Still on The Run: It’s Smokey and the Bandits — a bunch of them

The Bandits arrive with a convoy of Trans Ams | Larry Printz photos

Imagine a day at the beach, followed by a night on the town. You’re tired and ready for a peaceful night’s sleep. You pull into the parking lot of your hotel only to find that most parking spaces have been taken by black 1977-78 Pontiac Trans Ams. Another handful are consumed by Snowman’s tractor-trailer. Have you stepped onto a movie set? Did you imbibe too much?

No. You’ve stumbled onto The Bandit Run.

“It’s fun because we take over hotels, restaurants, and gas stations,” said Dave Hall, creator of the event and owner of Restore A Muscle Car, a car restoration business in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Dave Hall organizes The Bandit Run
Dave Hall organizes The Bandit Run

Hall and shop customer David Hersey created The Bandit Run in 2006 as a way to commemorate the following year the 30th anniversary of the film “Smokey and the Bandit.”

Hall had the group traverse the same route as the movie, driving from Texarkana, Texas, to Atlanta. That that initial run attracted more than 100 car owners speaks to the film’s enduring appeal. A similar number joined the run this year.

And while the film’s stars Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jackie Gleason and Jerry Reed brought charisma to the big screen, there’s no denying that the picture’s greatest star didn’t receive any billing at all: the black 1977 Pontiac Trans Am accented in gold pinstripes with a screaming chicken decal on its hood and driven by Reynolds.

For a generation of adolescent boys with Farah Fawcett posters on their bedroom walls, the Pontiac’s brash nature was the height of high school cool. Every boy wanted one. Now, those who have them pay a $90 entry fee to run them in the annual event.

For that amount, the drivers get hotel discounts, vehicle decals, a grab bag of goodies and a support truck, not to mention a week of driving through the United States.

But you don’t have to be a disco-decade aficionado to participate; any make or model of car can partake in the event.

“We do not discriminate by any means,” said Hall. “Perhaps over 90 percent of the cars are going to be Trans Ams, but we have some Corvettes, some Camaros, we’ve had GTOS, Chargers, a little bit of everything. We even have a couple pickups.”

This year’s run started at the GM Nationals in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and finished in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We checked in with the group as it arrived in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Hall already is working on next year’s route.

Unlike the film that it commemorates, the Run’s speeds are mild not wild; it’s a cruise, not a race. Think of it as a vacation built around the love of a car and a film.

“I like the people. I like the camaraderie,” said Roy Smith of Williamsburg, Virginia. Smith drove his 1996 Pontiac Trans Am Comp T/A in the 2014 run.

“We all have this in common and it’s really interesting to get to know people from all over the country.”
No doubt. Let’s sample some of them:

“When I was younger I had GTOs. But the Trans Am was always that car I always wanted but for some reason or another never bought. It is a car I’ve always wanted that I just never got until seven years ago.”

Drew Demarco, Baltimore, Maryland, 1981 Pontiac Trans Am SE

 

 

Bandit2
“I’ve been a big Trans Am fan for 25 years.”

Sash Popovic, Kitchener, Ontario, 1976 and 2002 Pontiac Trans Ams

No kidding. Popovic owns a 2002 Collector’s Edition with 11,000 miles as well as a 1976 Trans Am he bought about 26 years ago. “I guess it’s a car thing,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Bandit3“We’ve had a couple of these cars in the family. It’s a car I always wanted, not so much because of the movie, but because I graduated in 1979.”

Joe Talotta, Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania, 1979 Pontiac Trans Am (also a 1980 Firebird and 1981 Firebird Formula)
Bandit4“Car people are good people. Any car event that we’ve ever been involved in is just like this. It’s not different; it’s just unique because it’s one car. The first year you’re nervous because you don’t know anybody. We know people from all over the world now.”

Larry Smith, with his wife, Susan, Franklin, Illinois, 2002 Pontiac Trans Am

 

For more information, visit www.thebanditrun.com.

My Classic Car: Mike’s 1979 Pontiac Trans Am

This Trans Am is just like the one Mike wanted back when both were younger | Mike Hill photo
This Trans Am is just like the one Mike wanted back when both were younger | Mike Hill photo

This car still evokes the same rush of emotion that it did when I was a young man.

