When the Pontiac Firebird debuted in 1967, John DeLorean immediately saw a need to create an "Ultimate Firebird", a model beyond the Firebird
400, a car that he could call THE flagship performance car for Pontiac. He basically wanted a "Shelby Mustang" version of his Firebird, but most of
all, DeLorean wanted a car to embarrass the Chevy Camaro. DeLorean was very upset when General Motors forced him to accept the Chevrolet
Camaro design as a base for his Firebird, and he fought GM top brass every step of the way. Because of that stubbornness, DeLorean had his
engineers working on other projects (notably DeLorean's sporty 2-seater, later called the Banshee) instead of working on the Firebird. Eventually,
DeLorean was ordered by top management to build the Firebird from the Camaro design, but now his engineers and designers were months behind.
The 1967 Camaro debuted, the Firebird was delayed, and Chevrolet basked in the glory of introducing the new "GM version" of the Ford Mustang.
That was just fine with DeLorean, because it allowed his engineers to fine tune the 1967 Firebird, working out any bugs that had appeared on the
Camaro. When the Firebird debuted a few months later, the automotive press loved it.
But with DeLorean's dream of an exotic 2-seat sports car shelved, his quest to have a sophisticated, exotic, very powerful version of his new
Firebird was now his main goal. To gain some attention, DeLorean wanted Pontiac involved in the very popular SCCA Trans Am Racing Series to
combat Carroll Shelby and his successful Mustangs. Working on a shoestring budget (Pontiac was 3rd place in U.S. sales by 1967, but they still had
a very small Engineering Department and a very small budget compared to Ford and Chevrolet), a special 4-man team was created called the
Special Projects Group, under the wing of the Advanced Engineering Group. Led by a young engineer named Herb Adams, the team of Tom Nell,
Dan Hardin, and Jeff Young set about contemplating how to make a Firebird into an "American GT". Not long after the group was formed, the
Special Projects Group became their own entity, under the leadership of Bill Collins, Assistant Chief Engineer in charge of Advanced Engineering.
While these engineers had a great deal of suspension knowledge, they did not have much experience in building a sports car, and even less
experience in building a race car to test their design theories.
|PART 1 : The Birth Of The 1969 Pontiac Trans Am
The first creation by Bill Collins and Herb Adams was called the PFST (Pontiac
Firebird Sprint Turismo). The Special Projects Group, along with John DeLorean, were
sold on the advanced overhead cam (OHC) 6-cylinder as being the engine of the future.
The OHC-6 was light, and when installed in the new 1967 Firebird chassis, made for a
very well balanced car. Herb Adams adapted 3 Weber downdraft carbs (he could not
obtain the preferred sidedraft carbs) onto an OHC-6, but because the downdraft style
Webers required extra space above the carbs to ingest air (the sidedrafts would have
been mounted horizontally off the intake manifold), the layout required extra hood
clearance. Rather than attaching a forward facing hood scoop, Adams opted for a
rearward facing scoop. And rather than mounting the scoop to the hood in the
traditional way, it was attached directly to the 3 Weber carbs with a hole cut in the
hood for the scoop to poke through. In effect, this became the first "shaker hood
scoop". Taking advantage of one of the first numerical-controlled cutting machines
(known as CNC) in the Detroit area, the machine shop guys cut a finned aluminum oil
pan and finned shaker scoop out of solid blocks of aluminum. The handling
characteristics of the PFST were outstanding, and this proposal (verses the Fitchbird)
was a little more on target with what Pontiac and DeLorean were looking for.
By 1968, Jim Wangers had convinced John DeLorean that they should build 6 more
PFST's, but equip them with the newly developed Pontiac 350 engine. Wangers took
some of these cars around to various trade shows to test public reaction. All the
PFST's, including the original OHC-6 version, were painted white with an offset
(driver's side) blue stripe. The 350 powered versions did not use a shaker hood scoop,
but they did utilize the newly developed Pontiac hood tachometer.
The PFST appeared to be a feasible from a production standpoint, but the 350 cube V8
version would not qualify for the SCCA Trans Am Series where engines were limited to
305 cubic inches, and the OHC-6 version was simply not an option against 450+ hp
V8's. The Pontiac Engineers had begun development on a 303 cubic inch version of the
Pontiac V8 in order to go SCCA racing, but this turned out to be a grueling process.
Creating a totally new powerplant, limited to 305 cubic inches, proved far more difficult
for Pontiac than it was for Chevrolet, who simply installed a 283 crankshaft into a 327
block, making an instant 302. Pontiac's progress on building their new 303 cid was new
territory, and required them to develop new cylinder heads and a new crankshaft.
