Advanced Pontiac’s 2nd Generation Firebird facelift proposal.


By John Mellberg

I’ve had these photos filed in a brown envelope since leaving GM Styling in 1972. The car in the photos was a Firebird that was underway when I was assigned to the Advanced Pontiac Studio, initially working for Gordy Brown, Studio Chief Designer, and then, when management decided to shuffle the Chiefs around—Jerry Hirshberg became the Studio Chief Designer for Advanced Pontiac and Gordy Brown took over Advanced Buick Studio. It was a great learning experience working with both of these talented design leaders and the Advanced Pontiac team members. We had a lot of creative fun working together, while learning from one another in the process.

Working in Adv. Pontiac when I came on board was Roger Hughet (Assistant Chief Designer), Elia Russinoff (a lifelong friend), John Houlihan, Dennis Burke (a then GMI Co-op designer), Dave Rossi (Chief Modeler) Cliff Gabler, Kurt Struckmeier, Dean Towne, Juergen Stoldt, Klaus Brink (a good friend and Studio Engineer), and Rick Stuhlstatz (Klaus’ assistant). If I’ve forgotten anybody, my sincere apologies, as this was a long while ago.

This Firebird design was initially developed from a series of 1/5th scale clay and fiberglass models, from which one was picked to do full-size.  We had been working on the refinement of the design for about 6 months when Jerry Hirshberg joined us. The design went from a single theme, to 2 themes, or variations, with one side the sporty design with full wheel cuts, and the other side, a boulevard design with the rear wheels skirted. This gave the model an interesting split personality. At the time these photos were taken by Bob DeMerrill, a Design Staff Photographer, the clay model had been fully di-noc’d and details were cartooned by this writer to add visual substance to the design. The modelers foiled the headlight bezels/cans and trim around the tail lights. It was a bold, striking design, clearly a complete departure from the then current FIrebird, and would have been a hatchback. The large round headlights give the car a place in time, as it wasn’t long after we had worked on this that rectangular headlights emerged on GM automobiles and the others. The model’s color was a metallic orange, somewhat like the recent 2005 GTO Ram Air 6 Concept that Kip Wasenko’s group put together adding muscle to the Australian GTO beyond its appearance as had been shipped to the States as a Pontiac.

If I recall correctly, we abandoned work on this car when the then new Federal regulations for front and rear bumpers became law, as this design would not have been compliant. I don’t believe that I’ve ever seen photos of this concept proposal ever published. Perhaps my fellow design colleagues from Advanced Pontiac Studio who also contributed to the design of this vehicle can further add to the pedigree of this design and its history.—John Mellberg

  1. Both open and closed rear fender treatments are tasty… the lower valence orientation of grille treatment is impressive also as are the sail panel vents. It is a lovely design overall less aggressive sports car and more Luxury GT. Should have been a place for this one.

  2. Hec Espiritit

    Similarity are quite distinguished, couture styling curvatures, positively the headlight bezel was inspired to the production Firebird.
    Great article.

  3. Rogerio Machado

    Safety and emissions had changed the automobile shape. Fortunatelly we have people like you that keep that moment on the pocket. Real history.

  4. Michael Greer

    Love the front end, will get used to the rear lines knowing tunnel probably predicted its outcome… wheels and cutouts nice. A nice breakaway from being compared to a Camero…

  5. Real history indeed! The Concepts are always a treat.
    There doesn’t happen to be any taillight influence from the ’65 Oldsmobile B-Bodies, by chance?

  6. res

    Of even more interest (to me, anyway) are the “Pontiac H Coupe” renderings on the wall in slide six. Looks like concepts for a removable rear hatch similar to that used on the Nissan Pulsar decade or so later. Hirshberg connection?

  7. John M. Mellberg

    Thanks for posting/sharing this article w/photos with the Automotive Design Community. The car is a design concept worth showing. Designer friend Larry Faloon (GM Heritage Center) kindly sent an email correcting the spelling of GM Design Staff Photographer Bob DeMerrill’s last name. Bob was a great fellow, with an accommodating temperament ideally suited for working with designers who were always seeking that visually descriptive and dramatic view in a car designs photograph. Best regards, John M. Mellberg, Automotive Designers Guild

  8. These photos are fascinating. I wonder if you can enlighten me: Was the Pininfarina Modulo concept of 1970 any influence on your thinking at the time? I feel like the window openings, the backlight and the tail treatment have certain echos of that design, but in an American, GM idiom. I love the rear 3/4 view! Thanks for posting this!

  9. Good story John. Tasty design with lots of innovation and form. Many thanks,


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