Car of the Week: 1967 Pontiac Firebird
Grandma’s Firebird has risen again and graces the roads once more.
It took quite a while, but Bill Person Jr., and his dad, Bill Sr., eventually got Grandma’s Firebird back on the road.
It all started when Milwaukee, Wis., resident Shirley Nelson cracked up her car back 1967. The little mishap changed her life in more ways than one.
“She had a car accident, and that’s how she met my soon-to-be-grandfather,” chuckles Bill, Jr. “She eventually married the gentleman, and I was born three years later. I knew him as my grandfather until he died in 1986.”
“So she wound up searching for a replacement car, and she bought this new on April 28, 1967,” he adds proudly, pointing at the silver 1967 Firebird coupe that is still in the family.
From there, the car went to Bill Jr.’s mother. Sort of.
“The car started rotting out and they wanted something newer, and my mother at the time did not have her license and in 1978 my dad bought the car from my grandmother so my mother could learn how to drive,” Person recalls. “Well, she never drove the Firebird. It sat in the garage. My dad drove it for a little while, but mostly it just sat there.”
That went on for about 10 years, and then young and ambitious Bill Jr. decided that the car was worth restoring and took it all apart. He had it almost completely disassembled, sandblasted the subframe and did some other heavy lifting before he eventually wound up running low on time and resources to continue the restoration.
“I was an 18-, 19-year-old kid and life happens, you know?” he laughs. “It was terrible. The rear quarters were all rotted out. No exhaust on it. The front fenders had holes in ’em. The doors had holes in ’em. The only saving grace was one time she had the oil changed in the motor and they didn’t put the drain plug in tight enough. The drain plug came off and coated the whole undercarriage with oil and she seized the motor. So she had the motor rebuilt before my dad got it, and the only saving grace to it is the car has all its original floor pans because they were coated with oil. And the rockers are original, too.”
Person says the car remained in pieces for more than 25 years until Bill Sr. finally came to the Firebird’s rescue for good.
“In about 2015 he decided, ‘I’m gonna stick some money into it and restore it,’ and I’m luck, ‘Go for it! I seem to have failed.’”
With that, the pair gathered up the entire project and handed it off to TLC Restorations, an excellent collector resto shop in Milton, Wis. By the time TLC was done with it, the 80,000-mile Firebird looked almost new again. The end result gave both father and son plenty of affirmation that the ’67 was worth keeping in the family.
BRINGING BACK THE ‘BIRD
Ford changed the landscape of America car-building for good with the mid-1964 introduction of the Mustang. General Motors needed about three years to deliver an answer, and part of its reply was the Firebird, which officially arrived on Feb. 23, 1967. It was Pontiac’s version of Chevy’s new Camaro dressed up with a Poncho-style split grille, different engines and transmissions and a few suspension tweaks.
Pontiac offered the sporty ‘Bird in five flavors — base, Sprint, 326, 326 H.O. and 400 — created by tacking regular production options onto the same basic car. The options created distinctive packages that were merchandised as separate models. Bucket seats were standard in all Firebirds. Design characteristics of the ‘67s included vent windows and three vertical air slots on the fear fenders.
The base 230-cid six-cylinder produced a modest 165-hp. The more spirted Sprints featured a 215-hp overhead-cam six with a four-barrel carburetor. A floor-mounted three-speed manual gearbox and heavy-duty suspension were standard. A Firebird Sprint convertible cost $3,019 and a coupe was $2,782.
Firebird 326s featured a 250-hp version of the 326-cid Tempest V-8 with a two-barrel carburetor. The convertible cost $2,998 and the coupe was $2,761. Firebird 326 H.O.s used a 285-hp version of the same V-8 with a 10.5:1 compression ratio and four-barrel carburetor. A column-shifted three-speed manual transmission, dual exhausts, H.O. stripes, a heavy-duty battery and wide-oval tires were standard. The H.O. convertible cost $3,062 and the coupe cost $2,825.
The performance version of the 1967 Firebird was the 400. It featured a 325-hp version of the 400-cid GTO V-8. Standard equipment included a dual-scoop hod, chrome engine parts, three-speed heavy-duty floor shift and sport-type suspension. Prices were about $100 higher than a comparable 326 H.L Options included Ram -Air induction, which gave 325 and cost more than $600.
Other popular add-ons included air-conditioning ($355.98), power brakes ($41.60), front disc brakes ($63,19), power steering ($94.97), power windows ($100.05), power top ($52.66), vinyl top ($84.26), fold-down rear seat ($36.86), hood tachometer ($63.19), console with bucket seats and floor shift ($47.39), cruise control ($53), head rests ($42), remote control trunk lid ($13), rally gauge cluster ($84), reclining right hand seat ($84), AM/FM radio ($134), stereo tape player ($128), tilt steering ($42), 3-speed with floor shift ($42), 3-speed synchromesh ($84), 4-speed manual ($184), automatic transmission with V-8 ($195), wire wheel discs ($53), Rally 1 wheels ($40), and Rally II wheels ($56).
A SILVER HEIRLOOM
Time and Wisconsin winters did a number of the sheet metal of the Persons’ Pontiac, but the interior remains almost all-original, as is the drive train (although the engine was rebuilt after the oil plug mishap). The Firebird’s condition is truly impressive; it would make no apologies on any show field. And the fact that it is a very well-preserved six-cylinder makes it even more unique.
“The seats are original. The door panels are all original. The arm rests are reproduction,” Bill Jr. says. “The carpet is reproduction. It came with floormats and these are reproduction floormats. We do have one floormat left, but it’s in really bad shape. The original spare is still in the trunk! The clock doesn’t work. I’m going to get a quartz kit one of these days and fix that. It hasn’t worked in a long time. The AM radio does work, but it’s got a replacement speaker. The windshield glass is new, otherwise all the glass is original.”
“Otherwise, everything is pretty much as stock. Two-speed automatic. Super-Turbine 300 transmission with its original 2.56 open rear end. This thing so great on the highway! If I hold her to the board she’ll do 60 [mph] and then shift into second!”
Bill Sr. decided to swap out the original front drum brakes in favor of power disc units. That’s about the only nod to non-originality on the entire car. Bill Jr. says the car is a hoot drive when it’s running right, but it was probably a little temperamental towards Grandma on the chilliest days of winter.
“She’s a cold-blooded b—h. She does not like to run cold,” he chuckles. “But once she’s warmed up and running down the road, she runs great.”
There were plenty of early Firebirds that qualified as muscle cars back in the day. The debut six-cylinder Firebird was not one of them, but it certainly was a sweet-looking and sweet-driving car for its time. The fact that the go-fast crowd all seemed to opt for the V-8s at the dealers — or in engine swaps later on — has made the surviving sixes scarce these days. One-family trophies like the Person family’s eye-catching silver ’67 stand out in any crowd.
“[The sixes] are starting to become a little more prevalent,” Bill Jr. says. “Ten years ago there wasn’t many, but they are starting to become a little more popular and people are starting to appreciate them.”
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