Future for the Firebird

I’ve only written about my 1978 Firebird one time on Need More Cars and that was to introduce the car, here. The sad truth is that I haven’t done anything with the car in quite a while. When I bought this Pontiac, my goal was to turn it into a pro touring style car, with big wheels, low profile tires, a killer suspension and perhaps even an LS engine. Minus the LS engine, this is what my LeMans has become. I built the LeMans to be the Firebird that I wanted. It has a great suspension with RideTech coilovers, strong brakes from the C6 Corvette, fuel injection thanks to Holley Sniper EFI, complimented by Hyperspark distributor, coil and ignition box. If I proceeded down the pro touring route at this point, I would just be recreating the 1972 LeMans on a different platform.

I purchased the LeMans off of eBay. I thought it would be fun to have a Pontiac to drive while I built my Firebird. It would allow me to devote my garage time to the Firebird, and then when I wanted to go for a drive or a cars and coffee, I could just hop in the LeMans and it would be ready to go. Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of that goal and started making major modifications to the LeMans, to the point where there is no way I would get rid of it now. The LeMans doesn’t need a whole lot more and It’s a great car for me. Now what of the Firebird? Do I sell it and abandon the idea of reliving my high school years (my first car was a 1977 4-speed Trans Am)? Should I let go of my fantasy of growing a mustache, obtaining a cowboy hat and picking up my wife (who is in a wedding dress in this scenario) and heading out on a road trip? The answer is no. I am keeping the Firebird, but abandoning the pro touring aspect of this build. Though I’m pretty sure my wife would prefer I not grow a mustache.

What shall become of the Firebird? (I am asking a lot of questions in this post). My new goal is to build the Firebird to be a good pony car with a vintage feel. It will be car that honors its roots, instead of looking to the future. Parts will be mostly Pontiac. It will be a car that the 17 year old me could ride in blindfolded (as a passenger) and still recognize it as a Firebird. It won’t be the fastest car, but it will be reliable, fun and feel of the period. I believe I can enjoy a car like this. It will spend some time looking like a car that might be driven by David Freiburger and Mike Finnegan. The interior will be bare of carpet. When people ask why, my reply will be that weight reduction was the goal. In reality, I will be waiting to install carpet until the holes in the floor have been patched with fresh sheet metal.

Under the hood I will, initially, get the Chevy 305 running. I believe it needs a new fuel pump, as they say on Craigslist. Its two-barrel carb could be replaced by a used quadrajet that I picked up for a song and that I will rebuild. I have a used Edelbrock Performer intake that should increase power by a bit. The TH350 3-speed automatic transmission will have to suffice for a while. In the long run, I will need to decide what powerplant I would like to use under the hood. The GM 305 can be built to make respectable power, but for a bit more investment, the 350 is a much better engine. The small 3.743 inch bore of the 305 necessitates heads with small valves and that limits the amount of air that one can pump through it. Another option would be to acquire a Pontiac 400 mated to a Muncie 4-speed, which would be Trans Am spec. Where to get the Pontiac engine and Muncie transmission? I have one of each in my 1972 LeMans. I could build the 455 block I have and mate it to a modern manual overdrive transmission, put that in the LeMans and steal its powertrain for the Firebird.

For brakes, new rotors and pads would go a long way to improving braking capability. Upgrading the fronts to 1LE brakes from the 3rd generation F Body is also an option that would allow the use of the stock wheels. I purchased a used disc brake posi rear end from a 1980 WS6 Trans Am, which would give me four wheel disc brakes and limited slip. Its 3.42 gearing should improve acceleration. The rear end came with its matching master cylinder but I’m not confident in its condition and new ones are available. I would restore the stock 15 inch snowflake wheels and mount new BF Goodrich Radial T/A tires. Who knows, I might even have them mounted letters-out, though I am usually opposed to such nonsense.

The body would be a rolling restoration. The doors have some rust, so they would either need to be replaced or reskinned. The left side fender is rusted through, but there are patch panels available. The biggest concern is the trunk weatherstrip gutter, which is deteriorating more quickly than a Real Housewives group trip to Cancun.

Rust in the trunk gutter

Getting the car back on the road should provide motivation to continue to make improvements to the car. Driving without luxuries such as carpet and a stereo will get old pretty quickly, so adding a new floor to the Firebird will become a priority. Driving an underpowered 305 V8 will inspire me to plan a horsepower upgrade. The lazy TH350 automatic 3-speed transmission should prompt me to seek out a manual transmission. I could foresee a time where my wife agrees to ride in this car. The first step will be to get the engine fired up. Follow needmorecars.com for progress.