When John Leland, a research engineer from Kettering, Ohio, bought his '67 Firebird 400 convertible in 1980, he didn't know it was one of the first 100 F-body Pontiacs ever built, nor did he know that 28 years later it would be a hot Pro-Tourer, as the classification had yet to be conceived. He was just happy to have a first-year Firebird convertible.
"I purchased it from a Colorado junkyard in 1980," John says. "With the inexperience and optimism typical of a 19-year-old, I bumper-towed the relatively rust-free but thoroughly battered and abused Firebird nearly 1,300 miles [to get it home] using another rust-belt-ravaged '67 Firebird convertible."
During the week of February 13, 1967, production Firebirds rolled off the factory line in
John's was built and invoiced by Pontiac on February 16, 1967, one week before the Firebird's official introduction on February 23. Its purpose was to serve active duty at Pontiac's Oklahoma zone office. According to Jim Mattison of PHS Automotive Services, "This Firebird was shipped to Charles Schwab Motor Company in Ardmore, Oklahoma, and billed to Pontiac Motor Division, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma."
It received a wealth of options, including a 400ci engine (code-WZ), a four-speed trans (code 784), a fold-down rear seat (code 654), a hood tachometer (code 701), power windows (code 551), power disc brakes (code 521), power steering (code 502), a tilt column (code 504), a custom sport steering wheel (code 471), a console (code 472), a power top (code 544), and an AM/FM radio (code 345). Although the Firebird 400 package included Rally II wheels, the billing history shows they were deleted from its build.
23 Years Later
In 2003, John received notice from the city that his storage building would be condemned. "I transported the two Firebirds 150 miles to Dayton with the intent to sell them both," he says. "I was stopped on the road by a Pontiac collector who spied one of the cars on the trailer, and we agreed on a price for everything. The buyer hesitated for a few days, which allowed me to discover numerous Internet forums and become enthusiastic about restoring this one. It also gave me precious time to convince my wife that restoring a '67 Firebird would be a great experience for our 2- and 4-year-old boys. I started the project in August 2003. My wife gave me five years to get it done, but I set the goal of 2007 because that was the 40th birthday of the Firebird."
This EFI-equipped Pontiac 400/461 gets its dose of air from an original-style Firebird Ram
Although the original motor and trans were long gone, the rarity and options on the Firebird compelled John to pursue a date-code-correct restoration. But as quickly as he entered the project, he found his engineering talents were stymied by the tedious task of searching out date-coded components. "I'm a perfectionist by fault," he says. "I like to be creatively challenged, but I really hate sourcing parts. Put those three things together and the result was that trying to do a code-correct resto caused me great despair. I decided concours-restorations were for other people, not me."
John began the project in 2005. According to him, more than 20 years of indoor/outdoor storage without climate control had taken its toll on the Bird. What was once pinhole rust in the floors and trunk had turned into holes. In addition, prior driver's-quarter bodywork was so sloppy that the door would not close correctly.
He called upon Randy Smith of RPM Industries in West Carrollton, Ohio, to replace the floors, trunk pan, quarter-panels, and tail panel, while John worked out the front sheetmetal, doors, and decklid at home.
According to the owner, the only original exterior metal on the F-body is the panel between the decklid and the rear window. The fenders are N.O.S. replacements, and all the other panels are used replacements, except for the tail panel and quarters, which are reproductions. All brightwork was rechromed or polished by Metal Brite in Dayton.
The '67 Firebird 400 came factory-equipped with E70x14 Firestone Wide Oval Red Line tires
To prepare for paint, the body metal was sandblasted, straightened, filled, and primed with PPG DP90 epoxy primer, followed by PPG K36 urethane primer surfacer to provide a smooth surface for the color. Final prep included dry-sanding and then wet-sanding with 600-grit.
Because John already painted from the firewall forward in his garage in July 2003 using three coats of PPG Blue Pearl urethane basecoat followed by three coats of PPG DCU2021 urethane clear, Randy insisted John finish the job and paint the body shell at RPM in November 2003. Wet-sanding followed, with progressive grits of 1,200 through 2,500; then the Firebird was buffed and polished with 3M products.
The '67 Firebird shares the same body structure as its Camaro cousin, but one look at the
Kauffman Racing Equipment of Glenmont, Ohio, assembled the correct-year, four-speed block with an Eagle stroker kit consisting of an Eagle 4.25-inch, cast-steel crankshaft; CAT 6.800-inch, H-beam connecting rods; and SRP 4.155-inch, forged pistons, producing 461 ci from the 400.
Bolted to the block are Edelbrock 87cc aluminum heads treated to hand porting, Ferrea 2.11/1.77 valves, and Scorpion 1.6:1 roller rockers. The valvetrain is directed by a Comp hydraulic roller with 242/250-degrees duration at 0.050, 0.576/0.577-inch lift, and a 112-degree LSA. The compression ratio is 10.2:1.
