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EXCLUSIVE: 1973 Firebird Esprit Basement Find

This second generation Firebird might not seem all that special as far as muscle cars go, but it is a rust free one owner car with complete service records! It has always lived in the same garage in San Francisco, California since new and is still there after the owner’s passing. It was pampered and serviced regularly, accumulating just over 100,000 miles. Esprit is the luxury model and has the usual underwhelming 350 V8 with an automatic transmission. It was repainted the same color in 2000.

The interior is original and looks really nice but could use a good scrub. This Esprit wasn’t exposed to the hot California sun much in foggy San Francisco so the dash pad is not cracked.

It’s all original under the hood but it could use a good cleaning. It’s a 350 CID V8 with either 150 or 175 hp.

A friend of the family, Paul, is going to sell the car for the family and thought he’d try listing it here first. Paul is a regular Barn Finds reader and was interested in the Chevelle I wrote up recently. It was the fellow selling the Chevelle, Roger, who suggested he call me. Paul’s father has a really nice Ford Woody Wagon in the California Automobile Museum where I volunteer. It is a small world after all, as Disney says. Paul’s email is and his phone number is 650-534-8335. Paul’s best guess is that it should be worth $13,000. High retail is between $16,000 and $20,000. Do you think $13,000 sounds reasonable? Would you keep this Firebird original or perhaps liven up that sleepy 350?


  1. Rex Kahrs Member

    I’m confused. Everyone is always posting that nearly every car on this site should get an SBC swap. Now here’s a car with a SBC, and it isn’t good enough? Help me out here, what am I missing?

    Like 1
    • Blyndgesser

      It’s a Poncho 350, not an SBC. And it’s choked to death with low tech emission controls.

    • Kincer Dave Member

      This would be a Pontiac 350, not a 350 Chevy.

  2. Fred W.

    Rex, I think the issue is the ’73 was starting to be choked a bit by smog controls. Bet you could still do a mini burnout though.

  3. Enrico Zacher

    Pull original drive train for safe keeping. LS and t56 posi rear end and nice wheels and keep her cruzin!!

    • Brian J Manners

      No Way !!! That 350 PONTIAC can be made to run … Rock & Roll engineering got over 500 HP from a P350 … Replacing the original engine with Chevy crap is the easy way out !!

  4. steve m

    Ive been wanting one for years……but Id really like a gold one Jim Rockford style ;)

    • JMB#7

      Jimmie Rockford did his burnouts by dropping it from reverse into drive while still going backwards.

      Like 1
  5. Rex Kahrs Member

    OK, so the Pontiac 350 was different than the Chevy 350? How so? I’m just asking, as I’m more of a Ford guy. I get the pollution control angle, but I’m curious about the differences between the PonPon 350 and the Chevy.

    • Kincer Dave Member

      Up until the late 70s pretty much all of GM had their own 350 engines, I don’t know what all the differences were and I’m sure someone will chime in with the knowledge but Buick,Olds,Pontiac and Chevy had their own 350.

      Like 1
      • ACZ

        What’s the difference between a 427 Chevy and a 427 Ford? Same difference

    • 68 custom

      the engine block is completely different as are the heads, intake, tranny bolt pattern, oh wait about the only thing that would be similar would be the carburetor, think of it like the difference between a 302 ford and a 390 ford and a 4,6 modular ford…

      Like 1
      • Ken Robinson

        That’s a great analogy (68 Custom)! Just because the engine size is the same (350 ci) means absolutely nothing–their simply and completely different designed engines dating back to the mid to later 1950’s.

    • Blyndgesser

      In Ford terms, it’s like the difference between a 427, a 428, and a 429.

      • M/K

        Difference F.E. family 427/428 and the 385 series 429/460 is what you mean I think because a 427 and 428 are a completely different animal than the 429

    • tje

      Not sure if it’s been stated, but there are 4 bolt 350’s and 2 bolt 350’s. 2 bolts were for light duty and 4 bolts were in performance cars and truck. I would think the poncho is a 2 bolt.

