Home » It’s Time To Rate All The 1979 Cars That Could Be Ordered With Flaming Something Decals On Their Hoods

It’s Time To Rate All The 1979 Cars That Could Be Ordered With Flaming Something Decals On Their Hoods

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I was just a little kid in 1979, but I remember the way that year felt, if that makes sense. There was a certain energy in the air, a sort of last groan of the 1970s, a gleeful and simultaneously mournful exclamation as though somehow we were all aware that the upcoming 1980s would mean the earliest pre-production mule of what we now call modernity. There’s books that say this, too, it’s not just me. This sort of amorphous feeling, this last yelp of wildness, I think found its best, most earnest expression in one very specific place: car hoods. Specifically, a small set of car hoods that could be ordered, right from the factory, with huge decals that all had some sort of flame-related motif or look or just general tone, even if the decal was ostensibly of a bird or a dragon or a snake or a whatever. I believe there were six cars you could buy in 1979 with such hood decals, so let’s walk through them and, why not, vote on which we think was the best? What could it hurt?

You’d think with their often iffy quality control, 1970s cars generally might want to avoid any suggestion of flames shooting out of hoods, but those were different, bolder times. Okay, let’s get into our contenders, starting with what is unquestionably the most famous of the flaming-something-on-the-hood genre: the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am:

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Transam

The Firebird is really the archetype here, and it’s well-earned. That majestic bird, angrier before angered birds were a thing, makes for a real spectacle out on that hood. With wings outstretched, head turned and spitting what I assume is a jet of flame and not a partially-digested meal for the Firebird’s young, the decal commands the entire hood and is impossible to ignore. Sure, it’s been mocked as a screaming chicken for years, but if we look at it with un-jaded eyes, it’s a powerful bit of ornithological design.

One quick question, though: do you see it as a smaller bird with a flame-like halo, or do you see the outer flame-feathers as part of the bird’s overall body? Sometimes I see the smaller bird in the center as the “bird,” ringed in flame, and sometimes I just see it all as one flame bird. I’m curious what most people see now.

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Firearrow 2

 

This is the closest that we have to a non-American entry in the flame-hood-decal world, even if it is sold under an American brand: the Plymouth Fire Arrow. The Plymouth Arrow was a captive import, a rear-wheel drive Mitsubishi Lancer Celeste. The Fire Arrow version wasn’t just a bunch of decals, but also came with the 2.6-liter MCA Jet engine, which was an interesting design that included a third valve per cylinder in the cylinder head that was used to inject air to “swirl the fuel-air mixture.” These also had discs all around!

But we’re here to talk hood graphics, not tech. Here there are some very stylized flames emanating from that V-shaped arrowhead, and it’s interesting to note how oddly similar the style of flame is to the Firebird’s or, as you’ll see, almost all of these hood graphics. It almost feels like there was some sort of unspoken agreement about how the general style of flaming hood graphics should look, which includes flame shapes that are also oddly reminiscent of the serifs on traditional Hebrew typography. Maybe there’s some Kabbalistic angle here? I should look into that.

Royalknight 2

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GM was heavily invested in flaming hood decals, and wasn’t satisfied with just offering them for Pontiacs. Chevrolet got a novel take on the genre for their car/truck/ute El Camino, with the Royal Knight option package, which was really just a trim package that included all the stickers. The hood decal motif included a pair of symmetrical dragons, seen in profile, blowing serpentine flames at one another, with the negative space between them forming what appears to be a knight’s helmet, something I just realized right now as I’m typing this sentence. Cool!

Americans are strangely obsessed with the trappings of monarchy when it comes to cars, especially for a country formed to get the hell away from all those kings and lords and crap. The 1970s American automotive landscape was full of Monarchs and Crown Victorias and heraldic crests and all that crap. It’s odd. But, that’s still a striking flaming hood graphic, even if it is a bit light on the flames.

Gmcdiablo 2

 

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Someone at GM must have really felt the broad, flat El Camino hood was ripe for some fiery art, because they had an entirely separate sticker trim level for the El Camino’s badge-engineered GMC sibling, the Caballero. The version was known as the Caballero Diablo, and featured a huge demon head on the hood, with massive flame-hair erupting in two large wing-like sections. The design of the face has a certain ’60s Tiki-style look about it, which is a fun motif for a car – well, truck, I guess, especially a GMC, because it feels pretty unexpected.

