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Usually GM (and especially Pontiac) starts with a nice, clean design, then mucks it up with the refresh. The second gen Firebirds seem to be the exception to this rule.

I particularly like the '79 - '81 model with the grill in the bumpers. From a styling point of view, I prefer the base model or Esprit without any spoilers - the clean lines of the car itself are timeless and elegant.

No, they weren't the quickest Firebirds, but from a pure style point of view, Pontiac got it right with the second-gen Pontiacs -- and the refreshenings only added to the goodness of the design.

The Firebird was also one of the few 1970's cars that were able to integrate newer bumper and crash standards into the overall design of the car.
 

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Braking distances and lateral acceleration are heavily influenced by tire choice, so comparing third and fourth generation cars based on original road tests isn't very meaningful. It's just as much a measure of how much tire technology has improved as anything else.

I do remember it being a big deal that the '82 Z28 managed .81 g on the skidpad. At the time it had Goodyear Eagle GTs - state of the art in their day, but nothing but a budget tire today. And keep in mind they were (if memory serves) something like 215/60/15s - not a lot of tire by today's standards. I'm sure if you tested a third and fourth gen on the same tires their numbers in terms of braking and cornering grip would likely be pretty close.
 
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