What Are You Working On? Gary Whisner’s 1968 Firebird


While nearly everyone loves the early Camaro, its kissing cousin, the Firebird needs love, too. Gary Whisner of Aurora, Colorado, found this one in 2013. Chris Anderson, a friend, told Gary he knew of a Firebird for sale in Aurora, so he and Gary went to look the car over. Both were surprised when they found an overhead cam engine trying to fill the engine bay. Gary was aware GM had manufactured them but he’d only ever seen a couple. The owner told him it was the original engine and that intrigued Gary even more.

Bumpers are yet to be hung, but the car looks good.

After checking out the rest of the 1968 Firebird convertible and taking a deeper dive into verifying the originality of the overhead cam six, Gary found that it was indeed a numbers-matching engine and drivetrain. He also learned that the car was built in Lordstown, Ohio. Gary had been working on another project and decided not to purchase the car. A year later, he found out the car was still for sale and finally purchased it. It was nearly all original, except for the wheels.The interior was in good shape and only needed a good cleaning.

The car was drivable and running, but needed some TLC. Gary’s wife, Karen, really wanted a convertible, and Gary wanted a Firebird, so it worked out well. When he finally got it home, the restoration was started immediately, since Gary has a lift in his shop and all the tools needed.
Gary’s father had owned a body shop and Gary has been into cars all his life, and he started working on cars at a young age. That’s because his Father set him on the straight and narrow about owning cars. His father would say; “If you own a car, you must take care of it.”

Brought home on a trailer, the restoration began immediately.

Taking Care Of Business

So, rebuilding a car was Gary’s way of taking care of it. His first car was a 1964 Studebaker Daytona with a 289 cubic-inch engine, a four-speed, and bucket seats. The second ride was a 1964 Mercury Comet Cyclone. It had a white with red interior, a 289ci engine, and a four speed. He’s redone and rebuilt two other Firebirds, a ‘57 Chevy two-door, and a 1951 Chevy pickup.

The red paint was extremely faded. Gary planned to change its color.

The first thing he did was to remove the engine and deliver it to the machine shop for a needed over-boring of .o30-inch and have the crankshaft cleaned up. Gary was surprised that engine parts were still available thru Cantor Motors and Egge Auto Parts. The overhead cam engine is 250 cubic inches that’s rated for 215 to 230 horsepower and came from the factory with a four-barrel carburetor and split manifold. During the rebuild, Gary had new pistons, rings, lifters, bearings, camshaft, and many other parts installed. Gary’s convertible has a three-speed transmission behind the engine.

Since the Firebird had an overhead cam, this engine was the product of John Delorean when he was at the Pontiac Division. For history buffs: The convertible is a series 223 1968 convertible, 4.1-liter four-barrel carb with 10.0:1 compression. 215 horse power at 5,200 rpm. For those same history buffs; the build quantities were 107,112 Firebirds in the 1968 model year – 18,494 six cylinders and 11,649 convertibles. These OHC engines used a timing belt to run the cam, distributor, oil and fuel pump, which is located outside the engine, all on one bracket.

Left: Even though there was no rust in the floor pans, the wheelwells needed some repair, Factory sheetmetal was still available. Right: Front clip was removed to redo all suspension and engine.

Gary kept the drum brakes, because the Firebird has the largest brake drums. The front suspension was Okay, but Gary replaced all the bushings and tie-rod ends and did a complete brake replacement front and rear. The car is also equipped with power steering. Tires are BF Goodrich radials on factory Pontiac wheels.

The Body And Sheetmetal

The body was in good shape and still features the original factory sheetmetal. There was no rust on the floor pans, front fenders, or doors. The hood had been worked on previously, and needed some minor repair. The rear quarters had minor rust above the wheel openings, but none on the inner fender wells. Gary replaced the rear quarter panels and the rear tail panel with new units.

The car was stripped to bare metal and primed, and Gary handled all the bodywork, which meant a lot of sanding and more sanding, Gary spent about three months getting it smooth. When the body work was completed and ready for paint, one of Gary’s friends happens to own a body shop. Guess where he took the car there to have it sprayed? It was originally painted Verano Green, but he likes Meridian Turquoise Poly better, which is a factory GM color. PPG paint was sprayed on the car.

All painted up and no where to go...well, not exactly! The engine wears a four barrel carburetor so it will get there with gusto.

The interior was in very good shape, including dash and door panels. Gary cleaned the seats and interior, but had to replace the steering wheel. The original steering wheel was not available so he replaced it with the Pontiac wood rimmed steering wheel. The convertible top was showing some age, so Gary replaced it with an OE top.

Just after the Firebird was put on the street, Gary and his wife took it to Hot August Nights in Reno, Nevada. Gary is now working on a 1975 Bradley GT fiberglass restoration.

Factory steering wheel was not available so Gary opted for the wood rimmed look.

What do you think Gary’s Firebird? Let us know in the comments below, and if you have a project of your own that you’ve been slaving away at, share it with us! Send us an email and yours could be the next project featured in “What Are You Working On?”

About the author

Roger Jetter

Roger’s interests in cars started at 14 with a ’40 Ford pick-up until he bought his first ’57 Chevy at age 16. That car is featured in the first two books he’s written about the 1960’s and growing up in the Midwest. He’s authored several more books as well and has built several cars over the years that have received major coverage in magazines and won plenty of awards. His current build is a 1948 Cadillac Sedanet, although his current 'driver' is a '55 Cadillac Coupe DeVille.
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