John says he was bitten by the EFI bug while waiting for the engine to be built, and after much research, decided upon an ACCEL Gen 7 DFI speed density-based electronic control unit and wide-band oxygen sensor. He removed all the webbing and casting lugs from a Victor EFI manifold before polishing and port-matching it; then adding 35-lb/hr injectors and a Kinsler 1,000-cfm throttle body.
All manual-trans Firebirds came factory-equipped with Hurst shifters. This aftermarket Hur
A Rock Valley gas tank with Walbro 255-lph, in-tank pump and Aeromotive regulator set at 43.5 psi pump the fuel through stainless 1/2-inch supply and 3/8-inch return lines fabricated by Right Stuff Detailing of Sunbury, Ohio. The ignition system features an ACCEL dual-sync distributor, an MSD 6A ignition box, an MSD Blaster II coil, Taylor Spiro-Pro 8mm wires, and Autolite 3924 plugs. Gases are evacuated through Ram Air Restoration Enterprises' (RARE) Super Long Branch manifolds and x-type system; 21/2-inch, steel pipes, aluminized by Aesthetic Finishers; Goerlich Xlerators mufflers; and Second-Gen T/A exhaust splitters. Engine cooling is no problem due to a Ron Davis radiator with SPAL 13-inch, dual fans. Installation of the motor and tuning were performed by John.
Although an M20 four-speed trans was an original option for this Firebird, John decided it was the wrong choice for his Pro-Touring plans. Accordingly, he sourced a Tremec TKO 600 five-speed manual trans with Hurst shifter, which he mated to a McLeod Street Twin clutch and flywheel, and retains the factory bellhousing. Power is rocketed rearward through a custom, steel driveshaft to the original 8.2-inch, solid axle stuffed with a Detroit Locker posi and 3.55:1 gears.
Although the interior looks mostly original, cloth upholstery and matching door panels wer
According to John, engine dyno testing resulted in 529 hp at 5,800 rpm with smaller 29-lb/hr injectors installed because of a packaging error. "Jeff Kauffman estimates that with the correct-sized injectors and port-matched intake, the engine should easily make 560 hp or more. That's far more than the 500 hp I was shooting for," John says.
Stick And Stop
The Bird's factory front upper and lower control arms-detailed during the originality phase of the restoration-were retained, but Hotchkis 600-lb-in springs, Bilstein shocks, and Moog bushings were added. John installed a Hotchkis 1.125-inch hollow front sway bar, and Power Steering Services of Springfield, Missouri, upgraded the original power-steering box with 12.7:1 gears. The rear was likewise treated to Hotchkis 150- to 180-lb-in leaf springs and Bilstein shocks.
Firebird emblems were embroidered on both front seats by Crager's Auto Interiors in Center
John's most ingenious modification to the chassis setup is the addition of Fourth-Gen brakes [done after the photo shoot.-Ed.] "I made up my own brackets, and the car stops great," he says. "I went with these because I wanted to be able to get OEM parts locally if necessary, and the rear drum-in-disc parking brake is clean and simple." The disc setup is controlled by a Hydratech Braking Systems hydraulic assist unit that makes up for the vacuum-challenged engine. It's connected to an original-style master cylinder and adjustable proportioning valve.
Crager's Auto Interiors in Centerville re-covered the seats and top. The thrones feature black vinyl and Medium Dark Flint cloth upholstery, which John color-matched to reproduction door panels, and black cut-pile carpet. Stock headrests are embroidered with First-Gen Firebird logos, and a '68 Firebird Rally gauge cluster took the place of the 120-mph stock unit. The original steering wheel, console, shifter plate, seatbelts, custom interior dash grab handle, and rearview mirror were freshened and reinstalled.
After our photo shoot, John upgraded the original disc/drum braking system with the Fourth
Delco's AM/FM radio was upgraded to modern internals by Tayman Electrical in Sarasota, Florida, along with outputs to Polk 4x6 speakers behind the factory-style kick-panel grilles and Blaupunkt low-profile 5.25-inch speakers in the rear-quarter well covers. A Kenwood KSC SW1 75W-powered subwoofer is hidden behind the convertible top well to make up for the bass missing from the rear speakers; it can't be seen, even from the trunk.
Whereas many Pontiac collectors would go the concours route when restoring an early production '67 Firebird 400, John says he's pleased with the decisions he made for his vehicle. "I have a newfound respect for those who do numbers-correct Pontiacs," he says, "but I learned that's not me. I would prefer to expend my efforts on the car itself and exercise a little creativity in the process as opposed to acquiring parts."
"I tried to let my two boys do as much small assembly as possible," John says. "I just had
Judges at the '07 Trans Am Nationals agreed that John's creativity and execution are top-rate. He took First Place in the Super Street class only days after finishing his '67 Firebird. In 2008, he was put in the Winner's Circle. "I've not really competed it elsewhere," he says. "I learned that I like cruise-ins and driving my Pontiac a whole lot more than competing in shows.
"As for Pro-Touring, it really appealed to me because I wanted an all-around driver. I love the other genres, but I can't imagine driving 300 miles a day and fully enjoying my '67 Firebird 400 any other way."