I promised myself that someday I would have to own one. It took many years but I found her online at the end of 2013 and I finally am living my dream with this numbers matching 1979 Anniversary edition Pontiac Trans Am.

Equipped with the 400-ci V8 and 4-speed transmission, she is everything I dreamed about. I now pretty much live in my garage. It’s just hard to be away from her. I could not be happier.

Homemade KITT: ‘Knight Rider’ replica car

Chris Palmer needed five Pontiac Trans Ams, numerous visits to eBay, countless hours of work and the generosity of several friends to recreate the car that starred in the hit 1980s television show “Knight Rider.” And he wouldn’t hesitate to do it all over again.

“It was totally worth it – more than worth it,” Palmer said of his KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand) lookalike. “I love this car. Everybody seems to love this car.”

Palmer started with a 1991 Pontiac Trans Am, which had a better drivetrain but was nine years newer than the car used in the show. That decision necessitated the purchase of four more Trans Am models – two each from 1982 and 1983 – so he could swap out the panels and parts required to make it look like KITT. The ’91 also has a five-speed manual transmission, unlike KITT’s automatic, so Palmer chopped the gear shift and swapped out the knob to make it look authentic.

Palmer found KITT’s unique dash (complete with two video screens) and the car’s trademark front bumper on eBay, and everything operates and sounds as it did on the show. KITT’s Michigan vanity license plate reads KNI6HT.

The Detroit-area resident said his 3½-year project would not have been possible without the help of Sled Alley Hot Rods owner Matt Gurjack and co-worker Steve Jay; Lafata Auto Body owner Eric Lafata, who did the paint; and H&E Overlays owner Eric Thompson, who assisted with the dash installation and also made the gauge overlays. Palmer, president of the newly created Great Lakes Knights Car Club, which he and Thompson co-founded, hopes to build show-quality movie-replica cars for other fans. For now, he’s enjoying all the attention he’s getting from the ultimate KITT car.

Pontiac GTO celebrates 50 years since undercover birth

The 1964 Pontiac Tempest LeMans GTO was an immediate hit | GM Heritage Center
The 1964 Pontiac Tempest LeMans GTO was an immediate hit | GM Heritage Center

As any Pontiac enthusiast would tell you, the 1964 Pontiac GTO was never supposed to happen. The legend of how the groundbreaking muscle car came to exist against all odds will be told time and again this year as the performance icon celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Although there were muscle cars that came before, the 1964 Pontiac Tempest Lemans GTO is credited with starting the trend of sporty, youth-oriented performance cars from Detroit that ruled during the tumultuous 1960s. GTO is what sparked the muscle car wars among the major U.S. brands.

But to bring the original 1964 GTO to market, Pontiac had to sneak it under the conservative noses of General Motors management and deliver the cars to dealers without official approval. The whole story is told in Glory Days, the autobiography by Pontiac’s acclaimed marketing guru, Jim Wangers.

Jim Wangers brought GTO to the public | GM archive
Jim Wangers brought GTO to the public | GM archive

Wangers is now known as the Godfather of the GTO, not because he invented the car but because of his aggressive marketing campaign that made everybody sit up and take notice. One of the important personalities who helped Pontiac come back from its near demise during the 1950s, Wangers was instrumental in building Pontiac’s image as General Motors’ style and performance division.

Pontiac finally was axed from GM’s lineup in October 2010 after a decline that Wangers blames on poor management that lost sight of Pontiac’s “excitement” mission.

Wangers credits the creation of the GTO to a trio of inspired Pontiac engineers: Bill Collins, Russ Gee and the remarkable John DeLorean, who would soon head the GM division. Their template was the redesigned Tempest, Pontiac’s smallest car.

“The idea of stuffing a big engine into a smaller or lighter-weight car was hardly original,” said Wangers in a telephone interview with ClassicCars.com. “The aftermarket had been doing it for years. But we were the first manufacturer to do it on a production basis.”

The key ingredient was replacing the Tempest Lemans’ standard 326-cubic-inch V8 with a 389 that produced 325 horsepower and 428 pound-feet of torque in 1964, or 348 horsepower with the Tri-Power option. The GTO came with trendy Redline performance tires, hood “scoops” and a bold GTO badge on the left side of its grille. A number of styling and performance options were also available.

