Joe's 1969 OHC-6 Firebird Convertible

There's a danger I'll tell my entire life story on this page, but I'll try not to. You see, this car started out as a family project, but eventually was the reason that I met Brian, and got interested in Trans Ams, and eventually bought, oh, 30 or so.

Around 1990, I was looking for a project car that my wife's younger brother could work on with me. He's the one that wanted a 1rst Gen Firebird. They're pretty hard to find, so I was grateful to find any for sale, anywhere. We were looking, specifically, for a convertible. There aren't many out there.

So one day I found this car for sale in the local paper. It belong to a guy about my age. He had taken the Firebird in trade, taken the tires off it, and it was sitting in his yard on jacks. He wanted to start circle-track racing, and put the Firebird up for sale to raise funds.

This car had a tough history that I will try to summarize. It sold new in LaFollette, Tennessee, no doubt to a big University of Tennessee fan. It was stolen about 1983. The theives, not a high-IQ group, stripped off most of the emblems, took out the seats, and then engaged in a high-speed chase with the cops. This is somewhat difficult with no driver's seat, but they managed to keep it up long enough to blow up the original engine. After that, it began to pass through the hands of local enthusiasts with no garage space or money, the way beautiful cars do just before they die.

Honestly, the old car was just about beyond recovery. It had been in the weather forever, had many parts missing, rust, and the original engine was a total loss. But, it was carousel red with a white top and interior. While it was a six cylinder (bad), it was also one of the first 100 69 Firebirds off the line at Van Nuys (good). #95, to be exact, built 09B, the second week of September. What would you do? Was it worth saving?

Remember now that I'm looking at it on jacks, without the cutesy 14" Rally II's you see here.

Here's some more decision-making info: The car originally had a one-barrel six (not a Sprint - bad) with a powerglide (really bad). Options included floor shift (good), AM radio, decor package (long-gone hubcaps, wheel opening molding), power steering (faster-than-WS6 Herb Adams 12:1 - good, and thanks Herb), power top (good), and a FOLD DOWN SEAT which the thieves carelessly forgot to damage (wow!). No other options.

Even though I'm not a big Vol fan, it was the color that I found irresistable. The deal was struck for $1800 and I hauled it home. This was the first time I had ever pulled home a really cool car on a trailer, seeing the envy on every married guy's face on the road. I've gotten used to it now.

Here's the car inside my garage, before I began to take it apart and see what I had. Convertibles, I found out, just can't stand weather. The rain keeps the carpet wet and the bottom of the car just falls apart. It doesn't look bad from this angle. In fact it makes me wish I hadn't sold it.

I also began getting familiar with Pontiac's overhead cam 6-cylinder, seen here under the hood. This was a pet project of John Delorean, who wanted Pontiac to have a european-style engine for certain european-style cars he wanted to build.

If you've never heard of the Pontiac Overhead Cam 6, here's a short history. It was built on the same bore and stroke as the Chevy 6, with 230 cubes in 66 and 67 and 250 cid in 68 and 69. It had a single cam and two valves per cylinder. Compression was high and the cams were wild. The four-barrel version, shown here on the engine stand, was a real screamer. It sported an early Quadrajet mounted sideways on a big high-rise intake/cast iron header combination. It was good for 230 HP in 1969, probably at about 6000 rpm.

It's a neat conversation piece, but that's about all. Power brakes and air conditioning just weren't happening. The cams tended to "wreck" and lobes got chewed off. The owners slapped in a V8 when that happened. The few good ones were murdered 30 years ago at circle tracks with 6-cylinder classes. Consequently, they're hard to get parts for today. I'm just the kind of guy that would build one to be different, so I began buying up parts wherever I found them (basically nowhere). Finding a running one today in an old car is very very unusual (but not impossible! See below).

The more I took the car apart the more rust I found. Until in short order it was totally apart. It was all over the house. I guess that happens a lot. I bought a bunch of patch panels and a welder, but my wife always complained when I tried to work on it. Eventually I just gave up.

I wish I had better pictures of the process, but at least I have one showing a part of the floor, at right. It was totally flintstoned. White stuff is sand from the sandblaster.

About this time my wife began telling me that she worked with somebody that had a Firebird as lousy as mine in his basement. I didn't believe her, but it was true! That person was Brian and while he didn't actually own the other lousy firebird, it was in his basement. Check out that car also in the Hoghead garage. Since the subframe was bolted through the rusted-out floors Brian helped me remove it and cut everything out.
Brian had also located a guy with an entire 69 Firebird dismantled. Since my car was stolen with many parts missing, I bought the entire lot. Ultimately I bought up many new parts that were subsequently discontinued and became NOS. I had all the hard-to-find stuff to build a V-8 or a 6-cylinder, automatic or 4-speed, air conditioned (or not) and disk brakes. It was getting to be a more attractive project. Downright exciting. With white interior, it would have made a nice fake 69 Trans Am convertible too. All the extra stuff I sold at car shows, and eventually on ebay, and we became Team Hoghead. But I digress...

Somehow I mentioned that I had it to the wrong person, and he offered to buy it, and paid my price, and now it's gone. He is making good progress toward restoration as a 400 convertible with disk brakes. I believe I can readily get pictures and I will post those here. And maybe I'll get a chance someday to buy it back?

As my parting shot, I did find a running OHC6 car during the years I had this car in my basement, and here's a picture of that. It's a 67 Tempest post coupe. Love the body style. I would love to have a car like this, but a nice one. This one ran, which was cool, but it was pretty rotten. I sold it to a different guy who might be building a race car out of it.