Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The 'bird that Jim Rockford rejected

Ah sweet Chico, California; the land where cars sit in stasis. You could pour salt water on the hood of your car every day for a year and the paint would be ruined but the car would still refuse to rust. To this day it's common to see little old ladies piloting massive '50s cars to the local supermarket. It was someone just like that who pulled this beauty into the library parking lot one day:
This is a 1979-1981 Pontiac Firebird Esprit in Nocturne Blue. The Esprit was the luxury edition of the famous muscle car that came with sound deadening insulation, enhanced trim pieces, and the deluxe interior.
The entire front piece is made of Urethane. This isn't exactly a plastic or rubber but it's own hardy concoction. The warping visible below the headlights here might be attributed to gentle parking knocks but also somewhat due to heat. Summertime in Chico can produce weeks of 100+ degree weather.
The hood is spray painted where the famous "flaming chicken" would be located. It's awfully suspicious and so I can only guess there was a decal originally that was peeling off.
James Garner always drove a gold Esprit as Jim Rockford in the Rockford Files. For those who remember it and don't mind having it echo in your brain for the next hour here's the awesomely synthy theme song. Rockford drove a new Esprit every year in the show until '78. He disliked the redesign shown here and as a result used a '78 Pontiac for the final 2 seasons.
Chrome outlining on the wheel wells, surrounding the windows, and along the rocker panels are all Esprit hallmarks. The wheels are stylish Pontiac originals, but less aggressive than the famous Snowflake heels worn by the Bandit car.
The Trans-Am and other higher horsepower Firebirds had front and rear spoilers that wrapped around the wheel arches as well s a rear wing.
The full-width taillight opening looks great to me on this ride. Cars that have the wing on the back make the same taillight look totally different somehow.
The trunk looks like a replacement or at least a different shade from the rest of the car. The intense sunlight in central California can wreak havoc on paint to be sure, but the roof looks alright on this ride. Maybe they had the sides repainted for some reason? Who knows?
From this angle you can see the heritage in this body style. This is still only the 2nd generation of Firebird even though the name was introduced back in 1967. This body was first released in 1970 and still managed to look fresh a decade later due to subtle front end changes. Remarkably the 1979 model year was the highest production Firebird ever at 115,535 sold. For a 10 year old design it is an amazing achievement. 

Nocturne Blue is a rarely seen but beautiful color. Every collector wants a Bandit edition '77 Trans-Am in Black with Gold trim, but there were many other colors available. In fact there was a series of special edition Esprit models in '77 with unique exterior and interior color combos: the light blue Skybird, bracingly yellow Yellowbird, and the fire engine red Redbird all debuted in 1977.
Here's a small version of the mighty flaming chicken that would have covered most of the hood. There were actually many iterations of the chicken decal over the years and across different models. Anyone with a curiosity on the subject can check this link out.
It looks like this ride had the original radio intact. The steering wheels is definitely the deluxe version as opposed to the much more aggressive Trans-Am wheel.
 I love the ingenuity of the homemade cup holder straddling the console! No Big Gulps for this driver as both openings seem can sized.
That's where we'll leave this bird to roost.
Like most guys of my generation I've loved this car since Smoky and the Bandit came out. In high school they were still cheap and widely available rides. One of the fastest (and scariest) cars I ever rode in was a late '70s Firebird with the entire front piece missing. There were 4 square headlights and a radiator exposed in the wide open front but the car could just barely lift the wheels off the ground when you stomped on the gas and hit 130mph on Route 84. After that hellride I was captivated! Only in the last couple years have the values started to soar. If you want one of these I would buy one right now as they won't stop climbing n value soon.

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