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Third Generation:

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1967 Pontiac Firebird - the Consolation Prize

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In the mid-1960s, John DeLorean waged a battle within GM to get approval for a 2-seat Pontiac sports car. The preproduction concept of this car was the Banshee I. It was a beautiful car that would have found the perfect home at Pontiac which was at that time transforming into GM's youthful performance oriented division. After-all a sporty 2-seater sports car was just what Pontiac needed to complete it's car lineup which consisted of some very sporty full-size cars and Pontiac's mid-size muscle car, the GTO. Unfortunately the top brass at GM saw a Pontiac 2-seat sports car as too much of a threat to the Corvette which was GM's crown jewel.

In the end John DeLorean lost his battle, the green light was not given to a 2-seat Pontiac sports car. The top dogs at GM must have felt some degree of guilt for they threw in a consolation prize instead and that was the Pontiac Firebird. Around this time the Ford Mustang was the hottest new sports car with car sales that exceeded Ford's wildest expectations. Chevrolet realizing that sporty versions of its Corvair or Chevy II weren't even making a dent into Mustang sales, understood a direct competitor in this new pony car segment was needed, hence the development of the Camaro which was built on GM's new F-body platform. GM had given Pontiac the green light to use this platform for a car of its own which Pontiac called Firebird. At first Pontiac wasn't that enthusiastic about the Firebird. Ironically it was Oldsmobile who really wanted a F-body pony car in its lineup and it had lobbied GM upper management hard for one, the answer of course was "no".

Since Chevrolet had a big head start in designing its F-body, Pontiac was playing catchup since it was given a very short period to design and ready for production, the 1967 Firebird. This is one of the reasons why the 1967-1968 Firebird overall was very similar in appearance to the 1967-1968 Camaro. Fortunately there were enough unique Pontiac styling cues to give the Firebird a Pontiac personality. The basic overall styling was similar to that of the Mustang - there was a boxy shape, a long hood, and a short decklid. However the Firebird was more rounded especially around the side doors and front quarter panels when compared to the Mustang. Pontiac designers gave the Firebird a genuine Pontiac  looking front beak which was trimmed in chrome. The Pontiac Firebird also had four round headlamps instead of the two which the Camaro and Mustang 1967firebird-10both used. And the taillights also had that unique Pontiac look - two thin horizontal bars on both side of rear. Overall the 1967 Firebird was a good looking car and even though it was introduced in the middle of the 1967 model year on February 23, 1967, 82,632 units were produced for the 1967 model year. Which would be considered a successful launch in anyone's book.

Pontiac had advertised 5 distinct Firebird models in its sales literature - all of these models were available in either coupe or convertible body styles. First was the base Firebird which was equipped with a 165 horsepower (and 216 lb-ft of torque) 230 CID Overhead Cam (OHC) straight 6-cylinder engine which used a 1-bbl carburetor. Pontiac in its sales literature stated the motor "serves up traditional six-cylinder economy while the Overhead Cam gives it the muscle to keep up with V8s." It was indeed an engine ahead of its time, however when the cost of a gallon of gasoline was only 24 to 29 cents, there really wasn't much demand for a spirited 6-cylinder with mild V8 type performance. A total of 10,855 base Firebirds with this motor were produced. With this motor a 3-speed manual on the column was standard, optional was GM's 2-speed Powerglide automatic transmission with a column shift.