      Someone correct me if I am wrong.

    • Angie

      Well, for one the timing is counterclockwise where Chevrolet is clockwise. Personal experience

  6. JW

    Wasn’t Rockford’s just a plain Firebird with no vinyl top ? I do like the color of this Poncho.

    Like 1
    • steve m

      Rockford’s cars were esprits without vinyl, but because of the car chases the cars all were 455cid made to look like the regular esprit

      Like 1
    • Paul

      I had a friend in college that had a gold Fire rid. He was told it was one of the Rockford cars. I’m not sure if he had been given any proof of that. But it was fun to think it was true.

      Like 1
  7. redwagon

    for one oldsmobile specified different block metallurgy in their engines. iirc it had more nickel and was considered more robust than chevrolet.

    others had different bore and stroke combos that added up to 350 cu in. buicks were known for tons of torque chevy not so much more on horsepower. etc……

  8. DrinkinGasoline

    “Man by nature is a serious mess” It is up to You as a Man, to decipher that mess…..

    • Jeffro

      Much respect to you Drinkin Gas, but you sound like you’ve been drinking my bourbon. Lol

  9. DrinkinGasoline

    I’m surprised at how little the BF subscriber’s know concerning the topic let alone the larger scope…

    • Howard A Member

      Oh, come on, DG, us gearheads were bored with school.( except shop class, which is no longer offered) Let me guess the author, Vic Edelbrock? Carroll Shelby,? No wait, got to be Lee Iacocca. :)

    • Seabecker

      DG, when you are critical of folks for asking questions and learning about a topic, you can have the effect of making them feel that they should already know this stuff and then shutting them down. Let’s keep this a positive conversation. We’re all learning more about the past and a hobby we enjoy.

  10. Rex Kahrs Member

    Thanks guys for the input, but that just raises more questions if you don’t mind…

    So if each GM division had their own 350 with different block, heads, etc., doesn’t that seem like a very inefficient way to run a car company? I mean, since the 350 Chevy is arguably one of the best car engines ever conceived, why the heck wouldn’t GM just use that fine design across their divisions, and not spend money developing more engines with the same displacement? The Slant Six comes to mind…that same slanty was in Plymouths, Chryslers, and Dodges, and everyone knew what it was, and there was no need for Plymouth to develop their own 225. Just askin’.

    Finally, if each division made their own 350, I am surprised that the Pontiac version was such a dog. Wasn’t Pontiac supposed to be the performance division of GM? I only have questions, but no answers….

    • steve m

      GM used to have individual engineering departments for all the brands, all the brands looked different and did not share engines, sheet metal, interiors with other divisions, and they did quite well this way for 50ish years. The GM started offering “corporate” engines, the cars all looked the same, shared too many parts, and they really lost their way. Look at any 80’s or 90’s GM product to see this. They always did some platform sharing, but when each brand lost its own uniqueness, and they were all the same car with different badges, the GM fans and car fans suffered. This is why we no longer have Pontiac or Oldsmobile. As for one engine being better than another, they were all good, the chevys just were cheaper to “hop up” due to the number of them and the way the aftermarket supported them.

      Like 1
    • Tom Member

      The GM divisions are still as different today as they were in the 70’s. A 2017 Chevy Silverado LOOKS similar to a 17 GMC Sierra but they could not be more different in many many ways. I work on them every day.

      I once made a 2003 GMC Yukon into a Yukon Denali for a customer who wanted a Yukon Denali but the Denali package was not available in a 3/4 ton Yukon, only the 1/2 ton and he wanted a Denali BUT needed the towing capacity of the 3/4 ton. The 2 Yukons had great dissimilarities.

      That is a MAJOR reason GM had to be bailed out Obama-don’t-care. They should have let the company fail and it would have become privatized, made non-union which is killing the prices of new vehicles. (my opinion, don’t hate mail me, thanks).

