When it comes to muscle car and pony car wars, history has shown us two different eras. Up early, the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro battled it out during the late ’60s, while others like the Plymouth Barracuda, Chevy Chevelle and Pontiac GTO all joined the fray.
Then, more modern, we still see the Camaro fighting its nemesis the Mustang, but outside of those two eternal rivals, there are only a few Chrysler cars that keep the muscle car flame alive – the Dodge Charger and Challenger. But nestled between those eras, we have arguably the best muscle car of its time: the Pontiac Trans Am WS6.
- Flip-out headlights
- Ram-Air technology
- Fashion model: Trans Am WS6
- Engine/Engine: 5.7-liter LT4 V8 or 5.7-liter LS1 V8
- Horsepower: 305-325
- Couple: 335-350 pound-feet
- Drive: Front engine, rear-wheel drive
- Transfer: Auto with 4 speeds or manual with 6 speeds
- Aggressive Styling
- Small Block V8 Power
- Discounted Corvette Speed
- Plastic interior
- Unreliable fog lights
- Solid rear axle
The fourth-generation Firebird debuted in 1993, and while the V6 and LT1-based Formula and Trans Am models were powerful enough, the real fun started in 1996 when Pontiac decided to revive the WS6 package, which had been inactive since 1992. to blow in. a modified version of the 5.7-liter Gen II LT1 overhead valve engine borrowed from the C4 Corvette, the WS6 package raised the bar in all major performance categories. The most obvious change was the twin nostril hood with its Ram Air technology that claimed to force air into the intake to help the engine deliver more power, and it did. Power was increased from 285 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque in the base TA to a more impressive 305-hp at 5,400 rpm and 335 pound-feet of torque at 3,200 rpm.
A 320 Bug Blender
Then, in 1998, Pontiac decided to upgrade their best budget fighter with the ultimate hand-me-down in the form of the brand new (for 1997) C5 Corvette’s all-aluminum 5.7-liter LS1 V8. In WS6 form, the 1998-2002 WS6, considered by many to be the most aggressive production car ever made, also made it clear that it wasn’t just the best muscle car Pontiac has ever built. And while brand loyalists will never agree that one car is the best, the latest WS6 made a strong case for the ‘best muscle car’ title, period. In 1998, the WS6’s LS1 delivered 320 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 345 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm (305 and 335, respectively). That power was then routed through a Tremec T56 six-speed manual or a GM-built 4L60E four-speed automatic transmission. From there, power was routed through a 3.42:1 axle for the manuals and a 3.23:1 for the automatic, then to the rear wheels where WS6-specific 17-inch high-polished rims awaited the Goodyear Eagle F1 275/40ZR-17 tires. .
More than just a motorcycle
Not only satisfied with a more powerful engine, the Trans Am WS6 became an American icon because Pontiac also gave the WS6 twisted DeCarbon shocks, stronger bushings and higher speed springs borrowed from the 1LE package (only for the ’98, ’99 and some 2000 models), a larger 32mm front sway bar, a power steering cooler, and a higher-flowing exhaust. The WS6 hood for the ’98-’02 was a two-piece composite, trim-specific unit and made to be even more aggressive than the base Trans Am, complementing the signature pop-up headlights. Also included were WS6 badges scattered around the cab and on the wheel hubs.
In 2001, all Trans Am and WS6 base models received a five horsepower boost thanks to a revised camshaft, taking the WS6 from 320-325 horsepower and torque from 345 pound-feet to even 350. The 2001 and 2002 models also benefited from the arrival of the Corvette Z06, which received both an improved clutch and intake from the top-of-the-range ‘Vette’s LS6 engine. The later models not only delivered the most power, but also had the best fuel economy, with an impressive 19/28/23 city/highway/combined MPG.
In terms of performance, the WS6 was not only the most powerful ‘bird of the flock’, but also the fastest. While not as svelte as the Corvette, weighing in at 3,477 pounds, this Pontiac had a net horsepower of 10.7 pounds per horsepower. In its best and final iteration, the 2001-2002 WS6 was able to run from 0-60 mph in 5.0 seconds flat, from 0-100 mph in 11.6 seconds and through the quarter mile in 13.2 seconds at 108 mph, up to a top speed of 160 mph. There must have been something about the Ram Air system, or maybe the WS6’s aerodynamics were better, but it was consistently faster (with the same driver and conditions) than its tech twin, the Camaro SS. That speed was wiped out by 11.9-inch front and 12.0-inch rear brakes from 60-0 mph in just 120 feet.
Inside, the Pontiac was still a Pontiac, and with most of the budget thrown into the powertrain (rightfully so), there wasn’t much left to make a luxury cabin. But there was air conditioning, leather seats both front and rear, dual cup holders, a very powerful 10-speaker, 500 watt Monsoon sound system, an optional Hurst shifter, a very usable center console (packed with extra power outlet), steering wheel-mounted cruise control and stereo controls, as well as optional traction control. Remote keyless entry, electric windows and locks and let’s not forget the unforgettable t-tops, if you chose the coupe. But one of the advantages of the WS6 package, as opposed to the Corvette’s Z06 option, was that it could come with the convertible body if you wanted even more open-air performance. Although, if you stick with the coupe, the folding rear seats combined with the hatchback design made the WS6 unique and unexpectedly practical, capable of carrying a huge amount of cargo compared to what you’d expect from a 325-horsepower performance car.
Speed, at a discount
In 1996, a basic Trans Am would have put you just under $20,000, while the WS6 package adds another $2,995 to profits. Adding in the power pack, you’re looking at a suggested retail price of around $26,000. Fast-forward to 2002 and the base price of Trans Am rose to $27,895, while the WS6 package added another $3,290, making the final WS6 about $6,000 more than the ’96 model.
Cobra Rlimited to just 300 examples, buyers with a minimum of twenty grand will cost more than what the WS6 cost.While both the fourth-generation Camaro SS and Trans Am WS6 disappeared after the 2002 model year, we’ve since seen the Camaro take revenge, but the WS6 remains nothing more than a fond memory on showroom floors, despite the well-documented outrage for a new WS6. Car loyalties are a lot like political affiliations, it’s rarer to complement one side of the other than a herd of unicorns dragging a wagon full of cloves and rabbit feet, so we wouldn’t expect a Mustang believer to see the WS6 objectively. But love it or hate it, the Pontiac Trans Am WS6 was the fastest production muscle car for most of a decade and was able to take control of any stock Mustang. Some may point to the mighty Cobra R, which stormed onto the scene in 2000 and took back the title of fastest pony car in the country, but the
The best Pontiac ever?
Fans on both sides will never agree on which car was really the best, and there will certainly be even Pontiac fans who will consider Knight Rider’s KITT the best ever, but when it came to looks, power, performance and affordability, availability and fun to play, there’s a very compelling argument that the fourth-generation Pontiac Trans Am WS6 may have been not only the best Pontiac ever, but possibly the best muscle car.