Curbside Classic Capsule: 1967 Firebird “428” Convertible – Truth In Badge Engineering

When I look at this Firebird, I see…a Camaro, with a different front end. Well, externally that was pretty much it, as well as the rear plate that covered and divided the tail lights. Did you know that these front fenders interchange with a Camaro? So was the Firebird just a badge-engineered Camaro? Well, that definition is a bit malleable, as one look at Wikipedia’s list of badge-engineered cars readily attests. Some are obviously so, but the Dodge Durango is a badge-engineered Grand Cherokee? That’s a new one, as well as quite a few others on the list. Platform-sharing and badge-engineering are not the same.

Back to this Firebird: is it a badge-engineered Camaro? Well, if it weren’t for its Pontiac-exclusive engines, it would be, in my book. But proof of its uniqueness is right on the hood scoop, where the red numbers “428” boldly sit. No Chevy ever wore those badges. But then neither did any ’67 Firebird from the factory. This Firebird has been badge-engineered in more ways than one.

The biggest engine offered in this car at the time was the 400 cu.in. (W66) Pontiac V8, standard in the Firebird 400 model, and rated at 325 hp. In every respect but one (see below), it was the same engine as the 335hp standard GTO engine. Optional was the L67 Ram Air, which had functional hood scoops, open-element air cleaner, better-flowing “997” cylinder heads, stronger valve springs, a hotter cam, and low-restriction cast exhaust headers. Power: 325 hp. Yes, all that extra money and hot parts still yielded 325 (gross) hp; supposedly, although now at 5200 rpm instead of 4800. How does all of that that work?

Easy: a slightly modified throttle linkage kept the secondary butterfly valve from opening all the way on both of these engines, in order to meet GM’s then-standing rule that its cars could not have better than a 10:1 weight-to-hp ratio. A twenty-second fix to unleash full hp in both of these engines involved manhandling (literally) a slight bend in the linkage. Horsepower-engineering.

But it’s pretty safe to assume that a genuine 428 sits under the hood of this one. And for those of you unfamiliar with that rear facing “scoop”, it’s actually the tachometer. Yup; one of Pontiac’s dumber ideas.

I say it’s pretty safe to assume it has a genuine 428 because this particular car exudes the vibe of someone that’s not into pretense. It’s understated and honest, right down to the torn seat, yet it’s in very well kept condition overall. Just the way I like cars to be. This one really talked to me.

One of the subtle but interesting touches on this Firebird are the optional Pontiac-style Rally wheels instead of the more common Rally II wheels (mag-style). The brochure says that the Rally (not II) wheels were available only with the optional disc brakes. Another positive mark for this car.

Actually, these wheels look like they’ve been widened from their original 6″ rim width, although I think it’s still a 14″ rim. I should have checked. But again, the look is understated business. Not even any chrome exhaust tips or the ubiquitous big rear-exit straight pipes.

Yes, from the side and across the street, the first impulse is: Camaro. But there’s more than meets the eye under the Camaro’s skin.