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Thread: Book Review: "The Fabulous Firebird," By Michael Lamm

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    Book Review: "The Fabulous Firebird," By Michael Lamm

    Book Review: "The Fabulous Firebird," By Michael Lamm
    Lamm-Morada Publishing, 1999 (160 pages, illustrated)
    $39.95/Lamm-Morada Inc. P.O. Box 7607-SB, Stockton, CA. 95267


    If you are into Pontiac Firebirds, especially the first two "generations" (1967-69; 1970-81), Michael Lamm's classic, "The Fabulous Firebird," just re-released and updated from its original 1981 printing, is one of those motorhead tomes you've just gotta have.

    Lamm conducted extensive interviews with key Pontiac engineers, stylists and designers -- such as former Chief Exterior Designer Bill Porter (who holds the design patent on the polycast "Honeycomb" wheel that appeared in '71 and who originated the now-legendary "screaming chicken" hood decal on the '73-81 Trans-Am), Interior Designer John Shettler (who did the Trans-Am's "engine-turned" dash panel -- and fought for the use of special materials for the Firebird to differentiate it from the Chevy Camaro), and Special Projects Engineer engineer Herb Adams (the engine guru behind the now-legendary SD-455 V-8 engine of '73-'74 and later, the WS-6 suspension package).

    There is extensive documentary and photographic material about the aborted XP-833/Banshee I show car -- a fiberglass, two-seat roadster with gull-wing doors that was a hot project of then-Pontiac General Manager John Z. DeLorean but which was killed by GM senior managers -- who saw the car as a threat to the Chevrolet Corvette. Rare photos of XP-833 styling bucks taken at Pontiac Studio 1 are included, as well as the story of how the XP-833 got pulled from the Pontiac display at the 1966 New York Auto Show in 1966, hours before the press preview.

    Lamm's background on the XP-833 is important because while that car died, its spirit lived on in what became the first production Firebird in 1967. Pontiac extensively reworked the basic architecture of the Chevrolet Camaro -- which had a six-month development "jump" on the Firebird and provided the foundation (underlying frame and inner body panels) of the Firebird -- infusing it with a strong "Pontiac" identity. The car quickly became a tremendous sales success and survives to this very day, nearly 33 years later, with its basic concept -- rear drive, V-8, "macho" look -- still intact.

    This longevity is a strong argument for the car's conceptual brilliance and basic goodness. As Lamm points out, when the first Pontiac Firebird sold in 1967, there were a dozen or more "muscle cars" available to choose from that aped the Firebird's look and driving characteristics -- all of them hustled to market after the 1964 Ford Mustang shattered sales records and proved the correctness of Ford executive Lee Iaccoca's steadfast belief in the bankability of the emerging Baby Boomer "youth market." But ten years later, the GTOs, Boss Mustangs, Hemi 'Cudas, Challenger 383s, Oldsmobile 442s and the rest of them were gone -- unable to survive in a world that demanded decent gas mileage and clean air. Even the Mustang had been emasculated into a Pinto-based wretch by 1974, when the biggest engine available was a pathetic V-6 in a car that once offered up to 429 cubic inches of Holley-carbureted, thundering V-8 power.

    But the Firebird soldiered on -- the last real American muscle car. It retained both image and substance. Even during the very darkest days of the mid-1970s, one could still walk into a dealership and buy a factory-built 'Bird with up to 455 cubic inches (that's 7.4 liters) under the hood. And while big V-8s were eventually discontinued after the 1979 model year and Pontiac had to accept a "corporatized" (Chevy-built) engine rather than use its own Pontiac-designed V-8s, the Firebird never went completely soft. Indeed, it reached production highs at a time when other sporty cars were languishing on dealer's lots.

    Lamm's book provides the "inside skinny" as to how die-hard Pontiac "car guys" like Herb Adams and John Schinella managed to turn the Firebird into such a unique and enduringly popular model -- despite all the obstacles within and outside of General Motors -- and in spite of the fact that Pontiac had to carve that identity out of the shell and form of the Chevrolet Camaro.

