A Journey Through Pontiac Firebird History

In one way or another we all had a moment when we fell in love with the Pontiac Firebird. For me it was watching Knight Rider as a kid.  Full confession.  I wore a Michael Knight costume one of those younger years.  But it wasn't until I bought my first one, a 1992 Pontiac Firebird Formula, that I began to learn more about the stories and the performance ambitions during the pony car craze. The Pontiac Firebird has delighted so many different generations for over 50 years now, and these are some of the ones that may have slipped by us.

They range from concept to custom cars all across the history of Pontiac Firebird.  Join me on ride through time and check out these interesting and unique cars.  

1. Darth Vader's Pontiac Firebird

Darth Vader's Pontiac Firebird

There's all kinds of Pontiac Firebird fans and that includes Star Wars lovers.  Undoubtably one of baddest and great villains of all time was Darth Vader. If I could picture in my head what this evil Sith Lord would need on the road to command his presence this custom built 1970 Pontiac Firebird would be it. 


A long time ago, in a galaxy not so far away, it was a normal Firebird not significantly different from the others on the road. Now, though, it's gone to the dark side in the form of the force...ed induction. The folks over at Thrillist say Twin turbos push the already monstrous big block V8 to around 1,200 hp. This car was built specifically with the intent to steal the show at SEMA a few years back and we're sure it did.

2. GM Firebird I, II, and III

Firebird I,II,III

Long before the Bandit or K.I.T.T, America was at the early dawn of the Space Race that eventually landed us on the moon.  In many ways GM was ahead of its time in predicting that differnt forms of popular American culture would be influenced by the concept of a "Flying Car".  Enter the Firebird I, II, and III.

The 1953 XP-21 Firebird 1 was the first gas turbine automobile ever to be built and tested in the United States. Designed strictly as an engineering and styling exercise, Firebird 1 was intended to determine whether the gas turbine could be used as an efficient and economical powerplant for future vehicles.

Unlike a jet airplane, which develops thrust through the action of exhaust gas through a tailcone, the Whirlfire Turbo-Power engine propelled the Firebird 1 through a power turbine acting on the rear wheels via a transmission. The engine was capable of 370 hp at a power turbine speed of 13,000 rpm.  

Three more models followed before stopping the project.  GM would later resurrect the name in its Pontiac Firebird a few years later.

3. The Ferrari Bird

Pontiac Pegasus

Back in 1971, the year Apollo 15 astronaut David Scott became the first man to drive on the moon and the first Starbucks coffee shop opened in Seattle, the 4.4-liter, 352-hp V-12 in Ferrari’s rakish, thrusting, 174-mph Daytona coupe was one of the most exotic and expensive engines in the world. So naturally you’d want to stuff one under the hood of a Pontiac Firebird. Ummm, well, OK. In 1971, Spiro Agnew was the vice president of the United States and Keith Richards stayed conscious long enough to record “Exile on Main Street.” Some things cannot be rationally explained. But the Ferraribird exists. It’s real. And the guys at RoadKill.com have driven it.

This is the Pontiac Pegasus, a car that was designed by the legendary Bill Mitchell and never shown publicy to the media. Bill Mitchell had the best job in the world. As head of General Motors Design from 1958 to 1977, he led a team that created some of the best-looking American cars ever built, including the split-window Corvette Sting Ray and the ’63 Buick Riviera, as well as the first Olds Toronado and the original Chevy Camaro, to name a few.

But why a Ferrari engine? Former design veep Chuck Jordan, who died in 2010, recalled Mitchell wanting to show the engineers at Pontiac—a division that had dabbled in overhead cams before—what a high-revving, low-torque Trans Am would feel like. Or maybe it simply seemed like the obvious thing to do in a car wearing Palmer’s Testarossa face. GM Design staffer Dick Henderson remembers Enzo Ferrari offering to contribute a 365 GTB/4 (aka Daytona) V-12 engine to the project, which surely sealed the deal.

It was such a favorite of Mitchell’s that when he retired it was the one he chose to take with him after negotiating a deal to will the car back to GM upon his death.  

4. No 1 and No 2 Firebirds

Firebird No. 1

Fans of the Discovery Channel’s Fast ‘N’ Loud have enjoyed the account of Gas Monkey Garage’s epic acquisition, restoration and sale of two very significant muscle cars: the first and second Firebirds ever built. These two of Pontiac’s “Magnificent Five” were bought from Chuck Alekinas, former UK and NBA basketball player.

Having acquired the pair of 1967 Pontiac Firebird models, Gas Monkey’s Richard Rawlings made a risky deal with their new buyer that came with a punishing rider: restore them to museum condition in just 60 days, or pay a $10,000-a-day penalty for every day over deadline. The team at Gas Monkey rose to the challenge and enthusiasts got a chance to enjoy the historic pony cars at the 3rd annual Concours d’Elegance of Texas on May 4 when their new owner unveiled them to the public, before they took permanent pride of place in a private museum in Colorado.

