Pontiac Firebird GTA 1987-92 - buyer & value guide

By: Cliff Chambers - Unique Cars magazine

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Pontiac was determined to escape the dreary trends of the eighties.

People look at US cars built during the 1980s and 1990s and wonder where the character so evident in earlier models had gone. Someone at Pontiac might have had that thought too and in 1987 delivered a design that again appealed to buyers who appreciate performance.

The Firebird GTA was more than just an option pack for the dreary base-model. In addition to a tuned-port 5.7-litre engine the ‘Gran Turismo Americano’ option pack included WS6 suspension with a thicker front sway bar, a 24mm rear bar, gas suspension struts and faster-ratio steering. Some had ZR-rated rubber on Corvette-spec wheels. However the more typical GTA rim was a gold-spoke 16-inch alloy. Later cars could be specified with colour-keyed wheels.

New in 1987, a bare-bones GTA would cost US$14,200. Adding air-conditioning and a few ‘comfort’ items would push that to around US$16,000, but prepare for a shock if you wanted your GTA shipped off to Australia. With import duty and customs charges added plus the cost of right-hand drive conversion and compliance, the on-road price of a GTA could reach $A60,000.

1989 brought a GTA derivative that ranks as one of the few genuinely collectible cars to emerge from the USA during the 1980s-90s. The last-ever Indy Pace Car to be supplied by Pontiac was based on the GTA but wasn’t even V8 powered.

Instead it borrowed the highly-regarded turbo V6 from Buick’s Grand National range to deliver the fastest, most driver-oriented Pontiac in many years. Official output from the 3.8-litre engine was a conservative 187kW but the chunky Trans Am still scorched down Road & Track magazine’s test track to record a sub-14 second time for the standing 400 metres.

The TTA (or Turbo Trans Am) package added $4300 to the cost of a basic 305 V8 version. Decals on the doors and a few emblems were all that owners bystanders needed to spot when confirming the presence of a special and very quick car.


5.7-litre GTAs pop onto the local market occasionally and numbers can be expected to swell once imports qualify for full registration without needing expensive RHD conversion.

Cars currently in Australia and in reasonable condition begin below $20,000 and can reach $35-40,000 when outstanding. Four-speed automatic transmission was standard and the only manual cars likely to appear for sale (almost always in the USA) will be conversions done with Pontiac’s blessing by Prototype Automotive Services.

TTA cars and very scarce over here and not common even in their homeland. Just 1550 were made including 40 coupes without lift-out panels and a reported three convertibles.

Turbo GTAs often find their way to auction where a bit of frenzied bidding can push prices above US$35,000. One car offered for private sale did nudge the $40k mark but was boasting a verified 1600 miles (that’s 2600km) with all its original documents.



1980s cars seem for some reason to suffer more from rust than earlier ones, even though the later-models were supposedly better protected. Buying long-distance, which might be the way a lot of GTAs are acquired, means exercising extreme caution and asking the vendor to video rot-prone areas like the luggage area - be suspicious of rotting carpet - the sills, door skins and rear wheel-arches. Watch for dull or mismatched paint which might mark the site of a crash or rust repair. Complete used headlamp units cost around $250 per side and replacement motors cost US$100 each. When inspecting a T Top car, ensure that you examine the rubber seals and hood-lining for signs of water entry.


Nothing alarming here however intending buyers need to be careful of cars recently arrived from offshore with no documented history. Unless you are personally familiar with older engines and their ancillaries, a professional mechanical inspection by someone who specialises in cars of this kind is essential. Obvious problems will include serious oil leaks from the back of the cylinder heads, rear main bearing seal and timing case. The Turbo V6 comes with its own set of issues, however they are becoming so valuable that owners might be spending some time and money on maintenance. The four-speed autos are nothing spectacular but no problem to replace either.


Basic coil suspension makes the GTA an easy car to repair and maintain. US magazines rated the handling highly but Aussies might want something more. Suspension upgrade kits (prices ranged from US$895-2600) can make s significant difference. Soft springs are a common problem, followed by leaky shock absorbers. Good replacement shocks start at around $100 each. All disc brakes should pull the car up without locking or wandering. New rotors are available, so too reconditioned boosters.


1980s  electrics were not made to last more than a decade and after 30 years ago there will be switches that do nothing and dash lights that don’t flicker. Get hold of an owners’ manual and work out what everything does and whether it’s important. Power windows must be operational and be ready to slice at least $1500 off the asking price if they don’t. Same with the air-conditioner which could cost $2500 to put right. The seats weren’t all that comfortable when new but if they have collapsed, are showing big rips or won’t move on the runners, there’s another $2000. A replacement steering wheel including freight from the USA was offered at $200.


NUMBER MADE: 35,926 (GTA 1987-1992)

BODY STYLES: steel integrated body/chassis two-door coupe or convertible

ENGINE: 5735cc V8 with overhead valves & fuel injection or 3781cc V6 with overhead camshaft, fuel injection and turbocharger

POWER & TORQUE: 173kW @ 4400rpm, 447Nm @ 3200rpm (5.7-litre)

PERFORMANCE: 0-100km/h 6.7 seconds, 0-400 metres 15.1 seconds (5.7 litre)

TRANSMISSION: four-speed automatic,  ve-speed manual

SUSPENSION: Independent with Macpherson struts, coil springs, A arms & anti-roll bar (f) Live axle with coil springs. locating links Panhard rod & telescopic shock absorbers (r)

BRAKES: disc (f) disc (r) power assisted

TYRES: 245/50ZR16 radial


FAIR $14,000

GOOD $25,500


(Note: concours cars will demand more)

Numbers from our 2017-18 Muscle Cars Value Guide.

Muscle Car Value Guide home page

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