7 June 2016

Why the 2002 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am WS6 is now the best car ever made

The engine revs climb to a crescendo and the tire-shredding torque kicks in as the clutch is released. One might expect it to breathe fire, but instead you are greeted with something even better: loud, deep crackling exhaust notes. The Pontiac Firebird Trans Am WS6 is the most beastly bird in the flock, and the split front grille resembles a dragon’s wide nostrils. Fire breathing, indeed.

The WS6 performance package beat many era competitors with a 6,200 RPM-limit, 5.7-liter displacement and 350 lb. ft. of torque, including any Fords (sorry Ford lovers). It’s the kind of car that you drive proudly (but cautiously…) through a school parking lot to show kids what a real car looks like. Growing up, I was one of those kids, and have wanted one ever since I caught a glimpse of a black WS6 rumbling through the school grounds, only to disappear via squealing tires. I didn’t know what that mystery vehicle was at the time, but once I discovered it later in life, I immediately remembered.

Although in production from 1998-2002 as a coupe, convertible or T-top (the best of both worlds), the 2001-‘02 models are my preference. Similar to prior years, the cars received a 5.7-liter V-8 LS1, but with a few improvements. By this time, a six-speed Hurst shifter was available, and technologies developed for the LS6 were being incorporated. For example, a billet-steel camshaft increased horsepower by five and allowed for greater torque delivery in the lower rev range. Reduced tolerances in the crankshaft eliminated any cold-knock observed in earlier models. A Mass Air Flow (MAF) sensor guaranteed optimal performance at any air temperature, and a set of PUP catalytic converters (added for emissions) allowed the LS1 to be fitted with cast iron exhaust manifolds, which are not only more durable and cost-effective, but also improve exhaust flow. Also worth mentioning are larger fuel injectors for increased volume, resulting in maximum fuel delivery, which in turn allowed more options for aftermarket power increases.

In 2002, the WS6 Trans Am rolled off production lines with 325-horsepower achieving 0-60 in under five-seconds. But depending on an owner’s budget, this car is fully capable of producing over 500-horsepower and 600 lb.-ft. of torque. There are even insane twin-turbo 1,000-horsepower examples.

Horsepower is a brag-worthy number, but torque is what a driver really feels, and this car has the perfect horsepower-to-torque balance. The WS6 will shred tires and throw you back into your seat if you so desire. The overall styling pairs perfectly with the performance: bold and sensual. I will take one beastly Firebird in black with T-tops, please.

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