First of all, the choice of model year. I definitely wanted a 1998 model for several reasons. Primarily, because the vehicle was intended to be a winter vehicle, I had visions of soggy corroded Optispark units putting a damper on my fun. The 1997 was the LT1 which had its ignition system controlled by camshaft-mounted optical 'reader' that determined the crankshaft's position in order to fire the proper cylinder. The main problem was that it tended to get waterlogged and eventually corrode. I'm sure there are plenty of LT1-equipped cars that have enjoyed plenty of winter miles without any trouble, but I chose to opt for the newer motor which was served by individual coils per cylinder.
The extra power that came with the newer motor also tempted me. I was never one to want to modify my powertrains for extra power, so the idea of a fully factory warrantied extra 15 horsepower (in reality, probably 35 or more, due to underrating) was very tempting. In retrospect I was playing with fire, putting my faith in a relatively new motor (first year in the Firebirds and Camaros, second year in the Corvette) but in the end GM Engineering did not let me down. After all, this was not a Ford (see elsewhere on this site).
The new motor was reputed to be an absolute bomb compared to the previous motor... this certainly did the job of enticing me!
There was also the question of styling. The 1993-1997 Trans Am front end was a little too pointy... I preferred the Formula front end (seen above next to my 1998 car) because of the well placed nostrils versus the recessed foglamps of the Trans Am. Because my taste always tended to gravitate towards fully loaded models, I'd have to stick with a Trans Am.
For this very same reason, I preferred the Firebirds over the Camaros. The Pontiacs were always slightly better equipped than the Chevrolet units. In previous generations, there were even suspension differences but I don't believe this was the case for the 4th generation cars. Sure the Camaro (even the most expensive SS model) was less expensive than an equivalent Trans Am and definitely lighter and quicker, but I was after the creature comforts... all of them! There were many little Pontiac-specific items (like the seats and the sound system, for instance). What sealed the deal was the fact that the 1998 restyle of the F-bodies was not as pleasing for me on the Camaro as it was on the Firebird.
And why not a convertible, then? While top-down driving has always been a preference of mine, this would have meant sacrificing the Trans-Am specific rear wing, seen above in contrast to the silver Firehawk Formula. Also sacrificed would be the 10 speaker sound system. Believe it or not, these factors influenced my choice of a T-top coupe.
And why not get a much cheaper Ford Mustang Cobra instead?
You've GOT to be kidding, right?