Private Eye: 1977 Pontiac Firebird

Wish I could start this post out with a witty answering machine clip! As easily recognizable as a Bandit Trans Am, Jim Rockford’s Sierra Gold Firebirds came into millions of homes week after week in the ’70s. Though this 1977 Pontiac Firebird Esprit isn’t an actual Rockford golden bird, it is a souped up tribute that deserves to smoke those whitewalls with a signature J-turn. Find it in the Inland Empire area of Southern California for $16,000 here on Craigslist or here.

Who here wanted to be as cool as James Garner’s Rockford was? Yeah, he lived in a trailer and seemingly never got paid, but he always had a nearly new Firebird and his pad was on the beach in Malibu! He got all the ladies, could take a punch as easily as give one, and he got to hang out with his equally as cool truck driving dad. How he could afford those Pontiacs is never revealed, but he was able to make a base model Firebird look as awesome as a decked out Trans Am. Only in the 1970s could all of this have been possible, as a trailer on the coast of Malibu can run a cool million and an equivalent Camaro is now over $30K today.

This gold Firebird has been breathed upon with a fuel injection LS swap, though the under the hood mods aren’t shown. Would be nice to know which automatic transmission is handling all that go. Maybe a beefed up TH350? Said to run fast, new brakes have been added to help control what is probably double the horsepower of what the car had new. Add on gauges cleverly match the originals on the wood tone dash and help keep an eye on how the upgrades are doing. Can you imagine Jim Rockford smoking some bad guys in this? Those WWs wouldn’t have stood a chance!

The body looks to be in good condition with some possible panel fit issues, bubbling on the back quarter panel, and a slightly warped nose. Could be factory features from just down the street in Van Nuys, California where many of these were made, or were these years made in Ohio? Very clean design when shown as an Esprit, even though Rockford’s were modified Formula’s to look like their lesser brethren. Inside you’ll find clean vinyl, tilt wheel, chalky door panels, console with warped wood trim, and an added cassette deck. The dash is covering possible damage or is smooth and unmarked. You’ll have to do some further investigating to find out! The steering wheel doesn’t look like a Firebird piece to me. Any experts? Either way, it doesn’t detract from what is essentially one of the most iconic Firebirds ever made.

Man I want to head down the coast in this to grab some tacos with Jim Rockford and crack the big case. Who else here wants to do the same?



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  1. Andrew not amember


  2. slickb

    I have this exact car!!!! there fun, not quite TA fun but almost. do great burnouts

    Like 2
    • Mark

      A lot of times on a dirt Road .. :)

      Like 1
  3. redwagon

    needs redlines

  4. Rhett

    I need this car. I will fish from the pier, eat tacos, print fake business cards, get beat up by mob henchmen, ignore warnings to stay away from police business, ignore the advice of my smitten attorney, tell people I don’t want any trouble and screw Lindsey Wagner. All I need is this car.

    Like 3
    • john m

      “Jimmy, Jimmy you gotta help me! They were going to take a ball peen hammer to my knuckles!”

      Like 2
    • CJ

      Do you have a buddy named Angel?

      Like 2
    • Mountainwoodie

      You guys spent waaaay too much time watching TV in the seventies! I’m more of a David Janssen guy.

      Like 1
      • LucilleCaddy69

        Richard Kimble in The Fugitive.

        Like 1
    • Rick Rothermel

      Whoa! You TOO?

      • Rick Rothermel

        Janssen’s best work ever was HARRY O, shot about 1/4 mile south in Paradise Cove.

  5. crazyhawk

    My all time fav show and actor! That car has a clean pure look. You are a true Rockford fan if you know the name of his cat. Anyone?

    Like 1
    • OA5599


      Like 1
      • Crazyhawk

        Valentino! You got it… and I always loved how they just called it a “tan” firebird on the show. Sometimes I watch the show just for the street scenes. Classic cars sitting in parking lots all over. Wish I could go back there for a day with a pocket full of cash!

