1997-2002 Pontiac Firebird
1997 • 1998 • 1999 • 2000 • 2001 • 2002
Jon Paulette is a veteran automotive writer who has spent a fair portion of his life hanging out at racetracks and talking to amazing people who make extremely loud cars reach ridiculous speeds. Despite all that, he still has enough hearing left to enjoy a stupidly large music collection. A native Virginian, Jon lives in the Charlottesville area, roots for the Nationals and would like a good BBQ sandwich right about now.
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Pontiac Firebird (Crutchfield Research Photo)
When the final 2002 Firebird rolled off the assembly line, no one thought it would be the final Firebird. The widely held belief that the legendary nameplate would eventually return basically went "poof" when the entire Pontiac brand went away. At least the Firebird went out on a high note. We'll never really know what the fifth-generation Firebird would've been, but we do know that the fourth-generation cars were arguably the best Firebirds ever.
Granted, the basic platform dated back to the days of 8-bit home computers (look it up on your phone), but there's something to be said for continual refinement of a good design. By the end of its run, the Firebird was, in almost every way, the best it could possibly be at doing the things ponycars do – accelerating quickly, handling well, and looking cool. If your Firebird is lacking in one of those areas, there are plenty of aftermarket solutions available.
These Firebirds aren't new anymore, but they're still a blast to drive. You'll enjoy the experience even more when you replace that weak, old factory stereo system with something as stylish and powerful as your car.
The Firebirds of this era, from base models to Formulas to tricked-out Trans Ams, were equipped with either an AM/FM/cassette or an AM/FM/CD stereo system. The base model offered four speakers, and an optional 6-speaker package was also available. The top-shelf 500-watt Monsoon audio system, which debuted in 1997, was a pretty impressive set-up for the time, with 8 or, finally, 10 speakers. That said, even the best Firebird system is approaching driving age at this point, and car audio technology has come a long way over the years.
The good news is that there's a lot you can do to pump up the performance of your car's audio system. Firebirds are reasonably easy to work on and, thanks to the vast number of people who have installed aftermarket stereos in these cars over the years, there's plenty of collected wisdom out there to help you make the right decisions. We have a fair amount of it right here, of course.
The Firebird's factory AM/FM/CD receiver (Crutchfield Research Photo)
Replacing your factory radio
Removing and replacing the Firebird's factory receiver is a relatively uncomplicated process, but there are some challenges. If you're reasonably adept with tools and basic automotive tasks, you'll be fine. If you don't have the tools or the know-how, there are plenty of professional shops that can handle the installation work for you.
You'll need to remove this support bracket in order to install a new CD receiver (Crutchfield Research Photo)
First off, the factory opening is fine for the factory receiver, but too shallow for pretty much anything else. You'll have to unbolt or cut out the factory stereo's rear support bracket to make room for your new single-DIN (2" tall) receiver. And even with that, the receiver mounting kit (deeply discounted with most Crutchfield stereo purchases) includes an extension piece that you'll need to use.
When installed, the radio will protrude from the dash by 1/2". It's a difference you can see, but it won't affect your shifting and you'll get used to it in no time.
To remove the factory stereo, you'll start by prying out the edges of the receiver trim panel to release four metal retaining clips. Remove the trim panel; then remove the three 9/32” (7mm) screws securing the factory radio. You'll need those screws again soon, so keep an eye on them. Next, pull out the radio, disconnect the harnesses, and set it aside. If it's the original head unit and there's a chance you might want to return the car to stock one day, wrap it up and store it safely.
You'll want to be gentle when you're prying away panels here -- and throughout the rest of the car, for that matter. The plastic is obviously old and brittle, and even if your Firebird is new to you, you're probably not the first person to go at it with a panel tool. You could wind up breaking the panel somebody else started breaking ten years ago. Be careful, work slowly, and pay attention to what the panels are doing as you remove them.
A wiring adapter harness makes the connections between your new stereo and the factory harness. You'll also need an antenna adapter and a receiver mounting bracket. All are available at a deep discount with your stereo purchase.
You'll start by securing the receiver to the mounting bracket following the instructions that come with the kit. Connect the wiring adapter to the receiver wires following the instructions supplied with the adapter. If your car is equipped with a 10-speaker system, you'll need to connect the amplifier remote (labeled "power antenna" on some stereos) wire from the new receiver to the power antenna (blue) wire on the Crutchfield harness. This turns on the factory amplifier, so all of your speakers will continue to work.