Next up the pecking order was the Firebird Sprint which Pontiac fondly stated in its sales literature that "there's nothing like it this side of the Atlantic". This summed up the Sprint perfectly it was Pontiac's version of a 6-cylinder powered European 1967firebird-8inspired 2+2 sports car/touring coupe. Powering the Firebird Sprint was the 230 OHC Sprint 6-cylinder which had a Rochester Quadrajet 4-barrel carburetor. It was a rev happy motor that produced 215 horsepower and put some zing into the Firebird. It also had a very health torque rating of 240 lb-ft. Since the Sprint 6-cylinder was lighter than a V8, the Firebird Sprint felt less front heavy in the sharp turns. The problem with the Firebird Sprint was it had arrived too early chronologically. If it had been born during the 1970s when gasoline prices were skyrocketing, the Firebird Sprint would have been a big success. Ironically after the first generation Firebird, there would never be another OHC engine in the Firebird lineup during the remainder of its production run. It can't be stressed enough how ahead of its time this engine was. After-all 6-cylinder motors back in 1967 rarely ever went over the 150 horsepower mark and yet Pontiac's Sprint 6-cylinder was well into V8 engine horsepower territory. The 1967 Mustang's base V8 which was a 289 CID V8 was rated 15 horsepower less than the Sprint at 200 horsepower. The optional 4-bbl 289 V8 was rated at 225 horsepower which was only 10 horsepower more than the Sprint. The 1967 Mustang's only 6-cylinder motor was the 200 CID straight-6 which had a factory rating of only 120 horsepower. The Sprint 6-cylinder required high-octane fuel since it had a 10.5:1 performance oriented compression ratio.

The Firebird Sprint had aggressive springs and wide oval tires which helped to give it very good handling for its day. With the Sprint a floor mounted 3-speed manual transmission was standard with a floor mounted 4-speed manual being optional. Also optional was a 2-speed Powerglide automatic transmission. The Firebird Sprint was standard with front bucket seats and could be order with a whole host of options. A total of only 6,809 Sprints were produced for the 1967 model year.

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The third 1967 Firebird model was the Firebird 326 which received its name from the 2-bbl 326 CID V8 under the hood. This motor produced 250 horsepower and 333 lb-ft of torque. This was just the ticket for a buyer who wanted a new Firebird and 1967firebird-4a V8, but wanted efficiency. This Firebird also ran on regular low octane fuel since the compression ratio was only 9.2:1 (a low figure for the times). The 326 unlike most Pontiac V8s was a slightly undersquare engine where it's stroke was slightly larger than its bore - it had a bore of 3.72 inches and a stroke of 3.75 inches. The 326 powered Firebird gave buyers a peppy V8 with a horsepower rating that was more than adequate to pull around the 3,300 lb curb weight Firebird. The Firebird 326 was standard with sporty bucket seats and a 3-speed manual shifter on the column. A floor mounted 4-speed manual was optional along with the 2-speed Powerglide automatic. A total of 23,525 2-bbl 326 V8 equipped Firebirds were produced for 1967, making the Firebird 326, the most popular Firebird model that year.

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For those who liked Pontiac's 326 V8 but wanted a little more punch, Pontiac delivered with its forth distinct model the Firebird HO. The "HO" stood for "High Output", and it provided Firebird buyers a performance version of the 326 V8. It had the same bore and stroke as the base 326 however it had 4-bbl carburetor and a 10.5:1 compression ratio. Though the 326 was light on the cubic inches it provided plenty of punch with 285 horsepower and 359 lb-ft of torque. As a comparison the 1967 Mustang's hottest lower displacement V8 option was the 271 horsepower and 312 lb-ft of torque High Performance (HiPo) 4-bbl 289 CID V8. The Mustang's HiPo 289 (or K-code V8 as it is sometimes referred to) was Ford's hottest small-block V8 during this time period yet it was no match for the Firebird's 326 HO V8. Though the 326 HO package would be well received initially it didn't really get any traction by Pontiac enthusiasts even when for 1969 displacement was increased to 350 CID. The 1969 350 HO package produced a hefty 330 horsepower which for a small to medium displacement V8 was fantastic considering this was horsepower output territory many larger displacement performance V8s were in at the time. Pontiac threw in the towel on the 350 HO after the 1969 model year, which was a shame since the Firebird could have used a 350 HO performance model during the 1970s, it could have really spiced up the 1970s Formula model in particular. Total Firebird HO production was 6,078 units. All 1967 Firebird HO models had horizontal sports stripes along both sides of the car, so they are easy to identify from a distance. Dual exhaust was standard on all Firebird HO models.

