The first generation Firebirds had a characteristic "coke-bottle" styling. Unlike its cousin, the Chevrolet Camaro, its bumpers were integrated into the design of the front end and its rear "slit" taillights were inspired by the Pontiac GTO. Both a two-door hardtop coupe and a convertible were offered through the 1970 model year (the next generation, minus the convertible, being announced as 1970½ models). Originally the car was a "consolation prize" for Pontiac, who had initially wished to produce a two-seat sports car of its own design, based on the original Banshee concept car. However, GM feared such a vehicle would directly compete with Chevrolet's Corvette, and the decision was made to give Pontiac a piece of the pony car market by having them share the F-body platform with Chevrolet. Somewhat disappointed at management's decision, Pontiac went about re-making the F-body in their own image with both styling and engineering changes.
The base model Firebird came equipped with the OHC inline-6 and a single-barrel carburetor. The next model, the Sprint, had a four-barrel carburetor, developing 215hp (160kW). But most buyers opted for one of the V8 engines: the 326CID (5.3L) with a two-barrel carburetor producing 250hp (186kW); the "H.O." (High Output) engine of the same displacement, but with a four-barrel carburetor and producing 285hp (213kW); or the 400CID (6.6L) from the GTO with 325hp (242kW). A "Ram Air" option was also available in 1968, providing functional hood scoops, higher flow heads with stronger valve springs, and a different camshaft. Power for the Ram Air package was the same as the conventional 400H.O., but the engine peaked at a higher RPM. The 230CID (3.8L) engines were subsequently replaced by 250CID (4.1L) ones, the first developing 175hp (130kW) using a single barrel carburetor, and the other a 215hp (160kW) engine with a four-barrel carburetor. Also for the 1968 model, the 326CID (5.3L) engine was replaced by one with a displacement of 350CID (5.7L). An "H.O." version of the 350CID with a revised cam was also offered starting in that year, developed 320hp. Power output of the other engines was increased marginally. In 1969, a $725 optional handling package called the "Trans Am Performance and Appearance Package,", named after the Trans Am Series, which included a rear spoiler, was introduced. Of these first "Trans Ams," only 689 hardtops and eight convertibles were made. There was an additional Ram Air IV option for the 400CID engine during that year, complementing the Ram Air III; these generated 345 and 335hp respectively. The 350 "H.O." engine was revised again with a different cam and cylinder heads resulting in 330hp. During 1969 a special 303cuin (5L) engine was designed for SCCA road racing applications that was not available in production cars.