EUROPEAN-STYLE grand touring car, the last word in sports cars.” The deep, resonant voice from the television set extols the virtues of two of the five Firebirds available from Pontiac.
CAR LIFE tested two members of the Firebird flock, both claimed to be high-performance vehicles, but with emphasis on different bands of the spectrum. The Firebird Sprint is intended as the domestic answer to European Grand Touring machines, presumably Jaguar, Porsche and Mercedes, but at much lower cost. The Firebird 400 is, simply, a Supercar of somewhat diminutive proportions.
In both cases, the term “sports car” provokes critical, offended shouts from purists. Actually, in terms of straightline performance, handling and occupant comfort, both Firebirds surpass many accepted “pure” sports cars, particularly of vintage configuration, i.e., Austin-Healey 3000, MG Midget and Datsun SPL-3 11. It seems strange that Pontiac, which commands a wealth of excellent engineers, should produce a 1967 automobile that evokes the adjective vintage, but that overworked term frequently came to mind in testing the Firebirds.
Both ‘Birds have virtues, and both have deficiencies, the balance between resting upon driver opinion. Of the major objections to Firebird ownership, some could be rectified by intelligent option selection, some could be removed by minor reworking, and some are so basic that nothing short of complete rebuilding could alter
them. Of the virtues, some are outstanding, some are inconspicuous and some would be virtues only to a particular type of consumer.
From the cowl rearward, Firebird sheet metal is identical to Camaro. The major objection to Firebird appearance was that, “It looks just like a Camaro.” While there is no question as to the validity of this statement, the Firebird, taken on its own, is a well styled vehicle whose appearance promises performance in every sense of the word. The huge, flaring fender contours manage to make even E70-14 Wide Oval tires, standard on all Firebirds, appear slightly narrow. The test Sprint was equipped with 185R-14 radial ply tires, recently made available by Pontiac as a handling option. These tires were noticeably narrower in section than the Wide Ovals, and gave the car an almost “narrow track” appearance.
Firebird’s extended nose, most noticeable departure from Camaro styling, was viewed with mixed emotions
by observers. The general consensus seemed to be that the long, pointed nose furthered the long hood look-of-power profile which has come into vogue with Ponycar packages. A minor parking shunt proved the protection afforded by this armored snout. Prospective Firebird owners are hereby advised that the front of this car is much farther away than is apparent from the driver’s seat.
BOTH TEST Firebirds featured exterior sheet metal relatively free from useless ornamentation. This was observed with pleasure by CL staff members, and greatly enhanced the functional, sporty nature of the cars. Except for the double-scooped hood of the Firebird 400, compared with the unscooped, peaked hood of the Sprint, the two test cars were virtual twins. The Sprint’s hood announced the presence of a “3.8 Liter OHC” engine under its sheet metal, in European style. The 400’s hood described just that, a 400-cu. in. high-performance engine,