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Article posted: 11/11/2013 12:31 AM

Pontiac owners travels by air, sea to secure 1969 Firebird


There's no barrier a classic car enthusiast won't scale in the pursuit of his or her perfect ride.

Mitch Sexner's journey took him by air, by land and by water before he secured this 1969 Pontiac Firebird convertible.

He began his hunt in 1998, originally interested in large 1950s cruisers but eventually gravitating toward high-horsepower muscle cars.

"I zeroed in on a first-generation Firebird," the Buffalo Grove resident said. "One thing was mandatory: the 400 (cubic inch) engine. That would guarantee it had those intimidating hood scoops."

His Pontiac purchase was also motivated by another, much more sentimental reason. "My wife offered to buy it (for me) as a special 10th wedding anniversary present," he said.

After much searching, Sexner located a suitable candidate in Washington state. "When I phoned the owner, even he was shocked I couldn't find a (similar) car closer to Chicago and that I would come all this way." Unwilling to make a purchase sight unseen, Sexner boarded the next flight out to the far Northwest.

Upon arrival, he was a bit surprised at the next step in his directions. "The owner was located on an island in the Puget Sound. To get to him and the car, I took a ferry, which was the only way on and off."

The 1969 Firebird was originally sold new in the state and had never left in nearly four decades. After kicking the tires, an indecisive Sexner decided the convertible wasn't the "perfect" one, as a "couple things bugged" him. He sadly returned home empty-handed.

"My wife couldn't believe I went all that way and didn't close the deal. She convinced me to call the owner right away and make a purchase. She knew I'd be happy with it."

That intuition was spot on, as once the Firebird was relocated to the Midwest, Sexner wasted no time in enjoying his new ride. "All those minor things that most people wouldn't have noticed were remedied in no time," he said.

A crack in the dash was repaired along with several other interior blemishes, as well as several small exterior paint chips. One ultra-attractive feature on the convertible is its Carousel Red paint, a one-year only option. After many years of driving bliss, the 400 V-8 gave up the ghost in 2008.

RM Restorations in Lakemoor handled the engine rebuild, also taking the time to rebuild the three-speed transmission and replace the gas tank. During that time, Sexner also upgraded other parts, adding a shift kit, suspension components and a "hotter" camshaft.

"During the summer the V-8 was at the shop getting repaired. I left the car in our (home) garage. Our kids spent many happy days playing in the empty engine bay," Sexner recalls.

Once the vehicle was reassembled and back on the road, Sexner, a longtime auto enthusiast, learned a valuable motoring lesson while out for a family drive. "My wife doesn't ride with me very often but on one trip she complained about it smelling particularly 'gassy.' "

Chalking it up to her inexperience, Sexner ardently told her that an abundance of fumes is normal and a regular part of enjoying older muscle cars. "Later I found out the car did have a gas leak," he said.

Times like this remind Sexner that his spouse is a keeper and that -- with the amount of attention his "bird" brings -- it's also something he wants to hang on to.

"General Motors made so many more Camaros in comparison," he said. "I've always thought the Firebird had more style and a whole lot more exclusivity."

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