Over the years, we’ve heard stories about the little old lady that bought a new car in the 1960s and only drove it on a few occasions, like to church, the grocery store, and to get her hair done. As time moves on, stories like this are becoming more infrequent. Today, people tend to wear vehicles out, forcing them to move on to a newer model. Not only that, but cars aren’t built like they once were. Chrome styling and metal have given way to lightweight components like plastic bumpers, aerodynamics, and fuel mileage. And while there are some nice looking vehicles on the market, in our opinion, they don’t compare to the cars of the 1960s era.
Photos By: Shawn Brereton
In the ’60s, automotive manufacturers were having a heyday building cars. While they were downsizing them from the previous decade, the pony car was born. By 1965 Ford had hit the ground running and didn’t miss a stride with its new superstar, the Mustang. And while GM was a little late to the party, in 1967, it had a serious competitor, too, known as the F-body. The F-body platform, which consisted of the Chevrolet Camaro and the Pontiac Firebird, would rival the Mustang from that day one.
In 1970 a lady by the name of Dortha June Miller from Owensboro Kentucky went down and purchased a 1967 Pontiac Firebird. June, as her friends called her, drove the Montreux blue Firebird for 30 years, believe it or not. And just like the stories go, she would go 35 in a 55 mph zone on her way to church or the grocery store. Ben Miller, an auto adjuster from Kentucky, is her grandson, and he remembers the ’67 Firebird well when he was growing up. At the age of 10 years old, Ben would go over to his grandmother’s house once a week to mow the grass. When he was done with the yard he would often sneak out to the Firebird and sit in it while acting like he was driving. At this time the Pontiac was powered by a 326 cubic-inch engine mated to a two-speed Powerglide transmission. The car had a lot of options, including power windows, factory air conditioning, and a black vinyl top.
“I recall going over to my grandmother’s house as a kid with my dad. We would stop by every once and a while to blow it out,” explained Ben. If you’re not familiar with the term “blow it out,” let us shed some light on this process for you. Basically, you would take an older car that was never driven hard and push the engine through its paces. You hit the redline before changing gears and then repeat the process. The idea was to blow out all of the carbon and soot build-up in the powerplant. While we don’t know if this method works well or not, it certainly made great memories for Ben and his dad as they ripped around the back roads in the Pontiac.
As a kid, I remember my grandmother driving extremely slow making everyone on the road mad and people were constantly trying to buy the Firebird from her.
In 1997 Mrs. Miller stopped driving the old car and gave it to her son, Jim Miller, Ben’s father. Jim was a pipefitter, and he used the Firebird to commute back and forth to work on occasion. Sometime in the early part of 2000, Ben finally got his hands on the ‘Bird and immediately stripped it down to start the rebuild. And like most total rebuilds that are do-it-yourself (DIY) projects, life happened. The empty shell of a car sat abandoned on a rolling stand in the corner of Ben’s garage for years. After having a couple of boys and little money for a project, the poor Firebird was put on hold.
In 2014 Ben finally had the time and finances to start working on the car again, and he had big plans for the Firebird. His first move was to replace the Pontiac engine of late with a more modern engine and driveline. Ben chose to build a mild LS1 mated to a 4l60e transmission. The engine was kept stock with the exception of a Tick Performance stage 3 Street Heat camshaft. A 3600 rpm stall converter was also installed to work correctly with the cam selection. A set of Hooker headers relieve the engine of spent gasses while Magnaflow mufflers quite the tone down with the use of 2.5- and 3.0-inch exhaust pipes.
With the engine and transmission buttoned up and ready to go, it was time to figure out the rear end and suspension. Ben decided to stick with a 10-bolt axle with a set of 3.42 gears since this car would not be a high horsepower drag car. He used Ridetech’s Strong Arms on the front of the factory Pontiac subframe with a set of the company’s Shockwave air shocks. Ben built a custom 4-link suspension with another pair of Shockwave air shocks for the car’s rear. Ridetech sway bars make sure to keep the car level in and out of the corners. Ben also decided to install a set of frame connectors to alleviate and flex that the Firebird might see in the future.
Next up, it was time for paint and body. Once again, Ben turned to himself to fix the rust and color change on the car. Ben admits, “The car was in very good shape overall with just a little rust.” With the Montreux blue removed, it was time to apply the PPG silver base and clear coat. As the paint dried, Ben reinstalled most of the black factory interior with the exception of some sporty front bucket seats, NRG steering wheel, and Dakota Digital HDX instrument panel.
As you can imagine, at this point, the Firebird was starting to look pretty good. But as you know, tires and wheels can make or break a build. And in our opinion, Ben picked a killer-looking combination. The US Mags Rambler 18-inch wheels with silver centers and polished lips are perfect. He also nailed it with the tire sizes using Nitto 555 245/40/18s up front and 275/40/18s on the back. A set of CPP disc brakes with red calipers peek ever so lightly through the spokes and are drawn out by the red Firebird emblems on the front fenders.
This car is stunning in person, and it only took Ben a total of three years to get the Firebird on the road once he started. And what’s not to love about this combination? The color is stylish, the tires and wheels are perfect, and the stance, thanks to Ridetech, is killer. And if you want a real driver, you can’t go wrong with a mild LS1 and a 4l60e transmission. It’s the perfect package. When asked what his grandmother would think about the Firebird now, Ben said, “She would love the transformation of the car because she was a fan of hot rods.” Ben even named the car after her and calls it June.
We absolutely love this killer-looking Firebird and the story behind it. The fact that it’s still in the family since 1970 after all of these years is awesome and Ben’s not done with the car yet. He has a few upgrades in mind, including adding a supercharger to the LS1 along with a brake upgrade and adding a lot of miles to the odometer. We’re certain this would put a smile on June’s face knowing her grandson is still enjoying the car she purchased 51 years ago.