Hot rodding is a gamble, and an expensive one at that. The pavement pounders that we love to use and abuse aren't exactly known as reliable vehicles from the start. And if all of that black ink on a Consumer Reports article isn't bad enough, we replace an OEM part with one that offers considerably more horsepower--but decreased reliability. The most amusing aspect of this situation, of course, is that we can't wait to do it.
Bumping the proverbial bar up another notch are the hard-core modifications like drivetrain and computer work. These gleefully irresponsible changes void factory warranties in a flash, and are best left to specialty shops that have the experience and training to make sure that your toy gets put back together correctly. Of course, there are tons of repair shops in this great land, with the majority of them "specializing" in 10-minute oil changes. Finding a reliable shop that does high-performance work is the trick, and nothing soothes a cautious owner like seeing a company's project car. These rolling business cards showcase the shop's potential and prove that they can indeed dismantle your pride and joy into a thousand pieces--and put it back together.
Plano, Texas-based The Horsepower Store specializes in domestic high-performance vehicles, and these guys knew that a project car, if done right, could open a lot of eyes to the kind of work that they perform.
"A lot of people question you and wonder what you are capable of," Sales Manager Michael Turner starts. "When they walk into the store, they don't know us or our work, and the best way to show them is by having a shop car."
This plan was hatched when Jeff Bush, who was the sole owner of the shop at the time, fell in love with the LS1-powered F-bodies--especially Firebirds with the Ram Air hood. He started looking for one, and found a car that belonged to a good friend of his. The Horsepower Store wanted something that stood out, pertained to the F-body crowd, and was a little different than the norm. So at the end of 2001, the company got this Ram Air Bird with only 20,000 miles on the clock.
"When we first bought the car, the only mods it had were headers, exhaust, and an airlid," Turner explains. "We started by adding an ATI Procharger P-1SC blower kit with the dual intercoolers, an inline pump and bigger injectors. When we made a few dyno pulls, it made 469 rear-wheel horsepower with the wrong pulley and only 3 pounds of boost. Once we got the correct blower pulley to run 5-6 psi, it made 489 horses with 437 lbs.-ft. at 5500 rpm."
Next, an all-Bassani exhaust system featuring ceramic-coated headers was added and a full Hotchkis suspension improved upon the excellent WS6 underpinnings. With all of that supercharged power hitting the pavement it was decided that a 10-point rollcage would be good insurance. And once it was (literally) ready to roll, HPS' Kevin Zabcik delved into the motor.
The philosophy behind this project was to throw as much power at the alloy mill as possible while retaining the stock bottom end, so Zabcik replaced the stock .496/.496 bumpstick with a custom blower cam possessing .597-/.592-inch lift and 218o/230o duration at .050. The stock heads received a thorough port job to bring them to Stage I spec, then a 3-angle valve job and Comp Cams springs were added to bring them to Stage II. And although the twin ATI intercoolers do an excellent job of removing the Texas heat from the intake charge, HPS went for the hot rodder's trifecta and plumbed a Nitrous Express LS1 kit loaded with a 50-shot for a cooling effect. The Firebird received HPS-spec computer tuning, and soon a newfound 581 horses (off the juice) were being passed to a SPEC Stage IV clutch with an aluminum flywheel. The power goes through the stock T56 and into a custom "Nitrous Ready" steel driveshaft, then hits a Moser 12-bolt loaded with 33-spline axles, 3.73 gears, and an aluminum TA cover.
Of course, any shop looking to catch the attention of prospective customers would do well to slather its ride with some cool hues, and that's what HPS did. James Laird and Jeff Randon from MPH Colorworld in Dallas sprayed on 2002 Z06 Electron Blue with ghosted airbrushed graphics. When combined with the functionally beautiful Fikse FM/5 wheels rolling on Nitto Extreme RII road race DOT radials, there's no way that this Bird couldn't turn heads.
The Horsepower Store is still working the bugs out of the hyper-aspirated mill, so a full-track run has yet to be recorded. (We can only imagine the computer tweaking involved with getting an OBD-II ECM to work with heads and cam, a blower, and a nitrous shot!) When asked about future plans for this triple-threat Pontiac, Turner was uncertain about the direction, but unwavering about the resolve.
"Our game plan at the moment is to push the stock short-block as far as we can. Eventually we'll build a bottom end but that's down the road. We are lucky to have companies like Hotchkis, Bassani, NX, and Star Clutch working with us on this project. But one thing's for sure: we want this car to go 9s with the stock block. We don't know what it will do or when, but we're going to find out."
The Horsepower Store has thrown...
The Horsepower Store has thrown just about as much abuse at this stock LS1 block as possible. The parts below the high-lift blower cam are untouched, which makes things that much harder when ATI-supercharged and -intercooled air flows through the SLP 85mm air meter and into the ported Stage II heads. NX's EFI nitrous kit is jetted for a 50-horse shot right now, how long it stays there is anybody's guess.
The unmistakable blower box...
The unmistakable blower box of an ATI supercharger system. It receives cooled air from twin intercoolers, then routes it into an awaiting stock 75mm throttle body.
Caught at speed in Texas,...
Caught at speed in Texas, this 2000 WS6's most amazing trait is the paint. MPH Colorworld shot three coats of PPG Global Electron Blue enhanced with more metallic flakes by volume than the factory GM color. The graphics were cutouts made by taking frisket paper, laying the designs down, and airbrushing over them, with ghosted accents thrown in for visual punch. The first demo batch of PPG Global clearcoat available was used on this Firebird, with two coats equaling an astounding 3 mils thick. Once it was sanded with 1500 grit, the results were spectacular.
The supple Pontiac interior...
The supple Pontiac interior is beefed up with a 10-point rollcage built by Cajun Pro Cars. AutoMeter 2 5/8-inch Carbon Fiber series oil pressure, oil temp, and water temp gauges adorn the dashboard, and a Hurst Billet Plus shifter controls the T56.