A descriptive title for 1974 was one of the most difficult tasks so far in this series. 1974 wassuch a season of turmoil in the automotive industry. The super motor SD-455 made it's swansong appearance, the likes of which has yet to return. A fresh appearance was the big marketing news of '74. Trans Am's sales finally soared, and after the 1974 season, the T/A would be allalone.
The Pontiac Firebird Trans Am took on a new, more aerodynamic shape. The deformableendura bumper was gone, replaced with an unfriendly fibreglass front end and rubber covered 5-mph bumpers. The look came off actually quite good when you look at the solutions to the new federal standards integrated (?) into other cars of the period. Even the Camaro, whose basic layout was shared with the Firebird platform, took on an awkward, heavy look. If you look at the other Pontiacs, most notably the LeMans/Grand Am series atthe time, their bumpers, like the Firebird's were well integrated as well.
The new front fascia included many of the older elements front the 70-73 cars, even though the front had a laid back look. Parking lamps remained below the front bumper, but lost the chrome surrounds. The grilles lost some of their aggressiveness with their fine vertical rows. The spoiler now longer sat down on the pavement, it's purposeful look replaced by one of styling. Since the grille area was smaller, two openings astride the front license plate bracket area jutted from the lower valence.
The hood bird returned and proved to be quite the popular feature. As a teenager in the '70's the big bird was the ultimate statement, and with an engine name like Super Duty 455, could it get better? The small 12-inch bird mounted to the nose, which had been a Trans Am trademark (aside from the WW7 optioned cars), was no longer available. Instead all Firebirds received a bright flaming bird emblem mounted between the grilles.
Cameo white carried on as the only T/A color to last the test of time. Brewster greenonly had a one year production run and for 1974, a new color, Admiralty blue brought the hue back into the lineup. Buccaneer red's popularity in '73 assured it a return.
With the government requirement of 5 mph bumpers extending to the rear, the chromebumper was legislated out of existence in 1974. Replaced by a wonderfully integrated urethane covered unit, the appearance mimicked the "black bar" of the front. Pontiac should be commended for coming up with such a natural look. The other big change at the rear of the car was the wider tail lamp assemblies. The new tail lamps stretched from the outer corners to the license plate pocket and had much finer horizontal rows. The housings were painted body color, and seemed to flow into the rest of the exterior.
Inside, the interior was basicly carry-over from the previous year. The custom seats still had the same seat cover design, but the buyer could be a bit more creative about the color choices. Seats could now pair up with a second "tone" in the interior which would include door panels, instrument panel pad, and carpeting of the secondary color. Now cars could have red seats with black trim, white seats with red trim, etc. The cloth/vinyl interior used was renamed "Bravado" cloth, replacing the "Bravo" cloth of 1973. Once again the cloth/vinyl combo still available in either black or saddle.
True dual exhausts made their final appearance on the 1974 Trans Am. Next year, therequirement of the catylitic converter would replace this image of performance.
Speaking of images of performance, the base Trans Am was that. The looks of a high power weapon was still there, but it's new 225 horsepower 400 was akin to a mere .22 caliber. Fuel economy was becoming very important to the American car buyer, and the Trans Am was in a desperate shape. Long gas lines had changed the mood of the car buying public. People were rapidly falling out of favor with big inch motors, and with the cutsin performance, did we really need to order that big engine. I mean, it still looked fast?
By returning the 400 CID V8 into the lineup, Pontiac hoped to show fuel consciousconsumer that they could have the Trans Am flash, but with a smaller engine. As we were to find out in subsequent years, the 225 hp produced the base motor wasn't too bad after all. Using the 4X head castings of the introduced in 1973, the power specs were the aforementioned 225 horsepower at 4000 rpm while 330 lb/ft of torque was developed at 2800 rpm. The 8.0:1 compression ratio was unchanged. Sources code these engines as AT, YT, YZ, and ZT for the automatics and WT for the manuals, if built early (?) and AD, YL, YM, and WR and Y3 for late built engines for their respective auto/manual combinations.
For valvetrain, the 400 V8 still had a somewhat aggressive camshaft profile, with the gross intake lift measuring .410 inches while the exhaust maintained a .415 inches if lift. The duration of the camshaft was the same 273 degrees as last years base 455, but the exhaust duration was missing seven degrees, measuring 282 total degrees. Although the camshaft still had some eagerness built in, small 1.66" exhaust valves choked off the 400's performance.