Kingcobra

Of course, all the Big Three needed some kind of flame hood art, and you can’t expect Ford to sit this one out. Ford’s hood-art entry has perhaps the most tenuous claim on the flames part of the equation, but design-wise, it definitely has elements that could be interpreted as flames. This is the Mustang King Cobra, which came standard with the 2.3-liter turbo four engine making 116 hp, or you could get the five-liter V8 making 140 hp. That hood scoop was just for looks, but, more importantly, it framed the hood-cobra, which reared up menacingly, its other sort of hood open wide, and, yes, maybe flames surrounding it.

A cobra is pretty much the only snake you can use a frontal image of and make a compelling graphic that doesn’t look like an obelisk with a tongue, too.

Amx 2

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Finally, we come to the now-AMC Spirit-based AMX, which had the most straightforward of all the flaming hood art decals, because it’s literally just flames. Well, flames around the name of the car, but still, there are no birds or reptiles or demons or helmets involved here, just the pure flames of AMX. And, these flames fit stylistically with all the other flames, because that’s just how you do it.

The big 4.9-liter V8 managed to dribble out an embarrassing 125 hp, further reminding us that the AMC V8 was, let’s be honest, a real boat anchor. These things weren’t quick, but, really, that’s not a big deal, because you want everyone to have plenty of time to really enjoy and contemplate those three flaming letters, right?

Okay! Now’s the big test! You’ve had a chance to see and consider all of the flaming hood art available in 1979; so which does it best? Time to make your preferences known to us all:

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Danger Ranger
Danger Ranger
6 months ago

My dream car is a 79 T/A, 400, 4spd, Nocturne Blue with T-tops. My mom had one in the late 80’s, I always hoped she would keep it for me. Instead I got handed down an 85 Ranger….I did eventually buy an 86 T/A, but it’s just not the same

Last edited 6 months ago by Danger Ranger
LastStandard
LastStandard
6 months ago

Nothing will ever beat the screaming chicken.

It’s a shame Pontiac never offered an option for the Fiero, always liked the emblem.

Danger Ranger
Danger Ranger
6 months ago
Reply to  LastStandard

I have seen smaller screaming chickens on Fieros! Not factory, and they were on the front, but a small one on the engine cover would have been sweet.

Jayson Elliot
Jayson Elliot
6 months ago

The Nissan Gazelle had a glorious flaming decal on its hood in 1979:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/630589917718602/permalink/1103123130465276/

Last edited 6 months ago by Jayson Elliot
Are you not entertained?
Are you not entertained?
6 months ago
Reply to  Jayson Elliot

Classy fire. I like it.

Cyko9
Cyko9
6 months ago

There’s no denying how iconic the Trans Am is, but after seeing Caballero Diablo, I want one! No way could you have convinced me that a GMC eclipsed the great El Camino, but a flaming demon head on the hood from the factory?! That’s metal.

Roofless
Roofless
6 months ago
Reply to  Cyko9

Yeah, the Caballero and the El Camino were the standouts for me. GM really brought their A game to the Utes.

Peter Thompson
Peter Thompson
6 months ago

Wow, I thought the King Cobra was only available with the Mustang II.

Mike TowpathTraveler
Mike TowpathTraveler
6 months ago

Of course, the winner is the one that started the craze, the Firebird Trans Am.

But I’ll always have a warm spot for the 1979-1980 Ford Mustang Cobra “flaming cobra” hood decal. After 81, the Cobra package was axed (talk about a rare bird, try to find an 81 Cobra); to be replaced by the 82 GT which went all-Euro with zero graphics, just those fender side 5.0 engine call out numbers that survive to this day. Euro-monochrome look vs disco flames, I kinda like the disco flames!

Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
6 months ago

I prefer the AMX. Mostly because I despise Burt Reynolds.

Myk El
Myk El
6 months ago

Part of me wants to sneak a screaming chicken somewhere onto my ’05 GTO. Not big or gaudy, but small and subtle.

BirkyBuick
BirkyBuick
6 months ago

I have a strong memory of a dirtbag cousin having a silver or white/gray Trans am with a gold firebird with red accents.I had no idea cars could look like that as a child. Props to the Diablo, that rules. This is something that needs to come back.

