After what is usually a long, drawn-out winter season here in Chicago (though not this year), the first several, consecutive days of nice weather seem to bring a sense of euphoria across the entire city. Chicagoans are notorious for wearing shorts and mere sweatshirts outdoors when the forecast high temperature for the day is maybe fifty degrees Fahrenheit. All the same, there’s something to be said for spring and the promise of all the summer fun that’s coming before too long.
I’m learning not to view spring as merely a steppingstone between winter and summer. In many ways, I almost prefer spring to summer in that once Memorial Day weekend arrives here in the Windy City (which is not even technically part of summer, but when ours unofficially starts), the non-stop quest for enjoying outdoor activities, street festivals, beach time, barbecues and concerts can make the warmest season pass with what can feel like neck-snapping speed.
Our featured Firebird 400 convertible, finished in what appears to be factory Mariner Turquoise Metallic, could be said to be from the “springtime” of this model’s lifespan, being a first-year example. Despite its architecture and basic styling being shared, almost wholesale, with the Chevrolet Camaro, it must have been an exciting time for fans of both Pontiacs and sporty “pony” cars. Imagine seeing one of these in the metal for the first time and thinking it was a mildly customized, new Camaro.
This beauty, if not a tribute, is one of just under 3,700 Firebird 400 convertibles produced out of 15,500 total drop-tops that year, with another 67,000 hardtops finding buyers. Pricing for the base Firebird convertible started at a premium of roughly 7.3% over a Camaro or Mustang, while the soft-top Plymouth Barracuda was priced just above the Chevy and Ford. Elsewhere among the competition, the convertible version of the slightly upscale Mercury Cougar wouldn’t be introduced until ’69, and the new-for-’68 AMC Javelin would be offered only as a hardtop fastback.
With the Firebird 400 convertible tipping the scales at around 3,400 pounds, its 325-hp V8 would have provided formidable straight-line performance (0-60 in the low-/mid-six second range). Handling was beefed up on the 400 with a standard ride and handling package (optional on lesser cars) that included stiffer springs and an anti-roll bar. The 215-horse, 230-cube Sprint Six (stroked to 250 cubic inches for ’68) would probably have been my choice under the hood, as it provided a good balance of sprightly performance and reasonable fuel economy, not to mention better weight distribution.
I’d say the Firebird’s “summertime” was its late-70s’ heyday, with its popularity bolstered by its appearances in such high-profile popular culture phenomenons as “Smokey & The Bandit” on the big screen, and on “The Rockford Files” on TVs in living rooms across America. Firebird sales peaked in 1979, with over 211,000 units sold concurrent with that year’s restyle (which, apparently contrary to the opinions of many, I find quite attractive).
The introduction of the beautiful but poorly assembled third-generation models for ’82 was like autumn, with that season’s dazzling colors signaling the beginning of the end of continuous outdoor fun for the year. Of course, there were spikes in temperature during this season of the third-generation’s run through ’92 (the introduction of the GTA for ’87; the Buick turbo V6-powered, 20th Anniversary model for ’89; the return of the convertible for ’91), but the general trend for falling sales after ’86 mostly signified much colder temperatures that would ultimately lie ahead.
The introduction of the equally stunning fourth-generation models for ’93 heralded the onset of winter. Sales basically held pat near the beginning with about 51,500 sold in ’94, after a blip of only 14,500 sold in ’93 (52,000 had been sold for ’92). The final tally of about 30,700 for last-year 2002 (up from less than 21,500 from the year before) was as frigid as late-December winds blowing inland over Lake Michigan, and we all know how the Pontiac story ended.
For now, though, let’s seize the day as the guys in this car seemed to be doing. Why wish your life away by pining for summer already? For those of us in the northern hemisphere, summer will be here before we all know it. After all, the snow has finally melted, and many of us are now, again, free to play outside. That should be enough.
Lakeview, Chicago, Illinois.
Sunday, April 9, 2017,
- From Paul Niedermeyer: Classic Curbside Classic: 1968 Firebird 400 – Reliving Childhood Memories, Twice Daily;
- From Tom Klockau: Curbside Classic: 1967 Pontiac Firebird Convertible – Dig That Aqua Paint!; and
- From me: In Motion Classic: 1968 Pontiac Firebird Convertible – The Cool Kid.