The 1978 Concept Car “El Skitbird”

Hi, I'm Lawrence Moriarty, and this page is an unofficial home page for The Pontiac "El Skitbird" station wagon, which was never made.

From 1971 on Pontiac entertained serious thoughts of releasing a station-wagon version of their classic Firebird. The car never made it to the mass production stage, but it got pretty far along in the concept development process.

Design in America was out of the question, so two prototypes were specially constructed at a special plant in Iceland for GM's Design vice president Markus Frankel. The concept was to put out the most aggressive station wagon in existence, that would appeal to what Frankel considered a sizeable market of performance-crazed, drag-racing housewives. The machines sported TWO V8 engines each, and were rumored to be capable of unprecedented speeds. One model was gold with a black interior, the other silver with beige interior (pictured here).

The “gullwing” back hatches were a masterwork of hydraulic engineering.

Another striking feature was the inclusion of a “on-board navigating buddy,” which was essentially a small monkey trapped inside the car’s dashboard. The driver could “ask the animal for directions,” and tickle the animal’s face. It was unclear how effective the animals were at this task.

Several problems prevented the “El Skitbird” from ever reaching the public. Inflation, along with several questionable design choices, had caused the estimated retail price of the vehicles to soar to $210,000 (1978 dollars.) Also, Frankel insisted the vehicle carry the “skitbird” hood decal rather than the traditional “Firebird.” When Pontiac GM Harry Stalls saw the “skitbird” graphic, he apparently “hated it” and “flew into a rage.” The project was scrapped. Frankel resigned and soon after went missing; the gold car was crushed, for internal company reasons. The silver car was taken on a tour of car shows in 1979. However, it was stolen from the Tampa Auto Convention of that year, and driven into the sea by persons of unknown origin.

The “skitbird” hood graphic


The reason for Frankel’s decision to go with the “skitbird” graphic is debated to this day. Some say he claimed the man-headed bird had appeared to him “in a dream.” Others point out that he had a “high fever” for months leading up to the concept cars’ completion.

Nonetheless, research shows that the “skitbird” may in fact predate the better-known “firebird” design. Early sketches by Pontiac designers seem to indicate a blurry, man-like head or head-style growth atop the bird. In fact, myth and fable tell of a fantastical creature not unlike the “skitbird”:

And yea, before me doth appear an royal Bird of Prey; and His Plumage doth radiate. Gold and Brown doth it project forth, like An Golden-Brown Sun. But atop the Great Bird’s body is verily a Man-Head, and his Brows doth connect at the Center; smoothly doth his Locks connect to his Whiskers and to his Glorious Brows.

This quote of unknown origin appears to be quite old. Other primitive myths refer to a magical, brown and gold bird with the head of a man, it was said to breathe fire and heal two types of poisoning.

Be that as it may, Frankel’s whereabouts were unknown up until 1996, when health workers discovered him living amongst a primitive, swamp-dwelling tribe in East Rutherford, Brazil. He apparently “couldn’t speak” but had been leading the tribe as “some sort of religious figure.”