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Home/News and Feature Articles/*Featured Cars and Trucks/Pontiac Featured Cars/ 1960s Cars/

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Hank's Firebird shows the effect of countless hours of what might be called "tweaking" by some, due to the car's stock appearance.

But there have been a lot of parts and pieces added to get the look he wanted.


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Overlooking Lake Superior at the Open Air Classic Show in 2006

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1969 Pontiac Firebird Convertible - Hank Kollross's Carousel Red 'Bird turns heads whenever he's cruisin'
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By Society Staff – reprint with permission only

I Didn't Want to be "Couped Up"

The story of me and my Firebird starts in June of 1991. But like many of us, it is never that simple. I began to search for another "fun" car back in 1990. At that time I had a '70 Z/28 but it had one major flaw - it was a coupe. It seemed to me that all the convertible owners I would meet at shows were having more fun, so the search for a drop-top began. High on the list was that it be a GM F-body, preferably a Camaro, but I was considering Firebirds. Well, I soon found out that any Camaro that was solid and in good running condition was priced out of my range (at the time I was on my search, there was a huge collector car price bubble and prices for even border-line cars were grossly inflated).

In June of '91 my wife spotted an ad in the local classifieds simply listed as "1969 Firebird Convertible, Red, low miles". I was on the phone, and then on my way for a look right away. When I first saw the car my first thought was "that's not red, that's Hugger Orange". (The correct name for the Pontiac color is Carousel Red which is in fact the same as Hugger Orange on a same year Camaro).

Regardless, the color was a big plus and the general condition was good; no rust showing, interior in good shape, solid floor pans and trunk. Two things jumped out on the down side, the top appeared to be the original and although there were no rips it would soon need to be replaced and the 350 V/8 had been steam cleaned but not painted and had the look of a rusted boat anchor.

I did my homework and found that the Firebird came to life on January 30th 1969 in the Norwood Ohio plant. It was delivered to Pirwitz Buick Pontiac in Schofield, Wisconsin on February 19th 1969. However, the engine was a '69 block, but it was date coded later in the year than the 1/30 build date. Later on, I did attempt, without any luck, to find out any information about the original owner. The closest I have come is talking to the salesman who probably sold the car but he has no recollection of any of the details.

When the car was built it was fairly well optioned. The Carousel Red paint was a special order color with a $12.64 up-charge. I'm not certain, but from what I have read, it may have been only available through the first half of the model year.

Other options were:

  • Power convertible top
  • 350 2bbl with (Now Rochester 4bbl with '69 date coded cast iron manifold)
  • TH350 trans. & column shift
  • 2.56 posi rear. (Now 3.08)
  • Deluxe black interior
  • Dual exhaust
  • Front disc brakes (soon to be 4 wheel disc)
  • 14" Ralley II wheels (now 15" Ralley II)
  • Remote driver side mirror
  • AM Radio

The suggested list price of the car in 1969 was $4,087.90

It was an automatic - and I really wanted a 4-speed but, the mileage was 41,895 (the person I bought it from had it for 17 years and only put on about 100 miles a year) and, the overall condition was far better than anything I had found to that point so, I "pulled the trigger".

On the way home, top down of course, I turned on the fan for the heater and found that a mouse had built a home in the heater box using stuffing from under the seats. I thought it was snowing for a second. Other-wise the trip was uneventful and my Pontiac project began. It was a solid car, which we were able to enjoy until I could begin the restoration.

So after the first summer of enjoyment the work to get the car where I wanted it began. The first thing needed to be done was detailing of the engine. I pulled the motor and transmission and sent the core-support and other large items to be sandblasted.

The car had been repainted before, and during that time the front end plastic parts were not done, so it was also a good time to do those. I decided that the condition of the top was not a big deal because it was down most of the time.

Every winter after that first year, another project was started. Some minor, some major. The top finally was replaced in '95. After years of wishing it was a 4-speed I made that swap in '99. In 2001 came a total paint strip and re-paint. In 2005 we did a complete engine re-build. And we did a swap to a 5-speed in 2007.

Other minor changes occurred along the way; we added a tilt wheel, a 400 hood with hood tach, a console, then a gauge cluster to replace the standard idiot lights, new carpeting, and finally a Grant wood steering wheel to finish off the interior.

The car is currently getting its ten year check up at the paint shop. I have to thank my friend , Jim Dimmer, the owner of JD Paint and Repair, who did countless hours of quality body work to make the car look as good as it does.

Once I discovered that the car wasn't "numbers matching", it made the decision to make all these changes easier. But whenever possible, I used Pontiac parts. A good example of my approach was the 5-speed, which is from an '88 GTA. In that same vein, the Posi rear with WS6 brakes is from an '81 T/A. The changes that I have made to the car reflect what I would have ordered if it were possible to order one from a dealer today. To that point, the people at Ames, Performance Years and Year One know me well.

This car is our summer fun car and has taken us places we probably would not have visited. In the past year we have gone on a tour of Michigan's Upper Peninsula with a group of convertible owners, the POCI (Pontiac Oakland Club International) convention in Bowling Green KY, our annual convertible club meet in Madison WI, and the POCI's Grand Prix chapter meet in Pontiac IL.

Total mileage for 2011 was over 5,000 and most of that was with the top down and the wind in our hair. I'm sure glad that I felt "couped up" back in '91 and found out how much fun an open car can be.

Plans are already in the works for next summer's cruising season including the POCI convention in St. Charles, IL and our own convertible club, Wisconsin Open Air Classic, which meets annually and cruises the back roads of Wisconsin. If anyone is interested in joining, all you need is a convertible and four days in August for top down fun. Check it out @ www.OpenAirTours.com. We have been on 10 cruises and it is a "must do" event every year.

If you like Hank's car and the story - go to his Garage wall and tell him. Click here to do that.

Period Firebirds look great from any angle. The Indian's designers had their act together in 1969

Hank doesn't put the top up much, but Firebirds looke darn good with the "roof" attached.

In 2005, the engine was rebuilt and a 4-barrel added. Here it is going "back home".

Looking good! Just like it would have if ordered back in 1969.

In 2010, the four speed, which had been in the car since 1999, was replacewd with an '88 T/A five speed.

The car came fairly well equipped, but a lot of subtle changes have been made, console, manual trans, and a full gauge cluster stand out.

A close up of the dash reveals the gauges, a Grant period look steering wheel, and the coveted hood tachometer.

This "bird" has one heck of a nice "nest". (It looks better than a lot of living rooms).

A closing shot the way Hank likes it - top down and cruizin'.
(photo courtesy of Wide Track.com)