Pontiac is betting a hot, new engine will lure more baby boomers into the 1998 Firebird.
Jim Murray, brand manager for Firebird, will aim the freshened model at men and women over 35.
Market research indicates that buyers under 35 are largely attracted to sport-utilities and pickups, but that a larger percentage of those over 35 are eyeing sports cars, he said.
'We're seeing a lot like what happened to Harley-Davidson (motorcycles),' Murray said. 'Older people with some money are starting to look at these sports cars.'
And those older buyers want power. Pontiac-GMC's advertising campaign will highlight the Trans Am's new LS1 engine, a depowered (305 vs. 345 hp) version of the current Corvette engine.
The 1998 Firebird goes on sale next month.
It will be a tough sell. Muscle cars are not selling well this year.
Firebird and Chevrolet Camaro sales were down 23 percent through May 31; Mustang sales were off 19 percent.
Dealer David Villamarin said younger people like the car, but they can't afford the insurance.
'It will continue to be a limited market because when you look at insurance rates, it's like taking out another mortgage,' said Villamarin, owner of Villa Marin Pontiac-Buick-GMC in Staten Island, N.Y.
He agrees with Murray that older buyers are coming in to look at the car because they can afford the insurance more easily.
Prices of the 1997 Firebird range from $17,699 for the base coupe to $28,969 for the Trans Am convertible. The prices include the $525 destination charge.
Murray expects that half the sales of 1998 Firebirds will be the Trans Am V-8, up from 30 percent about three years ago.
'We will heavily promote our new V-8,' Murray said.
The Ram Air package will be introduced later in the year; Pontiac isn't saying, but the package is expected to produce 320 hp.
Leather seats and a T-top, options on the 1997 Trans Am coupe, will be standard on the 1998 model.
Other changes include larger brakes, a one-piece exhaust system, new fenders and aluminum wheels.