|1969 Pontiac Firebird 400 Identification
The 1969 Firebird had 5 distinct option packages; Firebird (6-cyl), Firebird Sprint (OHC-6), Firebird 350 (including 350 H.O),
Firebird 400 (including 400 H.O., Ram Air, Ram Air IV), and Trans Am. What we're going to focus on here are the special parts
included with the 1969 Firebird 400. This article will not discuss part numbers, date codes, casting numbers, colors, etc.. The focus
of this article is to clear up some of the mysteries surrounding the 1969 Firebird 400, and how to identify this rare and often
For those not familiar with the 1969 Firebird 400, it was an option on the base 1969 Firebird model. However, it was not just an
upgrade to a 400 cubic inch engine, it was an entire package, very similar to how the 1964-1965 GTO was an option on the Lemans
model. Special emblems, special hood, special engine, suspension, etc. The same is true for the 1969 Trans Am, which was not a
separate model from the base Firebird, but an option.
Contrary to popular belief, transplanting a Pontiac 400 engine into a standard 1969 Firebird 350 (or OHC-6) car does NOT instantly
make it a Firebird 400 model.
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- By Mike Noun
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|Let's begin with what the 1969 Firebird 400 option consisted of, and then we'll go into the visual differences. Coming in at a relatively
low price of $273.83, the Firebird 400 option is identified on an invoice as "FIREBIRD 400". There are other descriptions used
depending on whether the car has 400 the 400 H.O., Ram Air, or a Ram Air IV engine, but in this article we are just focusing on the
standard 1969 Firebird 400 (for info on the Firebird 400 Ram Air versions, please see my 1969 Firebird Ram Air Setups article).
The 1969 Firebird 400 engine was rated at 330 hp, and was mechanically identical to the 350 hp GTO engine. Different part numbers
were used between the GTO and Firebird engines for assembly line purposes. The only real performance difference between the two
could be the fact that the Firebird exhaust manifolds flowed a little better than the GTO's due to the Firebird chassis configuration.
The Firebird 400 was rated lower than the GTO engine in order to follow the GM corporate policy (and for insurance purposes) of
rating an engine at 1 hp per 10 lb of vehicle weight. The Firebird 400 weighed a minimum of 3300 lbs (330 hp), and the GTO
weighed a minimum of 3500 lbs (350 hp).
By ordering the Firebird 400 option, a buyer received the following :
- 400 cubic inch engine
- Chrome - valve covers, oil fill cap, air cleaner lid
- 4-barrel carb*
- Dual exhausts
- Special dual scooped hood
- '400' emblems on hood and trunk
- Front bumper Pontiac arrowhead
- Chrome grille surrounds
- Heavy duty cooling
- Heavy duty starter
- Heavy duty alternator
- Heavy duty springs & shocks
- 14" x 7" rims and redline tires
- Turbo 400 transmission (when auto trans selected)
* Unlike the 1967-1969 GTO, where an "Economy" version of the 400 engine was offered with a 2-barrel carb, there were no
2-barrel Firebird 400's, they were all 4-barrels.
Starting at the front of the car, the Firebird 400 option added a
Pontiac arrowhead to the center of the bumper, and a pair of
chrome grille surrounds. The chrome grille surrounds were unique
to the Firebird 400.
Reproduction 1969 Firebird front bumpers have been available for
the past several years, but they do not have holes drilled for the
arrowhead emblem. There are literally HUNDREDS of converted
Firebird 400's and Trans Am's running around with the
reproduction bumper (without the arrowhead), as well as authentic
Firebird 400's and Trans Am's that were restored over the years
using the reproduction bumper, and their owners did not realize
that the arrowhead was part of the Firebird 400 package.
Also, Pontiac didn't just add a couple holes to an existing bumper.
The Firebird 400 bumper was a different stamping. The holes
were smooth, punched out with a press, with rolled edges, not
rough cuts. Reproduction bumpers are very easy to spot, as they
are MUCH thinner than the factory bumper, something that's
obvious when you look around the edges.
