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Classic Camaros and fearsome Firebirds Add to ...

Chevrolet Camaros and Pontiac Firebirds have played an iconic role in North American car culture for almost half a century now. They've been driven in everything from race track competitions to main street cruises, as well as having had starring roles in movies and TV shows, all of which will be celebrated at this year's auto show.

If you're among the millions who have owned a Camaro or Firebird since these pony cars were introduced for the 1967 model year, you won't want to miss Icons: The Legend of Camaro & Firebird being presented by the auto show on the 700 Level Classic Concours, where about 35 examples will make up what's said to be the largest indoor display of "F-body" cars in the world.

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Ford launched the pony car concept in 1964 with its sporty, compact and quick Mustang but it didn't take long for cross-town rival General Motors to see the potential and the Pontiac Firebird and Chevrolet Camaro went into production in the fall of 1966. They both shared GM's "F-Body" rear drive platform and sporty two-door coupe and convertible bodywork.

They were powered by a variety of engines, ranging from sixes of humble output to fire-breathing six-and-a-half-litreV-8s making 350 hp or more (later, much more) that made them some of the fastest cars of their day on the track or on the street.

Both went on to be produced through four generations, thrilling Trans Am racing fans and movie goers in flicks as diverse as Attack of the 60 Foot Centrefold to Smoky and the Bandit, as well as introducing possibly the world's largest hood decal, the "screaming chicken," before GM switched off the production lines in 2002.

Chevrolet introduced the fifth-generation Camaro for the 2010 model year (they're built in Oshawa), but with the plug pulled on the Pontiac division, there was no screaming-chicken-like rise from the ashes for Firebird.

The focal point of the display area on the 700 Level in the convention centre's south building will be the History Room, where examples of all generations of Camaros and Firebirds will be shown.

And its centrepiece will be a racing legend, the 1967 Camaro racer known as "The Lightweight" and driven by Canadian race ace Craig Fisher and American star Mark Donohue for Roger Penske in the Trans Am series that saw Camaros and Firebirds engage in fierce competition with other pony cars of the era for herd dominance. This car, the 14th Z28 built, was purchased from a Toronto dealer by Terry Godsall and was the first to score points for Chevrolet in a Trans Am, in the hands of Fisher. Wearing Sunoco's blue and yellow livery and with its bodywork acid-dipped to reduce weight, it went on to help Chevy win the championship in 1968 and was raced by a number of other Canadians.

Parked just outside the history room is a grouping of Camaro pace cars, which led fields to the green flag at races such as the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500. Further along is an array of "bird" cars, Firebird Trans Am models sporting the wide-winged and highly stylized hood decal that was soon dubbed the "screaming chicken." There will also be a number of cars shown by members of local clubs representing a cross-section of Camaro and Firebird models.

Sure to attract a lot of attention are the pair of Transformer Camaros. In the original Transformers movie, a 1977 Camaro morphed into the Autobot Bumblebee to battle the bad guys. The recreation of Bumblebee is shown alongside a real 2010 Camaro decked out in a Bumblebee graphics package offered by Chevrolet. Just across from these cool machines is GM's own Camaro stand, which will include a Transformer-themed display and a green screen for photo ops. Toymaker Hasbro will be handing out Transformer miniatures until they run out.

Another unique car star is KITT, the computer-brained 1982 Pontiac Firebird automotive half of the crime-fighting duo that included actor David Hasselhoff in the early 1980s TV series Knight Rider. The Smokey and the Bandit movie tribute 1978 Firebird will also be worth a look.

At the north end of the Classic Concours are some special examples of the GM pony car breed.

These include the Ken Lingenfelter Camaro LTA. Lingenfelter, whose name is well known to GM performance fans, created the LTA - Lingenfelter Trans Am - as a vision of what a next generation Trans Am might look like. A sort of modern take on the 1971 Trans Am, it's all 2010 Camaro underneath its unique bodywork, which boasts dramatic paintwork by Wanda Finishes.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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