It never made production, but the Pontiac Banshee was a harbinger nonetheless.
Chevrolet, 1966. Two million passenger cars sold. But for a two front attack, life might have been peachy. Enemy Number One – Henry’s Mustang. Enemy One A being rather closer to home, a GM (un) civil war focussing on the difficulties that family ties can induce.
In the egotistical, self centred world of the car executive, John DeLorean managed to stand out – “a real piece of work.” Charismatic, blunt and ruthless, being just three adjectives coming nowhere near close to describing the man. Could it transpire a fourth being naive? When divisional head of Pontiac, he acquired funding for a two seater sports car sending an ill wind through Michigan’s design studios.
Project XP-833 is a decent enough codename which went onto being known (onto four generations) as Banshee. Defined in Irish mythology as a female spirit whose wailing tells of imminent death, the nomenclature proved apt.
Plans were made in 1963 for an affordable and fun two seater sports car that could be highly customisable making the Banshee profitable, taking the fight to Ford’s Mustang. Only a troublesome thorn in the shape of Chevrolet’s Corvette, GM’s doyen of post-war orthodoxy, halted initial proceedings, dead. DeLorean and his team fumed. Their plan of “styling up” from the Monza GT captured hallmarks of a winner.
Two models were “around 80% production ready” – a coupé hard top powered by a straight six engine making 165 bhp as base could easily be upgraded to a Corvette troubling 326 cubic inch V8 found within the soft top. As these were experimental projects, the engineering was a little rudimentary but the styling was sound. When offered up to top brass in the summer of 1965, one could almost hear the abhorrent whispers primarily from the Chevrolet gang, though this has never been officially confirmed. Corvettes were shifting around 20,000 per year leaving no wriggle room for Banshee. Finance halted, project canned.
Saved from the crusher by being secreted away in storage for many years, both examples still exist thanks to quick thinking. Indeed, the Banshee plan continued.
Diverted onto the Firebird, DeLorean held more than a candle to the Banshee project. Using a Firebird chassis, a 1968 fibre glass bodied Banshee II sporting a cut-down windscreen, flush wheel covers, brake cooling vents and a louvred bonnet hiding the 400cu V8 was made. Painted day-glo orange, this second wailing was pre-ordained to be nothing more than an style exercise.
Six years later, Banshee rose once more. Remaining on Firebird underpinnings, the styling became the most dramatic yet seen. With project name Pegasus, Mitchell offered Pontiac 2 Studio chief designer John Schinella and exterior designer Bill Davis almost carte blanche. Smooth and seductive, the metallic maroon embellished with gold pinstripes and wheels (of aluminium) made Banshee III practically lift off the tarmac when stood stock still. The wailing was provided by Pontiac’s 455 cubic inch Super Duty V8 engine, even though one stipulation of this car was fuel economy. Bill Mitchell adored power, more.
Curvaceous to the rear, un-opening glass that required an electrically operated toll window for the sides assisted the cars aerodynamics. Urethane, foam filled bumpers, three quartz halogen headlamps per side and the unmistakable Pontiac Vee gave this new Banshee some seventies chic and would assist in styling the 1977 Firebird. The 1974 iteration’s rear end was composed of two circular exhaust pipes along with almost boomerang shaped, thin rear lights.
The Banshee III was paraded on the American show scene for 1974 as a promotional vehicle for Pontiac’s commitment to safer construction, weight reduction and better economy. Inside, the car’s red leather with gold accents contained safety equipment replete for the day.
Returning to the studio, the Banshee’s rear end was treated in an even more theatrical manner. Gone were the thin lights, replaced by twenty circular recessed versions, their glow combined with now golden, rectangular end shaped exhaust, being otherworldly. GM obviously harboured more concern for this particular wailing woman, keeping her in the family archives.
Twelve years passed until the final Banshee swept in on a bright red with Matt black bonnet accented wind. Now a 201 inch long, science fiction inspired projectile shape, Banshee 4 could have easily hailed from a franchise connected with another car that DeLorean had dealings with. Indeed, the car played a very minor role in the second instalment of Back To The Future – Marty McFly spies the 4 at a distance. The car can also be found parked outside a Pizza Hut in the film Demolition Man.
Remaining a two door, fibre glass bodied coupé, the car could seat four. A V8 shoving out all of 230bhp didn’t quite match the go with the show; the shape was spectacular. Equally so the interior; head up display, a top end High-Fidelity sound system, an early form of sat-nav “based on those in jet fighters” and a steering wheel adorned with almost two dozen buttons. Having no external mirrors (nor door handles – opened by the key fob) led the Banshee to using cameras and dash mounted monitors for “vision clearer than ever.” The seats wrapped around passengers with electrically adjustable pedals and steering column for the perfect driving position.
John Folden, head of Exterior No.2 studio made a fully operational vehicle, sadly governed to a 55mph top speed. That angular tapered, adjustable tail, there to direct air from under the car was barely troubled. Nor the moveable front air dam to facilitate engine cooling. The Banshee 4 did once more influence the Firebird until the wailing became overbearing. By 2010, GM retired the Pontiac brand but retain the trademark.
As for Banshee, listen carefully when the wind howls – it might be a Corvette, moaning.
Further to the above, there was one more Banshee concept. In 1966, a Pontiac skunkworks project was enacted as a more direct, four place Mustang rival. Work progressed on XP-798 resulting in a quite refined looking shape, but with Chevrolet’s own (F car) Camaro having gained approval as a quick and dirty solution, a Pontiac version was the best that could be salvaged. XP-798 was broken up (the badges purloined for the surviving XP 833 prototypes), but according to Irvin Ribycki (who was involved in the car’s conception) it did allegedly contribute ideas for the second generation (1970) Camaro/ Firebird model.