The Pontiac arrowhead emblem itself was made of a rubber
material, painted silver with black inlays. Contrary to popular
belief, the emblem is not die-cast. Pontiac obviously intended the
arrowhead to make first contact when an owner bumped into a
pole or wall, so they made an emblem with some flex that could
withstand some punishment. But unfortunately, many people are
disappointed when they see an original (or reproduction)
arrowhead emblem for the first time. It's simply painted silver,
and it's duller than the shiny chrome bumper it's attached to.
Considering the cost of making a die-cast emblem, which all other
Pontiac emblems are made out of, the stylists must have felt
pretty strongly about having a rubber emblem up front.
|It's What's Up Front That Counts.....
|Bringing Up The Rear.....
An original Firebird 400 front bumper, showing the two holes for the
emblem. On the right is a reproduction of the 1969 Pontiac arrowhead
emblem. The emblem was made of rubber, not steel, and was painted
silver with black inlays.
The Firebird 400 option also added chrome grille surrounds, a feature not used on ANY other Firebird model, including Trans am.
The chrome surrounds add a bit of elegance to the front end, but at the same time give the appearance of slightly smaller grilles. The
Firebird 400 grilles are silver/gray, they are NOT blacked-out. This is probably the most common mistake restorers make on these
cars. However, many owners prefer the blacked out look, and there's nothing wrong with that. But as they came from the factory, the
Firebird 400 grilles were silver/gray. The 1969 Trans Am was the only 1969 Firebird model to use blacked out grilles. The Trans Am
also used the Pontiac arrowhead on the front bumper (they were built off the Firebird 400 option), but they did NOT use chrome
A correct 1969 Firebird 400 front end, showing the arrowhead emblem, silver grilles,
and the chrome grille surrounds. This picture is from the 2009 POCI/GTOAA Nationals,
showing David Armstrong's show winning 1969 Firebird 400 Ram Air convertible.
Here are two examples of Firebird 400's where the owners blacked out their grilles. The
chrome grille surrounds used on the Firebird 400's really stand out against the black
backdrop of the grilles. Many people prefer this look over the correct silver/gray grilles,
but this is NOT correct for a Firebird 400. Only the Trans Am's received blacked out
The 1969 Firebird 400 option included the dual scooped hood. This
was the ONLY model to receive this hood. The OHC-6, 350, and 350
H.O. Firebirds used the standard flat hood (without any hood
scoops), while the Trans Am had its own unique hood. The "ironing
board" design of the Firebird hood is very pronounced in this photo.
Along with the special dual scooped hood, a pair of die-cast '400'
emblems were also bolted to the sides of the scoops. These emblems were
the only engine size callouts ever used on Firebird 400 models. Pontiac
never produced a '350', '428', or '455' emblem for the hood scoops. The
'400' emblems were an orange-red hue, they were never painted any other
color. When Ram Air was ordered, stickers replaced the '400' emblems
(see my 1969 Ram Air Setups article for more information).
1969 Firebird 400 option included a die-cast '400' emblem on the trunk lid.
This emblem was different than the hood scoop emblems. It had a beveled
profile, much thicker at the bottom, to allow the emblem to sit properly on the
trunk lid. The picture above shows the correct location of the emblem. Over
the decades, I've seen dozens of clone Firebird 400's, or real Firebird 400's
where a reproduction trunk lid was used (which does not have the holes for
the emblem) where the emblem is mounted much too high on the trunk lid.
A close-up of the '400' emblem used on the trunk lid of the Firebird
400 model. Pontiac never produced any other emblem (350, 428,
455) for the Firebird 400. Also, a rear spoiler was NEVER an
option on a Firebird or Firebird 400. The only 1969 Firebird model
to receive a rear spoiler was the 1969 Trans Am, which was a
pedestal spoiler. The 'lip' or 'ducktail' spoiler that appears on so
many 67-69 Firebirds today is actually from the Chevrolet Camaro.
