January 27, 2023


Still car-crazy after all these years

Banshee Firebird

The Banshee Firebird at the 1968 Autorama

Could this be the first Firebird funny car? With a roll bar extending through the roof, the Banshee Firebird was a last minute entry for the 1968 Autorama in Detroit.
Banshee Firebird in the loading dock at Detroit's Cobo Hall
Banshee Firebird arrived late for the 1968 Autorama. The owners are seen waiting for approval to move the car onto to the show floor. Note the snow underneath the car and the heavily-padded roll bar that extends through the roof.

I was in the basement loading dock at the 1968 Detroit Autorama, when these guys showed up with an injected Pontiac Firebird. The show was already open to the public and all of the other cars were set up in their displays.

Some of the officials pointed out that the owners had missed the deadline and attempted to prevent them from bringing the car into the auditorium. Cooler heads realized that the crowd was there to see cars, and the more cars the better. So the Firebird was allowed to join the other exhibits in the lower “overflow” area.

The Firebird looked to be freshly completed. The fact that the car arrived at Cobo Hall after the show opened to the public has always led me to believe the car was thrashed together to make the show.

The Pontiac was known as the Banshee. I’m not sure what class it was built for. It looks like a funny car, but it wouldn’t have been very competitive against the supercharged floppers on the match race circuit. It is possible it was intended for the NASCAR Ultra Stock class, where it would compete against cars like Wayne Gapp’s Super Cat Cougar.

One odd thing is the roll bar; which extends through the roof. What’s the deal with Pontiacs with the driver’s head above the roof line? We’ve already looked at Dick Jesse’s chopped GTO. The Banshee would be the second Pontiac at the same show with this configuration.

It is possible that Jesse had input into this car’s construction. If you were from the Detroit area and were intent on building a Pontiac funny car, you would almost certainly talk things over with Dick Jesse. Perhaps Mr. Unswitchable suggested the roll bar above the roof design?

I assume from the arrangement of the injector stacks, that there is a Pontiac V-8 under the hood. The other injected engines I am familiar with typically lined the stacks up in neat rows.

The name Banshee is a reference to the code name for the Firebird. Not long after rumors started to spread that Chevrolet was developing the Camaro, we heard that Pontiac wanted in on the “pony car” action. The automotive press announced the new Pontiac would be called the Banshee and Pontiac even displayed a Banshee concept car on the show car circuit.

Shortly before the Banshee was to be released, however, Pontiac abruptly announced that their Mustang fighter would be known as the Pontiac Firebird.

Apparently someone at Pontiac did a little research and discovered that Banshee is a Scottish term for “Wailing Death Spirit.” You have to remember that there was no Google and no internet back then. Seeking out information such as this required much more effort in 1967.

The management at Pontiac always tended to free-spirited, but even they realized that you don’t offer a car named after a death spirit. So exit the Pontiac Banshee and enter the Pontiac Firebird.

Of course that is the story I heard. Wikipedia suggests that Pontiac didn’t want to pay Eugene Lally for the naming rights. That could be true, but the death spirit story is the one we heard back in 1967.

The builders of this Firebird chose Banshee for their drag racing name. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you who owned, built and drove the little Banshee. Can someone step up and provide more details on this injected Firebird?

Front view of the Banshee Firebird. Can't make out what it says on the young man's jacket.
Another shot of the Banshee in the Cobo Hall loading dock.

<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/32698815@N04/6743729075/” title=”banshee-431 by TomBonner, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7011/6743729075_1b5710fa6d.jpg” width=”496″ height=”500″ alt=”banshee-431″></a>

Tom Bonner