1967 - 1968 - 1969
Included on the first option list was the venerable Pontiac V8 engine family that touted performance including multiple 326, 350, & 400 cubic inch versions. This was the start of what was to became the now celebrated 35 year success story of the Firebird & Trans Am, selling over two million units from 1967 to 1981.
Also on the option list was, in Pontiac's never ending search to develop cutting edge design and marketing, the unique and radical for it's time Over-Head Cam in-line 6, 230 & 250 cubic inch engines offered in both economy and performance versions.
Using the same floor pan, cowl & sub frame as the Camaro and Chevy II, the first Firebirds were known as '67 1/2's having been introduced late in the model year. Pontiac started the F-body program in March of 1966, forced by GM management to use the 60 day from production Camaro engineering. Required to retain the Camaro front fenders and doors, the Pontiac design and engineering staff, headed by John DeLorean, transformed the F-body platform into a bonafide Pontiac. They added Pontiac's own engine & drive trains, hood, tail panel, side marker lights, and a one piece solid chrome combination bumper & grill "Bird Beak". And that is how "Firebird One!" came to first arrive in dealer show rooms on February 23, 1967. 134 days after Camaro, and 133 days after Mercurys' new Cougar. Mercury's Cougar was marketed as a luxury car vs. the Firebird being marketed as a 5 level performance image pony car. Both were in the same price range as the Firebird. Pontiac's longtime marketing representative, Jim Wangers of MacManus, John & Adams ad agency credit's Ron Monchak, then creative director of M, J & A, with coming up with "The Magnificent Five" marketing idea.
1967 - 1968 Firebird
From the start, Pontiac infused excitement into the 1967 and 1968 Firebird model line with the availability of 5 specific Firebird models that Pontiac referred to as "The Magnificent Five".
1) Base Firebird with 165 brake horse power (bhp) Overhead Cam in-line 6 & manual 3 speed "on the tree" transmission; Rated @ 215 bhp for '68.
2) Firebird Sprint with the high performance 230 cubic inch displacement (cid) version of the Overhead Cam in-line 6, was rated @ 215 bhp, equipped with a Quadrajet and floor mounted manual 3 speed; Known as W-53 rated 215 bhp in '68.
3) Firebird 326 was Pontiac's standard model equipped with a 2 barrel 326 cid V8, rated @ 250 bhp & manual 3 speed "on the tree" transmission; replaced by the Pontiac L-30 350 rated 265 bhp in '68.
4) Firebird HO was the high-output version of the 326 V8. It was rated @ 285 bhp, equipped with a Quadrajet, dual exhausts, heavy duty suspension and special 'H-O' body striping; replaced by the Pontiac L-76 350 HO rated 320 bhp in '68.
5) Firebird 400 was Firebird's 'king of the hill' for '67 with the 400 cid rate of 325 bhp in both Base & Ram Air versions. Throttle restrictors prevented the '67 Firebird Ram Air 4 barrel secondaries from fully opening @ Wide Open Throttle. Tuners such as Royal Pontiac were able to quickly rectify the handicap. This tuning matched the performance of the exact same engine combination that was available in, the then 'top-dog' of Pontiac, the GTO Ram Air which was rated 360 bhp in '67.
1968 saw the choices expand to four 400 cid engines for the Firebird.
1) W-66 Base 400 rated 330 bhp @ 4800 rpm.
2) L-74 400 - HO rated 335 bhp @ 5000 rpm. (torque 430 @ 3400).
3) L-67 Ram Air rated 335 bhp @ 5000 rpm. (torque 430 @ 3600).
4) L-67 Ram Air II rated 340 bhp @ 5300 rpm.
"One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind"
Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11, July 20, 1969
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"Announcing Pontiac's new pony express. Firebird Trans Am. Back when the Chisholm Trail was considered an expressway, you needed 335 horses to haul the mail. We figure you still do. So Firebird Trans Am's got 'em..."
"Wells Fargo rides again!"
So the original ad copy reads for the introduction of the 1969 1/2 Trans Am, which was to be the beginning of a 30 year legacy. In the midst of Woodstock's summer of love, the United States being the first to have a man walk on the moon, and the muscle car wars being at full throttle, Pontiac pulled a whole new performance pony car package out of their bag of tricks. That was the Trans Am. Following the lead of the original Firebird's late arrival to market, the first run of T/A's were officially released on March 8, 1969, but were not delivered to dealer showrooms until April. They consisted of only 697 rolling off the assembly line. Some of which were actually titled and sold after September of 1969 as 1970 models. Of the 697 built, 8 ultra-rare convertibles were produced (7 of which are accounted for today). With only 2 Trans Am engine options that year;
1) the L-74 Ram Air III 400 rated 335 bhp
(all convertibles built w/L-74 Ram Air III engines - 4 Automatics, 4 Manual 4 speeds)
2) the optional L- 67 Ram Air IV 400 rated 345 bhp.
The original T/A's were known for few frills and mostly raw performance power with a European approach to the muscle car battle. The automotive press was extremely critical of the 1st generation Trans Am because the name came from the Sports Car Club of America's race series. The Trans Am series had a cubic inch limit of five liters, also known as 305 cid. The T/A's were all equipped with the 6.6 liter 400 cid Pontiac engine. The sports car purists magazines berated Pontiac for the 'sacrilege' of naming their newest pony car after the SCCA race series in which the car didn't qualify to compete. This due to the engine displacement being too large. Jerry Titus and Terry Goodsall of T/G Racing found a loophole in the rule book and used a '69 302 Z-28 engine and campaigned the T/A as a "Canadian" Firebird. The Canadian Firebirds did have the option of being equipped with the 302 engine. Racing aside, all U.S. built T/A's for '69 came with one of the two 400 cid Ram Air engine choices. The transmission that came as standard equipment was the 3 speed manual, with the 4 speed manual and Turbo Hydro Matic 3 speed automatic available as extra cost options. Trans Am color options for 1969 consisted of one choice - Cameo white with two full length Lucerne Blue racing stripes. The blue treatment was carried over covering the rear tail light panel as well.
Little did anyone know, with a humble start of only 697 units, the Trans Am model would survive two oil embargoes, insurance premium increases, and the general death of all other muscle cars through the 70's and early 80's. It would continue to sell more than 117,000 units at its' sales peak in 1979 and still remain in production. Thus being the performance trendsetter for 35 years after its inception, only to be killed off by GM in 2002 and replaced with the Re-Skinned Austrailian Holden (with GTO Badges) in 2004.
Pony Express - The muscle car lives indeed!
After it's 35 year production run - with over 2 million produced - the Firebird was brought to an end in 2002. Pontiac/GM now wants you and me to buy their Cadillac, Corvette or re-skinned Holden with GTO badging, to replace our beloved Firebird. Rumors persist that a 5th Generation Firebird is planned for reintroduction (the exact date is unknown). Rest in peace indeed.
Click the 69 T/A image below to view the factory prototype photo page.
Click Here for: 1st Gen Firebird Rides
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