Okay, imagine this. It’s January 1979, the new Firebird Trans Am just a few months prior was beginning to hit the market with the updated front end and darkened out tail and celebrated its 10th anniversary with style. Two years before, Smokey and the Bandit lit the fire under the Firebird popularity and made it go stratospheric, effectively making the Firebird the “go-to” muscle car of the late seventies. However, in April of ’79 the second energy crisis crippled the United States once more and even stricter regulations had to be made to curb the giant usage of oil they no longer could import.
So cue 1980 coming around and the Firebird needed to be changed somewhat, all the while the hype train kept rolling. So they decided on the turbocharged 301ci V8 which was a smaller engine option on the previous Firebirds and the 305ci V8, the standard in the Camaro which effectively brought the Camaro and Firebird back to even lines on the performance front. Other than that, the Firebird stayed the same for the most part, some new wheel choices and a couple more color shades were added to the buyers’ folder. Part of the hype train was MPC with their annual kits, which was in the process of making another Firebird release that they had been dutifully doing since 1968. Though every new facelift or so, MPC would get a contract by General Motors or for General Motors, whichever the hell it could’ve been, to make promotional kits. Promo kits basically entailed a detailed body, somewhat detailed chassis and depending on the car; a detailed interior. But most importantly? Rolling wheels, oh yeah. That was a kicker. I mean, who gives a damn? Right, the folks who usually got these kits were the actual car buyers who were given one by the dealership for their kids to build or to “display” that they’re a proud you-name-it owner. Hell 99% of the time, it was pre-built in a little box, this ’80 Firebird T/A being a buildable kit apparently is a super rare occurrence.
Promo kits were pretty damn popular throughout the fifties and sixties but as the seventies rolled around, the divide between promo kits and just, regular kits, was beginning to get really wide. Promo kits by this point were just there to be given to the car buyers, and at most if it weren’t for that, had a mail order at the dealership where you could order one of these kits for two or three bucks.
Here I got the ’79 release for the upcoming 1980 Firebird Trans Am as a promo kit, which means it’s all molded in one color besides a couple of “accenting” bits and has screws that allow the body to be tightly secured to the chassis. It is entirely the same as the 1979 Firebird promo, down to the friggin’ box, but what the hell I can overlook ’em for that one – they’re meant to be flashy dealership pieces after all.
Now, I should admit – I built the 1979 Pontiac Firebird T/A a year ago and… well, I won’t lie; it was shit. It’s one of those MPC releases that went the other of two ways. You see, MPC kits either go in the way that it’s reasonable by all means, not bad, not great, a kit you can have fun with and improve on to make great. Like the ’76 Dart, or the ’81 Omni 024. Hell, even the ’80 Volaré was pretty good in that way. But then you got the distinctively terrible ones, where the kit went the other way. Where it was meant to be a bland, unoriginal pile of wank that was no fun to build and certainly no fun to expand upon. For instance, the ’73 Cougar or the ’67 GTO. The ’79 Firebird was a kit I tried so damn hard on to get a reasonable result out of and… to no avail. I thought I could mend the situation of it and even with a ton of advice of those who failed with this kit before, I just couldn’t do it. It was becoming half a tube of epoxy and a bunch of sweat, blood and tears and it still looked like crap. So, I abandoned it. It was finished, yeah, but it looked half done. I was quite ashamed of the way it turned out and had hardly a positive word of it, so I didn’t even bother writing an article for it and the only evidence of this mess that exists is the picture on the Collection page.
Then I came across this one on eBay, all wrapped up for damn near nothing. And I couldn’t resist, I thought at first it was a pre-built promo model that I could dismantle and give a proper model kit freshener, but then I held the box and it made the noise of a bunch of sprues sliding about in the box. That was the first pleasant surprise I got from this model kit. The second pleasant surprise lies with the nature of this kit…
It’s a supremely easy kit, it’s 37 parts in total and that’s including the four headlights, tires, wheels and wheel backings. So in reality, it’s somewhere around the 20 if it weren’t for things like the fender flares being on separate sprues. But the surprise lied with the fact that this kit goes together fantastically. And it gave me a weird but positive lesson; MPC should do simple kits like this. The engines that MPC did in the 1970s were pretty damn awful, so awful that most modelers wouldn’t even bother giving it the 100% treatment with engine wires or would even go as far as to epoxy the hood shut. And this engine-less simplistic as sin build… it’s so smooth and goes together so nicely, it gives me nothing but feelings of all those MPC kits could’ve been so much better if it had gone down this road.
But of course, who would pay full retail price for 30 odd part kits? Not a damn soul, I reckon. Anyway, this kit in particular could come in two color choices for as far as I’m aware. Either in black with the golden bird decals or in “Francisco red” with the same decals as well. The black one is ungodly expensive, while the Francisco red one is balls cheap. So I did what any reasonable soul would do; buy the red one and make Mick Jagger proud by painting it black all around. Granted, the rare red color is nice though and it would take hardly any work to get a nice red Firebird out of it, but I much prefer the all black one.
Another nice thing that this kit has that the normal 1979 full kit doesn’t is the Pontiac snowflake wheels, I love those and their omission in the ’79 kit was such a damn shame! Though of course, speaking of omissions, it’s lacking the frickin’ door mirrors. MPC has been known for the re-use of the same shape of door mirror since ’73 in several kits(most Mopar kits at least), and honestly having those would’ve meant that there was a set at least. So I stole a couple from a old Mercury kit I had lying around in shambles. One piece that was left from the 1979 kit that did turn out to be useful? The whole decal sheet. I made it red on white at the time so thankfully, I had the whole golden bird set left! The Trans Am scripts, the bird, so forth.
I learned some things from that kit, too. For instance, I attempted to give the headlights some more depth and the tail light which in this kit is a solid black piece instead of a clear piece, I only used a red permanent marker on it and painted the fuel cap piece satin black to keep that subtle blacked out tail light looking dark, while red. So with all that said and done, I didn’t have and couldn’t find a similar color to the original gold-on-black color set up’s interior – anywhere I looked, the satin tan color was sold out. So what did I do? I just stuck with the good ol’ black.
Finished the whole thing up with some BF Goodrich Radial T/A tire decals, which sadly required me to cut off the very embossed Goodyear Polyglas GT tire letters off there to make space for ’em, though then I ran into issue numbero dos; the tires don’t actually fit the rims! So I luckily had some spare tires from a ’70 Mustang kit, a 1/24th scale kit and fitted the rims in there and lo and behold they fit exactly!
I like it this kit a fair bit actually, there’s something to be said about the utter simplicity of this kit also being it’s saving grace.
’80 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am specifications:
Skill Level: N/A
Molded in: Francisco Red