Twenty years ago the ponycar battle between GM and Ford, at least in terms of factory performance, was tilted in Ford's favor. The 5.0L had the upper hand over GM's long-in-the-tooth small-block (although that was soon to change). Pontiac (rest in peace) decided to try to rectify the situation with the Firebird Formula. The company took the most basic Firebird body and trim level and installed its top-of-the-line drivetrain. For F-body devotees, the Firebird Formula was a landmark car that said GM was still a force to be reckoned with.
Fast forward two decades and late-model GM cars rule the streets, with LS engines making massive horsepower in all kinds of cars, all over the country. But third-generation specialist Bruce Hawkins of, appropriately enough, Hawks Third Generation in Easley, South Carolina, wants to make sure that cars like the Firebird Formula get their due. He wants you to know that third-generation cars can be upgraded with today's technology to create incredibly fast and unique performance cars-or as he puts it, "supercars in mullet clothing."
The car you see on these pages is a powerful statement in this regard, and is likely to be one of the cleanest third-gen F-bodies you have ever seen. Its sleek lines and mostly stock appearance and interior might lead you to believe that this is simply a well-preserved, original car. That's exactly the first impression Hawkins wants to make. Look closely at the hood, though-there's something different about it. The Formula had an aerodynamic bulge on only one side of the hood; this bulge is symmetrical, with a mirror image of the original bulge making up the added half. And there's a polycarbonate window in the middle. Peer through that and you'll see a Magnuson TVS 2300 supercharger.
"What's it bolted to?" you might think. An LT1? An LS1, LS2, or LS3? No, keep going. LS6? Nope. That's an all-aluminum crate LS7 in there, all 427 cubes of it, chock-full of titanium goodies. All that adds up to about 705 hp and 685 lb-ft to the rear wheels, with the 60 lb/hr injectors struggling to keep up. "The bottom and mid-range torque that the Magnuson makes is fun," Hawkins says. "You can go from 20 mph to 60 mph in a gear with about as much pull on your body as you can stand. It feels like a 1,000-horsepower car."
Hawkins and the team at his shop tuned the car with the blower forcing 9 pounds of boost down on the LS7's 11.0:1 compression ratio. "It's pushing the limits a little bit," Hawkins admits. "We're trying to show what the limits of the package are. We can dial the blower back to 5 or 6 pounds and you'll still be in the 600s, and it will still be a 10-second car all day long."
Hawkins specified a custom-ground camshaft for the car to better prevent the supercharged air from escaping out the tailpipe, but also to make sure the car sounds as good as it looks. "A lot of power-adder camshafts don't have a good hot rod sound to them," Hawkins says, emphasizing that the finished vehicle's sound is always an important factor in the final level of satisfaction of the owner.
The LS7 itself is kept mostly stock, from its heads to its titanium rods, forged steel crankshaft, and dry-sump lubrication system. Around the rest of the car, Hawkins mixed and matched parts to deliver maximum fun on the street. The Hotchkis springs lower the car, but not too much. The KYB shocks offer excellent ride quality, good manners on a road course, and decent 60-foot times at the strip. The rearend is a Moser 12-bolt with a 3.73 Auburn posi and 33-spline axles, not a spool that would compromise the car's abilities in the corners. Custom 18-inch Boze wheels add a modern touch to the car's look. A Trak Pack torque arm, BMR Panhard bar, upgraded sway bars, and Hotchkis subframe connectors help round out the fairly tried-and-true smorgasbord of upgrade parts.