In Irish Celtic mythology, the banshee is a spirit from the other world. In the automotive world, it’s a series of concepts that herald what the Firebird will be or could have been.
Banshee is also the name given to a fighter plane, the McDonnell F2H, and it is rather in homage to the latter that the name was used for the first time by John DeLorean, when he was at the head of Pontiac engineering. But first we have to start with the Banshee… which is not a Banshee.
The Forbidden Experiment
There are three types of people: those who follow the rules, those who make the rules and those who break the rules. John DeLorean is more of the latter type. And the rule at General Motors is simple: we do not create a competitor to the Chevrolet Corvette. Never mind, at Pontiac, DeLorean wants a two-seater sports car! At the end of 1963, he decided to launch the XP-833 project, whose manager would be engineer Bill Collins. Using a modified 1964 Tempest platform, two concept vehicles were built: one with a 326 cu in (5.3 liter) V8 and the other with a 230 cu in (3.8 liter) inline-6. liters). The XP-833 is distinguished by its one-piece tailgate that extends to the windshield and opens from the rear.
The studies are well advanced and DeLorean decides to present the concept to the board of directors. His plan is to frame the car as a rival of the Mustang (which however has 4 seats) and never to speak of the Corvette. Alas, the members of the council are not fooled and the project is canceled illico presto. In this kind of situation, the vehicles are sent to the crusher. Not this time: Bill Collins will manage to save them and store them. In return, DeLorean will have the rights to develop a Pontiac version of the Camaro (the Firebird) and the XP-833 will be one of the influences behind the styling of the 1968 Corvette C3.
The Banshee, the real one
In the middle of 1963, DeLorean launched, under the code XP-798, the study of a range of sports models which could be declined in 2 or 4 places with even convertible and family variants. The development will result in a first concept vehicle which is to be presented at the New York Auto Show in April 1966, under the name Banshee (initially it was to be called Scorpion). Featuring a 421 cf (6.9 liter) Tri-Power V8, it incorporates trapezoidal hinges and a half sunroof on each side for easy passenger access.
The car is shipped to the show and press releases are printed. It was apparently at the express request of James Roche, then GM president, that the presentation was canceled at the last minute… much to DeLorean’s annoyance. The Banshee will never be shown to the public, and this time the vehicle will be crushed…but not before Bill Collins gets the logos back. Preceding his departure from Pontiac to follow DeLorean on the DMC-12 adventure, he would buy the V8-powered XP-833 (his mechanic, Bill Killen, would buy the 6-cylinder coupe) and simply slap Banshee logos on it. The car was famous!
The fair tour
The name was first presented to the public in 1968 with the Banshee II concept (many must have wondered what number 1 was…). This is a rebodied Firebird in roadster form (no roof, cut windshield) with fiberglass panels. The front is reminiscent of the Corvette of the same vintage and under the hood, we find all the standard mechanics of the Firebird (V8 400 hp, 6.6 liters). This concept is sometimes referred to as the Pontiac Fiero.
It was not until 1974 that the name Banshee made its return to salons. The Banshee III is a Firebird reworked to improve aerodynamics (pointed front and rear, glued side windows with a simple access window). The front foreshadows, without the headlight covers, the 1977/1978 models. The engine is an extremely rare 455 hp (7.5 litres) Super Duty. This monster, given very conservatively at 310 horsepower and 390 lb-ft (net figures) by Pontiac, was only offered as an option on the Firebird for the 1973 and 1974 vintages. In 1976, the rear end will be revised to integrate 20 circular lights and new tailpipes. But the main course is yet to come!
The future looked good
The fourth generation Banshee is certainly the most spectacular. It is the vision of a designer: Tom Peters. Briefly entered GM in 1980, he returned there permanently in 1982 to enjoy a successful career for the next 37 years. In 1986, he designed the Corvette Indy concept, he would later design the Cadillac Sixteen and Buick Velite. For production vehicles, he demonstrates eclecticism by designing both sports cars (Corvette C6, C7 and C8 as well as the 5th and 6th generation Camaro) and utilities (GMT K2XX trucks). Shadow on the board, his name is also attached to the Pontiac Aztek…
For the 1988 auto show season, GM unveiled 6 concepts at the very beginning of the year: Buick Sceptre, Chevrolet Venture, GMC Centaur, Cadillac Voyage, GM SVR-1 and Pontiac Banshee. For the latter, Peters sought to go even further than for the Corvette Indy. Today, it still gives the impression of being a spaceship. The car is long (5.11 meters), wide (2.03 meters) and low (only 1.17 meters). The fiberglass body that covers the tubular chassis has no door handles or mirrors (opening is via an infrared signal generated by a watch). The front is a fairly extreme reinterpretation of the traditional two-piece Pontiac grille. The windows are flush mounted. Both rear wings are adjustable to improve downforce.
The interior appears just as futuristic for the time: head-up display, navigation system, rear-view monitor, on-board computer, lateral acceleration analyzer. The steering wheel alone has 19 buttons! The seats are fixed and mounted on the central tunnel and only the front backrests can move to facilitate access to the rear seats. To find an ideal driving position, the steering wheel and the pedals are adjustable in height and depth.
The Banshee appears to have a rear engine, however, the 4.0-liter aluminum DOHC V8 is well and truly installed up front. It develops 230 horsepower and is mated to a 5-speed manual transmission that sends power to the rear wheels. The suspensions are independent on the 4 wheels while the disc brakes benefit from ABS. The 17-inch rims are mounted on Goodyear tires. The Banshee is a rolling concept (you can see it in action here) but its test speed was limited to 55 mph.
After having toured the salons, the Banshee has not finished its career. You can find it in Back to the Future II as well as Demolition Man / The demolition man alongside other GM concepts. In fact, it will mainly influence the lines of the fourth generation Firebird, produced at the Sainte-Thérèse plant from 1993 to 2002. But that’s another story…