      NOW TO MY POINT…..sorry…tangent

      Pontiac, in the 60’s and 70’s (and please someone correct me if I am wrong)(but I have owned many 60’s-70’s GM small blocks and big blocks) used a Big Block for their 350,389,400,421,428 and 455. Same block size as a Chevy 396 or 454. The Chevy 350 was a small block, just like the 283 and 327.

      A 1969 Pontiac 350 very different is size and engineering than a 69 Chevy 350.

      Like 1
      • steve m

        Respectfully, GM has learned from its mistakes, and has made some improvements, I was referring to the cars of the last two decades of the last century, BUT while on that topic, my wife and I wanted a new American 4 door sedan in 2012. We looked at Ford, Chevy, and Dodge. The 2012 Impala had the same exact ignition key and switch as my 1985 Camero and the same shape and style radio with the same design and control placement that they came out with in 1982. The AC controls were antiquated as well. We became the proud new owners of a 2012 Chrysler 300.

        Like 1
      • Clinton

        Ummm.. Steve M you must have looked at some funky Impala or just don’t like GM and your mind is playing tricks on you.

        2012 Impala and 1985 Camaro do NOT share the same key or radio. The key is a single cut on the 85 Camaro and the car actually uses 2 keys( rectangle head for the ignition and a round head for the door) while the 2012 Impala uses a single key for the ignition and door. It is a larger head and double cut key. While I admit the 2012 Impala is a pretty boring car the controls and radio are nothing like a 1982 or 85 Camaro.

        Like 1
    • JW

      Well from what I remember and have read lately Chevy was and still is GM’s baby and will never let one of their other divisions out do them. Heck the 64 GTO had to be done under wraps without GM’s approval or it would have never been done at all. But after it was and the younger crowd started buying them and Mustangs Chevy was caught with their pants down and had to play catch up with the 67 model year Camaro. JMHO

      Like 1
      • Brian J Manners

        Don’t forget the Banshee stolen from Pontiac to become the 3rd gen Corvette because GM didn’t want the Competition for the Corvette … It was 500lbs lighter then the vet and stuffed with a 421 SD would have easily beaten and out sold it ..

        Like 1
    • Ronald

      Best aruement on her I say!! 🤔🤔

    • Tom Driscoll

      The pontiac was no more of a dog than the others…each divisions engines had it’s own flavor, sound and characteristics. The pontiacs were more of a torquey engine, the chevy was a higher winding engine. People became loyal to a brand and it’s specific characteristics and that’s why so many were upset when GM went to corporate engines, whereby their favorite marque could receive an engine from any of the other gm brands thus diluting a cars uniqueness and individuality.

      Like 1
  11. Jz

    If it’s a Pontiac 350 you should be able to put your hand under the intake and the rest of the motor looks like an over sized small block unless it’s a Olds 350 then the heads are tapered and a flat manifold I have had a few firebird t/a s and the Pontiac 350 and 400 are like that

  12. Blueprint

    Wash, scrub, install new Radial T/A’s and enjoy!

    Like 1
  13. sparkster

    Blueprint , I was thinking the exact same thing. Put some Radial T/A,s on it and have a great time enjoying it.

    Like 1
  14. Graeme

    I have a trans am same as above.I think most came out with big block.mine 81 and had engine replacement.if the nose points up ,that’s the biggest give away .they are suppose to sit low front and back.

  15. Tuck646

    I’m a GM guy to the core, I cut my teeth on Chevy’s and Pontiacs, l love them equally.
    The truth is,cubic inch for cubic inch Pontiac engines easily out performed *small block* Chevy’s despite, being heavier ( all Pontiac V-8s were physically the same size on the outside) Pontiacs ,in my opinion always rode nicer and had better interiors/fit and finish.
    I like the scrub and rub w/ a set BFG T/A’s idea also.
    A roller cam ,fresh set of massaged heads, a little carb work would wake that motor right up.

    Like 1
  16. David Boling

    Yes pontiac,olds,and buick 350s was different than the chevy and I believe stronger. The smog equipment does hurt it as it did everything then. I would put a 455 pontiac in it. I don’t like cross breeding stuff. If I kept the 350 it would get turbocharged.

