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Rare 6-Cylinder/4-Speed: 1969 Pontiac Firebird Sprint

Whenever someone mentions a sporting First Generation Pontiac Firebird, most minds turn instantly to those with a V8 under the hood. However, the company was savvy enough to offer potential buyers an alternative if they couldn’t justify an eight. It was the Sprint, and tweaking its six-cylinder engine gave potential owners class-leading performance. This 1969 Sprint presents exceptionally well, and its drivetrain combination makes it an automotive rarity. It needs a new home, so its owner listed it here on Craigslist in Southern California. You could drive home in this spotless classic by handing the seller $40,000. I must say a big thank you to Barn Finder Pat L. for spotting this rare ‘Bird.

This Firebird presents superbly in Goldenrod Yellow. The seller indicates this car received a restoration, but it is unclear when this occurred. The supplied photos and overall condition suggest the work may have been relatively recent. The paint shines beautifully, with no significant flaws or defects. The panels are straight, with no bumps or bruises. The car’s underside appears spotlessly clean, and there is no mention of any previous or existing rust problems. If this Firebird spent its life in its current location, the climate might have preserved the original steel. The Sprint rolls on a set of Rally II wheels wearing Firestone Wide Oval tires. When you carefully examine the photos, you receive clues that there may be more to this Pontiac than meets the eye. The “4.1 Litre Overhead Cam” badges and the hood-tach suggest this Firebird could be something special.

While many buyers focused on the V8 Firebird offerings, John DeLorean allowed his passion for European six-cylinder engines to take him on a development path that produced something special and surprisingly potent. Lifting this Firebird’s hood reveals a 250ci (4.1-liter) OHC six-cylinder engine that is a cut above the ordinary. The first feature that helps it stand apart from its rivals is the drive mechanism for the camshaft. Rather than utilize a chain or gears, the Pontiac six features a fiberglass-reinforced toothed belt. The attraction of this setup is that it offers far lower noise levels than the alternatives, although the period between replacement is shorter with a belt. The standard 250 produced 175hp, but DeLorean knew that wouldn’t cut the mustard against V8s and European imports. Therefore, a 10.5:1 compression ratio, a more aggressive camshaft grind, a better intake, and a Rochester Quadrajet 4-barrel carburetor came to the party. Combining these ingredients allowed the six to churn out a class-leading 230hp. Buyers could order their Sprint with an auto transmission, but most selected a four-speed manual. The Sprint also featured a Posi rear end as standard, along with improvements to the suspension that made the car the best handling within the Firebird range. The effort and expense paid dividends when the focus turned to vehicle performance. While a standard four-speed Firebird used its 175hp to propel the car down the ¼ mile in 17.2 seconds before running out of breath at 112mph, the Sprint slashed that figure to 16 seconds while boosting the top speed to 124mph. Admittedly, a V8 was faster, but contemporary reviews indicate the lower vehicle weight, particularly over the front wheels, made the Sprint a more complete and agile driver’s package. There’s plenty of good news for potential buyers when we examine this car’s mechanical history and condition. It remains a 100% numbers-matching vehicle, which is important when determining its potential value. The seller states the engine, transmission, and rear end are freshly rebuilt and have clocked under 1,000 miles since they completed the work. We receive no information about how it runs or drives, but the indications are positive.

The Firebird’s interior is as tidy as you could hope to find in any classic from this era. The original owner ordered it trimmed in Black vinyl, and the upholstered surfaces remain excellent. There are no signs of significant wear or abuse, and the carpet is in as-new condition. The dash and pad are flawless, as is the console. Someone has cut the door trims and installed aftermarket speakers. Since the factory radio remains intact, that suggests there’s an aftermarket stereo hidden somewhere inside this classic. Otherwise, this interior appears unmolested.

For all his flaws and failings, John DeLorean was an automotive visionary. He knew that not every buyer could justify the expense of a Firebird with a V8 under the hood, but they also craved better performance than the range’s standard OHC six offered. DeLorean was passionate about European sports cars, especially Jaguar’s E-Type and models produced by German manufacturers. He envisaged the Firebird Sprint as a vehicle that could compete on level terms with sporting sedans from BMW and Mercedes, focusing his energy on improving engine performance and handling. Unfortunately, the buying public had already developed a love affair with the V8, and the Sprint failed to sell in significant numbers. In 1969, only 1,979 buyers handed over their cash for a Sprint, with 1,497 of those featuring a four-speed manual transmission. Considering the total Firebird production for that model year was 87,708 cars, the Sprint is a rare ‘Bird. This classic isn’t cheap, but how often do you see them on our streets? If you crave a pony car that stands out from the crowd, maybe this is the car for you.

Comments

  1. alphasud Member

    Great write up about John Delorean. He was a brilliant engineer and a real car enthusiast. This is the first 69 Firebird Sprint I have seen. This year has got to be super low production numbers. I wonder if the Pontiac historical society has production numbers for this combination. While I never cared for the 69 restyle the fact that it’s so unique makes this a winning combination for me.