GTO came as hardtop or convertible | Joe and Lori Samuels/The Legend Magazine
GTO came as hardtop or convertible | Joe and Lori Samuels/The Legend Magazine

Timing was everything with the original GTO, Wangers said, with a burgeoning population of young people who were looking to break away from the old ways of doing things, including driving.

“They were on a quest for personal mobility and for personal mobility with a little fun and a little enthusiasm,” Wangers said. “Then along came a set of wheels that was pretty exciting. A set of wheels that was not just exciting but reasonably priced. That’s really what combined to offer us the opportunity to move so aggressively in that direction.”

But that direction was not so obvious to the corporate heads of GM, who had earlier imposed strict rules and regulations that limited engine size and horsepower to all but the automaker’s biggest land yachts. The idea of producing an intermediate-size performance model with a large, powerful engine was heretical.

GM was also under pressure from the government because the company commanded so much of the automotive market in the 1950s, about 55 percent in the days before significant numbers of imports arrived on the scene.

“So GM management was always concerned with their bigness and their aggressiveness. The last thing they wanted to do was to go out and promote performance,” Wangers said. “Promoting fun driving to young people could have been considered to be socially irresponsible; here’s GM trying to kill our kids with these high-performance cars.”

Styling upgrades were simple but effective | GM Heritage Center
Styling upgrades were simple but effective | GM Heritage Center

In the spirit of the rebellious 1960s, the Pontiac people took secret advantage of a loophole in GM’s rulebook that would allow them to offer the car not as a separate model but as an options package for the Tempest Lemans. That way, they could stay under the radar as they introduced this new kind of performance car to the public without waiting for approval from the higher ups.

“So the cars were in the hands of the dealers, 5,000 of them, before the corporation ever knew that it existed,” Wangers said. “For one of the divisions to sneak, so to speak, a special car into the market, it couldn’t be done today. In this case, we had control over some of our assembly activities.

“We didn’t initially inform the corporation, and they first heard about it from the Chevrolet and Oldsmobile divisions, because when the Pontiac dealers got their hands on these cars, the first thing they did was take it over to their buddies at the Olds or Chevy or Buick dealership and said, ‘Hey, look what I got.’”

When the GM honchos found out about the ruse, they summoned the Pontiac guys to headquarters to explain themselves.

“They gave us 30 days to put together our presentation,” Wangers recalled. “Well, during that 30-day period after the car went into the field, the dealers had quite an experience when Pontiac got more than 15,000 orders for the new car. The dealers got one or two depending on the size of the dealership, and when they realized what they had, they turned around and said, ‘Hey, get us 10 more of these.’

The 389cid V8 came with triple carburetors | Joe and Lori Samuels/The Legend Magazine
The 389cid V8 with Tri-Power carburetion | Joe and Lori Samuels/The Legend Magazine

“When we showed that to the corporation, our meeting was over. They said, ‘Well this is ridiculous, we’re sure not going to kill that.’ Then they turned to Chevrolet, Buick and Olds and said, ‘OK, you can have one, too.’”

Pontiac would sell more than 32,000 GTOs during the 1964 model year.

GTO would stand alone for a year before the other GM divisions introduced their competing versions of midsize muscle cars. Pontiac had been able to quickly design and introduce the GTO, Wangers said, because the stock 326cid V8 in the Tempest Lemans had the same block as the 389cid, including the motor mounts, making it simple to install the bigger-displacement engine.

But for the other divisions, their bigger performance engines were entirely different from the standard engines, requiring re-engineering of such things as the motor-mount locations.

“Stuffing that bigger Pontiac engine into that intermediate size car was not a problem. But when Chevrolet, Olds and Buick went to work and tried to duplicate that, they realized that they had different engines with completely different sets of motor mounts,” Wangers said. “So even though they had muscle car answers to the GTO in the model year 1964, it wasn’t until well into 1965 before they appeared with the bigger engine in an intermediate car.”

Ford and Chrysler also would respond in the ensuing years, and the horsepower wars were on.

