When Bill Kellenberger answered the Marines' call for a few good men in 1962, he left his very used Volkswagen with his father, Kay, who continued to use it until 1968, when the odometer had recorded 325,000 miles.
By then Mr. Kellenberger's hitch with the Marines was complete, and he returned April 1, 1968. He didn't want the old VW back, so his father used it as a trade for a new Pontiac Firebird.
The burgundy car was purchased Aug. 20, 1968, at Thompson Sales Co. in Springfield, Mo., with the window sticker showing a list of extra cost optional equipment, including:
- Firebird 350 V-8
- 3-speed shifter
- Push-button radio
- Power top
- White sidewall tires
- Deluxe wheel discs
- Deluxe steer wheel
- Trim package
When all the negotiations had ended, the Pontiac cost $3,456.20. Records indicate that Pontiac in 1968 manufactured 16,960 Firebird convertibles. While his father spent the next quarter century enjoying the Pontiac, Mr. Kellenberger moved on in his career as a United Airlines pilot.
"About 1993," Mr. Kellenberger says, "Dad told me the Firebird was mine and to come and get it. I was too busy to get it, so I put him off."
That father-and-son scenario continued until Mr. Kellenberger's father died in 1997. After the funeral Mr. Kellenberger's mother, Margie, told him how close he came to losing the car. She said a neighborhood youth wanted to buy the car, and her husband said, "$5,000 and it is yours." The youth couldn't come up with $5,000, so the car sat in the garage.
Mr. Kellenberger retired in March 2000, and four months later his mother died. He went back to Springfield to get the Pontiac. As he was loading the car onto a trailer for the 1,200-mile trip home to Manassas, the neighbor - no longer a child - stopped by to say good-bye to the car he had wanted to own. At the time, it had been driven 87,575 miles.
"I didn't get enthused about restoring the Firebird until I considered changing the color to black," Mr. Kellenberger says. He has had other black cars, which he considers the most attractive car color.
After the Pontiac sat untouched for four years in his Virginia garage, Mr. Kellenberger began the restoration in May 2006.
"This Firebird was the best candidate for a restoration of the several cars I have restored. It was a one owner original, basically rust-free, a complete vehicle that had not been butchered, buggered or broken," Mr. Kellenberger says. It even has the original Identa-Plate, which was popular during that era.
The engine was rebuilt, and a four-barrel Quadrajet carburetor replaced the original two-barrel unit. All Mr. Kellenberger kept from the transmission was the Hurst shifter. The original three-speed manual transmission was replaced by a five-speed Borg-Warner T5 transmission, which provides better performance as well as improved economy.
A new black top covers the new black upholstery, which Mr. Kellenberger farmed out to an upholstery shop. Except for the stitching, he is proud to claim hands-on bragging rights.
He also replaced the "idiot lights" with new Rally gauges. The 8,000 rpm tachometer, with a redline of 5,400 rpm, still registers engine performance while mounted atop the engine hood.
The speedometer tops out at 160 mph.
He has a single regret about restoring his father's car involving the back bumper. It was bent and rusted through and was beyond repair, but Mr. Kellenberger hated to replace it because of two bumper stickers prominently displayed on it. He had sent the stickers, "Jane - Call Home 1-800-HANOI" and "The Marines are looking for a few good men," to his father back in his days as a Marine.
Before giving the car a shiny black coat, Mr. Kellenberger decided his car looked naked without a spoiler. Spoilers available in 1968, however, did not satisfy him, so he adapted a spoiler from a 1969 Trans Am. Today, it appears to have been there since Day One.
With the car painted black and rolling on new Rally II wheels, he took the car on its maiden voyage to Harrisonburg.During the trip he and his car were rained on for several hours. The good news is there were no electrical shorts and absolutely no leaks. "It's a new car," Mr. Kellenberger says. "I have every confidence in it."
Since the engine was overhauled and the restoration completed, the car has been driven about 600 trouble-free miles.
Now that the task of restoring his father's car is complete, Mr. Kellenberger says, "I think Dad would be proud of this car."
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