        Like 1
  6. Brian

    The answering machine messages are up on YouTube:

    Like 1

    Like I said before, googled Rockford Firebird is an Espirt not a Formula. Great car, cool engine transplant.

    Like 1
    • john m

      Autoweek differs:

      After its first season, the show used Firebird Formula 400s they dressed up as Esprits by replacing the hood and by removing the rear spoiler on the ’77 and ’78 models. Under the hood, the cars had the high-performance motor and suspension of a Trans Am. And part of the “Rockford treatment” included painting each car its unique color: Sierra gold.

      Read more:

      Like 1
      • Rick Rothermel

        After season 1, the ‘Birds were built-to-order at the Van Nuys F-body plant, on the last few days of any model years’ production so that Jimmy wouldn’t have a ‘new car’. The Sierra Gold was a ’74 production color, kept through the show’s run for continuity so that Universal’s crappy editors didn’t look as bad as they really were. Garner didn’t like the new ’79 front styling so the ’78s were retained for the show’s final season.

  8. Alan

    I am a classic cars lover & collector also old movies & Tv series collector. I have complete Rockford Files collection. In my opinion these old movies & Tv series are “Timeless” they Can be seen over and over again through years!

  9. Wrong Way

    I will take a guess on the steering wheel! I believe that it might be from a LaMans unless they both came out with the same one?

    • Miguel

      I am sure that wheel was available on this car. Base Firebirds didn’t have a special wheel.

      • Rick Rothermel

        Pontiac corporate steering wheel. C’mon… it was GM in the ’70s.

  10. Paul

    In 79 I drove a Mustang II….all a wanted was a firebird just like the Rockford one. I loved the style of that firebird. It would have been frowned upon to drive this car in a Ford plant parking lot….so all I could do is dream and drool and keep adding engine oil to my Mustang.

    • Dave Mc

      My friends brother bought a blue/black ’77 T/A new and drove it to the Ford plant.
      The old guys gave him crap and the younger ones drooled.

      Like 1
  11. gregwnc

    Rockfish! ( as Gandy would say}. Neat car and great sleeper with that LS swap.

    Like 1
    • john m

      Angel Martin was with out a doubt the best sleaze ball your love to hate. I still have a soft spot for Beth Davenport though.

      Like 2
  12. Cris Carver

    One of my dreams is to get a tan corduroy sports jacket, a mid 70’s brown Firebird & drive around L.A. making smart ass comments to arrogant police lieutenant & doing my best not to get thumped around by two coffin salesmen from Detroit. Oh yeah, & to occasionally solve something there by getting my $200 plus experiences.

    Like 2
  13. Rocksteady

    This represents the mid-70s admirably. Great shape and proportions. It must haul with that engine. The cassette deck and cigarette lighter round out the classic 70s vibe.

    Joe Mannix had some sweet wheels, Barris customized Toranado and Dart amongst them.

    Like 2
  14. Dave

    Love all these comments on Jim Rockford! One of my all time favorite shows to watch.

    Like 1
    • Rick Rothermel

      “Look what you did to my CAR…”

      Like 1

    I stand corrected, I read part of an article on jalopnic. It seems there are different stories about the cars used in the show.

    • john m

      Jalopnik outside of Jason Torchinsky is a wasteland

  16. Reid Hall

    Although this car is very close to the rockford files car,and very clean, price is very high, for this car.l feel a very similar car could be built for less. Think about it Yearone built bandit car’s not that long ago. You could probably find a pretty good one around, just remember when you buy a restorative one, stop that tow truck, and remember to tell the seller your going to restore it ,and or resell it to someone else who will. Although if
    someone buys a car very similar to this if it were me ,l would change out the radio for a cd player, put in a black and gold edition t/a steering wheel ,and or good Barry Grant type, and maybe t/a type tires and wheels, and or American Racing Style mags, with white letters, and or black walls.

