The First Years

The first-generation Firebirds had a characteristic Coke bottle styling. Unlike its cousin the Chevrolet Camaro, the Firebird’s bumpers were integrated into the design of the front end. The Firebird’s rear “slit” taillights were inspired by the Pontiac GTO. Both a two-door hardtop and a convertible were offered through the 1969 model year. Originally, the car was a “consolation prize” for Pontiac, who had wished to produce a two-seat sports car of its own design, based on the original Banshee concept car. However, GM feared such a vehicle would directly compete with Chevrolet’s Corvette, and the decision was made to give Pontiac a piece of the “pony car” market by having them share the F-body platform with Chevrolet.

The 1967 base model Firebird came equipped with the Pontiac 230 cu in (3.8 L) SOHC inline-6, and a single-barrel carburetor, rated at 165 hp (123 kW). The next model, the Sprint, also had the Chevy inline-6 but with a four-barrel carburetor, developing 215 hp (160 kW). Most buyers opted for one of the V8 engines: the 326 cu in (5.3 L) with a two-barrel carburetor producing 250 hp (190 kW); the “H.O.” (High Output) engine of the same displacement, but with a four-barrel carburetor and producing 285 hp (213 kW); or the 400 cu in (6.6 L) from the GTO with 325 hp (242 kW). All 1967–1968 400 CI engines had throttle restrictors installed that blocked the carburetor’s second barrel from opening all the way.

“Ram Air” option was also available, providing functional hood scoops, higher flow heads with stronger valve springs, and a different camshaft. Power for the Ram Air package was the same as the conventional 400 H.O., but the engine peaked at a higher, 5,200RPMs.

The 230 CID engines were subsequently replaced in 1968 by the Chevrolet 250 cu in (4.1 L) stroked 230 CI engines, the first developing an increased 175 hp (130 kW) using a single-barrel carburetor, and the other the same 215hp with a four-barrel carburetor. Also for the 1968 model, the 326 CID engine was replaced by the Pontiac 350 cu in (5.7 L) V-8, which actually displaced 355 cu in (5.8 L), and produced 265 hp (198 kW) with a two-barrel carburetor. An “H.O.” version of the 350 CID with a revised cam was also offered to start in that year, which developed 320 hp (240 kW). The power output of the other engines was increased marginally.

There was an additional Ram Air IV option for the 400 CID engine during 1969, complementing the Ram Air III; these generated 345 and 335 hp (257 and 250 kW) respectively. The 350 CID “H.O.” engine was revised again with a different cam and cylinder heads resulting in 325 hp (242 kW). In 1969 a special 303 cu in (5.0 L) engine was designed for SCCA road racing applications that were not available in production cars. The styling difference from 1967 to the 1968 model was the addition of Federally-mandated side marker lights: for the front of the car, the turn signals were made larger and extended to wrap around the front edges of the car, and on the rear, the Pontiac (V-shaped) Arrowhead logo was added to each side. The front door vent windows were replaced with a single pane of glass and Astro Ventilation, a fresh-air-inlet system. The 1969 model received a major facelift with a new front-end design but unlike its big brother the GTO, it did not have the Endura bumper. The instrument panel and steering wheel were revised. The ignition switch was moved from the dashboard to the steering column with the introduction of GM’s new locking ignition switch/steering wheel.

In March 1969, a $725 optional handling package called the “Trans Am Performance and Appearance Package”, UPC “WS4”, named after the Trans Am Series, was introduced. Of these first “Trans Am”, only 689 hardtops and eight convertibles were made. Due to engineering problems that delayed the introduction of the all-new 1970 Firebird beyond the usual fall debut, Pontiac continued production of 1969 model Firebirds into the early months of the 1970 model year (the other 1970 Pontiac models had been introduced on September 18, 1969). By late spring of 1969, Pontiac had deleted all model-year references on Firebird literature and promotional materials, anticipating the extended production run of the then-current 1969 models.