When Pontiac first entered the 1968 SCCA Trans Am Racing season, they were not
allowed to run their 303 cid engine because they had not built the mandatory minimum
number of cars that were required to qualify for the production-stock class. Since the
team still wanted to go racing, they simply dropped a 302 cid Chevy into their 1968
Firebird race car, claiming that some Canadian built Pontiacs used Chevrolet engines.
While that statement was true, Firebirds were not built in Canada, and a 302 engine
was never offered in any Canadian-built Pontiac. But the ploy worked, the team raced
the 1968 season, and the SCCA never verified the claim. The Special Projects Group
weren't exactly proud of the engine swap, but the experience they gained in racing their
Firebird that first year gave the engineers valuable information on suspension setups
that they would later use on the future 1969 Trans Am.
Meanwhile, what the production version of an "Ultimate Firebird" was going to be was
still being debated within the halls of Pontiac...
With the new 1967 Firebird hitting the streets,
DeLorean sought proposals from 3rd party
entrepreneurs looking to perhaps create a
relationship with Pontiac, similar to the way
Shelby forged a relationship with Ford. The
earliest proposals for a "Super Firebird" came
from John Fitch, known for his mid-sixties
"Fitch Corvairs". Fitch's proposal had some
rather gruesome styling cues, including what
were known as "flying buttresses" coming off
the sail panels. In profile, these panels appeared
similar to what would become the 1968 AMX.
But from any other angle, the panels appeared
to be tacked-on pieces of cardboard. The
wire-mesh grille didn't help the aesthetics either.
After seeing this proposal, Bill Collins looked at
Herb Adams and said, "Herb, we can do better
than this guy."
|The 1967 PFST taking a lap around the test track.
The 1967 PFST Sprint 6 engine used a "shaker"
hood scoop that was carved out of a solid block
|Pontiac Special Projects Group creates the 1967 PFST
|Pontiac Goes Exotic : The 1968 Brabham 400
With the Special Projects Group still struggling to get a handle on a how to build a race car, DeLorean and crew contracted Jack Brabham, the
retired Australian 3-time Formula 1 World Champion, to build an exotic single overhead cam 5-liter engine based on the Pontiac 400. Brabham had
a successful racing firm in Australia called Repco, and his Repco-Brabham engines were winning many Formula 1 races around the world. It was
obvious that DeLorean was still thinking of some sort of collaboration between an outside firm and Pontiac, similar to Ford/Shelby or
Hurst/Oldsmobile. Brabham acquired a 1967 Firebird from GM-Holden (Australia) in order to measure the engine bay dimensions and mounting
points, and in mid-1967, Brabham's proposal was displayed to Pontiac Engineers. Because Pontiac's development of their Pontiac 303 cid RAV
was taking so long, Brabham was given the green light to produce five "Repco-Pontiac" single overhead cam (SOHC) fuel injected engines. But
even with all the exotic hardware, horsepower levels were slightly below what the Pontiac Engineers were producing with their 303 cid Ram Air V
The GM Design Staff built a 1968 Firebird to showcase what would become known as the "Brabham 400", an odd name considering this Firebird
did not have a 400 cid engine! The hood and the tops of the front fenders were painted a flat blue, while the rest of the body was standard
Firebird, painted white. After further analysis, it was determined the Repco-Brabham engine would have been enormously expensive to build, and
with the Pontiac Engineers now making progress on their single-carbed Ram Air V 303 project, the exotic SOHC fuel injected Brabham 400 began
to lose its luster.
The Repco-Brabham became known as the Repco-Pontiac,
utilizing single overhead cams and fuel injection, the engine
proved too costly and was still not up to the power levels of the
Ram Air V 303 that Pontiac Engineering had already developed.
The Brabham 400 proposal was created by the GM Design team. The car was white, and the
hood, along with the tops of the fenders, were painted a flat blue. It remains a mystery as to
why Pontiac chose to keep the name "Brabham 400" when the engine was actually a 5-liter
powerplant, around 302 cubic inches. Interesting to note that the "Brabham" lettering on
the hood was in the same font as the later "Ram Air" decals that adorned the hood scoops of
a GTO, while the "400" emblems were still die-cast, taken from a factory Firebird 400.
One of the six 1968 PFST cars with the newly developed
Pontiac 350 V8.
The sail panel extensions on the 1967
Fitchbird looked tacked-on when
viewed from the rear.
The wire-mesh grilles on the proposed Fitchbird simply
ruined the front end design, hiding the 4-headlight system
that Pontiac stylists worked so hard on to distinguish
themselves from the Camaro.
|The 1967 PFST (Pontiac Firebird Sprint Turismo)
- By Mike Noun
|Copyright 2011 MusclecarFilms. All rights reserved.
|Pontiac Engineering Test Cars
- By Mike Noun