Pontiac Firebird; A Legacy Lost, Part 2: 1968

1968 Firebird Convertible Front image1968 Firebird Convertible, click photo to enlarge

We began our long journey examining the 1967 Pontiac Firebird all their forms. Today we continue with part 2 and the 1968 Firebird, a much improved car over its 1967 predecessor.

1968

Year two of Pontiac’s Firebird was continuation of the previous year models. Changes to the front grille and lights distinguished them apart, with details like the front turn signals now mounted to the outside of the lower valance panel around to the fender, a way of identifying between the two years. Six models survived the year with the 326 engine gone in favor of the 350, the ‘Sprint’ 6 cylinder, the ‘350-2bbl’, ‘350 HO’, ‘400’, the ‘400 HO’, and the 400 Ram Air I and II (II mid year release). All models were available as coupe or convertible.

1968 Firebird Coupe Front image1968 Firebird Coupe, click photo to enlarge

Obviously, or maybe not so obvious, Firebirds were becoming all about performance. The horsepower wars were on, and Firebirds were no exception to this battle. Even a base Firebird with a 250 cid OHC 6 cylinder made decent power 215Bhp. Not bad for a 6 cylinder, although the 4 barrel on top helped a lot.

1968 Firebird 250 6 cylinder OHC engine Front image1968 Firebird 250 6 cylinder OHC Engine, click photo to enlarge

The real Firebird fun began with a 350 big block Pontiac engine. Don’t let the small displacement deceive you, this engine was very capable of propelling a Firebird nicely. Making 320Bhp and 380 lb-ft of torque in 4 barrel carb. form, the 350 was up 70 hp over the previous year 326 engine and used the same camshaft the base 400 engine used. That camshaft had duration intake/exhaust of 273/289(man)282(auto) degrees. Lift for intake/exhaust .410/.413 inches. This grind was mildly lumpy and gave great low end torque.

1968 Firebird 350 HO engine Front image1968 Firebird 350 HO Engine, click photo to enlarge

Firebird 400 engine cars came in three flavors. The base 400, making 330 Bhp and 430 lb-ft torque utilizing the 350 engine camshaft. Compression for all 400’s was 10.75:1 . When you ordered the HO option, you had a received one of two camshaft grinds depending if the car standard or automatic transmission. Both cammed engines were rated at 335 Bhp and the same torque as above. An automatic 400 HO had the same camshaft specs as the base 400, but if you had a standard duration was intake/exhaust was 228/302 degrees and lift changed to intake/exhaust .414/.413 inches.

1968 Firebird 400 HO engine Front image1968 Firebird 400 HO Engine, click photo to enlarge

The HO engine was a good runner and though rated at 335 Bhp it was said to be making more than its rating in manual transmission configuration making a HO manual car the more desirable collectible.

Moving on to the Ram Air 400 power ratings were the same as 400 HO though the Ram Air I made its top horsepower at a higher 5300 rpm and torque at at 3600 rpm as opposed to 5000 rpm and 3400 rpm respectively for a HO. A 400 ram air manual got a radical camshaft with very long duration intake/exhaust 301/313 degrees with 76 degrees of overlap and lift the same. Automatics had a less aggressive cam to allow for engine vacuum requirements. Consequently the cam duration dropped to 288/302 degrees intake/exhaust and 63 degrees overlap. Still lumpy but smoother feeling. All Ram Air engines enjoyed better breathing through functional “Ram Air” hood scoops. These scoops were able to be opened or closed by the driver as required. Mid year a Ram Air II engine was introduced that offered better flowing heads and was rated at 340 HP.

1968 Firebird Convertible Rear image1968 Firebird Convertible Rear, click photo to enlarge

It was commonplace for owners of automatic transmission cars to change their cam to the ram air manual camshaft in those days. When this was done, a automatic car was a formidable opponent on the streets.

