When the Pontiac Firebird debuted in 1967, John DeLorean immediately saw a need to create an "Ultimate Firebird", a model beyond
the Firebird 400, a car that he could call THE flagship performance car for Pontiac. He basically wanted a "Shelby Mustang" version of
his Firebird, but most of all, DeLorean wanted a car to embarrass the Chevy Camaro. DeLorean was very upset when General Motors
forced him to accept the Chevrolet Camaro design as a base for his Firebird, and he fought GM top brass every step of the way.
Because of that stubbornness, DeLorean had his engineers working on other projects (notably DeLorean's sporty 2-seater, later called
the Banshee) instead of working on the Firebird. Eventually, DeLorean was ordered by top management to build the Firebird from the
Camaro design, but now his engineers and designers were months behind. The 1967 Camaro debuted, the Firebird was delayed, and
Chevrolet basked in the glory of introducing the new "GM version" of the Ford Mustang. That was just fine with DeLorean, because it
allowed his engineers to fine tune the 1967 Firebird, working out any bugs that had appeared on the Camaro. When the Firebird
debuted a few months later, the automotive press loved it.
But with DeLorean's dream of an exotic 2-seat sports car shelved, his quest to have a sophisticated, exotic, very powerful version of his
new Firebird was now his main goal. To gain some attention, DeLorean wanted Pontiac involved in the very popular SCCA Trans Am
Racing Series to combat Carroll Shelby and his successful Mustangs. Working on a shoestring budget (Pontiac was 3rd place in U.S.
sales by 1967, but they still had a very small Engineering Department and a very small budget compared to Ford and Chevrolet), a
special 4-man team was created called the Special Projects Group, under the wing of the Advanced Engineering Group. Led by a
young engineer named Herb Adams, the team of Tom Nell, Dan Hardin, and Jeff Young set about contemplating how to make a
Firebird into an "American GT". Not long after the group was formed, the Special Projects Group became their own entity, under the
leadership of Bill Collins, Assistant Chief Engineer in charge of Advanced Engineering. While these engineers had a great deal of
suspension knowledge, they did not have much experience in building a sports car, and even less experience in building a race car to
test their design theories.
The first creation by Bill Collins and Herb Adams was called the PFST (Pontiac
Firebird Sprint Turismo). The Special Projects Group, along with John
DeLorean, were sold on the advanced overhead cam (OHC) 6-cylinder as
being the engine of the future. The OHC-6 was light, and when installed in the
new 1967 Firebird chassis, made for a very well balanced car. Herb Adams
adapted 3 Weber downdraft carbs (he could not obtain the preferred sidedraft
carbs) onto an OHC-6, but because the downdraft style Webers required extra
space above the carbs to ingest air (the sidedrafts would have been mounted
horizontally off the intake manifold), the layout required extra hood clearance.
Rather than attaching a forward facing hood scoop, Adams opted for a rearward
facing scoop. And rather than mounting the scoop to the hood in the traditional
way, it was attached directly to the 3 Weber carbs with a hole cut in the hood
for the scoop to poke through. In effect, this became the first "shaker hood
scoop". Taking advantage of one of the first numerical-controlled cutting
machines (known as CNC) in the Detroit area, the machine shop guys cut a
finned aluminum oil pan and finned shaker scoop out of solid blocks of
aluminum. The handling characteristics of the PFST were outstanding, and this
proposal (verses the Fitchbird) was a little more on target with what Pontiac and
DeLorean were looking for.
By 1968, Jim Wangers had convinced John DeLorean that they should build 6
more PFST's, but equip them with the newly developed Pontiac 350 engine.
Wangers took some of these cars around to various trade shows to test public
reaction. All the PFST's, including the original OHC-6 version, were painted
white with an offset (driver's side) blue stripe. The 350 powered versions did
not use a shaker hood scoop, but they did utilize the newly developed Pontiac
The PFST appeared to be a feasible from a production standpoint, but the 350
cube V8 version would not qualify for the SCCA Trans Am Series where
engines were limited to 305 cubic inches, and the OHC-6 version was simply
not an option against 450+ hp V8's. The Pontiac Engineers had begun
development on a 303 cubic inch version of the Pontiac V8 in order to go SCCA
racing, but this turned out to be a grueling process. Creating a totally new
powerplant, limited to 305 cubic inches, proved far more difficult for Pontiac
than it was for Chevrolet, who simply installed a 283 crankshaft into a 327
block, making an instant 302. Pontiac's progress on building their new 303 cid
was new territory, and required them to develop new cylinder heads and a new
When Pontiac first entered the 1968 SCCA Trans Am Racing season, they
were not allowed to run their 303 cid engine because they had not built the
mandatory minimum number of cars that were required to qualify for the
production-stock class. Since the team still wanted to go racing, they simply
dropped a 302 cid Chevy into their 1968 Firebird race car, claiming that some
Canadian built Pontiacs used Chevrolet engines. While that statement was true,
Firebirds were not built in Canada, and a 302 engine was never offered in any
Canadian-built Pontiac. But the ploy worked, the team raced the 1968 season,
and the SCCA never verified the claim. The Special Projects Group weren't
exactly proud of the engine swap, but the experience they gained in racing their
Firebird that first year gave the engineers valuable information on suspension
setups that they would later use on the future 1969 Trans Am.