Originally bought by Gas Monkey Garage for $70,000, the Firebirds were sold for $650,000, after each had been the subject of that ground-up restoration, led by Jason Aker, a concours restoration expert brought on board to oversee the project. Serial #’s 100001 and 100002 are both factory show cars, as evidenced by the trim tags which read “Show1” for the No. 1 car and “Show4” for the No. 2 car, significant when factory show cars do not usually survive. Pontiac’s first Firebird is this 326 Convertible, presented in its original Regimental Red with cruise control, deluxe interior package in red and a very rare floor-mounted clock. Car #2 is a four-speed HO Coupe in Silverglaze and is also the first High Output car built with a factory-mounted tachometer, Rally II wheels, tilt column and deluxe black interior.

5. Pontiac Firebird Kammback (Type K)

Pontiac Firebird Type K

My Tia Minnie used to pick me and my cousins up from school in an bright orange station wagon that we all affectionately called "The Tangerine".  Today everyone picks their kids up in some sort of SUV or minivan.  I have to wonder though since all my kids have ridden and been picked up from school in my Firebirds, what would it feel like if a Pontiac Firebird sportwagon pulled up to the school yard to pick me up.

Fifty-eight years after production ended, Chevrolet’s two-door wagon, the Nomad, remains sought-after by collectors. In the decades since, GM has tried on at least three occasions to revive the idea, using the F-body platform to create midsize two-door wagons based upon the Chevrolet Camaro or the Pontiac Firebird. None progressed far beyond the concept stage (at least with GM), but that doesn’t mean they weren’t noteworthy.

The idea of a two-door Chevrolet wagon was first revived with the 1970 Camaro Kammback concept, a two-door wagon that featured a conventional top-hinged tailgate and was reportedly due to hit Chevy dealers for the 1970 model year. Pontiac wanted its own version of the two-door wagon as well, harkening back to the days when the two-door Pontiac Safari was the automotive cousin to the Chevy Nomad. Producing common tooling for the F-body wagons could have made the endeavor cost-effective, but the story goes that Chevy and Pontiac stylists could not find common ground on issues like door size and quarter panel shape. Knowing that such a product would appeal to a limited audience, and without an agreeable economy of scale, GM killed the idea before it progressed beyond the design phase.

The End of the Ride

Well if you never knew about these cars then I'm glad you rode along with me on this journey.  There's literally many others you can find just searching around and if your lucky or have the money you can even pick one up.

If you did know about them or have even driven one and seen it in person then I would love to hear more about it in the comments below.



A Journey Through Pontiac Firebird History

In one way or another we all had a moment when we fell in love with the Pontiac Firebird. For me it was watching Knight Rider as a kid.  Full confession.  I wore a Michael Knight costume one of those younger years.  But it wasn't until I bought my first one, a 1992 Pontiac Firebird Formula, that I began to learn more about the stories and the performance ambitions during the pony car craze. The Pontiac Firebird has delighted so many different generations for over 50 years now, and these are some of the ones that may have slipped by us.

They range from concept to custom cars all across the history of Pontiac Firebird.  Join me on ride through time and check out these interesting and unique cars.  

1. Darth Vader's Pontiac Firebird

Darth Vader's Pontiac Firebird

There's all kinds of Pontiac Firebird fans and that includes Star Wars lovers.  Undoubtably one of baddest and great villains of all time was Darth Vader. If I could picture in my head what this evil Sith Lord would need on the road to command his presence this custom built 1970 Pontiac Firebird would be it. 


A long time ago, in a galaxy not so far away, it was a normal Firebird not significantly different from the others on the road. Now, though, it's gone to the dark side in the form of the force...ed induction. The folks over at Thrillist say Twin turbos push the already monstrous big block V8 to around 1,200 hp. This car was built specifically with the intent to steal the show at SEMA a few years back and we're sure it did.

2. GM Firebird I, II, and III

Firebird I,II,III

Long before the Bandit or K.I.T.T, America was at the early dawn of the Space Race that eventually landed us on the moon.  In many ways GM was ahead of its time in predicting that differnt forms of popular American culture would be influenced by the concept of a "Flying Car".  Enter the Firebird I, II, and III.

The 1953 XP-21 Firebird 1 was the first gas turbine automobile ever to be built and tested in the United States. Designed strictly as an engineering and styling exercise, Firebird 1 was intended to determine whether the gas turbine could be used as an efficient and economical powerplant for future vehicles.

Unlike a jet airplane, which develops thrust through the action of exhaust gas through a tailcone, the Whirlfire Turbo-Power engine propelled the Firebird 1 through a power turbine acting on the rear wheels via a transmission. The engine was capable of 370 hp at a power turbine speed of 13,000 rpm.  

Three more models followed before stopping the project.  GM would later resurrect the name in its Pontiac Firebird a few years later.

