Thursday, August 25, 2011

1967 Pontiac Firebird

Bird of a Different Feather

When Blue Became a Unique Color

Story Jon G. Robinson

Images Al Rogers

In 1967, roughly 31 percent of the new Firebirds made were Verdoro Green. John DeLorean’s wife had discovered the deep, bottle-green on an ashtray during a party at a friend’s house. DeLorean took the ashtray to the Pontiac paint lab, and they matched the new color for the new car.

Because of Verdoro Green’s wild popularity, some of the other colors used by Pontiac for the product line can be considered comparatively rare. Tyrol Blue is a case in point.

“I’ve owned this car for 23 years, and I’ve never seen another one of this color combination,” says Matt Martinelli, who resurrected his Firebird 400 convertible from a dozen boxes he bought from a friend. Martinelli is an automative restoration and collision repair technician at a custom repair facility. Once he deciphered the car’s paint codes, he took great pains to bring its correct Tyrol Blue scheme to life.

Martinelli of Troy, Michigan, has an automotive background. His father Dino designed interior pieces for General Motors in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, specializing in door parts – handles, cranks, lever mechanisms, and hinges. He frequently brought home sporty, new cars, including a ’70 Camaro SS and several Corvettes. Matt was hooked on cars, and his first car – a ’65 Grand Prix – cemented his relationship with Pontiacs.

A close friend had started to restore the Firebird but needed to sell it to buy his family a home in 1988. “It had been sitting in a barn for about ten years out in Capac, Michigan,” Martinelli tells. “The engine had been professionally rebuilt when he graduated high school, and he took the car apart to restore it. The engine sat in his bedroom in a crate wrapped in plastic. The rest of the car was in boxes and milk crates. It was sad, but it was all there. I had to get the top done and redo the whole body. The dash pad is still original. The engine is original to the car. Even the radiator is original to the car, and I just had it rodded out. I had the carburetor redone. The exhaust is not correct right now, but I plan to have Inline Tube, Inc. take the exhaust back to original.”

Martinelli replaced two fenders, made several small rust repairs, and gave the Firebird its final coat of Tyrol Blue at home in the summer of 1995. The ’Bird was finally ready to fly.

The 400ci V-8, capable of 365 horsepower, is equipped with the Ram Air intake system – an option that made the hood scoops functional. Without Ram Air, the hood scoops were only ornamental, and the engine carried an ordinary, dual-snorkel air filter under the hood. Martinelli’s only two modifications to the car have been to add the stock-style, hood-mounted tachometer and the stock Ram Air intake system. Martinelli opened the two covers from the hood scoops, attached the pan to the underside of the hood that guides air to the air filter, and mounted the proper air filter to the carburetor. When the hood is closed, the Ram Air pan comes down onto the air cleaner’s foam border and forms a seal.

“It breathes so much better after putting that Ram Air system on the car,” Martinelli says. “It sounds better. It acts better. You can feel it. It pushes the air right into the motor, and it doesn’t take in all the hot air from under the hood. It made that car run night-and-day better. The pan attaches with five screws right into the crossmembers under the hood. The pan is sealed from the hood with foam, and then it closes down onto the foam around the air cleaner. It works beautifully.”

Martinelli’s Firebird also carries a four-speed Muncie manual transmission and a 3.90 rearend. The car lacks power steering and has drum brakes. These options make it identical to the Firebird 400 convertible Car & Driver tested for its March, 1967 issue. Pontiac introduced the Firebird quite late in the model year, and by the time the first Firebird left the factory, the new F-body Chevrolet Camaro had been on the streets for months. The magazine confirmed that the Firebird was not a rebadged Camaro.

Car & Driver gave the Firebird 400 high marks for its extremely high torque and having the rear suspension to handle it. The Firebird’s lower profile came partly from having only single-leaf rear springs like an early Chevy II, but C&D said the traction bars stabilized the rear axle so well that the rear wheels did not hop around under high throttle as they did on a Camaro. The Firebird 400 carries its engine several inches further back in the car. The editors praised Pontiac for better weight distribution compared to Camaro, but they gave the engine poor marks for serviceability because the engine position pushed the distributor so far back against the firewall.

Martinelli prefers the non-power steering in his Firebird, and C&D liked their test car’s steering for the same reason – responsiveness and quick return to center. The editors described the 3.90 rearend as great for neck-snapping acceleration but “asinine” for normal driving, and Martinelli feels the same way. But both agree that the Firebird is insulated well enough that engine noise is minimal and pleasant compared to some powerful cars.

“I was going to sell it about 10 years ago,” Martinelli says. “I was offering it back to my friend, but my wife took me aside and said, ‘Don’t do it.’ I’m glad she did. I’ve had 65 or 70 cars over the years, but I’m hanging onto this one.”

Firebird: Full Throttle

Jim Wangers is famous in Pontiac circles for his ingenious promotional efforts while he worked for McManus, John and Adams, the company that handled Pontiac’s publicity.

Pontiac announced the new Firebird in January of 1967, and Pontiac management immediately threw a problem at Wangers.

“The Firebird came out months after the GTO,” Wangers recalls. “It was way too late to compete with the Mustang, but Firebird had gone one step better by having that big engine in the smaller pony car. The Firebird 400 was aggressively marketed as a performance car. It performed so well that, to protect the GTO’s performance image, we had to do something to control the Firebird’s performance output. They came out with the stupid idea putting a throttle-stop into every Firebird 400. That enabled them to rate the Firebird 400 horsepower lower than the GTO. It only took five or six weeks for people to discover the throttle-stop carefully hidden on the 400, and people took it off. I laugh now because we seriously thought we could get away with that at that time.”


  1. That's quite a story. You did a lot of tuning on the car's performance, handling and style. You are really an experienced enthusiast.

  2. Pontiac may have broken late from the gate in the pony-car derby, but it quickly made up ground. Carefully considered alterations made the 1968 Pontiac Firebird 400 perhaps the best compact muscle car of all time.

  3. This is a great story I have read. Thanks for sharing and the article is really informative.

  4. Inspiring story for the Pontiac Firebird. This car is highly renowned all over the world. I think everyone deserves to hear about this.

  5. That story was really interesting and thanks for sharing this one. Hope more people could read this blog.

  6. Cars that are owned for a long time would really be a great treasure and that would make it unique because most cars are now modern. It would be an attraction to the roadway especially when it is still in good performance.

  7. Thanks for sharing this story, I really appreciate it and I am glad that I have read your blog here.

  8. I just purchased a 68 Ram Air 400 black on black, it is a thing of joy and beauty in its simplicity and power.

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