Jim Wangers is known as Godfather of the GTO |
Jim Wangers is still promoting the GTO | Geetotiger.com

At 88, Wangers is having a busy year traveling around the country for appearances at GTO club events and other anniversary celebrations. He already has been hosted by the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles and the Blackhawk Collection in Danville, Calif., for exclusive speaking engagements.

“I was fortunate enough to be there and live through it,” he said. “There are not too many of us left.”

Tom Szymczyk, the editor of The Legend Magazine – the official publication of the GTO Association of America – said he’s looking forward to Wangers’ appearance at the GTOAA Convention from July 1-5 at the Monroeville Convention Center in Monroeville, Pa.

“We’re making a big birthday party out of it,” Szymczyk said of the national convention.

By the way, it was John DeLorean who came up with the name GTO, taking the letters from the iconic Ferrari 250 GTO race car, which stirred protests from Ferrari enthusiasts and sports-racing fans. For the Ferrari, GTO stands for Gran Turismo Omologato, Italian for Grand Tourer Homologated for that racing class.

The Pontiac GTO wasn’t a race car, per se, though it was raced a lot from stop lights. But the name was an inspired move. GTO quickly became synonymous with Pontiac performance for American drivers, and it still rings true today.

Future classic: Pontiac Firebird’s final years

The 2002 Trans Am Collector Edition has shown rising values at auction. (Photo: Barrett-Jackson)
The 2002 Trans Am Collector Edition has shown rising values at auction. (Photo: Barrett-Jackson)

 

The final four years of the Pontiac Firebird also marked the last gasp of the classic muscle-car era that started in the 1960s. Like its corporate cousin of Chevy Camaro, the Firebird rode the ups and downs of the horsepower wars with boundless enthusiasm.

The last of the fourth generation of Firebirds that were introduced in 1993, the 1998 models received an expressive front-end restyling and honeycomb taillights that continued through the end of the line. A bit over the top for some, but spot on for others.

The 1998-2002 Firebirds managed to up the ante in performance despite strangling environmental restrictions and a young driving public whose attention was turning elsewhere. Formula and Trans Am models were treated to the latest Corvette LS1 small-block V8 along with an aluminum driveshaft and dual-piston front-brake calipers.

A menacing black 2001 Trans Am with the WS6 package. (Photo: General Motors)
A menacing black 2001 Trans Am WS6. (Photo: General Motors)

In standard trim, the V8 package cranked out 310 horsepower and 340 pound-feet of torque. But those in the know ordered their Firebirds with the high-performance WS6 Ram Air option that boosted horsepower to 325 and torque to 350 pound-feet. Plus, it added the most audacious quartet of hood scoops ever seen on a production car

In glossy black and with its massive rear spoiler that looked like the turned-up collar of an automotive Dracula, they have a bulging presence that’s hard to ignore.

The Trans Am WS6 cars from 1998-2002 already have shown strength at collector-car auctions, and their values should rise as overall interest in Detroit muscle comes roaring back after the market collapse of 2008. Witness the recent gains of Trans Ams from the “Smokey and the Bandit” days.

Non-WS6 Firebirds from the final years have languished, most becoming just used-up old cars or falling prey to extreme customizing efforts. In great original condition, they should see some upside in the future. Those equipped with the Hurst-shifter six-speed manuals are favored over the automatic versions.

High-quality Trans Ams in standard trim could see rising values. (Photo: General Motors)
High-quality Trans Ams in standard trim could see future gains. (Photo: General Motors)

A 205-horsepower V6 was also available for lesser Firebirds, but those values are expected to lag accordingly.

The last hurrah for the Pontiac Firebird was the 2002 Collector Edition Trans Am – known as CETA to their fans – with all of the coupes and convertibles equipped with the WS6 package and painted an aggressive shade of bright yellow. A relatively toned-down rendition of the emblematic “screaming chicken” motif from earlier years flows over the hood and onto the flanks. These attention grabbers have done fairly well at auction, with sales reaching the mid-30s at Barrett-Jackson sales.

For the final 2002 model year, all WS6-equipped Firebirds were produced in fairly high numbers, which does affect their values. Many of them were squirreled away with low miles by those expecting a big return in the future for the last-year performance Firebirds.