The stock automatic transmission for all models was a 3 speed turbo-hydramatic 350. For the 250 6, and the 350 this was column mounted unless you ordered it on the floor shift with console. The powerglide 2 speed transmission could be special ordered on 250 and 350 models. 400 engines automatics were all 3 speed turbo’s. For manual transmissions 400 cars were all 4 speed models with Hurst made shifters. For the 350 and 250, a 3 speed manual could be optioned.

A wide variety of final drive ratios gears were available. A Firebird Sprint came stock with 3.55:1 in a manual, and 3.23:1 for automatics. Options were 2.73:1 or 3.55:1. The 350HO car came with 3.36:1 and 3.23:1 manual/auto. 2.73:1 , 3.55:1, and 3.90:1 could be special ordered. The 400 and 400 HO used the same basic gears as the 350 HO. Better options were available which included 3.55:1, 2.56:1, 3.23:1, and special order 3.90:1 and 4.33:1 available to get those rev’s up. The 400 Ram Air for both auto and manual had 3.90:1 gears with 4.33:1 the only option.

The 400 cars received a improved handling package which included stiffer springs. Power steering and disc brakes could be optioned to improve safety and handling. The rear suspension was refined with the adoption of staggered shocks in the rear (one in front of the rear axle and one behind) and the use of new multi-leaf rear springs.

1968 Firebird Convertible Interior image1968 Firebird Convertible Interior, click photo to enlarge

Interiors were much the same as 1967, with bucket seats standard on all cars, and optional knitted vinyl seats available. Console shift was optional and full instrumentation could be ordered to augment the standard woodgrain dash. Once again if you ordered the hood tachometer the dash tach was selected in favor of a clock that ran slow. The exterior had minor changes such as wheel opening moldings optional and you order steel rally II wheels or wire hubcaps.

1968 Firebird Coupe Interior image1968 Firebird Coupe Interior, click photo to enlarge

Performance of a 400 HO was estimated to be 5.5 second 0-60 mph and 1/4 miles times 14.2 seconds at 100 mph. A 400 Ram Air was said to be able to achieve 12.9 second 1/4 mile times at 109.2 mph (MCR 1996) but I suspect this time is misleading as to achieve this slicks would be necessary for traction.

Production of Firebirds were up by far from 1967, with production of coupes up by 23,120 car to 90,152. Convertibles now totaled 16,960 cars up slightly from 1967. These number suggest that as collectibles go, the convertible is still the more desirable car, and finding a 400 Ram Air convertible being the most collectible of cars with 12 only cars built.

Performance was key at Pontiac in the late 1960’s and Firebirds in almost every flavor were capable muscle cars that that offered spirited driving and fun winding road sports car like handling.

For collectors, finding original numbers matching cars are rare today. Many cars today sport engine combination’s that were not how they came from the factory. You can expect to pay anywhere from $15,000 to $40,000 for good running restored cars depending on engine size. Happy Hunting! :)

Related posts:

  1. Pontiac Firebird; A Legacy Lost, Part 1: 1967
  2. Oldsmobiles F-85, Cutlass, and 442 Continued. Part Two, 1968-1972
  3. The 455 Super Duty: Pontiac engineers snuck one last engine past the GM brass
  4. Art Car, Or, What To do With That 1965 Pontiac Parisienne 4 Door
  5. Maserati 1952 A6G/2000 Frua Spider: The Beginning Of A New Legacy
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One Response to “Pontiac Firebird; A Legacy Lost, Part 2: 1968”

  1. 68Birdman says:

    Nice article. However, don’t underestimate the power potential of the Ram Air II!

    “A 400 Ram Air was said to be able to achieve 12.9 second 1/4 mile times at 109.2 mph (MCR 1996) but I suspect this time is misleading as to achieve this slicks would be necessary for traction.”

    A 68 Firebird optimized for Pure Stock racing per NHRA stock engine rules (& no porting, etc.) just ran an 11.185 at 122.42 MPH last weekend on reproduction bias-ply redline tires. Stock suspension, full interior, 3430lbs.

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