AJ's Car of the Day '68 Pontiac Firebird 400 Hardtop Coupe

Car: Pontiac Firebird 400 Hardtop Coupe

Year: 1968

What makes it special: Alterations made the 1968 Pontiac Firebird 400 perhaps the best compact muscle car of the year. Styling was unchanged save for deletion of side vent windows and addition of federally-mandated fender marker lights. Beneath the skin, Pontiac engineers continued to refine the Camaro-spec suspension forced on them by GM. Performance versions of both makes got new multiple-leaf rear springs with shock absorbers staggered fore and aft of the axle, so axle tramp in hard takeoffs was diminished.

What made it famous: Horsepower on the standard 400 cid V8 increased to 330. Ram Air continued as the rarest and strongest engine option over the regular 400. It had a hotter cam, stronger valve springs, and exclusive use of functional hood scoops. At midyear, the 335 bhp Ram Air mill was replaced by the 340 bhp Ram Air II. A third 400 engine variation for '68 and was the 400 HO, or High Output, and used free-flow exhausts and its own revised cam when mated to a 4-speed. It was rated at 335 bhp, but redlined higher than the base engine and below the Ram Air. All 400's used a single 4-barrel carb and came with either a 3- or 4-speed manual or optional 3-speed automatic transmission.

Why I would want one: The '67-69 Pontiac Firebirds are among the most popular Pony Cars of the time period.

Fun fact: In a 1968 comparison test, a Firebird 400 HO bested a 390 cid Javelin, a 390 Mustang and 390 Cougar, a Camaro SS 396, and a 340 Barracuda. Not only was the Poncho quickest of the bunch, but its engine was the smoothest and its handling the friendliest.