Firebird in a bottle

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By Angelo Van Bogart

Few vintage cars have rubbed tires with as many Hollywood hot shots and hobby heroes early in life as the 1969 Pontiac Firebird 400 convertible co-owned by Chad Brousseau. Like most hulks of iron in that small fraternity, Brousseau’s Firebird was thought to have fallen into history like the TV show in which it was featured.

“Everybody has heard of the Munster Mobile cars and the MonkeeMobile, and this car is one of those that just faded away, and a lot of people never even heard of it,” Brousseau said.

Of the thousands of Firebird 400 convertibles built for the 1969 model year, just one was used as Major Roger Healey’s ride in the 1960s TV show “I Dream of Jeannie.” Major Healey was played by Bill Daily, who co-starred on the program about an astronaut (Larry Hagman as Major Nelson) that secretly found a Genie (Barbara Eden as Jeannie) and kept her bottled up in his home. Besides its unique plot, the show was known by gear heads for the cool Ponchos zipping into the screen, all subtly and intentionally placed by Pontiac.

“Major Nelson drove a lot of GTOs, but by 1969, he went to a Bonneville convertible, but Major Healey was driving this Firebird,” Brousseau said.

Brousseau’s Firebird joined the NBC cast in early 1969 and a short time later, it was customized by the King of Kustoms George Barris before it went into the personal garage of a couple Hollywood types.

“It’s basically only ever had two owners,” said Brousseau, a resident of Salem, Iowa. Those owners weren’t registered until after the Firebird was done making its small-screen appearances, likely at the end of the show, which ran from 1965 to 1970.

“[Major Healey] drove it around as the ‘orange car’ for numerous episodes,” Brousseau said. “Then Pontiac actually commissioned George Barris to do a one-off on this car, so you would think it looks like a ’69 Trans Am convertible — it has side scoops on quarters, it has the three-piece spoiler on the back — but Barris painted and it went from the original [Carousel Red] to a color close to Chevy Rally Green, a really deep metallic green color, with white stripes. Then it went back on the show for a couple little brief spots as the ‘green car.’”

According to Brousseau’s research, the mildly customized Firebird 400 was bought by the show’s art director for his daughter at a loss to Pontiac.

“She drove it for a while, and I guess they lived in an area of Beverly Hills,” Brousseau said. From there, it caught the eye of the son of movie producer Mace Neufeld, associated with such films as “Clear and Present Danger” and “The Omen.”

“[Neufeld’s] son had known the car and had ridden by the house it was stored in on his bicycle, and he stopped in and asked them about the car, and he got his dad to buy it in 1977,” Brousseau said. “It was his car in high school and college.”

Any Pontiac Firebird 400 convertible makes an enviable ride on campus, especially a car with touches by a famous customizer. But by 1986, the shine had worn off the four-wheeled former TV star. At that time, Neufeld’s son, now a respected Hollywood type in his own right, parked his special Firebird 400 convertible. In 2009, he placed the car for sale on an Internet site.

Brousseau and his partner spotted the car for sale, but there were no photographs with the ad. Like many of the Pontiac fans eyeing the car, Brousseau and his partner speculated on whether the car was authentic. Eventually, the ad disappeared until late 2010 when it re-appeared, this time with pictures. Within an hour of spotting it, Brousseau and his partner jumped on the car and began the process of authenticating it with Pontiac Historic Services.

“When I sent off for the PHS documentation, I got a phone call the next day,” Brousseau said. “In all my years of sending in PHS VIN numbers, I have never got a call from Jim Mattison the next day.”

Brousseau learned the Pontiac is unusual because it has three build sheets: the first shows the car’s assembly date and its long list of options: special-order Carousel Red paint, wood steering wheel with power tilt function, power antennae, power steering, power top, power disc brakes, console, Rally II wheels, remote mirror, power windows, deluxe seat belts, air conditioning, rally gauges and more. The build sheet showed a total price of $4,877 reflecting nearly $1,800 in options to the Firebird convertible’s $3,083 price.

“The first invoice is dated January 1969 and had it billed to the zone office in Michigan,” Brousseau said. “Then it had a second build sheet directing it to the zone office in Los Angeles, and from there, it went to the production company of ‘I Dream of Jeannie.’

“When the show ended, the third build sheet is actually dated the very end of July of 1970, so like a year and a half after it was produced, it was still owned by Pontiac. The MSO was issued in 1970 and there is a charged loss to this account and the final invoice is a dollar.”

In addition to numerous build sheets, the Firebird 400 has endured additional coats of paint over its body. By Brousseau’s count, it sports three re-paints over its original Carousel Red, starting with Barris’ green-with-white-stripes scheme to the blue-with-white-stripes job for the art director’s daughter to the white-with-blue-stripes scheme for the producer’s son. Amazingly, the Barris additions remain under the paint layers, from the unique non-functional dual-snorkel hood to the quarter-panel scoops to the three-piece rear spoiler. Unfortunately, the Barris paint scheme, which included painting the tail panel white, is buried under the more recent repaints.

Only one 1969 Firebird 400 convertible is known to have been modified in this manner by Barris for “I Dream of Jeannie,” but the modifications performed on the car have roots back to 1968.

“There was a TV show done in ’68 (“Sounds of ’68”) and they did a Superteen Firebird giveaway and [Barris] built three Superteen Firebirds for it with a similar kind of hood and a similar spoiler, but a more radical front end [than the “I Dream of Jeannie” Firebird].”

Compared to the Superteen 1968 Firebird 400s built by Barris, the “I Dream of Jeannie” 1969 Firebird 400 is closer to stock, lacking the electronics in the backseat of the Superteen cars, which featured a typewriter, television set and tape deck. Brousseau finds the lack of such components in the “I Dream of Jeannie” car as a plus.

“The nice thing about this car is the interior is left stock and [its modifications are limited to] the outside body mods,” Brousseau said. According to one source, the relatively minor cost of modifications performed by Barris on the “I Dream of Jeannie” car totaled $130,000, a hefty sum for the time and enough to buy a fleet of more than 25 similarly equipped Firebird 400 convertibles.

The fact that the Firebird spent its life in California certainly helped keep it the solid and intact specimen that it remains, although Brousseau notes it deserves a restoration. When he found it, the car had been stored outdoors after the seller lost storage in his father’s garage. If Brousseau didn’t have already  1970 Pontiac GTO convertible under restoration, he would probably keep the unique Firebird for his own collection. But it’s just not in the cards.

“I would love to have it, but a car like that, a one-off car, it needs to be taken to someone and be totally restored into a trailer queen,” Brousseau said. “It’s worth a lot of money, and I would really rather drive my ’70 Impala and hit a water puddle and not have to cringe.”

In the meantime, Brousseau is having fun authenticating the car and contacting hobby big wigs such as Barris and Jim Wangers in piecing together the car’s history.

“It is kind of like a trifecta,” Brousseau said. “It was a special car built by Pontiac, then it was a TV car, then it was a one-off George Barris custom car.”

Rarely does it get better than that.

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2 Responses to Firebird in a bottle

  1. Keith says:

    Do you still have this car? What is the asking price if it is for sale? I was driving a 1969 Firebird when I got married over 30 years ago. Love the 1969 body style.

  2. kddill says:

    Is this car available now?

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