Hold the receiver assembly up close to the dash opening and connect the Crutchfield adapter harness to the factory harness. Plug the antenna lead into the rear of your new receiver. Once everything's hooked up, slide the entire assembly into the dash opening and secure it to the dash with the screws you removed earlier. Test the receiver, make sure it's working properly; then reinstall the receiver trim panel.
Tools needed: Panel tool, socket wrench, extension, 7mm socket
Steering wheel audio controls
If you want to continue using your car's steering wheel-mounted audio controls with a new stereo, you'll need to install a special adapter. We recommend doing this when you install the new receiver because the adapter needs to be connected to the stereo wiring, located inside the dash.
The base Firebird was equipped with full-range speakers in the doors (Crutchfield Research Photo)
Replacing your factory speakers
A new set of speakers will be a massive improvement to your in-car audio quality.
Front door speakers
Base Firebirds are equipped with a standard 6-3/4" full-range speaker, while the Monsoon-equipped cars sport a neatly packaged component set with 6-3/4" woofers and separate tweeters mounted in the same part of the door. Both speaker packages are easy to reach and replace.
The Monsoon system featured component speakers up front (Crutchfield Research Photo)
The base speakers can be replaced by same-size models, or 6-1/2" or 5-1/4" speakers. The same is true for the 2-ohm Monsoon woofers, but a set of low-impedance component speakers (like Infinity or JBL) is the best choice here. A speaker adapter bracket is required for each woofer, and it's available at a discount with your speaker purchase. To get full sound out of your new speakers, you'll need to bypass the factory amp by splicing its input and output wires together.
No matter what speakers you're replacing, you'll need to remove the door panels to do the job. As noted above, it's important to work carefully when you're dealing with old plastic doors held in place by old plastic clips.
This isn't difficult, but the process varies depending on whether your car has manual or power windows and door locks. Power-equipped cars are very straightforward, but if your car is equipped with manual windows, you'll need to slide a shop rag behind the window crank and use a "shoeshine" motion to release the C-clip on the rear and remove the crank.
Whether you're installing a full-range speaker or component woofer in the larger opening, you'll need to cut out the back of the plastic cup or mounting bracket to accommodate the new piece. It's an easy thing to do, and it will give you the depth you need for a speaker with a larger magnet.
Tools needed: Panel tool, Phillips screwdriver, socket wrench, extension, 1/4" socket, 7mm socket, shop rag
The coupe's rear side speakers are easy to reach (Crutchfield Research Photo)
Rear side panel speakers
Replacing the side panel speakers in your Firebird is a pretty basic procedure. The base stereo features a 6-3/4" full-range speaker in this space, while the Monsoon-equipped coupe has a 6-3/4" dual voice coil subwoofer in this location. To remove the speaker, pry out at the top of the grille, remove four 7mm screws, pull out the speaker, and disconnect the wiring harness.
Regardless of which factory speaker is installed, 6-3/4", 6-1/2", or 5-1/4" models will fit neatly into the space, but there's no wiring harness available for the Monsoon system. You'll either need to splice into the factory wiring or use a set of Posi-Products connectors to install the new speakers. Replacing the base model speaker, on the other hand, is a matter of plugging in, testing out, and buttoning up the grille.
On Monsoon cars, the 6-3/4" factory speaker looks like a full-range, but it's actually a component system with the signal crossed over. To get full-range sound from 6-3/4", 6-1/2", or 5-1/4" aftermarket speakers, you'll need to bypass the factory amp and run wire directly from the receiver to the speakers.
Convertible: With base and Monsoon convertibles, you'll need to remove the rear seat side panels to access the speakers. What you find underneath depends on the stereo system you have.
The base speakers are 6-3/4" models, which can be replaced by 6-1/2", 5-1/4", or same size models. There's no wiring harness adapter, so you'll need to either splice or use Posi-Products connectors. The smaller models will require mounting brackets, which are available at a special price when you buy your speakers.
