Before production of the Superteen Firebird, Barris commissioned this artist rendering of
George Barris is the brilliant mind behind the design of the TV special giveaway '68 Superteen Firebirds. Partnering with Robert E. Petersen of Hot Rod magazine, Barris chose the Pontiac F-body for its youthful image, then customized it to further appeal to the young generation growing up in the '60s. He turned his Superteen Firebird into the highlight of Sounds of '68, a successful ABC-TV primetime special, and designed and marketed dealer-installed customizing kits for '68 Firebirds, too. Here's the full story as George Barris recalls it.
High Performance Pontiac: How did you come up with the concept for the Superteen Firebird?
George Barris: I worked with Robert E. Petersen. He had the idea for a teen-type show like American Idol-basically a talent contest. I contacted John DeLorean and Jim Wangers and told them that I would like to use a Pontiac Firebird because the contest and TV show was geared toward the age group that was really into that car. I picked the name "Super," and Petersen had the name "Teen," and that's how we put together the name, "Superteen."
HPP: You could have chosen any musclecar that would appeal to this age group. Why did you choose the Firebird?
Ed Ames, host of Sounds of '68, poses with two teenage contestants from the TV show and on
Capitol Records issued recording contracts and an LP called Sounds of '68 for their part o
GB: To me, it was the car to use because it was very youth-oriented. I thought the Firebird really was the cat's meow for that show, and I could make it even more appealing to the 18-35 age group through design and styling upgrades. So I added larger scoops to it, extended the nose a little bit, put a Pearl Silver paint job on it and applied the red, white, and blue stripes up the side and over the hood. Of course, it was a natural and every-body liked my concept. I love the car. It was really great.
HPP: What did you look upon for inspiration for the radical styling of the Superteen Firebird?
GB: It was based on what would inspire kids and young adults to like the car. Though I was appealing to an audience of 18- to 35-year-olds, the Superteen contest was a challenge for young kids, 15 to 19, to entertain and win the nationally televised singing contest, and, of course, winning the Superteen Firebird was the best part of it. They just loved that car.
HPP: Did you do any perform-ance modifications to the Superteen Firebird?
GB: No. Mechanically, everything remained the same. The stock performance of the car was what I desired, anyhow. (Barris was given Firebird 400s to customize.) I didn't feel that we had to put superchargers on the cars. I just kept everything stock so the winners had [full Pontiac factory] warranties on their prizes.
HPP: Were the three giveaway Superteen Firebirds convertibles?
GB: Yes, but not at first. With the first design we made, the Superteen Firebird had a half top, but when we got into it cost-wise, we said we'd better go back to the convertible because the show's producers and director wanted to do all the visual photographs and filming with the top down anyhow. So we left the Superteen Firebird as a convertible. Of course, we also wanted to see all the Singer equipment I installed in the back seat, so a convertible was our best choice.
HPP: The advertisements for Sounds of '68 list Singer as a major sponsor. Does it seem odd that a sewing machine company would be involved with a TV show geared mostly toward teenagers?
GB: Singer was our biggest sponsor. In those days, Singer electronics was the thing-we had all the Singer components. In the context of today's electronics, you'll absolutely crack up laughing when you see all the Singer equipment and where we put it. The typewriter, the TV, the tape deck-they were like big horses compared to today, but that's what we had to start out with. That's what we had to use. We didn't have the ultimate electronics that we have today.
HPP: How difficult was it to build the Singer home entertainment units into the Superteen Firebirds?
GB: Home entertainment units? (Laughter) That's exactly what they were. Everything was a custom operation. It wasn't formed to fit into the cars. There was no budget to do that, but they wanted it to be visual as an open home entertainment unit in the back seat.
HPP: What happened to the Super-teen Firebird brand name after the Sounds of '68 TV special?
GB: The Superteen Firebird was so popular that I began making parts for the aftermarket; customizing kits using Superteen Firebird components that dealers could put on Firebirds rather than shipping their customers' Firebirds way out here to California.
Singer was the biggest sponsor of Sounds of '68 and it gave the company the opportunity to
Those aren't Martian antennae. It's a TV antenna to bring in reception on the Singer TV (p
HPP: The Superteen Firebird was also chosen as a model kit, manufactured by Model Products Corporation (MPC). Why did MPC manufacture a hatch-roof Superteen Firebird model kit, when the giveaway Superteen Firebirds were convertibles?
GB: MPC had existing tooling for a hatch-roof model kit. We never built a hatch-roof Superteen Firebird.
HPP: What do you think of the Superteen Firebird almost 40 years after you created it?
GB: The Superteen Firebird was a major success. It was more famous than the TV show's host Ed Ames and its special guest Aretha Franklin. And the model kit was one of the best selling ones that MPC ever made. This type of a car is such a collectible. It means more to the people who are into collecting unique, high-profile cars than a million dollars because they love to have them.
The Bird featured brake cooling ducts, non-functional side pipes and split rear bumperette
The custom nose assembly was designed and built by George Barris at Barris Kustom City. Ch
HPP: Is Pontiac ready for another "Superteen" creation, perhaps a GTO or a Firebird, or one of the new G-series cars?
GB: I think it would be a very popular retro-style limited edition car today. Since classic styling is prevalent on the Mustang and the upcoming Camaro and Challenger, I feel Pontiac could also join the marketplace with a GTO or Firebird.
One of the contestants smiles as a Barris employee drives the Superteen Firebird during a
Sounds of '68 advertised in Robert E. Petersen's print publications such as Hot Rod magazi
Superteen Firebird Amenities Hood with full-length air scoops Custom hood tach housing Front body split bumperettes "Hawk's nose"-style front fascia Custom headlight assemblies/grilles with Cibie-type headlights Frontal area of the fenders bobbed and canted Brake cooling ducts High-performance three-piece adjustable rear spoiler Full sequential taillights Hurst mag wheels Firestone GT F70x14 tires Custom exhaust with non-functional side pipes Racing-style quick-release gas cap Rear body split bumperettes Silver Metallic Flake custom paint with cut glass for a "shimmering" look Custom vinyl graphics package Singer home entertainment unit cabinetry finished in hand-rubbed walnut replaced the lower portion of the rear seat and included portable AC/DC television with mobile antenna, typewriter, stereo/record player, Muntz tape recorder and playback system and stereo tape deck cartridge music system, stereo speakers and storage system.