The Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird concept cars previewed an idea -- the sportswagon ponycar -- that was on schedule for a 1970 introduction. The innovative body style never appeared in showrooms, however.
The Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird arrived two years behind Ford's Mustang, but were eminently successful in their own right. Yet even as the debut 1967s went on sale, General Motors designers were already planning their next-generation "ponycar" -- "F-body" in GM parlance. By early 1967, work was in full swing toward a 1970 introduction.
One of the more interesting notions to pop up on this development trail was an F-body sportswagon as a companion for the mainstay hardtop coupe. (Because of uncertainty over near-term federal safety regulations, a new convertible was never in the running.)
Though "sportswagon" might seem a contradiction in terms, the idea had a certain logical appeal. For one thing, many GMers still fondly remembered the 1955-1957 Chevy Nomad and Pontiac Safari wagons with their sleek two-door "hardtop" styling. Though neither had sold well, there was nothing else like them at the time -- or since.
A decade on, GM was, as usual, seeking "a difference to sell," and it was doubtless aware (through the time-honored Detroit grapevine) that Ford had contemplated a Mustang wagon for 1967. As we know, Dearborn didn't rush to embrace the idea, but GM evidently deemed the notion not a fool's errand at all.
Whatever their motivations, Camaro designers under Hank Haga and Firebird stylists under Bill Porter mocked up full-size sportswagons alongside their evolving new F-coupes.
Cooperation between the studios was unusually close even for a GM corporate project, with lots of creative give-and-take -- unlike the first-generation F-car, where Pontiac had gotten in at the last minute on what began as strictly Chevy's act.
That cooperation enabled the new Firebird to wind up looking a lot more distinct from the 1970 Camaro even though basic structure was again shared. It also contributed to a very pleasing overall design for both models.
Predictably, the sportswagons were planned to be identical with the new coupes from the doors forward, which naturally included the front-end styling unique to each nameplate. Behind, the studios jointly devised a shapely extended roofline with relatively long side windows, C-pillars showing noticeable "tumble-home" from dead-astern, and a sharply cut-off tail.
The last prompted the "Kammback" nickname, after the prewar work of a German professor named Kamm, an early aerodynamicist who proved that cropped tails help smooth airflow off a vehicle. Though records are a bit hazy, tailgates were likely designed as top-hinged hatch-type affairs, with a somewhat shallow window above a coupe-style back panel.
The F-body sportswagons would have been exciting and attractive additions to the 1970 Camaro/Firebird lines, but they were nixed for that most basic of reasons: cost.
In designing the coupes, the studios had come up with subtly different doors that dictated specific rear-quarter panels; this meant that each wagon would require unique sheetmetal too, as their rear quarters naturally differed from the coupes'.
Though Chevy and Pontiac wanted Kammbacks very much, GM managers deemed their extra tooling expense prohibitive, refusing to approve the body style unless both versions used a single set of panels. That meant one studio compromising its design for the other's, and try though they did, the Haga and Porter teams never managed to agree on which should prevail. With that, the F-wagon was finished.
Pontiac revived the concept of the F-wagon in 1977 with its "Type K" concept cars. Continue on to the next page to learn more about this pair of cars.
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Pontiac Type K Concept Cars
Though Chevy did nothing further with the F-Wagon, Pontiac revived the concept in late 1977 with a pair of special concept cars -- Pontiac "Type K" concept cars (Chevy had by then appropriated Kammback for its small Vega wagon).
Devised under GM executive designer David R. Holls and executed by Pontiac studio staffer Jerry Brockstein, the Type K was much like the original sportswagon proposals, but sported top-hinged rear side windows that swung up in crowd-pleasing "gullwing" fashion, plus a neat back panel with thick horizontal louvers hiding taillamps and fuel door.
Both concept cars were built off base production Firebirds, not Trans Ams, though they wore T/A-type dummy front-tender vents. One Type K was finished in silver with a red interior, the other in gold with natural-beige interior.
The Type Ks met such an enthusiastic reception on the auto-show circuit that GM design chief Bill Mitchell explored the prospect of limited production via Pininfarina, which had built the show cars under contract.
Price was targeted at $16,000 -- almost triple the base figure for a 1978 T/A coupe -- and assembly was eyed for either Italy or a small Stateside plant. In either case, Pininfarina would supervise construction, likely starting with specially supplied conversion-ready coupes.
A limited-edition Firebird convertible was also discussed. Alas, the F-wagon was left stillborn once more when the Type K's projected price ballooned beyond $25,000 amid inflationary pressures and the onset of a second worldwide "energy crisis."
Then too, the F-body itself was pretty old by that time, and GM was pointing to a belated new Camaro/Firebird, which would bow for 1982.
Though not generally known, Pontiac bothered to mock up at least one more sportswagon based on that third-generation Firebird. Completed during 1986 in Trans Am trim, it wasn't identified as a Type K or Kammback, but it sure looked nifty: smoother, tauter, and cleaner than any previous F-wagon.
Regrettably, it too was rendered a no-show, thanks to the plethora of problems that began catching up with GM in the late 1980s and reached crisis proportions by 1990.
But it looked like perhaps the Kammback still had a chance. After all, GM had been fighting back very hard, and striking new fourth-generation F-cars appeared for 1993 as if to herald the apparent turnaround.