If you’re into cars, then there’s a good chance that at some point you have wanted a muscle car. Unfortunately, the days of picking up a popular model on the cheap and driving away with it are long gone.
Still, the lure of rolling down the road in muscle-car coolness is a powerful motivator. What you get these days for cheap money is almost always full of holes and hiding a multitude of rusty sins, but tetanus be damned, we’re going to fix the bare minimum and get to making some internal combustion ASAP with this 1969 Pontiac Firebird.
Unfortunately, turnkey, first-gen F-bodies usually bring $10-20k or more depending on condition, and “fixer-up” examples go for just a little less. So when you come across a smoking deal on a roller for just a fraction of that, there’s a good chance that it’s full of holes and probably in far worse condition than you can see just by looking at the exterior.
We have worked with enough classic restoration shops to know that nearly every car that comes in needs work, and most need far more than expected.
Now, we wouldn’t be the first to slap something together and throw on shiny paint, but the important part is to not misrepresent the vehicle’s condition.
There’s nothing wrong with admitting that a car has a lot of body filler and that shortcuts were taken to get it on the road—as long as those shortcuts don’t affect safety.
Moving on to the heap at hand, this particular 1969 Firebird was a base V8 model originally colored Crystal Turquoise.
When we got our hands on it, it was largely covered in a heavy build primer that couldn’t quite cover what appear to be some vintage stripe decals down the car’s sides and C-pillars, nor could it hide the heavy pitting we found on the passenger-side front fender, door, rear quarter and part of the roof.
The previous owner mentioned that he had purchased it off of a co-worker who had it sitting in a Florida field for a few decades. In Florida, sitting out in a field usually means sinking into the sandy soil and becoming a home for a variety of critters.
With a purchase price of just $1,500, the Pontiac also came with plenty of rust and/or shoddy rust repair, but that was okay, because the most difficult parts to replace like the rockers and frame rails were in great shape.
With the car parked in the driveway at home, we get to look at those awesome body lines every day for inspiration, which is important, because this whole thing is going to get way worse before it gets better.
It’s going to be a battle that tests one’s resolve, and questions one’s decision about the whole endeavor. And this will happen from the moment you pull out the first tool to perform the first task on the car. You may want to quit. You may think that this isn’t fixable. You may wonder what you got yourself into, and you may have the thought that you simply can’t finish it, but just remember two words—press on.
Often with projects like these, what seemed at first to be a few easy jobs can cascade quickly into a multitude of laborious tasks, but the key to progress is to just break them down into small, manageable bits, and press on.
Encounter stubborn bolts? Press on.
The fender that you’re not working on suddenly falls off the car? Press on.
What looked like a semi-solid trunk floor turns out to be Swiss cheese after running the vacuum cleaner? Press on.
If you haven’t gathered the theme here, it’s about pressing on when adversity steps into your path—and it will, repeatedly.
When this fight is over, you’ll be better off. Your car will be better off. It’s a character-building endeavor that will eventually end with you cruising down the road in a classic, collecting smiles by the mile and creating memories that last forever.
With a whole lot of help from Summit Racing Equipment as well as the many restoration and performance companies that make the parts Summit Racing provides, we’re going to win this Pontiac prizefight. Let’s get started.
Steve Baur is the founder and principal of Driven Media Works, a Florida-based creative-services firm serving the automotive aftermarket. After attending the University of South Florida for journalism, Steve signed on with Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords magazine, where he served as associate editor and, later, technical editor during his nine-year tenure. In 2010, he was promoted to the editorship of Modified Mustangs & Fords, a publication he helmed for four years before launching Driven Media Works in 2014. A lover of all things automotive, Steve has contributed to a wide range of motoring publications, including Car Craft, Truckin', Modified, Super Chevy, Race Pages, GM High Tech Performance, Fastest Street Car, and High Performance Pontiac.