WHEN THE PONTIAC DIVISION decides to get into the swim of things, they are never ones to linger in ankle-deep water. In introducing the Firebird they splashed headlong into the long hood/short deck specialty car field. While doing so thy simultaneously managed to swamp all competition in the engine-size department by make their 400-cu.-in V-8 available in the car.
With this engine they are also offering the 3-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission as an option, putting them on an equal footing with Mustang and Cougar which offer 3-speed automatics. (News of the Firebird’s gig engine and 3-speed automatic reaching sister division, Chevrolet, long before announcement time is widely believed to be what triggered Chevy’s decision to add their own 396 V-8 and the Turbo Hydra-Matic to the Camaro’s option list.)
The Firebird shares the same shell, the “F” body, with the Camaro, and all general features – including the sub-frame that carries the engine and front suspension – are identical. The Firebird is 4 inches longer and fractions of an inch greater in other overall dimensions than the Camaro, with the bumper-grille “beak” accounting for most of the extra length.
WE GOT SMOKE FROM
A FLAMING 400,
AND A CHEERY NOTE FROM
A WARBLING OHC 6 BY JOHN ETHRIDGE
Pontiac 400-cubic-incher fits comfortably in engine compartment with good access to plugs, fillers, other components.
Wheelbase is unchanged. Interior seating, passenger room, etc., is essentially the same as in the Camaro, which is good for a car of this wheelbase.
There’s a full assortment of six engines to choose from, starting with the standard 1-barrel 230-cu.-in., 165-hp ohc 6. Optional engines include a 4-barrel 215-hp Sprint version: two 326-cu-in. V-8s with 2- and 4-barrel carburetors and 250 and 285 hp respectively: and two 325-hp 400-cu.-in. 4-barrel V-8s, the second of these having the Ram Air Package. The 400 engine is essentially the same as that of the GTO but is rated 10 hp less, probably to comply with GM’s 10-pounds-per-hp rule-of-thumb on power-to-weight ratios for most of its cars.
Three- and 4-speed manual transmissions are offered. Only with the 400 engine can you get a 3-speed automatic, the 2-speed automatic coming with other engines.
Like Tempest, the 215-hp Sprint engine comes as part of a package containing a handling kit and special stripes. When the 400 engine is ordered, it too comes with a special suspension – plus twin hood scoops for identification.
Our two test cars were a Sprint 6 and a 400 V-8. The 400 had a column-shifted 3-speed automatic, and the Sprint the Muncie 4-speed manual. The 400 weighed 284 pounds more than the Sprint, with 230 pounds of this going on the front wheels.
Even though the 400 had a limited-slip differential, the presence of this much extra weight up front and previous experience with single-leaf springs caused us to expect trouble with wheel hop or at least wheelspin, neither of which ever materialized. Smooth, brisk starts were easy every time, allowing us to duplicate acceleration times within a small spread. The suspension also behaved perfectly under panic stops which contributed to the excellent stopping distances we recorded. Neither were handling characteristics affected to the extent we expected because of the weight bias. Understeer was there, but it was possible under most conditions to control it with power application.
A look at the 400’s rear supension revealed the reason for this unflappability. There are two traction bars as opposed to one on the right side only on the Camaro. Adjacent to each is a bracket rigidly attached to the axle housing and extending along their lengths. Cushioned by a piece of
Ohc 6 pretty much uses up length of compartment but has loads of room for easy servicing or hanging on air conditioning, etc.