In terms of rarity, only a limited number of WS6 coupes and convertibles – something in the order of around 250 – were produced during the 1998 model year, and these are becoming noticed by collectors.

Collectible minivans: Dream or nightmare?

1984 Ply Voyager frnt rt color 2

“Next across the block, ladies and gentlemen, is a pristine 1984 Plymouth Voyager, a rare SE model packed with all the options — full gauges, third-row seat, power-opening rear vent windows, wood-look exterior paneling, heavy-duty suspension, wire wheel covers and — taa daa — even a five-speed manual transmission.

“The five-speed was standard equipment, though very few customers did not opt for the three-speed automatic.

“Yes, this is the rarest of the rare first-year minivans, so let’s open the bidding at $50,000, shall we?”

Cough! Gasp! Even in the wildest moments of my imagination, I cannot bring myself to believe that the minivan ever will be considered a collectible classic car.

Well, I can see a couple of possible exceptions:

One would be the minivan, a Renault Espace, that the French automaker equipped in the mid-1990s with one of its 800-horsepower, V10 Formula One racing engines.

The other exception would be if the collector were the Smithsonian or some other museum committed to the display of the artifacts of American culture. (Or, in the case of the Renault Espace F1, in an auto museum in France, which is where that minivan is parked.)

Classic car collectors often start their collections with the car they wanted but didn’t get to drive back in high school. But who among those who grew up as part of the minivan generation even liked riding in one, let alone ever dreamed of driving one to the prom?

635779d1984_004Oh, the minivan was practical enough, especially if you had more than two children, but it also was pretty much a stage-of-life vehicle that you fled as soon as you didn’t need all that room for your children’s booster seats or for car-pooling to soccer practices.

Collectible or not, the minivan turns 30 this model year, and in some states that qualifies it to wear classic car license plates.

“… Sold! And for a world-record price! Don’t fret if you missed on that one, because here comes aPontiac Trans Sports, the famed dust-buster minivan…”

larry-sig

My Classic Car: Grandmother would like Gary Loar’s ’54 Pontiac

Photos courtesy of Gary Loar
Photos courtesy of Gary Loar

I have owned this car, a 1954 Pontiac Chieftain Deluxe, for 20 years. I got the car to save her from the previous owner, who could not afford to restore the car and it was just sitting and deteriorating more and more.

Why this car? Because my grandmother had a ’54 Star Chief convertible, so I wanted one for many years. This is the only ’54 I could find at the time, but then good luck finding a convertible.

It took about one year to complete the restoration, which was done with the help of friends in the Pontiac Oakland Club International, the Antique Automobile Club of America and other friends who own classic cars.

We took the car down to bare metal, rebuilt the engine and transmission. I don’t think there was a bolt or screw that wasn’t turned.

Now, this car is just wonderful to drive.

The car made its “debut” in June of 1994 at a national car meet in New Hope, Pa.

I drive it to and from local car shows, though lately I’ve been trailering it to long-distant shows, though I have driven the car as far west as Indianapolis and as far east at Cape Cod.

I think my grandmother would be pleased.

 

There aren’t a lot of Silver dollars in Arizona

The sell-through rate at Mitch Silver’s inaugural Arizona in the Fall auction was only 26 percent. Seems consignors valued their vehicles more than the snowbirds looking for something to drive during the winter months.

The sale was scheduled with an eye on offering cars that could serve as classy daily drivers for Arizona’s winter visitors, cars they might turn around and consign themselves next spring when Silver does a similar auction just before the ‘birds fly home for the summer.

But in many cases — too many cases — the bids offered fell just short of the owners’ reserve prices.

The high-dollar sale of the weekend was $55,000 for a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible. A 1968 Camaro RS/SS convertible brought $32,500, a 2008 BMW 550Li went for $29,600, a 1961 Pontiac Catalina convertible $29,000 and a 1957 Pontiac Star Chief hardtop traded ownership for $28,000.

Silver is back in Arizona in January for its big annual sale, and returns for its spring event in March. Silver also is working on a possible sale in the Phoenix area during the summer, though that one would be in an air-conditioned building, not outdoors in a tent.

