Goodguys 2021 Billet Specialties Muscle Car of the Year!
Congratulations to Phil Mitchell for winning the Goodguys 2021 Billet Specialties Muscle Car of the Year title with your 1969 Pontiac Firebird! We’ll see you and your vehicle in Scottsdale, Arizona November 19-21, 2021 at the 24th Speedway Motors Southwest Nationals presented by Barrett-Jackson!
There are rare first-generation Firebirds and then there are very rare first-generation Firebirds. Phil Mitchell’s ’69 Ram Air IV coupe definitely falls into the very rare category.
This one-of-102 examples was originally ordered for Pontiac racing guru Nunzi Romano. He owned the car until 1982. Phil purchased the 1969 Pontiac Firebird about three years ago from a fellow collector who had started the restoration. In addition to the significance of the car’s first owner, the special-order Carousel Red paint and four-speed manual transmission make this a special ‘Bird.
In the late-’60s, high-performance machines like a RA IV Firebird usually left the assembly line with minimal upgrades or creature comforts. Not this one. Starting with the optional bench seat, Phil’s Firebird features a somewhat-rare AM-FM radio with a power antenna and rear speaker. Add power windows and a rear window defogger, too.
The RA IV 400c.i. V8s were factory rated at 345 horsepower, but the real power was probably much higher. In that era, insurance companies were beginning to frown on high-performance muscle cars and the manufacturers started playing games so they could continue to sell them. For example, some manufacturers would report that an engine made 350 horsepower at 5,100 rpm, but the engine might make 390 horsepower at 5,800 rpm, still well within the engine’s power range.
Regardless of the actual horsepower, the RA IV engine was a beast. It featured high-flow tunnel-port heads, a forged steel crank, four-bolt mains, 10.75:1 compression, an 800-cfm Holley four-barrel, and a two-piece aluminum intake. And an operational air-induction system fed by the functional hood scoops.
Optional variable-ratio power steering and power front disc brakes kept the front end under control while an M-21 close-ratio four-speed transmission fed the power to the limited-slip rear axle. The engine, transmission and rearend are the original pieces.
Look in the interior of this Firebird (it’s the original material, by the way) and you’d expect to see bucket seats and a center console. But adding to the uniqueness of this Firebird is the bench seat, a rare choice that was part of a $110 interior upgrade package. Paint work and other restoration services were provided by Mike Mancini of American Muscle Car Restoration in Kingstown, Rhode Island.
Restoring a special ’60s muscle car takes patience and perseverance, but it is rewarding. Phil says the best part of owning this RA IV Firebird is sharing it with people at car shows.
Photos by John Jackson