  17. Rob

    Nice car, but how good of a J-turn can you pull in it?

  18. T Mel


  19. Miguel

    The LS swap kills it for me.

  20. CJ

    Owned a 1971 FB the same exterior and interior color from 1976-1990.

  21. Tom S.

    Back in the day my dad’s co-worker bought one that looked just like this for his teenage sons to share. Very cool looking car, but he got it with the OHC 6 cyl. engine so they wouldn’t get too carried away with burnouts and such.

    • Rick Rothermel

      Second gen 6-banger woulda been the bog-standard Chevy Six banger.

  22. Steve M

    A little over a year ago I binge watched the whole series, it was like sitting on the sofa with my grandfather in the 70s……great time. Oh and the car needs a 455 imho

    • Miguel

      If the car had the 455, I would bet the J turns would have turned out very differently.

  23. Tommy R

    Great show, great car! The only one better (in my humble) was Mannix and his gray Camaro!

    • Rick Rothermel

      Medium blue ’75 Camaro LT. They used two, and the interiors and trim didn’t match very well. Binged it a coupla months ago. Coolest were his Darts, a friend owns the ’68.
      Google MANNIX DART GTS/CVANTUNE for the best pics.

  24. CaCarDude

    Absolutely one of the best TV series ever, looked forward to every new episode and recorded many back in the day. An original Esprit is one on my bucket list! The car shown has one problem I could spot in the first picture, wrong color license plate’s, they need to be blue as were the CA original’s on the Rockford car, available from 1969 to early 80’s.
    I like original and would prefer the Pontiac drivetrain as well. Nice find!

    • Mountainwoodie

      That black plate is also a modern plate reissued in the latest attempt by the state to mine the nostalgia for original black and yellow plates. The new black and yellow plates have seven digits. And yes the plate for this car would have originally been blue and yellow, if it was plated in California upon sale or brought to Cali before 1982 or so when the blue and yellow 7 numerals went to the execrable white plate.

      If it was originally plated in Cali in 1977 the letters at the end of the plate might have begun with a letter towards the middle of the alphabet or so like a “P” or so.

    • Miguel

      California doesn’t have those plates available as of yet. Maybe soon.

      • CaCarDude

        On the Blue plates you may be correct, just a matter of time and CA will be doing a repop here, all about the Benjamin’s as we know. Have been to car cruise’s and see where owners on classics paint the Blue plate Black and according to my findings the CHP could care less about color as long as the plate numbers are correct and month year sticker is correct.

      • Miguel

        Actually that is not true. The new black plates are reflectorized, while the old ones were not. Modifying the plates in any way is illegal.

        As far as the new blue plates, DMV has to get enough people to agree to purchase them before they will produce them, and they aren’t there yet.

        It is odd to see black plates on cars like Teslas and other new cars.

      • Rick Rothermel

        Garner ‘designed’ those plates himself.

        8/53 was when he arrived in California, Ok for Oklahoma, and G for his last name initial.

        So THERE.

        Like 1
  25. Robert

    How do you pass the CA smog test with this swap?

    • Miguel

      With two crisp one hundred dollar bills in your hand.

      Like 1
    • Jerry

      LS1 engines were used on 1998-2002 Trans Am and Formulas, aside from Corvette. So the engine should pass smog no problem. It’ll be better on emissions than the original Carbureted Pontiac 400. And have more power stock than the late 70s 400.

  26. RoughDiamond

    This is a beauty, but it needs a legit Pontiac engine. James Garner sure put his Firebird Formula (Esprit) through a lot. He could drive with the best of them back in the day too. He was close to his brother, Jack, who made numerous cameo appearances sometimes lasting less than a minute, in many of the Rockford Files shows.

    Like 1
  27. Madmatt

    Becker,….my car’s in the shop,can i borrow yours?,…….”no way
    Jim………no way…! You know what happened last time!😎

    Like 1

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