Vehicle Profile: Pontiac GTO

The First true “Muscle Car”? Many will argue it to be the 1964 Pontiac Tempest LeMans “GTO” (the 2nd generation Tempest, 1964 thru 1967 models)! Even Pontiac itself warned: “To be perfectly honest, the Tempest “GTO” is not everyone’s cup of tea. … It’s suspension is firm, tuned more to the open road than to wafting gently over bumpy city streets. It’s dual exhausts won’t win any prizes for whispering. And, unless you order it with our lazy 3.08 low-ratio rear axle, its gas economy won’t be anything to write home about.” Well, apparently, one man’s warning is another’s ringing endorsement. Pontiac had hoped to sell approximately 5,000 of the 1964 Tempest GTO’s and was overwhelmed when they actually sold 32,450 of them! 18,422 2-Door Hardtops (no pillar), 7,384 Sport Coupes (had a pillar to divide front/rear windows) and 6,644 Convertibles were produced in 1964. The “GOAT”, as it was affectionately referred to, generated a cult following and surprised all of it’s competition!

The design of this second generation Pontiac Tempest LeMans “GTO”, was made possible only by ignoring a General Motors’ mandate that all intermediate-sized cars would not have engines larger than 330 c.i V-8’s. In a grand scheme, which circumvented GM’s “parental approval”, Pontiac’s top-brass made its 389 c.i. V-8, part of a special package only for the new Pontiac Tempest LeMans “GTO”. The name, “GTO” (short for Gran Turismo Omologato) which was begged, borrowed or possibly even stolen from Ferrari, became a special performance model for the new 2nd generation Tempest LeMans line-up.

This new intermediate-sized vehicle from GM was designated the “A” body platform and had a 115″ wheelbase, was 203″ in length, was 73.3″ wide and had a front and rear track of 58″.

To create an engine to power this original “musclecar”, Pontiac built the 389 c.i. V-8 with a special high-lift cam, borrowed the 421 c.i. V-8’s high-output heads and were able to produce 325 hp with the standard Carter four-barrel. The optional “Tri-Power” (three Rochester two-barrel carburetors in a row) with progressive linkage was ordered in 8,250 of the GTO’s (for a small up charge) and were rated at 348 hp. Both versions had 10.75:1 compression ratio and 428 lb-ft of torque. Chrome valve covers, oil filler cap and air cleaners were standard as well as declutching fan, high-capacity radiator and battery. Transmissions offered, were the standard three-speed manual, optional four-speed, both of which used Hurst shift linkages and all came with heavy-duty clutches. A two-speed automatic transmission was also available.

A thicker front sway bar, heavy-duty shocks, stiffer springs all the way around and high-speed 14-inch Red-Line tires were included as standard equipment and 15 body colors were available. An optional “Roadability Group” added sintered-metallic brake linings and a limited-slip differential. All GTO’s came standard with bucket seats and an engine-turned aluminum instrument surround, non-functional hood “scoops” and dual exhaust.

A woodgrain steering wheel, a locking center console and simulated wire wheel covers were among the GTO’s factory options.

Only slight cosmetic changes were made over the next few years (thru 1967), most notably for 1965 and on, the front grille area was changed and “split” to emulate the full-sized Pontiacs and the headlights were changed to an over/under configuration. The rear tail lights also underwent a facelift along with a more slanted rear deck area.

Oh, and the four-barrel GTO’s typically ran from 0-60 mph in about 7.5 seconds and the quarter-mile in 15.7 seconds at 92 mph, while the “Tri-Power” GTO’s were consistently quicker and added a ton of mystique to the car’s overall street-cred! What a great time to be alive and grab ahold of that wheel and stuff your foot into that quick lil’ Goat!!! HOOOOOOHAAAAAAA!!!

Vehicle Profile: Pontiac Firebird

1967PontiacFirebird

The first generation Pontiac Firebird (1967 to 1969) offered two different design options to consumers: a 2-door hardtop coupe and a convertible model. This new vehicle made by Pontiac, shared the new General Motors “F-Body” chassis with its also new for 1967 sibling, the Chevrolet Camaro. The debut of the Firebird marked Pontiac’s entry into the popular Pony Car arena.