  17. John

    Based on the description – clean it up and leave it like it is. An Esprit is a rare find so that in and of itself makes it cool. If you want a muscle car, find one that already is or find a true base car and modify it. I am not saying I am a purist but I hate it when people take a car that is unique and then modify it to be a like another unique car.

    I own, and love, 70’s BMW 2002’s. There are quite a few of them that have been turned into ‘M2’ meaning they take the engine out of an E30 M3 and plunk it into the little 2002. I have no issue. But many of these people take the more rare Tii and replace the engine with the M3 engine. What makes a Tii unique? Mainly the engine. So if you are going to replace the engine with an M3 engine, why not just use a base model? At the end of the project you will have the exact same thing and will have saved money and saved a more rare Tii…(BTW – for the 02 owners out there I am not saying that the Tii is better, it is more rare. Both the base and the Tii have their place. Both of my 02’s are base models and one is an automatic and like the car above, it is so true to its original form, I don’t have the heart to convert to a 5 speed – even though I should!).

    Like 1
    • KevinR

      Completely agree. I see this a lot with early VW GTIs and GLIs. If you’re going to be changing everything, why not start with the less rare versions?

      Like 1
  18. Tony

    Well I’m very confused As to why we got led to a conversation of small block Pontiac 350s and Chevy 350s.?
    I think the question we need to be pondering is the 73 poncho worth 13 K.

  19. JOHN M

    This is not a basement find. This is what passes for a garages here in SF. Looks like a nice car needing a bit of TLC. I say keep it as is.

    Like 1
  20. JOHN M

    Here is one of the modified Firebirds as sold at auction

    • brian crowe

      someone here says all the Rockford cars had 455’s in them yet the one in that auction says it’s a 350ci So which is it?

  21. Ron

    Been looking for a bird just like this one but in a different color. Have a couple decent Pontiac 400’s waiting for a home. One an original 68 Catalina motor,the second a built up engine with around 370 horse. Bet that bird would fly pretty well.

  22. Bruce Best

    We have been focusing on the engine but I would like to make a comment about style and handling. This design is one of the sleekest cars to come out of GM ever and one of the most useful. Could carry 4 two adults and two children or small ladies in the back. a nice but somewhat small trunk but it represented an amazing balance and if anything was truly better then the previous version which I also liked. I have no doubt that it turns heads whenever it passes by.

    The front and rear ends were the shinning moment for this design. Simple and elegant as it gets in terms of styling. Much the same for the interior.While this one may not be as high a performance car as some would like in the day it could hold it’s head up and is still not bad for nearly 40 years later.

    This is in some way an almost perfect classic car for many of us. Usable for taking the wife out on a date night in perfect weather as it is going to the local car shows. Perish the thought and park far away but it could also be a local grocery getter for that one thing you forgot. It has it all performance, looks, condition and still has day to day usability. I think prices for this model in both Chevy and Pontiac are going to go much higher in the future for the reasons I state.

    I just wish they made a convertible version.

  23. Kermit Netherton

    I have an ’81 Buick Regal that I rescued years ago from a junkyard. I was told that it needed a new fuel pump, but I put a battery in it and 5 gallons of gas, turned the key and drove off with it! It did have a slight knock to it, but I drove it daily for about 5 years before it finally gave up on life!

    This car was originally equipped with a 350 Diesel engine, but someone swapped it out for a 301 Pontiac with a 2bbl carb, not sure what year or what car it might be out of but it was a complete dog, I couldn’t spin the tires even power braking it on wet…had the Pontiac 350 Transmission completely rebuilt with a shift kit and the tires wouldn’t even bark when it shifted!

    Does anyone know if the 301 engine is worth rebuilding and upgrading to a 4bbl carb with a bigger cam, or should I just stuff in a 350 Chevy?

    The car is no beauty queen but I do miss driving it! Been parked for about 8 years now!

