Deon Howard bought his 1968 Firebird from a friend in 1972 when Deon was just 16. He’s had it ever since. Back in the day, Deon did some serious hot rodding and drag racing with the Pontiac. Now, with the help of his sons Devon and Ethan, the Firebird is being restored to the classic hot rod that it is.
Deon’s friend was the original owner of the Firebird. After Deon bought it, the two of them worked on the car together, hopping up the motor and taking it to the drag strip. They even had the original Pontiac brown paint replaced with a dark candy green – a perfect color for the 1970s.
Then, for most of Devon’s life anyway, the Firebird sat. “Since I was able to remember,” Devon said, “it’s been parked behind our shop. I remember people stopping and trying to buy it from my Dad because you could see it from the road. But he never wanted to sell it.”
The Pontiac survived its idle time, fortunately without too much damage. Mice set up a home in the car and feasted on various parts, including the wiring harness, and there was some rust, but fortunately it wasn’t too bad.
Devon was 14 and in high school when the family decided to spruce up the car a bit. He, Ethan, and their Dad stripped the body down to bare metal and applied some rattle can primer to stop any further rust. The engine was pulled out, and Deon rebuilt the bottom end.
“We got it to that point,” Devon said, “and then it was time to shove a bunch of money into it.” With the boys about to go to college, there was not much money in the family budget for hot rodding and the Firebird sat.
It was 2018 when work on the Firebird started back up again. Devon and Ethan were out of school and working, so there was more money to put towards the project. But there was another, more pressing, reason to get the car going. Deon had been diagnosed with macular degeneration.
“We had a big push because Dad was getting to the point where he couldn’t drive any more,” Devon told me. “We went pretty hard on buying stuff and putting it together. We were trying to get it done so he’d still be able to drive it before he lost all his vision.”
The Howards went all out. They bought every part that they thought would possibly need right at the start. Their goal was to get the Firebird running again with Deon behind the wheel.
First up was the engine. That bottom end that Deon rebuilt previously was a 400 block from a Grand Prix the family had owned. (The Firebird’s original block had been bored out during the car’s drag racing days.) A set of Pontiac 421 heads were sent to a shop to be freshened up. The Howards reassembled the motor and step one was complete.
But not for long.
“We got the motor together and got it running,” Devon told me. “It ran for an hour or two and it dropped a valve.”
So the engine rebuild started for the second time. Deon rebuilt the bottom end again using mostly Pontiac components. (He refers to the car being a “stock Pontiac” not a “stock Firebird.”) The pistons had to be replaced due to the damage caused by the dropped valve, and Deon installed a slightly hotter cam. This time around, they took the heads to a different shop to be rebuilt.
Devon told me his Dad is “a big carburetor guy. He really knows carburetors.” And as far as Deon is concerned, the more carbs the better. The original plan was to use three two-barrels that weren’t designed to go together. “He’s done it before,” Devon told me. But when he found a Pontiac Tri-Power set up for sale, he grabbed it. The three two-barrel carbs and manifold were being sold by a guy going through a divorce.
An MSD electronic ignition generates the spark. A set of headers take care of the exhaust. At first the headers were completely open, which was how Devon liked it. But the Firebird recently got a complete dual exhaust system with Flowmaster mufflers.
The car’s original Turbo-Hydramatic 350 has been replaced with a TH400 3-speed automatic out of the Grand Prix that donated the engine block. The Howards gave some thought to converting to a four-speed manual, but the automatic is still there for now. The trans drives the solid axle rear end that’s perched on the factory leaf springs.
The Firebird is sitting up a little higher than stock due to new coil springs up front and air shocks in the rear. Devon would like it to sit a little lower. Right now they’re waiting to see if the springs settle a bit. The power brakes are drum in the back and disc brakes the Howards installed up front. The Pontiac has factory power steering as well.
A set of Chip Fosse Legend wheels, 17 x 8 in the front and 18 x 9 in the back, are wrapped in Nitto NT555G2 tires. There’s also a set of stock Pontiac rims in the shop that Devon says might get refinished to give the Firebird a different look.
With the car in good shape mechanically, it was time for paint. Devon told me, “the pearl paint was all my dad and my mom’s idea. My brother and I tried to talk them out of it.”
Personally, I’m glad they didn’t. The Firebird’s paint looks great.
The paint shop did recommend a slight change from a pure pearl white color, adding some silver flake. It looked so good the shop has made it a new custom paint color that they call Deon’s Pearl. Devon said he stole the design of the hood stripe from a ‘68 Firebird he saw online.
Once the car came back from being painted, Devon said they “started shoving everything together.” Since they had purchased everything they needed at the start of the build, they had all the parts waiting in their shop.
The Howards completely redid the Firebird’s interior. The paint shop did replace the headliner, but Deon, Devon, and Ethan did everything else. The seats were recovered. The carpet was replaced. The center console was refurbished. A new radio was installed.
Devon tore apart the entire dashboard, repainting parts as needed. He installed white decals on the gauge faces. The gauges look great, but the real reason behind the change was to make them easier for Deon to read.
It took about a year, and the big push the family put on to get the Firebird back on the road was successful. Deon was able to drive his Firebird again.
And Devon reports it runs really well. It’s already been at a few local car shows. The Howards are members of the Midian Shriners in Wichita and they’re planning to take the Firebird to parades, shows, and poker runs. (In fact, it was at a recent poker run in Oklahoma that the Firebird started knocking a bit. Devon thinks it might have spun a rod bearing, but that’s still being investigated.)
And a trip back to the drag strip is probably in the Firebird’s future as well. “Dad is wanting to take it back to the drag strip,” Devon told me. “That’s the only reason we put seat belts in the thing.”
Future plans include putting the original 400 heads back on the engine, replacing the air shocks in the back, and getting the Firebird to sit a little lower. Devon also expects that they’ll regularly be tuning the three two-barrel carbs. “I’m sure that’s going to be a constant thing,” he said.
The Howards hot rod history goes back to when Devon and Ethan were just kids. “We were on dune buggies for a long time,” Devon told me, “always tinkering, getting those Volkswagen engines running.” They also completely rebuilt a Mustang II, and have some other great hot rods in their past: Devon’s ‘72 Chevy C10 and Ethan’s ‘65 Mustang.
But their latest project has got to be the most meaningful.
“It’s been a long process,” Devon said, “but it’s been a lot of bonding with Dad and me and my brother.”
Photos courtesy of Devon Howard
Click here to see more photos of the Firebird
You can follow the the Howards’ build on Instagram at @DeonsPearlFirebird