The new Pontiac Firebird had a 108.1-inch wheelbase, weighed in the area of 3,000 pounds and showed up on the scene some five months after the Camaro made its debut. This short delay helped John DeLorean (who was, at the time, the youngest head of a division in GM’s long history) and his team of Pontiac designers and engineers, put some distinguishing touches on a vehicle who’s design closely mirrored that of the Chevrolet Camaro.

Apparently, John DeLorean was somewhat annoyed that the Camaro was released first, because the new Firebird was one of his pet projects that he hoped would be as popular as the 1964 Pontiac GTO that he also engineered, which is often referred to as the first Muscle Car.

There were five different engines available (engine displacement also identified each model) for 1967 Firebirds, which Pontiac referred to as their “Magnificent 5″.  You could start with the base model which had an innovative “overhead cam” (or “OHC”) 230-cid, in-line 6-cylinder, with a 1-barrel carburetor that produced about 165 hp.  The next step up was the “Sprint” model that offered a 230-cid, in-line 6-cylinder, with a 4-barrel carburetor that produced about 215 hp. Both 6-cylinder models were available with a 3 or 4-speed manual transmission or a 2-speed, automatic transmission.

The 326-cid V8 model with a two-barrel carburetor capable of producing about 250 hp, was also an option. Next in line was the Firebird V8-H.O. (High Output) model which also featured a 326-cid V8 with a 4-barrel carburetor rated at 285 hp.  At the top of the heap was the 400-cid V8 (borrowed from the GTO) with a 4-barrel carburetor that was capable of producing at least 325 hp.  Another option was the 400-cid, “Ram Air” engine which contained a tuned camshaft with heavier valve springs, making the otherwise non-functional hood scoops, functional. This engine design modification was not reflective of any additional horsepower output in any of the marketing brochures for the Firebird at the time. Subsequently, this option was rarely ordered, also making it an ultra rare option to find in today’s classic car buyer’s market. Ultimately, all V8’s came standard with the heavy-duty 3-speed manual transmission, with an optional 4-speed manual transmission and 2 or 3-speed automatic transmission.

The unique and definitive Pontiac styling on the Pontiac Firebird included a split chrome grille with embedded quad-headlamps, “beaked” hood, rear quarter panel “split-gills” and slotted , “slit-style” tail lights (also borrowed from the GTO). All of these details made the Firebird stand-out in a crowd of new Pony Cars. Many performance options and creature comforts were also available including several different rear axle ratios, front disc brakes, power steering, full gages, floor consoles and the first-ever, hood-mounted tachometer.

The 1968 Pontiac Firebirds saw little change from the 1967 models. Some noticeable differences were the loss of door vent-windows and some minor interior revisions that were made. Pontiac “Arrowhead” side-marker lights were added to the rear 1/4 panels and the front turn signal/parking lamps were revised to curve around to the sides of the vehicle for the 1968 Pontiac Firebird, new federal vehicle laws that were implemented in 1968.  The rear shocks were also staggered  on the 1968 Pontiac Firebird, with one mounted to the front side of the axle and the other to the rear side of the axle, in an effort to increase ride quality.  The rear leaf-springs were also changed to the “multi-leaf” design, in order to reduce annoying “wheel-hop” upon quick acceleration. Most of the other changes, were in the available drivetrains, such as the “OHC” 6-cylinder, that grew from 230 to 250-cid and the 326-cid V8 that grew to 350-cid, both producing increases in horsepower production.

The Pontiac Firebird had a major facelift in 1969 (similar to the new GTO), with a new front end design. The rear-end area was changed slightly, while the interior was again revised and an exciting new Trans Am performance and appearance package was introduced in March of 1969. The Trans Am name, which was borrowed from the SCCA racing series, also meant that Pontiac had to pay the SCCA a license fee of $5.00 for every car sold, in order to use the Trans Am name. All the Trans Am optioned vehicles produced in 1969 (only some 689 coupes and only 8 convertibles, again super rare) were polar white with blue racing stripes. A 5 foot long trunk-lid mounted low-profile spoiler, special decals and the exclusive hood with driver operated, functional intake scoops, were included in the package. Also exclusive to the Trans Am, were the front fender scoops or vents, which were intended to help evacuate captured, engine-bay air.