    Like 14
  2. Cadmanls Member

    Very nice, never saw a running 69 Firebird six. One in a junkyard many years ago. This is sweet and some time as well as money took it to this level. Quite unusual car, not tire smoking performance but probably handled pretty good in 69

    Like 9
    • Grant

      I knew a guy in the early 80s that had a Tempest convert with an OHC six. Not sure it was stock or not/ Despite a lot of hinting, he never let me drive it. Made an interesting sound.

      Like 2
  3. Sincerepolack

    Love this car!!

    Like 4
    • Stan

      A Humble car-)

      Like 1
  4. Gunner

    This is the one it would be for me in a Firebird. Any Firebird. It has everything that I love. Color combination, drivetrain, options. What a beautiful car. You would never run out of people wanting to talk about it. Completely restored and ready for a new owner. I think at 40K, it is a buy. Some of us can only dream.

    Like 7
  5. Ben

    Looked at one in a used lot in ‘80 convertible. I remember reading the hood and was like what? Lifted it I had never seen anything like it (4spd white top) Red $2500 lol said nah couldn’t row gears at the time 🙄

    Like 3
    • Mike

      That was a lot of money in 1980! We were buying GTO’s for a few hundred dollars back then.

      Like 1
  6. scottymac

    Too bad DeLorean couldn’t have gotten behind the Corvair with the Astro 1 engine (still air cooled, extra cubic inches over stock Corvair, OHC with the Sprint style belts to each bank, hemispherical combustion chambers, and individual carb throats for each cylinder) and maybe a Porsche competitor would have done better than his XKE challenger?

    https://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/2409/Chevrolet-Astro-I-Concept.html

    Like 3
  7. Howie

    Leno has a Firebird with a 6cyl.

    Like 3
    • alphasud Member

      Leno has one of everything!

      Like 11
  8. Joe

    I think it’s absolutely a great looking Firebird, and like the drivetrain & rarity…..but myself, I see it priced too high……

    Like 4
  9. Doone

    The dealers son was a friend back then and loaned me his demo FB Sprint for a couple of hours. It was very quick with the Qjet, and handled very tightly.

    Like 4
  10. Richard Jones

    I owned a white with a black interior sprint with a 3 speed. People couldn’t believe it had a 4 barrel lol and my little brother had a green with brown interior and 4speed at the same time….

    Like 3
  11. Ike Onick

    Wow, wow, and, wow.

    Like 1
  12. Thomas H Piercy

    My brother in law showed up at my house one night at the Jersey shore with his friend in a Firebird Sprint, I was impressed. So we went out in the country to see how it would stand against my 64 Malibu SS 283 – 2bbl, 4 speed which only had added dual exhaust. I don’t know what the rear ratio of either was, but in the end, they were dead even.

    Like 2
  13. gbvette62

    I learned to drive a stick shift back in 1969, on a 4 speed OHC Sprint. I was 15 and use to clean parts and do other odd jobs for a local school teacher who did foreign car repairs at night and weekends. His wife’s daily driver was a Verdoro Green 68 4 speed sprint convertible, that he taught me to drive a manual in. He’d let me run it around a local parking lot at night…..two years before I got a license. I loved that car and really wish I knew what became of it.

    This is a beautiful car, though I don’t know if the price is realistic. Of course when you consider that Sprint intake and exhaust manifold sets sell for $3000-$4000, maybe the price isn’t to bad. It would have been nice if the seller spent more time taking useful exterior shots of the car, instead of trying to get so artsy though. Still, if it wasn’t 3000 miles from me, I’d be tempted to take a look at it.

    Like 3
  14. gaspumpchas

    From my experience, that OHC is a dawg. IIRC. Disappointing peformance and many reliability issues. Lasted only a few years. Don’t know unless you try, with the OHC especially. Good luck and happy motoring.
    Cheers
    GPC

    • Ike Onick

      Wrong.

      Like 1
  15. Marshall

    My first car was a 67 convertible with the Sprint 6 and 3 speed manual. Was not numbers matching (it had a 69 motor in it), but man was that thing fun! Very quick for a six, handled great and how can you beat top down cruising? Back then? Nobody thought anything about these cars. My girlfriend (now wife) had a 67 Mustang GT with 289 and a 4 speed. Dark Moss Green with black interior.If only we knew back then!

    Like 3
    • Ike Onick

      Yes sir! I spent the Summer of 1969 (That would be a good song title) driving a 1967 Sprint 6, 3-speed Convertible with American Racing Torq Thrust wheels on it. Big fun!

      Like 4
  16. CenturyTurboCoupe

    I know two people personally with these and have seen a few more dragged out of fields in the last five years. Don’t seem to be rare around my area. And my parents 1986 Celebrity had engine call outs on the front fender (2.5L EFI) and that was nothing to brag about!

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