Introduction to the 1960s Pontiac Firebird

The 1967 Pontiac Firebird
The Pontiac Firebird debuted in 1967 and sold 82,560 models that year.
The Pontiac Firebird debuted in 1967 and sold 82,560 models that year.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Pontiac's engineers were busy at work on the 1967 Pontiac Firebird, and came up with a vital improvement over the Camaro: more even weight distribution for better handling, accomplished by shifting the engine rearward. To cope with the infamous single-leaf rear springs, they also added traction bars to prevent spring twist under hard acceleration.

As for badging, John DeLorean may have preferred Banshee; Scorpion and Fireball had their proponents; but Firebird won the name battle. Derived from American Indian mythology, Firebird was claimed to stand for "action, power, beauty, and youth."

The name had previously been used on an experimental gas-turbine car that appeared at the 1954 GM Motorama -- and on its successors of 1956 and 1959. To capitalize on that connection, the 1954 Motorama car appeared at the debut of its 1967 namesake.

That launch came late. Whereas Chevrolet's Camaro entered production at Norwood, Ohio, in the fall of 1966, no mention of Firebirds accompanied the announcement of Pontiac's 1967 line-up. Not until January 1967 did the ponycars finally start leaving the factory.

Like the cars themselves, Pontiac's marketing approach differed from Chevrolet's. Instead of being offered as option packages, the five Firebird variants were separate models, keyed to their engines.

Literature, in fact, asked: "Which Firebird is for you?" The "magnificent five" list included base, Sprint, 326, 326 HO, and 400 Firebirds. Each was offered as either a hardtop coupe or convertible.

Base and Sprint versions held a 230-cid overhead-cam inline six (exclusive to Pontiac). The base edition, with single-throat carburetor, delivered 165 horsepower. Four-barrel breathing and a hotter camshaft boosted the Sprint's six to 215 horsepower.

Also used in Tempest Sprints, Pontiac's six-cylinder "cammer" engine was just a year old, generally promoted as much for performance as for its more miserly gas mileage.

Billed as a "family sportster," the 326 Firebird carried a 326-cid V-8 with two-barrel carburetor (250 horsepower). Breathing through four barrels was the HO (high output), branded Pontiac's "285 horsepower light heavyweight."

Because Ford had issued an optional high-performance 390 V-8 for its Mustang, Pontiac couldn't ignore the upper end of the spectrum. A new 400-cid V-8 was the hot one -- also installed in the 1967 GTO. Decked out with chromed valve covers and air cleaner, the latter sitting atop a deep-breathing Rochester Quadra-Jet carburetor, it yielded 325 horsepower.

For another $263, the top engine could be ordered with GTO-inspired Ram Air induction. Then, the 400's twin hood scoops switched from decorative to functional, delivering shivery cold air to the four-barrel. Customers also could order a hood-mounted tachometer -- an innovation that some loved and others scorned.

The 1967 Firebird 400 convertible is shown here with a 1954 show car that bore the same name.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Even in the abbreviated model year, 82,560 customers took home a 1967 Firebird, helping Pontiac to grab nearly 10 percent of the market. Sure, Camaro sold twice as well that year, but combined F-car sales passed 1/4-million, cheering GM accountants.

Without a doubt, the "youth market" of early "baby boomers" was spreading its wings -- despite the fact that 475,000 American troops already were serving in Vietnam.

John DeLorean and his cohorts had known this a few years earlier, when their proposal for a sports car focused on the fact that 45 percent of Americans -- and 19 percent of licensed drivers -- were under 25.

See the next page to learn about changes for the 1968 Pontiac Firebird.

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