n December 1977, Pontiac mailed a photo to dealers announcing the "Bandit" Trans Am would be replaced with a gold Special Edition, and the Skybird would be replaced by the Redbird. Production of the Redbird was scheduled to begin "about" February 1.
The decal package on Redbirds had the same bird as the Skybird, and the same style writing and decal placement. One difference is that the decals were no longer two-tone. Where the Skybird incorporated the accent color into the decals, the Redbird used one gold color. Another difference is that "Red Bird" is all on one line, where the word "Sky" had been above the word "Bird".
As the Skybird had been a blinding flash of baby blue color, the change to the Redbird was jarring. The paint scheme on Redbirds was flashy, far more masculine, and somehow, avoided clashing with itself. The gold trim of the Special Edition Trans Ams was borrowed for a red, red, red, and gold theme. In my opinion, the Redbird is the prettiest of the three. Redbirds were RPO W68 and remained so through 1979.
Since the 1978 Redbird was a mid-year model, it's not documented in the shop manual or product brochures.
The 1979 Firebird exterior was heavily redesigned, and this impacted the Redbird's features quite a bit. The bad news was the grilles were demoted to part of the bumper, so the color-coordinated grilles were gone forever. The good news was the Redbird was borrowing the Special Edition's gold-accented grilles. Another piece of good news was the new nose and tail had a natural color separation line built in. The accent color kicked up to take advantage of this, leaving the whole bumper the accent color. 1979 Formulas are the same way.
Another piece of bad news, depending on your taste, is that the 1979 Redbirds were an "ordinary" color, Mayan Red. This had been a Trans Am color for several years, having been called "Buccaneer Red" during the fabled Super Duty era, and is very popular with collectors. Redbirds are the only cars in the series to be painted an ordinary color, if you can consider Buccaneer Red ordinary. If the 78's were Roman Red, then the Redbirds also are the only cars in the series to undergo an exterior color change.
Out back, the new taillights didn't leave anything on the back to paint, so the contrasting tail panel area was gone too. The taillights were entirely ordinary 1979 Firebird units, which were, you guessed it, red. It's hard to come up with a red-accented taillight, so they didn't.
There wasn't any good news on this end, but the Yellowbird would eventually make the big new taillights one of its best features.
The spoilers were all redesigned in 1979, with the result that the 1979 Redbird's spoiler stripe is different from a 1978. These stripes appear to be a constant width, without the "fattening" on the spoiler ends that the 1978 Redbird had. If you compare the two spoilers (right and a page up left), you'll see that the 1978 stripe accentuated the shape of the 1978 spoiler itself, and wouldn't have looked right on this spoiler.
Another piece of good news was Pontiac power was back in almost all the base Firebirds, including Redbirds. The low and high priced V8's for 1979 would both be Pontiac 301's. That's what most 1979 Redbirds have. This 301 with Canadian emissions (right) lacks A.I.R.
1979 Engine choices were kind of interesting in that the Chevy 305 was used in California, and the 4-barrel Chevy 350 was used for high altitude only. If you have a 350 powered 1979 Redbird that would be a rare car indeed, and quite a bit more powerful than the 301's.
Also, for the first time, the Redbird's engine choices overlapped the Trans Am (a little). The top Esprit engine, a 301 4-barrel, was available on the Trans Am as a delete option. Over 13,000 1979 Trans Ams were built that way.
(source: Firebird TransAm Parts).
Once again, Pontiac used a unique accent color for the bottom band. They called it Redbird Red. It had a paint code of 42 in 1978, but in 1979 that was changed to 80. The factory instructed dealers to write in paint code 72 (Roman Red), which is a really gorgeous color. Roman Red wasn't used on 1978 Firebirds, which followed in the Skybird tradition. However, 1979 Redbirds were Mayan Red, code 75, which was a Trans Am color for several years.
It appears then, from the documentation, that 1978 and 79 Redbirds do not have the same upper color.