The last year of the Firebird's second generation saw a marked decrease in sales, down 34% from 1980 and Esprit had no Skybird, Redbird, or Yellowbird options this year. A new Trans Am, the Daytona Pace Car Edition was released and came with special black graphics, a blacked out roof, black striping, and new Recaro seats with red inserts. The seats were the only second gen to ever offer reclining buckets. The Pace car was limited to only 2000 units and had a standard Turbocharged V8. The Black and Gold Special Edition was again available.
1981 Trans Am
1981 would see the last of GM divsion specific engines so the Pontiac V8 would be no more after this year. The computer age was dawning and this year GM engines were equipped with Computer Command Control to continously adjust fuel and air mixtures. The 4 speed returned to the menu this year for Formula and Trans Am having been EPA certified for use with the Chevrolet built 305 (5 liter). The Base Firebird and Esprit had the standard 231 Buick V6. The Pontiac 265 and 301 V8s were optional. Formula started the year with the Pontiac 265 V8 with the base 301 being dropped. After October 1, 1981 the Formula would come standard with the Buick 231 V6. Trans Am. The standard Trans Am engine was the L37 301 (the W72 designation was dropped but this was the same engine). The LU8 Turbocharged 301 V8 and Chevrolet 305 was optional in Formula and Trans Am.
All Trans Am graphics were changed this year using a two color, hollow design which easily distinguishes the '81. Decal color choices were expanded to gold, red, orange, blue and silver in both Turbo forms and standard. Mid year the gold and orange decals were changed to darker tones to show up on the lighter and brightly colored cars offerred this year. The standard Formula was changed eliminating the W50 like two tone and instead the base Formula's were decked out in solid colors with only a small FORMULA decal on the front fender and rear spoiler to identify the model. The W50 Formula Appearance Package was continued unchanged.
1981 Daytona Pace Car Trans Am
New cloth inserts for the standard seats were available in Millport cloth trim, available in Camel Tan or Blue. The custom interior with cloth seats were treated to a new fabric called Pimlico replacing the popular hobnail cloth. Changes were minimal to the option list but many 1981 Firebirds came loaded because of new marketing offerring discounts for purchasing options in groups. This option package marketing strategy is more the norm today but options were still available individually.
Identifying a 1981 Firebird can be difficult, '79 to '81' are nearly identical. The most visible difference is in the bird relief found in the center of the tail light panel covering the gas cap. Trans Am's are easier, assuming they have the correct graphics. Trans Am decals use only two colors where '79-'80 used five.