Pontiac Firebird; A Legacy Lost, Part 6: 1972

1972 Firebird Trans Am 455HO Engine image1972 Firebird Trans Am 455HO Engine image, click photo to enlarge

Well..here we are at the 1972 Firebird year, its been a long road getting here (especially if you are writing this, try writing 1300 to 1500 words each month sometime!) so I am a little relieved to write the 1972 year Firebird. Why? Mostly because there is virtually no difference between 1971 and 1972 models. GM suffered a strike the year this car came out, and it hurt production badly, to the point that few changes were made to the car. True there were interior differences, but hey, every car line changes the interior a bit each year, and Pontiac was no exception.

1972 Firebird Esprit Front Right image1972 Firebird Esprit Front Right image, click photo to enlarge

Rather than go sub model by sub model as I have done in my first 5 parts, we will try identify the changes that were made to the car. If you want a blow by blow of each sub line of Firebird, read my 1971 article for the sub models, the general information is valid for 1972 as well.


1972 Firebird Trans Am Front Left image1972 Firebird Trans Am Front Left image, click photo to enlarge

We can say for 1972 even more smog items were added to the GM line to satisfy the Governments tight emission standards. This doesn’t mean Pontiac wasn’t still building excitement, far from it in fact. The 400 engines were still being made, the big block 350 V8 were still being produced, the 455 HO engine was still there for any Firebird customer to order up.

That being said lets jump into the engines. As I stated, the 1972 engines were virtually the same. Fine. What was different was the rating system, as we now had net horsepower instead of brake horsepower. This meant the engine’s output was measured with the alternator, water pump, fan, exhaust system, etc., all installed. The gross figures which had been cited in year’s past, were reduced by approximately 15%. For Pontiac that meant no longer publishing horsepower ratings in their sales brochures. Maybe it felt the public would be disappointed by the numbers.

1972 Firebird Esprit Rear image1972 Firebird Esprit Rear image, click photo to enlarge

What can be said is the 1972 engines produced the same BHP as their 1971 counterparts. The only engine that saw a change was the 455 HO engine. This engine, used in the Formula and the Trans Am had new reworked heads but they still had the oval ports of 1971 and the big engine valves (2.11″ intake, 1.77″ exhaust), the main difference being the combustion chamber was reworked. And the radical camshaft was changed to .408/.406 inches int/exh. The 455HO had the aluminum intake manifold with a large Quadra-jet carburetor and free flowing dual exhaust to exit the gases. Also new was transistorized ignition (HEI) that was truly a boon for the ignition of these engines. The 455 HO still had the 4 bolt main low end engine for strength, but now was rated at 300 NET HP @4000 rpm and 415 NET ft-lbs torque @3200 rpm. Incidentally, the cylinder head code was ‘7F6’ to help those trying to identify a genuine 455 HO car. When ordered with the manual, the engine was coded WM, or WD. If the automatic was chosen, YB or YE was stamped into the block.

For Formula and Trans AM buyers the M22 4 speed close ratio manual transmission was available or the 3 speed Turbo-hydramatic 400 transmission. The 3 speed and 4 speed wide ratio manuals were available for the smaller engines or the Turbo 350 automatic. Manual transmission V8 engines had 3.42:1 rear axles for the manual cars or 3.08:1 for automatics. The exceptions were the 455 HO cars in manual or automatic configuration had 3.42:1 ratio for either transmission. IF you had air conditioning AND you had a 455 HO automatic car you could only get 3.08:1 gears. For the gear heads there was the unwritten 3.73:1 gears that could be special ordered for a fee. Of course the rear ends were available in standard or limited slip configuration.

1972 Firebird Formula Interior image1972 Firebird Formula Interior image, click photo to enlarge

The regular Firebirds had the standard suspension and steering items. The Firebird “Esprit” model had a better front suspension with larger anti-sway bar to help tighten up the steering. When you moved on to the Formula or Trans AM you got beefier springs, bigger sway bars front and back, heavy duty shocks and in the case of the Trans AM variable ratio power steering and the bigger tires. The Trans Am was a formidable runner on twisty, winding roads! I remember taking my Trans Am for a spin one day on a mountain road , high speed, and drifting the corners, and my poor passenger white knuckling the glove box handle and yelling obscenities at me…but I digress!

1972 Firebird Trans Am Interior image1972 Firebird Trans Am Interior image, click photo to enlarge

Okay the more mundane items. Power disc brakes were still optional and not standard yet. The interiors were more or less the same as 1971, but had higher back bucket seats that offered better neck support, more lateral support and better foam inserts that Pontiac claimed “Firebirds foam-constructed seats never lump. Anybody who has to put up with less has our sympathy. “. I don’t know how true this statement was but the seats were definitely a step up from previous year cars. As a buyer of the day, you bought the Esprit Firebird when you wanted luxury items, and you went Formula or Trans Am for the road work balls out cars. Of course there was still the base Firebirds out there for those that wanted a Firebird but either couldn’t afford the upscale models or simply wanted reliable transportation with style.

1972 Firebird Trans Am Rear image1972 Firebird Trans Am Rear image, click photo to enlarge

The Trans AM shaker hood was back as well as the Formula hood scoops. This was the last year of the functional Trans AM shaker hood, as the coming year noise restrictions made Pontiac plug up the intakes on the shaker for good. It of course didn’t stop owners from opening the shaker up themselves of course. One has to admit that the sound of a Quadra-jet 4 barrel shaker hooded Trans AM opening up is truly a cop calling experience! As an aside, it was also the last year of the striped body Trans AM first introduced in 1969, and would not see the light of day again until 1984 on the 15th anniversary edition Trans AM.

1972 Firebird Formula Front Right image1972 Firebird Formula Front Right image, click photo to enlarge

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the General Motors corporation underwent a major plant strike this year. Consequently, production of all GM cars was dismal. You will read in other articles how the Trans AM was the lowest production year ever blah blah blah. Fact is, the cars weren’t built so they couldn’t sell them. End of story. What it does say is that any 1972 Pontiac Firebird in any form is a relatively rare bird indeed, and worth more just because of this fact. Total production was 29,951 cars or which 5,249 Formulas and 1,286 Trans Am’s were built. Formula Firebirds without the 455 HO are worth $12,000-$20,000 today. A Trans AM will fetch more than $50,000 for perfect specimens. If you happen to have sold an Esprit or Base bird email us with the price you paid or sold for, we would love to know.

That is my 1156 words for the 1972 Firebird ( I did say there was less to say). If you have any input to add to this, please email us your comments and we will review them for future updates to this story. Happy Hunting! :)

Related posts:

  1. Pontiac Firebird; A Legacy Lost, Part 5: 1971
  2. Pontiac Firebird; A Legacy Lost, Part 4: 1970
  3. Pontiac Firebird; A Legacy Lost, Part 3: 1969
  4. Pontiac Firebird; A Legacy Lost, Part 2: 1968
  5. Pontiac Firebird; A Legacy Lost, Part 1: 1967
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