Meanwhile, what the production version of an "Ultimate Firebird" was going to
be was still being debated within the halls of Pontiac Motor Division...
With the new 1967 Firebird hitting the
streets, DeLorean sought proposals from
3rd party entrepreneurs looking to perhaps
create a relationship with Pontiac, similar to
the way Shelby forged a relationship with
Ford. The earliest proposals for a "Super
Firebird" came from John Fitch, known for
his mid-sixties "Fitch Corvairs". Fitch's
proposal had some rather gruesome styling
cues, including what were known as "flying
buttresses" coming off the sail panels. In
profile, these panels appeared similar to
what would become the 1968 AMX. But
from any other angle, the panels appeared
to be tacked-on pieces of cardboard. The
wire-mesh grille didn't help the aesthetics
either. After seeing this proposal, Bill Collins
looked at Herb Adams and said, "Herb, we
can do better than this guy."
|The 1967 PFST taking a lap around the test track.
|The 1967 PFST Sprint 6 engine used a "shaker" hood
scoop that was carved out of a solid block of aluminum.
|Pontiac Special Projects Group creates the 1967 PFST
|Pontiac Goes Exotic : The 1968 Brabham 400
With the Special Projects Group still struggling to get a handle on a how to build a race car, DeLorean and crew contracted Jack
Brabham, the retired Australian 3-time Formula 1 World Champion, to build an exotic single overhead cam 5-liter engine based on
the Pontiac 400. Brabham had a successful racing firm in Australia called Repco, and his Repco-Brabham engines were winning
many Formula 1 races around the world. It was obvious that DeLorean was still thinking of some sort of collaboration between an
outside firm and Pontiac, similar to Ford/Shelby or Hurst/Oldsmobile. Brabham acquired a 1967 Firebird from GM-Holden (Australia)
in order to measure the engine bay dimensions and mounting points, and in mid-1967, Brabham's proposal was displayed to Pontiac
Engineers. Because Pontiac's development of their Pontiac 303 cid RAV was taking so long, Brabham was given the green light to
produce five "Repco-Pontiac" single overhead cam (SOHC) fuel injected engines. But even with all the exotic hardware, horsepower
levels were slightly below what the Pontiac Engineers were producing with their 303 cid Ram Air V engines.
The GM Design Staff built a 1968 Firebird to showcase what would become known as the "Brabham 400", an odd name considering
this Firebird did not have a 400 cid engine! The hood and the tops of the front fenders were painted a flat blue, while the rest of the
body was standard Firebird, painted white. After further analysis, it was determined the Repco-Brabham engine would have been
enormously expensive to build, and with the Pontiac Engineers now making progress on their single-carbed Ram Air V 303 project,
the exotic SOHC fuel injected Brabham 400 began to lose its luster.
|The Repco-Brabham became known as the Repco-Pontiac,
utilizing single overhead cams and fuel injection, the engine
proved too costly and was still not up to the power levels of
the Ram Air V 303 that Pontiac Engineering had already
|The Brabham 400 proposal was created by the GM Design team. The car was white,
and the hood, along with the tops of the fenders, were painted a flat blue. It remains a
mystery as to why Pontiac chose to keep the name "Brabham 400" when the engine
was actually a 5-liter powerplant, around 302 cubic inches. Interesting to note that the
"Brabham" lettering on the hood was in the same font as the later "Ram Air" decals that
adorned the hood scoops of a GTO, while the "400" emblems were still die-cast, taken
from a factory Firebird 400.
|One of the six 1968 PFST cars with the new Pontiac
|The sail panel extensions on the 1967
Fitchbird looked tacked-on when viewed
from the rear.
|The wire-mesh grilles on the proposed Fitchbird simply
ruined the front end design, hiding the 4-headlight system
that Pontiac stylists worked so hard on to distinguish
themselves from the Camaro.
|The 1967 PFST (Pontiac Firebird Sprint Turismo)
- By Mike Noun
|Copyright 2011 MusclecarFilms. All rights reserved.
|PART 1 : The Birth Of The 1969 Pontiac Trans Am
- By Mike Noun