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
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 of aluminum.
|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 engines.
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
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