1995 Pontiac Firebird Project - The Dirty Bird
Say Hello to our new low-buck, down and dirty LT1-powered ’95 Firebird project car
From the May, 2011 issue of GM High-Tech Performance
By Justin Cesler
Photography by Justin Cesler
There she was, covered with leaves, dirt and grime, stuffed in the backyard of a friend’s house beside several bags of trash and an old broken bicycle. We asked if it ran, which was a mistake, only to be told, "it did, until we cut the body harness out of it..." Great, just what we needed. After a moment of silence and a couple of awkward looks at the beast, we decided to take the leap and commit to buying our new project car, a 1995 Firebird, which shall be here forth named "The Dirty Bird."
Let’s rewind a moment and figure out how we got here. Like most "good deals," our new Firebird came from a friend of a friend. More specifically, it came from a man named Austin Hubbard, who is currently stationed overseas in Iraq serving our country with the Marine Corps. As an active part of our military and now a man with some real money, Austin began to lose interest in wrenching on his beloved Firebird whenever he was on leave, and with less time to spend with his ride, it slowly found itself falling into worse shape. When an unknown electrical problem finally kept it grounded to his yard, Austin knew it was time to sell his beloved car, as long as it went to a good home.
Enter Greg Lovell, Austin’s mechanic and owner of AntiVenom EFI in Seffner, Florida. Never one to turn down a good deal, Greg and Austin came to an agreement on the price and the deal was done. Besides money, Austin only had one request, that we keep the Dirty Bird alive and put it to good use. Well, Austin, we plan to do just that! With the Dirty Bird back at Skunkworks, our top secret R&D facility, the first order of business was to take inventory of our project and tackle the re-wiring project we had ahead of us. Under the hood, we found a mildly modified LT1 engine stuffed in an unusually barren engine bay, which meant less hassle and weight in the long run. Visually, we could see an aftermarket cold-air intake, a set of long-tube headers, and an electric water pump. Austin had also installed a set of 28 lb/hr injectors from a C5 Z06 (grey tops), and de-screened the stock MAF, which isn’t always ideal but should work OK for our purposes. Other than that, though, the rest of the LT1 looked to be in good shape, with the Optispark still intact and a set of aftermarket wires, which didn’t appear to be melted to anything (always a good sign).
Under the bird, we were excited to find an aftermarket torque converter stuffed in the stock 4L60E transmission, but like any old F-body, we couldn’t be sure of the 4L60E’s internals. From the transmission back, everything else looked stock, including the factory 10-bolt rear and all of the suspension pieces. As you can see in the pictures, we did manage to score a nice set of Firehawk-esque wheels, which we planned on trading for a set of drag oriented hoops once we got up and running.
Speaking of running, it was actually much less of a headache than we expected, and simply splicing the BCM wiring back together and by-passing the stock VATS security system had us up and running in no time. With a turn of the key, the Dirty Bird roared to life and that is when we heard the most glorious sound in the world--the sound of a camshaft thumping away through a set of long-tube headers. Yes, Austin had told us it had a cam, but we didn’t expect to find a 224/230 duration camshaft stuffed in the block and we definitely didn’t expect it to run and sound as mean as it did. After letting the Dirty Bird come up to operating temperature, we scientifically tested (I stress, this was science) the driveline components by doing a giant smoky burnout in the Skunkworks driveway and then did what any diehard racer would do--we loaded the bird on the trailer and hit the highway for Gainesville Raceway to see what our budget beater could muster at the dragstrip.
What better place to find...
What better place to find a new project car than near a pile of garbage and a broken down bicycle. If you haven’t read the introductory text yet, say hello to The Dirty Bird, our new budget blaster ’95 LT1 project car!
Under the hood, the Dirty...
Under the hood, the Dirty Bird sports a stock LT1 long-block, although the previous owner, Austin Hubbard, had already installed an upgraded camshaft (224/230 duration at .050, .503/.510-inch lift on a 112 LSA), a new cold air intake, a set of long-tube headers, and around 30 pounds worth of dried up leaves.
Like every “good deal,”...
Like every “good deal,” our Firebird didn’t come without its fair share of problems. The interior was basically destroyed, with wires hanging everywhere and a couple missing pieces. The biggest issue, however, was the cut Body Control Module (BCM) harness, which wouldn’t allow the car to start, but luckily for Greg Lovell, it was an easy fix and our Firebird came to life just a couple of days after we picked it up.
Before jumping into any...
Before jumping into any modifications, we hauled the Dirty Bird up to Gainesville Raceway (as is) to see what it could lay down on the track using a borrowed set of 26-inch slicks and skinnies. With nothing but an intake, set of long-tube headers, and custom camshaft, the old LT1 tried its best to make it down the track, but a slipping transmission and misfire conspired to slow our times considerably.
Even with all of our issues,...
Even with all of our issues, we were happy with our best time of the day, running a 13.590 at 99.35 mph. While our 60-foot times looked decent, the slipping transmission (stock 4L60E) and ignition misfire really slowed us down on the top half of the track, running a dismal 99.35 mph while banging off the rev-limiter and breaking up from 4,500 rpm to redline.
Knowing our transmission...
Knowing our transmission was toast, we did what many budget minded enthusiasts would do and logged onto eBay Motors to search for a deal, whether it meant buying a used TH350, TH400, or 4L60E, as long as the price was right. After a quick and painless search, we found a great deal on this used TH350 built by FTI Competition Converters and Transmissions (FTI) in DeLand, Florida, and, without hesitation, we hit the Buy it Now button.
With the auction complete,...
With the auction complete, we called Greg Samuel, owner of FTI, and told him our plans. With a good idea of the motor and rear combination, Greg took the time to spec us a custom 9-inch torque converter and he even sent us a tail shaft spacer plate, which allowed us to rig up a slick VSS reluctor ring to keep our speedometer working. More on that in a little while.
Installing a TH350 behind...
Installing a TH350 behind an LT1 engine is relatively simple, as it basically bolts directly in place of the stock 4L60E unit. With the Dirty Bird up in the air, Greg Lovell of AntiVenom EFI broke out the Sawzall and made quick work of removing the hideous “Y-pipe” that someone had welded to the long-tube headers.
With the Y-pipe removed,...
With the Y-pipe removed, Greg unbolted the flexplate to torque converter bolts. If you have an eagle eye, you may notice our Dirty Bird already had an aftermarket torque converter installed, although it wasn’t much help with the slipping transmission. Luckily, we can have it checked out and sell it back on eBay, to help fund some future modifications.