The last in the lineup but certainly not least was the Firebird 400, which was the Firebird's top dog performance model. If Pontiac hadn't placed the Pontiac 400 CID V8 under the Firebird's hood in 1967, the Firebird would have never spawned the Trans Am two years later, and would have probably not had the staying power it had. The 400 V8 was new to the Pontiac 1967firebird-2lineup for 1967, essentially it was a 389 CID V8 that had a .060 inch overbore (pushing it to a total of 4.12 inches). The 400 retained the 389's 3.75 inch stroke. Not only did GM at this time have an internal mandate that forbid any intermediate or smaller size car from having an engine with anything more than 400 CID (only the Corvette was exempted), but there was a power-to-weight ratio mandate (no more than 1 horsepower per 10 lbs of body weight) which forced Pontiac to cap the 400 equipped Firebird's output at 325 horsepower. This gave Pontiac a choice, it could have used the 325 horsepower 4-bbl 400 found in the 1967 Pontiac Bonneville and Catalina however it opted not to do so. There was the standard 1967 GTO 4-bbl 400 V8 which produced 335 horsepower and 441 lb-ft of torque. Pontiac surprising decided against this motor for Firebird use. Instead Pontiac borrowed the (W66) 360 horsepower and 438 lb-ft of torque 400 HO V8 from the GTO - the W66 was the performance engine option on the 1967 GTO. It showed Pontiac's commitment to the new Firebird, giving it the GTO's hot motor instead of a more pedestrian 400. Also worth noting is that the 1967 GTO had an engine delete option for those that wanted a more fuel efficient V8 which was the 255 horsepower and 397 lb-ft of torque 2-bbl 400. Fortunately Pontiac didn't offer that motor in the Firebird.

Getting back to the performance-to-weight ratio mandate, using a 360 horsepower 400 V8 as standard on the Firebird 400 model wasn't going to cut it with GM brass but Pontiac had a plan. It decided to handicap the carburetor. Essentially the 750 cfm Rochester Quadrajet 4-bbl was rigged so the secondaries would not open all the way which kept max horsepower right around 325 (and max torque at 410 lb-ft). It was done by using a restrictive primary throttle shaft variable tab. However for Firebird 400 buyers in the know, bending the variable tab so that the secondary throttle blades opened at a perfect 90 degree angle was all that was needed to boast horsepower to the GTO 400 HO's output of 360 (for more information on this topic view Rocky Rotella's "First-Gen Firebird Carburetors - Limited Airflow Academics" in High Performance Pontiac magazine. After this adjustment was made a 3,300 lb Firebird 400 with 360 horsepower was certainly a powerful combination. Pontiac chose not 1967firebird-5to advertise the fact that its 400 HO V8 was under the hood of the Firebird. Whether the reason was it didn't want the 400 HO blemished with a 325 horsepower rating or advertise to potential GTO buyers that the 400 HO which was optional on the GTO was standard on Firebird 400, nobody really knows.

The Firebird 400 was standard with a floor mounted 3-speed manual. A floor mounted 4-speed manual and a 3-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic automatic were both optional transmissions. Car Life magazine back in 1967 test drove a Firebird 400 with a 4-speed manual transmission and a 3.36 rear axle ratio with which it obtained a 0-60 mph time of 6.5 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 14.7 seconds at 98 mph. This was impressive, but with the carburetor handicap fixed and a optional lower rear gear ratio such as a 3.90 could easily put the Firebird into the high-13 second range. For instance a 1967 GTO with the 4-speed/400 HO combination when equipped with the optional factory 3.90 rear gears did the 1/4 mile in about 14 seconds flat. With the Firebird 400 weighing about 300 lbs lighter, the potential was certainly there for high-13 second quarter-mile times with the carburetor handicap remedied. Also on the option list along with the 3.90, were 3.23 (3-speed and 4-speed manual 1967firebird-1atransmissions equipped with air conditioning), 3.55, and dealership installed 4.33 gears. And for the poor saps who opted for both an automatic transmission and air conditioning a 3.08 rear axle was mandatory.

