Vintage R&T Road Test: 1967 Pontiac Firebird Sprint – “European-Style Driving Machine? — Hardly”

You might think that the new Firebird Sprint, with its high-revving OHC six, four speed manual and upgraded suspension would be right up R&T’s alley; not so. They did acknowledge its many positives, including presumed reliability and durability of its mechanicals; that was a misplaced assumption, as the OHC six turned out to be a rather fragile engine. It certainly had style and comfort. But it was let down by a few typical American car bugaboos.

The Sprint’s 230 inch OHC six, whose block and internals were essentially the same as the Chevy 230 six, had even more power for 1967, up from 207 to 215, thanks to slightly revised valve timing. Nevertheless, it wasn’t quite as quick as the heavier ’66 LeMans Sprint R&T tested a year earlier.

Obviously, the optional 4-speed was the transmission of choice to team with the six. But its shifter had serious shortcomings, from its location too far forward and from high effort, as well as the obnoxious noise made form the clacking sliding-plate  shift lever seal. Lacking a proper remote shifter mechanism, it was decidedly inferior to a good sports car/sports sedan from Europe, and now even Japan.

Although Pontiac added “control arms” (more like traction bars) to the Firebird’s rather floppy monoplate single-leaf rear suspension, they did not properly ameliorate that suspension’s intrinsic shortcomings. Typically for American sporty cars, it had fairly high cornering limits on smooth pavement, but it deteriorated rather quickly when the going got rough.

High speed braking was terrible, with a loss of control when hitting the brakes hard at 80 mph. The good old days.

R&T’s summation: they’d buy a 326 V8/automatic version, and just enjoy a more relaxed end effortless driving experience. Which is exactly what the overwhelming majority of Firebird buyers did, thus sealing the fate of the OHC six.