For a mere $57.00, the 455 cid engine could be ordered in place of the 400 The powerplant. Mostly unchanged from 1973, the 455 still developed 250 horsepower. The camshaft spec's were unchanged, and the exhaust gasses still struggled to exit through the same 1.66" valves as the 400. Torque increased by 10 lb/ft to 380@2800 rpm. The base455 was an automatic only option and was coded AU, A4, YW, YY, Y9, ZU, ZW, Z4.
Aside from being priced at $578.00 (vs. $521.00 in '73) SD-455's were also relativelyunchanged from their final production versions of 1973. Even though twenty horsepower waslost from it's inception, it was still the top dog; even Chevrolet's mighty 454 Corvette engine came up 20 horsepower and 15 lb/ft short of the Super Duty's numbers. Block coding for manuals was W8 and automatic's received the Y8 coded blocks. The connecting rods in the '73 SD's were lighter than conventional 455's, by an ounceeach, being reduced from the customary 31.7 ounces to 30.7 ounces. The pistons took a likewise diet, dropping from 20.88 oz. to 19.62 ounces.
The final usage of two Trans Am mainstays would take place in 1974. Services of the venerable four-speed Muncie HD transmission would no longer be required. The big inch motors were loosing the horsepower war and the overkill provided by the Muncie was no longer needed. The Muncie's were replaced mid-year in 1974 with the Borg-Warner T10, and it is believed, but not confirmed, that the 4-speed SD-455's, being built late in the year,were built with the B-W T-10, not the Muncie. As for the automatic, the TurboHydramatic 400 would also make it's last appearance in '74. The soon to come catylitic converters would be in the way of the big tranmission, so the smaller Turbo 350 would take it's place.
The biggest crime to take place in 1974 was the changes in rear axle ratio. No longer did Trans Am get you a stump pulling rear axle ratio. Many T/A's left the factory with economy 2.56:1 rear axle ratios, rather than a palatable 3.42. Four speed cars were also a rare sight in 1974, with a total of 1962 out of 10255 Trans Am's built. Making these figures even more lopsided was the fact that if you weren't able to get a SD, then your 455 (all 4648 of them) came only with an automatic. The March 1975 issue of "Road Test" magazine tested a 400 auto and 2.56 rear axle combo. The car would only go 108 mph and took almost eighteen seconds to cover the quarter mile. How sad.
Realizing the benefits of radial tires, Pontiac mandated that all 1974 Trans Am would wear new shoes. The GR70 x 15 steel belted radial tires introduced last year would find their way onto all Trans Am's either in black wall or raised white letters (Oh no, what about white walls?). Radial Tuned Suspension accompanied the new tires and greatly improved the ride quality.
Product improvements ranged from stopping to steering. To enhance the durability of the standard power steering system, a magnet was installed in the power steering pump resivour to catch any iron filings from wear. To let you know when your brakes need replacing, a disc brake wear indicator was built in on front brake pads.
More plentiful for 1974 was the Super Duty 455. Nearly one-thousand (943) were allowed loose, with 212 four speeds and 731 combined with the Turbo 400 automatic. Making up the difference were the 4664 base 400's, and thankfully 1750 had manuals and 2914 automatics.
Of interest was a special black Trans Am show car which emulated the "John Player Special" Formula One cars from Team Lotus. The car had gold pin striping on the hood, roof, deck lid and lower body sides which included the wheel spats and spoilers. Gold head lamp bezels and grille accents were added. The standard argent "honey comb" wheels were replaced by ones finished in gold. Topping off the package was a brilliant gold bird on the hood. Eventually, this theme would make it from show circuit to the showroom.
The 1974 Trans Am carried a base price of $4446.00, or $242.00 more than the '73 basicT/A. For the upgrades in bumper protection and the increased wear potential of the new radial tires (specificly the rears on the 400 automatic cars) this could be considered a modest increase. In later years, we could only pray for increases this low as the popularity of the T/A was about to explode.
The Pontiac Firebird Trans Am became the American automobile industry's onlyperformance coupe (save the Corvette) after 1974. Chevrolet killed the Z28. The Barracuda and Challenger met their demise. AMC's Javelin's fate followed the Chrysler pair. And as for the Mustang, the car that started it all, it was now based on the PINTO!, with a top engine offering of a 105 horsepower 2.8 litre V6. Thank you Pontiac.
With all the changes facing the automobile industry, 1974 could be termed an unqualifiedsuccess. Customer were realizing that performance was on the decline and a "better" performing was deemed "good enough". The automotive journalists en masse criticized Detroit for their actions, but at the time, this was the best that was possible. The days of cheap horsepower from cubic inches was over. The bean counters insisted that for a car like the Trans Am to survive, the car must fit the profile of it's new customer; a softer, gentler customer. Sorry guys, it ain't gonna be that easy-