Pontiac could have been content with the 400 HO offering in the Firebird and everyone would have been happy however it decided to offer the Ram Air (or sometimes referred to as the Ram Air I) 400 V8 which was the 1967 GTO's top engine offering. The Ram Air 400 in the GTO was rated at 360 horsepower and 439 lb-ft of torque, the same rating as the 400 HO. Pontiac made buyers believe that all this engine added to the equation was a cold air induction setup. Nothing could be further from the truth, even in the GTO, the Ram Air 400's horsepower rating was underrated. Besides the cold air induction into the engine the Ram Air package offered a higher duration "744" (301/313)  camshaft and the high performance "997" heads with taller valve springs. When Pontiac offered this engine on the Firebird 400 as the L67 option and it added $263.30 to the sticker price. The L67 option took the Firebird 400's twin hood scoops and made them fully functional sending cool air into the carburetor when the hood flaps were opened. As you can imagine the Ram Air packed one heck of a wallop, it was a few 1/10s of  second faster than the 1967 Firebird 400's standard W66 400 V8. Unfortunately the L67 had the Rochester Quadrajet handicap just like the L67, so the variable tab needed to be bent in order for the L67 to perform up to its potential. Pontiac put the L67's advertised output at 325 horsepower and 339 lb-ft of torque which was identical to the W66's output - even with the carburetor handicap, it was safe to say the L67 produced more than its advertised horsepower rating. When the carb handicap was remedied the feather weight nature of the 1967 Firebird teamed up with the L67 Ram Air 400 made 1967firebird-7for a potent street competition. Unfortunately, not many L67 powered 1967 Firebirds made it into the hands of buyers, only 67 were produced (65 coupes and 2 convertibles). However the Firebird 400 was the second most popular model for 1967 with 18,632 units produced (this included total W66 and L67 production). The W66 and L67 Firebird 400 models came standard with a dual exhaust system.

Handling wasn't really part of the muscle car vocabulary back in 1967, however Pontiac was starting to   make some moves towards offering good handling. On the Firebird E70x14 tires were standard. All Firebirds used a monoleaf rear suspension. The Firebird 326 and Firebird Sprint both received right rear traction bars, the Firebird HO and Firebird 400 both had right and left rear traction bars. These bars were adjustable giving the owner the ability to fine tune handling. The Firebird, especially the HO and 400 models handled on the average better than their Camaro model counterparts. The downside with the 1967firebird-9Firebird was on all models 4-wheel drum manual brakes and manual steering were standard. Fortunately power brakes, front disc brakes, and power steering were optional on all Firebird models.

And when it came to the interior, the Firebird certainly delivered with what was a modern dash layout and gauge cluster at the time. The design was also simplistic with only two large round gauges in front of the steering wheel. The Firebird's interior for the most part was more upscale in nature than the Camaro. The Firebird was in essence a notch up the luxury ladder from the Camaro just like the Mercury Cougar was a luxury step above the Mustang. Regrettably the base Firebird and Firebird 326 received a standard bench seat, which gave the Firebird the utility of hauling around 6 passengers, yet it was not really advised. Fortunately bucket seats were optional on these two models.

By the time the 1967 model year came to a close, the Banshee concept car was a distant memory. Pontiac engineers were busy working on improving the Firebird. The Firebird would soar as the GTO would falter and soon go into extinction. The 1967 Firebird may have been a consolation prize but it was a much better gift than Pontiac could have ever dreamed of when the Banshee was not approved for production. 


Written contents in this article - © 2013 Pete Dunton - All Rights Reserved

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