1968 Pontiac Firebird 400
Personal story and photograph submitted by owner John Berzsenyi
for participation in the the 2008 GM Century Cruise
My first car in 1977 was a 1968 Firebird Coupe, it was Cameo White with a 350 and a Powerglide transmission. My first car was also my Dad’s car for eight years before he sold it to me, you could say my Dad started my love affair with Pontiacs. I’ve owned three Pontiac’s up to this point and the other two were 1965 GTO’s. When I began searching for my next Pontiac I knew I wanted a Firebird again, preferably a first generation. I really wanted an original 1968 400 car with numbers matching motor and transmission, very difficult to find as I found car after car not to be what it was advertised as. I went through the Pontiac Historical Services (PHS) process three different times before finding this car, thank goodness for Jim Mattison and his service. A bonus to this Firebird was that it was what I was looking for, plus it was a convertible. The Firebird had belonged to the original owner until I purchased the car in May of 2004. We have very good documentation of the vehicle from new and the car has some interesting history. Originally the Firebird was purchased in Concord, California from the Meridan Pontiac dealership that is no longer in business. The car on the lot was Nightshade Green with Pearl Parchment interior and a white top. The gentleman that wanted to buy the car did not like the color and ordered the car painted Alpine Blue at the dealership prior to taking possession. We shipped the car to Michigan with verification of the numbers matching on the motor and transmission and after viewing the photos that were sent for our inspection. We knew the car needed attention but being that the car was from California we thought the car was going to be our diamond in the rough. The Firebird came in and it was in worse shape than the photos ever alluded to, having been subjected to the salt air on the coast of California its whole life really took its toll.
I was not very familiar with bodywork and started searching for a restoration specialist. My good friend had a 1969 Corvette restored and it turned out exceptional. The restorers that he used are who I wanted to do the Firebird. In October of 2004, the car was taken to the shop and over the next 13 months the car was totally stripped of everything and rebuilt totally from the ground up. Disassembly included replacement of the floors, trunk, upper cowl and dash, fenders, doors, core support, rear quarters, outer wheel wells and tulip panel. Rechroming of the bright work was performed, and all stainless trim polished to showroom new. The front brakes were updated to disc brakes with power assist, all fuel and brake lines were replaced and all suspension components were replaced front and rear. The motor only having 114,878 miles on it and not burning a drop of oil was checked for good compression. The only parts needing replacement were the timing chain and gear set. The motor was cleaned and given a fresh coat of Pontiac blue engine enamel and all necessary gaskets were replaced as well. The carburetor being the correct one for the application was completely gone through and replated. To finish off the engine compartment an original style Delco battery was installed to keep that original look under the hood. The interior received a new set of seat covers, door panels, rear quarter panel covers, emblems, dash knobs and bezels, new carpet, and all new seatbelts were installed. All glass was retained including the door glass with the Bird emblems etched into them. Color for this Pontiac is Black Cherry Pearl a non-stock color but a very striking color to compliment the beautiful lines of the Firebird. To top off the interior a fresh white convertible top was professionally fitted to the car.
Having never been through a restoration of this magnitude before and having an expert that was so knowledgeable, was in my opinion invaluable. He saw that I was very interested in being part of the entire process and allowed me to be included in the restoration of my car. I learned so many details of what actually goes into a highly detailed restoration, it was quite the education. I was at the shop every week watching and taking photos every step of the way. Learning how panels come apart and how they needed to go back together, how to brace this when you take that apart is knowledge you appreciate. To verbalize this whole process in these few short paragraphs is somewhat insulting to the amount of time it really takes to achieve the final product but to detail all the steps would require a novel sized book. I have so much more respect for the talent it takes to restore any car, these individuals are simply artists!
My first Firebird is now a fond memory but a couple of key items were saved from that first car of mine. The fender scripts, trunk lettering and the steering wheel cover somehow were saved and the scripts and steering wheel cover were used on the new Firebird to finish the restoration, kind of keeps the first one alive still. My wife and I have taken the car many places, always driven never on a trailer! My friends and co-workers always question why I drive such a nice car, to me I would not own the car if I could not drive it. Being part of a devoted group of individuals that revere the past and celebrate every chance they can is very special to me, I enjoy all old cars and new but mine is very special because its mine and I helped bring it back to life.
GM’s Century Cruise pays tribute to GM’s past and the passion owners have for their vehicles. On Saturday, August 16, 2008 this vehicle and more than 100 other classic GM vehicles will cruise from the GM Global Headquarters at the Renaissance Center up Woodward Avenue to the heart of the Woodward Dream Cruise in Royal Oak and the surrounding suburbs. One of these vehicles will be crowned “top cruiser” based on a text voting campaign.
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