The heart of the 1969 Firebird 400 option was the 330 hp
Pontiac 400 engine. This was the same engine as the GTO,
which was rated at 350 hp. The 20 hp difference was simply on
paper, as Pontiac wanted to keep their vehicle horsepower
rating at 1 hp / 10 lbs of vehicle weight. Therefore, a 3500 lb
GTO was rated at 350 hp, and a 3300 lb Firebird was rated at
330 hp. Most of the engine parts between the Firebird 400 and
the GTO's 400 used different part numbers in order to allow for
a controlled assembly processes, but they were functionally
identical. The one area that was different were the exhaust
manifolds. The Firebird chassis allowed for a more tapered
exhaust manifold design over the GTO, and the Firebird
manifolds actually provided about 5 more hp.
Under the hood we see chrome valve covers and a chrome air
cleaner lid. The Firebird 400 used a single snorkel air cleaner
(the GTO had a dual snorkel). One feature of all Firebirds was
that the battery was located on the passenger side, not the
traditional driver's side.
NOTE : Pontiac NEVER used an air cleaner decal on any
1967-1981 Firebird, or any 1964- 1974 GTO, with the exception
of the 1971-1972 455 H.O. models. Whenever you see a '400-4V'
(or similar) red air cleaner sticker on a Pontiac, those are in fact
aftermarket products, and have nothing to do with Pontiac.
They were patterned after a 1970's Buick air cleaner sticker.
Because Pontiac never used engine callout stickers on their air
cleaners, many owners like to add these aftermarket stickers so
observers will know what size engine they have.
Also a part of the Firebird 400 package were a couple of filler panels to
aid in cooling. There were two additional panels (blue arrow in diagram)
located between the core support and the front bumper assembly. The
panels were stamped steel, and had an 'X' ribbing for strength. Their
purpose was to prevent air, coming in through the grilles, from escaping
over the core support, the result being there was more forced through the
radiator. These panels were also used on 6-cylinder and 350 powered
cars with air conditioning, but they were on ALL Firebird 400 and Trans
Am cars, regardless of whether they had air conditioning or not.
This filler panel (red arrow) is often missing from Firebirds, but it is an
essential part of the cooling package. Like the filler panels located up
top, this lower filler panel prevented air, coming in through the grilles,
from escaping under the car, thereby forcing more air through the
radiator. This panel was ALWAYS painted black, NOT body color. Also
of note is that this panel is where the front spoiler on the 1969 Trans Am
The Firebird 400 (top photo) showing the silver/gray
grilles used on all Firebirds and Firebird 400's, and the
chrome grille surrounds, unique to the Firebird 400.
Blacked out grilles (bottom photo) were used exclusively
on the Trans Am, and Pontiac omitted the chrome grille
surrounds. Both the Firebird 400 and Trans Am had the
Pontiac arrowhead in the center of the bumper.
All automatic transmission equipped Firebird 400's (and Trans Am's) came with a Turbo 400 transmission. All other automatic
transmission equipped V8 Firebirds came with a Turbo 350 transmission. Being as such, a Firebird 400 uses a special crossmember,
configured for the Turbo 400 transmission.
All Firebird 400's and Trans Am's came standard with dual exhaust. The only other 1969 Firebird available with dual exhaust was the
rare Firebird 350 H.O. (high output).
|1969 Firebird 400 Checklist
As stated at the beginning of this article, the only way to know whether you have a real Firebird 400 is to obtain the factory invoice,
available through Pontiac Historic Services. All of the of parts to make a Firebird 400, starting with a Firebird 350 or 6-cylinder car,
are now reproduced. Here's a quick checklist recapping the above information provided above:
The VIN # must contain a '1' in the 8th digit. This signifies a V8 engine. A '0' in the 8th position means
6-cylinder. This does NOT prove anything other than the car was built as a V8.
The Firebird 400 hood, with dual hood scoops, only available on the Firebird 400 model. The hood is STEEL,
not fiberglass. The hood is being reproduced now, but a sharp eye can spot the difference between an original
and a reproduction hood very quickly.
The front bumper must have the Pontiac arrowhead in the middle. The arrowhead is reproduced, as well as the
front bumper, but the reproduction bumper is not drilled for the arrowhead emblem. However, just because the
car does not have the arrowhead emblem does not mean it's not a real Firebird 400. The reproduction bumper
has been out since the 1990's, and many people restored their real Firebird 400's with the reproduction bumper,
Because there no holes in the reproduction bumper, they simply left off the arrowhead emblem.