3. The Ferrari Bird

Pontiac Pegasus

Back in 1971, the year Apollo 15 astronaut David Scott became the first man to drive on the moon and the first Starbucks coffee shop opened in Seattle, the 4.4-liter, 352-hp V-12 in Ferrari’s rakish, thrusting, 174-mph Daytona coupe was one of the most exotic and expensive engines in the world. So naturally you’d want to stuff one under the hood of a Pontiac Firebird. Ummm, well, OK. In 1971, Spiro Agnew was the vice president of the United States and Keith Richards stayed conscious long enough to record “Exile on Main Street.” Some things cannot be rationally explained. But the Ferraribird exists. It’s real. And the guys at RoadKill.com have driven it.

This is the Pontiac Pegasus, a car that was designed by the legendary Bill Mitchell and never shown publicy to the media. Bill Mitchell had the best job in the world. As head of General Motors Design from 1958 to 1977, he led a team that created some of the best-looking American cars ever built, including the split-window Corvette Sting Ray and the ’63 Buick Riviera, as well as the first Olds Toronado and the original Chevy Camaro, to name a few.

But why a Ferrari engine? Former design veep Chuck Jordan, who died in 2010, recalled Mitchell wanting to show the engineers at Pontiac—a division that had dabbled in overhead cams before—what a high-revving, low-torque Trans Am would feel like. Or maybe it simply seemed like the obvious thing to do in a car wearing Palmer’s Testarossa face. GM Design staffer Dick Henderson remembers Enzo Ferrari offering to contribute a 365 GTB/4 (aka Daytona) V-12 engine to the project, which surely sealed the deal.

It was such a favorite of Mitchell’s that when he retired it was the one he chose to take with him after negotiating a deal to will the car back to GM upon his death.  

4. No 1 and No 2 Firebirds

Firebird No. 1

Fans of the Discovery Channel’s Fast ‘N’ Loud have enjoyed the account of Gas Monkey Garage’s epic acquisition, restoration and sale of two very significant muscle cars: the first and second Firebirds ever built. These two of Pontiac’s “Magnificent Five” were bought from Chuck Alekinas, former UK and NBA basketball player.

Having acquired the pair of 1967 Pontiac Firebird models, Gas Monkey’s Richard Rawlings made a risky deal with their new buyer that came with a punishing rider: restore them to museum condition in just 60 days, or pay a $10,000-a-day penalty for every day over deadline. The team at Gas Monkey rose to the challenge and enthusiasts got a chance to enjoy the historic pony cars at the 3rd annual Concours d’Elegance of Texas on May 4 when their new owner unveiled them to the public, before they took permanent pride of place in a private museum in Colorado.

Originally bought by Gas Monkey Garage for $70,000, the Firebirds were sold for $650,000, after each had been the subject of that ground-up restoration, led by Jason Aker, a concours restoration expert brought on board to oversee the project. Serial #’s 100001 and 100002 are both factory show cars, as evidenced by the trim tags which read “Show1” for the No. 1 car and “Show4” for the No. 2 car, significant when factory show cars do not usually survive. Pontiac’s first Firebird is this 326 Convertible, presented in its original Regimental Red with cruise control, deluxe interior package in red and a very rare floor-mounted clock. Car #2 is a four-speed HO Coupe in Silverglaze and is also the first High Output car built with a factory-mounted tachometer, Rally II wheels, tilt column and deluxe black interior.

5. Pontiac Firebird Kammback (Type K)

Pontiac Firebird Type K

My Tia Minnie used to pick me and my cousins up from school in an bright orange station wagon that we all affectionately called "The Tangerine".  Today everyone picks their kids up in some sort of SUV or minivan.  I have to wonder though since all my kids have ridden and been picked up from school in my Firebirds, what would it feel like if a Pontiac Firebird sportwagon pulled up to the school yard to pick me up.

Fifty-eight years after production ended, Chevrolet’s two-door wagon, the Nomad, remains sought-after by collectors. In the decades since, GM has tried on at least three occasions to revive the idea, using the F-body platform to create midsize two-door wagons based upon the Chevrolet Camaro or the Pontiac Firebird. None progressed far beyond the concept stage (at least with GM), but that doesn’t mean they weren’t noteworthy.

The idea of a two-door Chevrolet wagon was first revived with the 1970 Camaro Kammback concept, a two-door wagon that featured a conventional top-hinged tailgate and was reportedly due to hit Chevy dealers for the 1970 model year. Pontiac wanted its own version of the two-door wagon as well, harkening back to the days when the two-door Pontiac Safari was the automotive cousin to the Chevy Nomad. Producing common tooling for the F-body wagons could have made the endeavor cost-effective, but the story goes that Chevy and Pontiac stylists could not find common ground on issues like door size and quarter panel shape. Knowing that such a product would appeal to a limited audience, and without an agreeable economy of scale, GM killed the idea before it progressed beyond the design phase.

The End of the Ride

Well if you never knew about these cars then I'm glad you rode along with me on this journey.  There's literally many others you can find just searching around and if your lucky or have the money you can even pick one up.

If you did know about them or have even driven one and seen it in person then I would love to hear more about it in the comments below.



Older Post

2 comments

  • Im not sure which year it was, 77 or78. I saw a black kamback at the Jung Brothers Pontiac dealership in Collinsville, IL. It was quite the site.

  • …lol…I have photos of 3 out of the 5…

Leave a comment