We build excitement" was Pontiac's slogan for the Firebird -- and the admen weren't kidding. Born to tackle the Mustang, GM's pony car was a fire-breathing monster.
Performance buffs lapped it up thanks to its enticing array of motors, which included a 400 cubic inch (6.6-litre) V8 -- the same torque-tastic mill that did the business in the monstrous GTO. (A high-output overhead-cam inline-six was available for those who preferred theirs to have a high-revving engine and be more nimble.) But Pontiac had Chevrolet to thank, for without the Camaro, the Firebird would never have been.
Pontiac originally wanted to build a sporty two-seater but GM wasn't so keen for the Corvette to get an in-house competitor. So it allowed the division a piece of the pony car pie by having them share the F-body platform with Chevy.
Debuting in 1967, the Firebird -- which shared the basic structure of the Camaro, and most of the sheet metal too -- benefited greatly from a vital improvement over its sister car; a more even weight distribution. The car's handling was improved tenfold over the Camaro's by moving the engine slightly rearwards and by beefing up the leaf springs with the addition of traction bars, which reduced axle hop under hard launches.
Buyers, impressed by Pontiac's efforts, flocked to the Firebird, which might have been called the Banshee (after the XP-833 show car) had John DeLorean got his way. Instead, the general manager of GM's Pontiac Motor Division settled for Firebird -- derived from Native American mythology. It stood for "action, power, beauty and youth" and was very apt for the new car.
Five variants were available (base, Sprint, 326, 326 HO and 400 Firebirds) and each was offered as either a hard-top coupé or a convertible. Thanks to Ford's optional high-performance 390 V8 for its Mustang, Pontiac had to cater for the upper end of the spectrum too: cue the 400 cubic inch V8. Finished off with chromed valve covers and air cleaner, its Rochester Quadra-Jet carb helped it to produce a very healthy 325bhp. It was 35bhp less than the GTO but nobody was complaining; the Firebird proved to be stylish, affordable and most of all, a superb performer that went on for four generations.
Finding a well-maintained 400-equipped Firebird is rare these days, but if you do get lucky, you can expect to stump up around Dh100,000 for the privilege.
Oh, and don't forget that little trick from 48 years ago; remove that metal tab on the throttle linkage, which prevented it from opening all the way, to make the most out of that awesome 400.