    Designer Bill Porter's explanation of the way he and John Shettler worked together to produce the 'Bird's then-revolutionary interior, which "mirrored" the compound curves and shapes of the exterior, is fascinating reading. So also the story of how enthusiasts within Pontiac fought to prevent the Firebird from becoming a toothless paper tiger or stripe and decal package when things got tough for performance cars in the mid-1970s.

    There is a special chapter devoted exclusively to the Trans-Am, which officially bowed on March 8, 1969 -- including sections the stillborn 303 "tunnel port" racing engine, the Ram Air IV and V, the Fitchbird, Repco fuel-injected Brabham 400, and, of course, the Super Duty 455 that turned out to be the last true muscle car engine ever built.

    Chapter 4, which is devoted to the development of what became the 70-81 "Second Generation" cars, is one of the best, with a play-by-play of the interaction between Porter, Shettler and DeLorean that makes the reader feel like an especially lucky fly on the wall at staff meetings, bull sessions and late-night brainstorming in the modeling room.

    "The Fabulous Firebird" is, next to Gary Witzenburg's "Firebird! The Complete History," perhaps the most comprehensive and accurate look at the first two generations extant. There are 410 photos, in-depth technical information, schematics, biographies of critical figures in the car's development, lists of standard and optional equipment, plus breakdowns of production volumes by year, options and equipment. It is a well-researched compilation of hard-to-find facts for the serious Firebird enthusiast mixed with an engaging narrative that will please anyone even vaguely interested in the politics, as well as the manufacuring process, behind any the development of any new car model.

    The Pontiac Firebird is arguably one of the most significant cars in the history of the American automobile industry, more influential over its lifetime than even the GTO, which only had a ten year run (1964-1974). It pioneered the use of race car aerodynamic aids such as integrated air dams, spoilers and vents in the fenders to allow hot underhood air to escape and thereby help keep the nose of the car planted. Many new cars employ such devices today. The Firebird was also one of the first cars to feature a "bumperless" look at a time when chrome was king -- and boasted true European handling and ride characteristics at a time when most American cars were crude, truck-like kidney killers or wallowy land-yachts.

    Lamm's excellent book tells the story vividly and authoritatively. Next to the Witzenburg book (which also covers the subsequent "third generation" and newer cars), it is among the best "one-stop" sources for information about the Pontiac Firebird one can buy.

    END




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    Re: Book Review: "The Fabulous Firebird," By Michael Lamm

    This is an excellent book. I have one of the first edition runs from 1979. I wonder how much new material is in the latest release? :-\ :-\

    If it looks like there is, I should pop for the $40 and get it.

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    Re: Book Review: "The Fabulous Firebird," By Michael Lamm

    I agree this is a good book. However the best Firebird book I have ever read was the Gary Witzenburg - "Firebird, America's Premier Performance Car: Complete History". This book only covers from 1967 - 1982, however the information is immense especially the 2nd generation related information. I lent my book out years ago, I need to get it back or buy another. It's currently out of print. I don't know why Gary never wrote an updated version of the book, if he had I think it would blow away "The Fabulous Firebird" book. Gary wrote a lot of car books in the late 1970s and through the late 1980s (he also wrote a great Fiero book) and then he dropped off the face of earth. Here's Gary's book you can only get it used, its been out of print for many years now:

    http://www.amazon.com/Firebird-Ameri...0348094&sr=1-8


    Marc Cranswick's Firebird book is also a very good book on the Firebird (my two T/As are in the book), I acted as a silent tech adviser on some of the sections of the book. It's very good, all the info is correct, and lots of great photos. He also covers those very rare Firebirds and Trans Ams that get overlooked by most books:

    http://www.amazon.com/Pontiac-Firebi...0348482&sr=1-2

    I'll do a review on this book in the next few weeks and post it on Muscle Car area of the main board and also here.


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    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Book Review: "The Fabulous Firebird," By Michael Lamm

    Hi Pete,

    I think this is the ONE Firebird book I don't have!

    I'm going to order a used copy today....

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