Chrome grille surrounds, only available on the Firebird 400 model. These are also reproduced now.
Filler panels (steel) between the core support and the front bumper. These are also reproduced. Early
reproductions were fiberglass, later ones were steel.
'400' emblems on the hood scoops and trunk lid. The 1967-1969 Firebird trunk lid has been reproduced for many
years now, but without the necessary holes for the emblem, so sometimes an owner doesn't get the exact location
right for the '400' emblem.
Dual exhaust - although obviously most owners converted their single exhaust car to dual exhaust in the 1970's
and beyond, all Firebird 400's have dual exhausts.
Turbo 400 crossmember - if equipped with an automatic trans, it must be a Turbo 400 trans, and of course the
trans VIN # should match. The correct crossmember is now also reproduced. Sometimes a converted 350 to 400
car has a redrilled Turbo 350 crossmember, and sometimes an owner just used a Turbo 350 trans behind their
400 cube Pontiac engine.
The engine must of course be a Pontiac 400 engine. There aren't too many visual differences between a 326,
350, and 400 cube engine, so for this verification you need to look up part number and casting numbers.
Obviously, if the VIN# on the block matches the VIN# on the car, and the 2-letter block code is for a 400, you at
least have a block/body match.
All the other items, like wheels, tires, interior, options, etc. were available on all 1969 Firebirds, not just the
Firebird 400, so at this point, you need the invoice from PHS for verification of a Firebird 400 car.
As you can see, the 1969 Firebird 400 is a relatively rare car. By comparison, think about how many real and documented 1969
SS396 Camaros you see at auctions or car shows, or numbers matching 1969 Mustang 428CJ's, or 1969 Charger R/T 440's. As we
know, there are far more examples where someone converted their 1969 Camaro into a Z/28 or SS396, or transplanted a 440 into
their base Charger, then added R/T ornamentation. The point of these production totals is not to compare current market values, but
to show there are FAR more 1969 Firebirds out there where an owner dropped in a 400 engine, added the scooped hood and
emblems, and calls it a Firebird 400.
Of course, there are engine options on top of the Firebird 400 package, those being Ram Air III and Ram Air IV, that are considered
to be in the elite category of low production Musclecars, with figures in the hundreds produced, not thousands. But we are just
focusing on the Firebird 400 option in this article.
So for collectors desiring a "real" Firebird 400, you MUST obtain the original invoice. The original invoice can be obtained via
Pontiac Historical Services (PHS) with the vehicle's VIN number. A real 1969 Firebird 400 typically pulls 2-3 times the value of a
Firebird 350 or OHC-6 car, so obtaining the correct information is very important before you consider shelling out a sizable amount
of money for what you (or the seller) believes is a 1969 Firebird 400.
As of 2012, ALL the necessary parts to make a 1969 Firebird 400 are available through various reproduction parts vendors. So as the
values of 1969 Firebird 400 cars continue to climb, there are more and more converted Firebird to Firebird 400's out there. And just
like 1964-1965 GTO's, or a host of other cars that were an option on a base model, you must obtain the factory invoice to be sure.
As you can see by the production totals chart, the 1969 Firebird 400 is a
fairly rare car. In addition to the 11,522 Firebird 400 cars produced, there
were another 1,666 Trans Am, Ram Air, and 400 H.O. cars, bringing the
grand total of all 1969 Firebirds built with the Pontiac 400 engine to
13,188. About one in seven 1969 Firebirds produced was a Firebird 400.
Production of the Firebird 400 declined from 18,635 (1967) to 18,714
(1968) to 11,522 (1969).
1969 Dodge Super Bee.........................
1969 Camaro Z/28...............................
1969 Dodge Charger R/T.....................
1969 Nova SS.....................................
1969 Corvette 427...............................
1969 Camaro SS396............................
1969 Mustang 428CJ...........................
1969 Firebird 400 (incl Ram Air)...........
1969 Chevelle SS396 L78 375hp..........
|1969 Firebird 400 production vs. other 1969 Musclecars
This is a factory Pontiac photograph showing the front end of the 1969
Firebird 400. Note the grille surrounds and the Pontiac arrowhead.