    • ACZ

      Don’t blame the engine for lack of performance. The real reason is differential ratios like 2.14 to 1 and 2.41 to 1 and 2.56 to 1. Nothing performs with those off the line. They were there for fuel mileage and emission output, not performance.

      • Kermit Netherton

        Yes, You are right, AZC…I really have no idea what the gear set is, but I still don’t think a 2bbl 301 is very powerful.

        Wayne, I like your idea of a 400 or bigger Poncho motor, I just know that a 350 Chevy is so easy to come by and about the cheapest engine to build up.

        Thanks for the response guys! I think I will start looking for another Pontiac power plant! Any suggestions on what years and cars to look for as a donor car?

  24. 68 custom

    save your money ,the 301 is a boat anchor. go with a modern SBC like a LT-1 or better yet an LS series..

  25. Wayne

    I agree about the boat anchor. But I disagree with the SBC. The 301 is still a Pontiac engine. So why not find a 400 / 455 / 428 / 421 and stuff it in. The motor mounts are the same as is the transmission bolt pattern. The intake will not work. So aftermarket or an original that came with the above engines.
    Firebird story coming up.
    When I went to work at the Pontiac store in 1972 they had “8 track style” movie cassettes that you could plug in for each Pontiac model. (If you have ever read the John Delorean stories they talk about this system. And no I don’t remember which book as I have read them all. But I am pretty sure it was “On A Clear Day you Can See General Motors.) Anyway Having sold my 1955 Chev. Convert and was driving around in a 1968 Dodge Dart slant six. I was hungry for some cubic inches again. I was interested in the Trans Am (no surprise if you know me.) So I popped in the “video” on the Trans Am. It talked about the handling, the “Engine Turned” Instrument cluster, etc. And then they show a side shot of a white Trans Am. (My favorite color on this car.) Next walks up a “engineer” with a white lab coat and a clip board. He opens the door and starts the car. Then proceeds to check the gauges and his check list.
    The clip board is then set on the passenger seat and he buckles up. The next scene is a total surprise to me. The engineer neutral drops the automatic into drive and just lights up the tires. (Wait, it gets better!) He then, with his right foot still planted on the floor. Slams it into reverse! Still now laying waste to the tires in the other direction! Again, with foot on the floor back into low and then keeps slamming the gears back and forth! The camera now cuts back to left of the car from the interior. And shows this guy continually slamming the shift lever back forth. Just abusing the car like he just stole it! It keeps up until there is so much smoke that you can no longer see the car.
    I am standing there with my mouth open watching this. And can not believe what I am seeing. (I am a very impressionable 19 years old at this point in 1972) The fact that someone would do this to such a COOL CAR! And that GM shows someone doing it! The dealer principal walks by, sees the look of disbelief on my face and says. “NO MORE WARRANTY LEFT ON THAT CAR!” To this day I still cant believe that GM did that for their “advertising”.

  26. Jubjub

    Great looking Firebird. Always preferred these like this without all the extra decoration. I’d like to see it on some wide ovals with a thin whitewall, like the Tiger Paws that I believe were original on my ’73 GA.

    I’ll take a Pontiac over a Chevy any day. When I was a kid there was a stop sign in front of our house. Each distinct sound was nicely demonstrated while accelerating away. I miss hearing a Pontiac or Oldsmobile taking off. A SBC just never sounded that good to me.

    I’d love to see that Pontiac 8 Track video with the burnout.

  27. Rolf Poncho 455

    Just add a 455 and a 400th trans and of u GO

  28. Tom Driscoll

    I agree with everyone, this is a beautiful car…if only it was a formula 400…would that double the price?

  29. Kermit Netherton

    A friend of mine has a 301 that actually came out of another friend’s Turbo Trans AM, minus the turbo, that I was going to put in the Buick, but I know they really weren’t much better than the stock 301 2bbl.

  30. Wayne

    Any Pontiac V8 1968 or newer (and larger) will do!

  31. kurt k

    Nice car , hope i dont get pistol whipped or beat up like Rockford did every episode

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