bodies is 305 hp, the same as the previous Ram Air cars. The WS6 option ups this to a nice round 320 hp.

As advertised the WS6 option includes a new hood which feeds an inverted version of last year's air filter. Air enters the openings and is fed into the airbox through a slot in the front. The hood itself has two prominent humps which continue the inlet shape towards the windshield. Overall the appearance is very agressive in conjunction with the restyled nose. Personally, I prefer the Firehawk's use of the existing openings in the fascia as well as the less radical hood.

One thing potential WS6 buyers should be aware of is the single, albeit large, tailpipe. This is especially noticeable on the Trans Am with its dual oval cutouts on the tail. Rounding out the package are the familiar 17" five spoke wheels and revised suspension components.

The latest information I have (February 17th, 1998) is that after repeated delays Pontiac has begun production of the Ram Air cars at the slow pace of 50 per week. The expected total by the end of the model year is 5,000 units. Also, rumor has it that at least 20% of the cars are already sold, so get to your dealer now and place your order!

Pontiac's "booth" was quite impressive with touchscreen brochures everywhere, turntables for both the WS6 Trans Am and the '99 Grand Am, a two story propaganda display (complete with logo product order screens), and a multimedia presentation. Now if they would just make a rear wheel drive, V-8, manual transmission Grand Prix, that would really be something!