Story and photos by Brian Earnest
Something happened to Vickie Treutel’s plan to have an old ragtop to drive around.
Her car somehow got really nice. REALLY nice.
The car in question is a 1969 Pontiac Firebird convertible. Treutel had always wanted a convertible to play around with, but she had no plans to ever have a show car.
Some plans go off track and turn out for the better, however. Such was the case when Vickie and her husband, Jim, finished restoring their cool Pontiac convertible. At the time they bought the convertible, Jim was working to restore his 1969 Firebird coupe, and the couple figured that would be their hobby machine.
“When we bought it, I said, ‘I want you to do your car, and I want to use this as a daily driver.’ Because it wasn’t pretty. It had rust on it. The interior wasn’t very good, the seat was ripped and the top was really no good,” Vickie recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t care I just want to use it as a daily driver, you know, bombing around.’ [He said] ‘No, no, you take it and have them guys help you work on it’ and that’s what we did.”
“Them guys” were Classic Supersports in Eleva, Wis., where the couple had bought the convertible. The shop wound up doing a lot of the work on the Firebird and got high marks from the Treutels. “Actually, we were there looking for parts to my husband’s ’69 coupe. He had picked that up and we were going to work on that. He was kind of doing some of the mechanical stuff and we knew these guys down in Eleva. That’s what they did for a living — restore cars. He went down there to pick up some parts that they had, and they had this sitting out in front for sale. [Jim] had gone down there by himself and he called me and said, ‘Guess what, they’ve got a car for you!’ I thought, ‘Oh no, now what?!’ So we went down, looked it over, picked it up, took it home and is sat over the winter and that following spring we took it and started working on it.”
The Firebird had been a longtime resident of Minnesota and had wound up sitting idle in a barn for a few years. It needed plenty of help, but it definitely wasn’t too far gone to fix up, especially to be the daily summer driver around her town of Emerald, Wis., that Vickie envisioned. “I just wanted a car to drive. They stripped it all down and got it primed and painted. They said by no means is this going to be a concours judging car. Well, I’ve done pretty good at the shows.”
The restoration included some rust repair thanks to years on Minnesota roads. The Firebird also needed a new interior and new convertible top. While the Firebird was apart, the Treutels had the Pontiac’s original 350-cid, 265-hp V-8 rebuilt. Vickie helped with some of the interior work, and wound up choosing the white parchment upholstery to go with the black dash and carpet. The convertible top is also white.
“I ripped the seats all apart because they did need to be redone I think they may have painted the back,” Vickie noted. “I took the interior all apart. We sandblasted all the seats inside, and primed them and everything … and I was going to put the vinyl on. I was going to put red in, and it would have been red-on-red, but I was like, ‘I can’t put that on!’ … I went with the parchment and at first it was like, ‘I don’t know about this,’ but I really like it now.”
The flashy Solo Red Firebird is equipped with a power top that rarely gets used. “I never put the top up,” she laughed. “Once it goes down in the spring it stays down. What’s the point of having a convertible if you don’t have the top down?”
The Treutels’ ’Bird is one of 11,649 droptop Firebirds built for 1969, to go along with 75,362 coupes. By their third year of existence, the Firebird and Trans Am lineup had established a growing reputation for style and performance as a close cousin of the Chevrolet Camaro. The Camaros were still about three times as plentiful, though, making the Firebirds, and particularly the convertibles, a little more challenging to find today.
Flatter wheel openings, front fender wind splits, new rooflines and a creased lower beltline were among the calling cards of the mildly redesigned 1969 Firebirds. The gas filler moved behind the rear license plate and a rectangular Pontiac-style split bumper grille was used. Square body-colored Endura bezels held the headlamps. Big news came when the Trans Am arrived on March 8, 1969, at the Chicago Auto Show. It was the slinkiest and flashiest Firebird up to that point.
Standard equipment for Firebirds included vinyl bucket seats, grained dashboards, carpeting, outside mirrors and side marker lamps. The hardtop listed for $2,831 and the ragtop for $3,045. Models included the Sprint ($121 extra), 350 ($111), 350 H.O. ($351-$435), 400 ($275-$358), 400 H.O. ($351-$435) and Ram Air 400 ($832 extra), plus the Trans Am.
The Firebird 350 option package (UPC 345, engine code WS6) included chrome engine parts, a dual exhaust system, a heavy-duty battery, a three-speed manual transmission with a floor shifter, F70 x 14 red stripe or white sidewall tires and a variable pitch cooling fan. The engine was a 400-cid V-8 with 10.75:1 compression, a Rochester four-barrel carburetor and 330 hp at 4800 rpm. A special hood was used on the Firebird 400 and incorporated non-functional hood scoops (they were functional on the 400 H.O.) A Ride & Handling package was required.
The original 350 still in the Treutels’ convertible has been out of the car several times. “In the fall of 2012 we had to pull the engine because I think it was a cam bearing that blew. We had the guy rebuild it again and had to take it back out again because the rear main seal didn’t seat,” she said. “After that we had it Dyno-ed and all checked out.”
Vickie was relatively familiar with the 1969 Firebirds from way back. Her first car was a 1969 Camaro and later she fell for a 1973 Trans Am that her uncle found for her. “I drove that car all year-round. I drove it in the winter time, even though I didn’t want to. I had to. I couldn’t afford two cars, with the insurance and everything,” she recalls. “I got stuck in the snow on the corner right where I lived and had to call a friend to come and get me out. Well, I had to get rid of it. I didn’t want to, but I had to.”
Vickie’s 1969 convertible will soon be joined on the road by Jim’s 1969 Firebird coupe, and a 1967 GTO that the couple is also planning to restore. So which car will be the jewel of the fleet when all are done? It’s hard to tell. “Probably his coupe, because mine will be a little older restoration,” Vickie laughed.
Even if her convertible eventually falls to second or third in the pecking order, the convertible has still been a great addition, and great surprise, to the family.
“Was I expecting it to be this good? No,” Vickie admits. “It’s a really nice car. I wouldn’t trade it for anything now. Now that everything is good on it [laughs]. Knock on wood. Yeah, it’s a good car to drive around in.”
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