COAL Update: 1974 Pontiac Firebird – Fiery Leaves and Firebirds


The icy hand of winter has granted the Midwest a temporary reprieve this fall, affording fall color drives a stay of execution for a bare couple of weeks, thereby offering another excuse, as if one were needed, to use a classic car for its intended purpose.  Count autumn in Michigan as another point in a litany of reasons to own an antique automobile.


At last update, I had brushed the sleep from the Firebird’s drooping eyes and had driven it some six or seven hundred miles, but that was a mere precursor to the rambling I’ve done with my beautiful Pontiac in the months since.  A drive to Woodward in August revealed a couple of shortcomings, namely a radiator that wasn’t doing enough radiating.  A cooling flush and a new aluminum radiator eliminated that concern, and a few alignment and timing tweaks took care of the rest, at least for now.


Therefore, I hesitated nary a whit to drive the Firebird to Lumberman’s Monument in Northern Michigan a few weeks ago.  Nestled on the banks of the Au Sable River in the Huron-Manistee National Forest, Lumberman’s Monument is a relaxing hour and a half drive up the coast of Lake Huron.  The local power company long ago dammed up the river, creating “dam ponds,” this one being the Cooke Dam Pond.

Michigan’s state symbol is “Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam, circumspice,” which translates to “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.”  Beneath this day’s vacillating sky lay hundreds of square miles of such peninsula, ready made for fishing, camping, kayaking, hiking, vaguely wandering, or driving.


Lumberman’s Monument is so named because it honors the memory of an interesting, if not destructive, time in Michigan’s history, one where myriad business concerns treated Michigan like a lumber yard during a going out of business sale.  The era raped the landscape, but created any number of colorful stories about men who were tougher than nails and the conditions they endured.  The Michigan “wolverine” was possibly not a wily rodent at all, but a nickname for the hardy “shanty boys” who swung as mean a fist as they did an ax.  The stories of bar fights are legendary.


That any forest exists in Northern Michigan at all today is largely due to the efforts of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program that employed many young men in the depression years.  Their task in Michigan was to reforest the depleted stands of pine trees that suffered the blows of the lumberman’s ax.  If you wander any of Michigan’s backroads and wonder why all the trees seem to be in a straight line, your question has been answered.


In the midst of the forest’s calm and the spirits of men long dead, a bright red Firebird is almost irreverent, but since it is the perfect road trip car, my guilt is assuaged.  The seventies are often maligned for their malaise, but roadability and silence were gained where driveability and fuel economy were lost.  The Firebird is by far the quietest and best handling antique car I own.  The Dirty Dart is like a lumbering school bus compared to the sleek Firebird; where the Dart strains, the Firebird glides on currents of air.  Only my ’65 Skylark compares, and even it feels like an antique compared to the Firebird.  General Motors did a lovely job when they designed the second-generation F-Body.


For being an impulse purchase, the Firebird has been an absolute thrill to own so far; I’ve driven it more miles this year than anything else in the garage.  It’s a bit newer than I’d normally like, but love knows no boundaries, and this beauty queen is an excellent companion to nature’s ever-changing palette and a state with a past.