"The perfect street machine has yet to be built, but the 1988 Pontiac Firebird GTA comes excitingly close. It delivers outstanding performance, impeccable handling, surprisingly good fuel mileage and is blessed with styling that will delight any true performance enthusiast.

It’s nice to grab a handful of real cast-iron American V8 horsepower and put it to work, and the GTA’s tuned-port injected 350 V8 delivers an honest day’s work. Nothing sings as sweetly as a well tuned small-block, and the GTA’s belts out a hell of a solo. Pushing the GTA’s go-pedal to the floor and feeling the car’s 350 cubic inch symphony played in perfect harmony lets you know that you re playing with the best in the business.

Pontiac’s top-of-the-line Firebird soars above the standard Firebird, Firebird Formula, and Firebird Trans Am in luxury and style. Fitted with an outstanding engine/transmission choice, a beautiful and comfortable interior, a studio quality sound system and smooth, aerodynamic styling, the GTA makes a bold statement wherever it’s driven. And it is meant to be driven.

One look at the Goodyear Eagle P245/50VR16 tires on lightweight 16-inch gold center, cross-lace aluminum wheels and you know that this is one street machine designed for more than just boulevard stylin’. A short stint behind the wheel reinforces that feeling. A long drive puts you very near high-speed heaven. For those to whom the act of driving is a relaxing therapy, any time behind the wheel of the GTA is intensive care. All the trials and frustrations of the daily grind dissolve as the Firebird’s responsiveness and comfort deliver to the driver a level of performance that few other American-built cars can match.

Power is smooth and sudden, with the electronic fuel injection and computerized ignition combining to deliver back-slapping acceleration at will. It’s almost Corvette-quick.... at a much more affordable price. The big Goodyear radial tires ensure the application of all 225 horsepower directly to the pavement with no trace of tire spin. Under full acceleration, shifts provided by the four-speed, overdrive automatic tranny are strong, smooth and predictable.

Performance testing best tells what tune the GTA sings. Pontiac claims a 0-60 mph time of about 6.5 seconds. Our best effort, as verified with a Vericom VC200 Performance Computer, stopped the digital clock at 6.86 seconds, not far from Pontiac’s claim. Better conditions could easily put the 0-60 mph time right on Pontiac’s claimed mark. The easy-revving 5.7 liter V8 proves itself more than capable of moving the 3406-lb. car along at a brisk quarter-mile pace. Our best quarter-mile time was 15.27 seconds and best quarter-mile speed was 95.4 miles per hour (separate runs). Our test car was equipped with the standard GTA package 3.27:1 ratio rear axle; a better choice of final drive gears could result in even more remarkable times.

Stopping power, in the form of power assisted, four-wheel disc brakes, matches the velocity potential of the GTA. Those big pucks easily brought the car to a full stop from 60-mph in less than 135 feet according to the VC200. The outstanding handling characteristics delivered by the GTA’s WS6 Performance Suspension Package dispel any notion that it’s not meant for dose, tight, twisty canyon cruising. Its 101-inch wheelbase makes it an obvious fast runner through long sweepers. Not as obvious is its uncanny affinity for being thrown corner to tight corner, easily accomplished due to the quick 12.7:1 power steering. This nimbleness is aided by appropriate stabs of the power pedal with the torque-filled engine more than ready to help out.

The GTA’s handling, like its acceleration, is almost Corvette-like in its ability to hang into a corner. The GTA’s handling package includes a stocky 36 mm front stabilizer bar, a 24-mm rear stabilize rbar and specifically-tuned springs. In addition, gas-filled struts are used in front, matched by gas-filled shock absorbers in the rear. The result is a ride that is firm, yet not at all harsh, and a car that stays comfortably flat when turning. The Performance Suspension Package brings the GTA Firebird to a level of road handling seen on few American-built V8-powered automobiles. Barring access to a race track, it’s unlikely that the average driver will ever explore the outer fringes of the GTA’s handling envelope. Indeed, asking 100 percent of the car’s capabilities on public roads might be considered inappropriate in some eyes.

