THE 1991 Firebird/Trans Am GTA is a car of tumescent ego and flaccid logic. As such, it borders on the vulgar, especially in an era where modesty is replacing excess as the right stuff.

Still, the GTA, with its tremendous body weight and huge V-8, is undeniably appealing.

Take it to Small Town, America, take it anywhere outside of Washington, and watch what happens. People gather around it, ooh and ah. They ogle it, thump it and say, "Yeah, man. You got something here!"

Folks even like the GTA's wildly flared rear spoiler and its Batmobile face. And though the GTA rattles -- as most other Firebirds and their sibling Chevrolet Camaros have rattled since their inception nearly 24 years ago -- lots of people want the GTA in their driveways.

It has everything to do with freedom, I think, and with the undying American lust for bigness and power.

The mighty roar of the GTA's engine says that it can go anywhere, do anything, that it can make quick work of time and distance. Never mind that reality is marked by creeping traffic, state troopers and crumbling highways.

There is a basic "car-ness" about the GTA, a blue-collar chutzpah that sets it apart from everything else in the market. This uniqueness is good and bad.

In the GTA, there are enough sins to cast it into perdition, assuming that the Almighty is an environmentalist. It gulps fuel and spews out the residue with the wanton abandon of a Saturday night drunk. It's noisy -- very noisy, but is prideful of its loudness. It is fast. But if the Almighty is anything like the car buffs who people the world -- people who are thrilled by the pull of 240 mechanical horses, who revel in the unabashed joy of speed and motion -- if the Almighty is anything like that, then the GTA has a shot at salvation.

Background: To last for nearly 24 years, with relatively minor tweaks and fixes, is no small achievement in the U.S. auto market. But General Motors Corp.'s F-body cars, the Pontiac Firebird and the Chevrolet Camaro, have done just that. Whether those cars can last much longer is anybody's guess. The world is growing crotchety, and is becoming impatient with what it construes to be flamboyant waste.

Still, while they remain, the rear-wheel-drive Firebirds are available in four versions: the top-line Trans Am GTA, the base Trans Am hatchback, the Firebird Formula and the base Firebird.

Complaints: The unbearable heaviness of being -- in this case, 3,470 pounds worth, accented by excessively heavy and hard-to-handle side doors.

Praise: The joy of it, once the doors are closed and the car is in motion and rattles succumb to the roar of the engine and the beauty of the music from the car stereo.

Head-turning quotient: Totally, radically, get-outta-here wild. It definitely attracts attention.

Ride, acceleration and handling: The GTA's super-rigid chassis promises and delivers a bump-fest on rough roads. But on the smooth and dry, the car is wonderfully spry.

Acceleration is boffo, of course. With a 5.7-liter, 240-horsepower V-8, how could it be anything less? Kudos to Pontiac for installing a driver's-side air bag as standard equipment. Anything this fast needs a bag -- or two.

Sound system: Electronic AM/FM stereo radio, cassette and disc, by GM/Delco. No off-the-shelf factory sound is better.

Mileage: Yo! It's low. About 20 to the gallon (15.5-gallon tank, about 300-mile range on usable volume of 87-octane unleaded), running mostly highway and driver only.

Price: High, Sly. Base for the tested four-seat GTA is $24,530. Dealer's invoice is $21,905. Price as tested is $25,449, including $450 for leather seats and a $469 transportation charge.

Purse-strings note: It's a heart thing. You will neither understand nor appreciate it if you think too much. If your heart's willing and your pocket is able to afford the car and the gas, it's a buy.

Warren Brown covers the automotive industry for The Washington Post.