ES
ES
6 months ago

thanks, i never ever saw a little bird wreathed in flames before, now i can’t not. and despite being a bit older than you, i don’t remember seeing any of these in the wild, besides the pontiac. my neighborhood was mostly beaters and family cars, but showing out meant just one thing: Cadillac, the longer, broughamier, chromier the better.

Mike B
Mike B
6 months ago

Trans Am, of course. Now tomorrow do a poll on which version of it is the best. I think it was the final year, it got so big that the wingtips touched the edges of the fenders by the cowl. I wanted to put one on the hood of my navy blue 4th gen Formula, but since it wasn’t actually a T/A I always thought it would have been a bit poseur-ish to do so.

I had never seen the GMC one though, gotta say I’m digging that one too.

Matt Sexton
Matt Sexton
6 months ago
Reply to  Mike B

You’re correct, the bird on the ’79 10th Anniversary T/A reached onto the fender tops, the only bird to do so. But it wasn’t the last hood bird for Trans Ams

In 1980-1981 the Turbo models sported a revised bird with thinner wings to symmetrically clear the off-center turbo bulge, and a longer flame out of its mouth reaching onto the hood bulge. Interestingly, the head of the bird for non-Turbo ’79-’81 models is looking to the passenger’s side, unlike every other hood bird used on second-gen T/A’s.

It’s not commonly seen but it was possible to get a factory hood bird on third-gen T/A’s, I believe from 1983-1987. These weren’t as ornate as the later second-gen birds, being just an outline, but the head on these looked to the passenger’s side, a design that would be repeated for the sail panel birds of all third-gens, and certain areas such as the taillight panel on fourth-gens.

Danger Ranger
Danger Ranger
6 months ago
Reply to  Matt Sexton

That’s right, it was only the 10th anniversary T/A’s that had that particular graphic. Weird fact I just learned. Any T/A with a 6.6 403 was an auto (Oldsmobile engine) you had to get the 6.6 Pontiac 400 to get a manual. Most of the anniversary models had the Olds 403 and automatic…
Sorry, weird car knowledge vomit

Last edited 6 months ago by Danger Ranger
Xpumpx
Xpumpx
6 months ago

Trans Am, it’s the one we all remember for a reason!
Also, 1 big bird, not 1 little bird with flames

Last edited 6 months ago by Xpumpx
Fred Fedurch
Fred Fedurch
6 months ago

If you’re going to stretch to include the Mustang then you have to include the Monza Spyder.

Andreas8088
Andreas8088
6 months ago

The AMC is the best looking car, so I’m going with that.

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
6 months ago

ACTUALLY, in 1979 there was no King Cobra, just Cobra. And the 2.3 turbo put out 131 hp, compared to the five-point-oh at 139.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
6 months ago
1961ford
1961ford
6 months ago

Not all AMC V-8 engines were boat anchors:
https://www.teampenske.com/assets/1975-Matador-001HR.jpg

Balloondoggle
Balloondoggle
6 months ago

The King Cobra looks more like a spider to me in these pictures.

Anyway, I’m looking at recreating one of these for the hood of my Bolt. Any preferences?

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
6 months ago

Does the Pinto count? Ford didn’t sell them with the graphics, but you could easily get them covered in flames.

Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
6 months ago

Naturally, as you could probably guess by my profile picture, I voted for the original, the Trans Am – accept no substitutes.

But my favorite, otherwise? Absolutely the Caballero Diablo. That is one badass graphics package, and I remember it from my childhood. All the thing needs is a spruced up SBC so that the walk matches the talk.

Last edited 6 months ago by Joe The Drummer
Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
6 months ago

I really think the King Cobra deserves more love, for just being one of the silliest model names ever!

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
6 months ago

> do you see it as a smaller bird with a flame-like halo, or do you see the outer flame-feathers as part of the bird’s overall body?

Interesting. I never saw it as anything other than a single two-tone bird, as opposed to a smol chikin with a barbeque halo. Now I’m never not going to see it like that. DANG YOU, TORCHINSKY, AND YOUR ASTUTE OBSERVATIONS. SEE ME AFTER CLASS.

Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
6 months ago

Always has been…

Rockymountainhigh
Rockymountainhigh
6 months ago

Follow up article, Part II: The Glory of the Jeep Golden Eagle Editions

Part III: Other Vintage Rad Jeep Graphic Packages and How They Ruled

I see someone above also mentioned Dixie and the Golden Eagle. Niice! And, Trans Am all the way in the poll. But they are all cool tbh

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