High speed cruising is, of course, a delight in the Firebird. The fully-articulating adjustable seats, with power inflatable lumbar support and side bolsters, and good thigh support, can be adapted to suit just about any physique. The comfortable, cloth covered seats do an excellent job of restraining the body as the GTA is thrown back and forth from corner to corner. This enhances comfort, driver security and aids in the control of the automobile. Kudos to the seat design team. Whoever was responsible for them certainly subscribes to the inspired school of high performance seat design.

These seats are quite worthy of inclusion in the GTA package. Adjusted correctly, the ergonomics of the seat/steering wheel relationship encourages the 10-o’clock and 2-o’clock driving position preferred by most experts, and allows for hours of driving in that position. Some cars do not lend themselves to the 10-2 position and can become rather uncomfortable after a long time with the hands held constantly where they should be. Not so the GTA. Additionally, the thick padding on the leather-wrapped steering wheel make it an easy and secure one to grab.

Driving with the hands on the 10 and 2 o’clock positions on the steering wheel, the tach is easily visible on the inside of the steering wheel rim, just right of center. The oil pressure gauge, with the water temperature gauge right below it, is clearly visible to the right of the steering wheel rim. The speedometer, on the left side of the instrument cluster, is less visible, but it is certainly a secondary consideration when serious driving is under way. The voltrmeter is located above the fuel gauge with both positioned between the tachometer and the oil pressure/water gauges. Clearly, thought was given to placement of the instruments, as should be with a true enthusiast’s automobile.

Located on the steering wheel hub are controls for the exotic Delco sound system. This "Advanced ETR Touch Control AM Stereo/FM Stereo/Seek & Scan With Auto Reverse Cassette With Music Search/Equalizer and Clock" (they named it, not us) has to be heard to be believed. This is the kind of music system to play your new cassette from THE FLAMING LIPS nice and loudly. While having music systems controls built into the steering wheel may at first seem to be a bit of overkill, it’s an idea whose time has come and will likely show up on more steering wheels as time goes on.

Pontiac’s sound engineers must have been playing hooky from high school to go to the races along with their seat designers . . . and we’re not talking about the electronic sound system either. We’re talking about the GTA’s deeply audible exhaust sound. It’s a confident rumble, not overly loud, not overly aggressive ... just enough to let you know that you’re driving something with muscle. It can be easily heard from inside even with the windows up. And when you’re hard on the loud pedal, the tailpipe lets you know that all 350 cubic inches are doing their thing. When a car like the GTA goes together, nothing is left to chance, including the exhaust note.

With a base price of $19,299, the 1988 Pontiac Firebird GTA is a lot of performance and style for the money. When compared to other upscale performance cars, it really shines. When compared to the 1988 ‘Vette, you’re getting about 95 percent of the performance for a lot lower price, and gaining a real trunk and another seat in back.

Test vehicle equipped with; remote deck lid release; power antenna, cargo security screen, right hand visor vanity’mirror, power windows, power locks, body side moldings, air conditioning, tinted glass, lamp group, controlled cycle wipers, rear window defogger, cruise control, tilt steering, AM/FM stereo with cassette and graphic equalizer, steering wheel mounted radio controls, leather-trimmed articulating front bucket seats, WS6 performance suspension package."


Wheelbase: 101.0 (in)
Length: 191.6(in)
Width: 72.4 (in)
Height: 50.0 (in)

Front Head Room: 37.0 (in.)
Rear Head Room: 35.6 (in.)
Front Leg Room: 43.0 (in.)
Rear Leg Room: 29.8 (in.)
Front Hip Room: 56.3 (in.)
Rear Hip Room: 42.8 (in.)
Cargo Volume (cu ft.): 9.75

Fuel Tank Capacity (gal.): 15.5
Curb Weight (lbs.): 3406

Engine: 5.7L (350 cid) V-8
Horsepower rating: 225 @ 4400 rpm
Torque rating: 330 lbs/ft @ 3200 rpm
Transmission: 4-Speed Automatic
Axle Ratio: 3.27:1

Tires: Goodyear Eagle VR50 - P245/5OVR16
Wheels: 16” x 8” Aluminum

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