Tools: Panel tool, socket wrench, extension, 7mm socket
The Firebird's rear component speakers (Crutchfield Research Photo)
Rear cargo area speakers
The speakers found under the grille in the cargo area of some Firebird coupes are a compact set of component speakers. There's a bit of drilling involved, but other than that, these speakers aren't that hard to replace. We carry a healthy number of 4" full-range speakers, in addition to some component sets that will fit in this space. You'll also need Posi-Products connectors for this job, because there's no wiring harness adapter available for this location.
To access the speakers, use a panel tool to pry off the speaker grilles. Using a 1/8" bit, drill out the rivets that secure the speaker. Once the speaker is loose, you'll need to spin it a bit, lower it into the opening, then lift it out. This isn't terribly complicated if you know how to use a drill, but work carefully and be aware of wiring, windows, fuel lines, and other things. Make sure you check the drilling depth and location to avoid damaging your car. And, of course, wear eye protection.
To install the new speakers, place the "speed clips" that come with your aftermarket speakers flat side up over the holes in the mounting surface. Connect the speaker wiring of the replacement speaker to the car's speaker wires, then secure the speaker to the speed clips with the screws supplied with the package. Be sure to test the speakers before reinstalling the speaker grille.
Tools needed: Panel tool, cordless drill, 1/8" bit, Phillips screwdriver, protective eyewear
Bass in your Firebird
If you like hearing a healthy rumble from your car's sound system to go along with the one coming from the exhaust pipes, there are plenty of ways to make that happen in your Firebird. The coupe's rear hatch area offers enough space to install something big and bold, and we've seen plenty of both over the years. If you don't have t-tops to store, you have a 37" W x 13" H x 7"/12" D space. If you do, it's 40" W x 8" H x 8"/17" D.
One of our most popular bass solutions for the Firebird comes from Q-Customs. Their Q-Forms subwoofer enclosures are designed to fit perfectly in your Firebird. Depending on which model you choose, they'll hold two 10" or 12" subwoofers and they fit beautifully in the rear storage well of select 1997-2002 Firebird models. They're available in a variety of colors to match your car's interior trim, too. These enclosures will certainly cut down on your luggage/grocery space, but probably not as much as a gigantic sub box would. Some users have noted that a bit of fab work may be necessary to get the rear piece to fit around the trunk locking mechanism, but it's nothing the average DIY-er can't handle.
There are a number of other vehicle-specific enclosures designed especially to fit GM F-bodies. They're available with or without built-in subwoofers. To see the entire selection, visit our Outfit My Car page and enter your vehicle information.
Convertible: The convertible is a different matter. The top has to go somewhere on sunny days, and that someplace happens to be about where you'd install a big enclosed subwoofer. The best bass option for the ragtop is a compact powered sub. These surprisingly powerful models will give you the enhanced bass you want, and fit comfortably in the limited (okay, tiny) amount of trunk space available. They're also a smart choice for coupe owners who want better bass, but need to retain some storage capacity.
Here are a couple of other upgrade possiblities for your Firebird:
The Firebird was a popular car back in the day, both with the buying public and the taking public. If your Firebird is driven frequently and parked in unsecured areas, you might want to consider a security system. A number of systems will fit, but you'll need two Metra relays to interface with the door locks when you add an alarm or remote start. If you add remote start, you'll need an XpressKit PLJX module to interface with the car's VATS (Vehicle Anti-Theft System). A car alarm, or a remote start system with alarm features, will require two XpressKit 1-amp diodes to interface with the Firebird's door trigger wires. None of this stuff is expensive or hard to install, but if you're not an experienced car audio installer, you might want to leave the work to someone who is.
Q-Forms Kick Panel Pods
The custom speaker pods are especially good for convertibles. Available in a variety of colors to match your car's interior, Q-Forms hold a 6-1/2" component speaker system. This installation requires cutting the factory kick-plate to join with the Q-form, plus you'll need to cut holes for the speakers. Instructions are included, but tools, skill, and experience are required. This could be a job for a car audio professional, but if you really like music, it's definitely a job worth doing.
Those big, long doors can undo a lot of the good work done by your new speakers. Installing Dynamat in the door frames while you're installing the speakers is a great way to seal in sound and get the most out of your new system. More extensive use of this sound-deadening material throughout the rest of the car can help dull the rattles and creaks that occur in cars of this age—especially convertibles.
Replacing the old antenna on your Firebird is a good thing to do while you're doing everything else. You might want to give the spare tire a once-over before you put it back, just to make sure it's in good shape.