A Best of Show at S.T.A.R.S. followed by the HPP Editor's Choice award at the Pontiac Sout
Slotted taillights and a massive art deco rear spoiler are recognition conundrums for all
The custom lower fascia on the '89 Bird blends seamlessly into the bulge of the front fend
Beneath the Ram Air hood lies 406 ci of small-block using a Chevy 400 as its foundation. A
Go ahead, sound it out phonetically. What do you get? AR Tough Enough-or, if you happen to hail from Conway, Arkansas, like Ron Nichols, the owner of this stunning custom '89 Firebird, it also means Arkansas, Tough Enough. Beginning with a $300 '89 Firebird and transforming it into one of the wildest Third-Gens on the planet was quite a feat, and it garnered the car the High Performance Pontiac Magazine Editor's Choice award and a win in class at the '05 Pontiac Southern Nationals in Dallas, Texas. The level of craftsmanship-from the custom ground effects and taillights to the shaved and filled panels and seams-speaks volumes to the vision and execution of a theme: "Eye candy, motor candy, interior candy-give me so much candy that my brain rots!"
When Ron was dating his wife to-be, his first car was a bright-red '86 Firebird with a V-6. Of course, Jamee drove a '77 T/A with a 455 Pontiac stuffed in it. Score one for girl power. After 15 years of marriage, Ron still had a pang for his long-gone Third-Gen and picked up a blue '89 Firebird for a song with the intent of turning it into a drag car.
Its underpowered 2.8-liter V-6 would have to go, but at least the body was free of rot. After beginning the powerplant build, Ron went to a few shows where Jamee was displaying her red '81 Vette, and the show-car bug bit. A plan began to form-create a custom show car that would be both streetable and fast.
After two years of hard labor, the Firebird was customized, and featured red pearl paint and a warmed-over Chevy 400 engine. According to Ron, "After completing the Firebird, I would trailer both my car and the wife's Vette to local shows. Jamee would drive in separately, help on the final detailing of the cars, and tell me to call her when the trophies were going to be handed out. You got it; the Vette got all the attention and trophies, even though it wasn't quite as nice." Infuriated at the constant snubbing, Ron decided the only way to compete against his wife was to take the Firebird over the top.
AR Tuf-A-Nuf was completely disassembled in 2003, and the stock '89 Firebird sheetmetal began its metamorphosis. Ron teamed up with Jack Jumper of Street Sweeper Customs of Conway to design and fabricate the attention-getting body mods and paint scheme. In street rod fashion, the door handles were shaved, and a complete set of custom ground effects were hand-formed to accentuate the sleek look of the Firebird. Custom rear taillight panels were fabricated, and all body seams were smoothed and filled. An Advanced Plastics Third-Gen Ram Air hood was sourced, while the wild wing sitting on the rear decklid was fabricated out of fiberglass.
The parts were mocked up and prefit, and the body received four coats of Marhyde primer. After hundreds of hours of block-sanding to achieve perfection, an arresting combination of House of Kolor Sunrise Pearl and Orion Silver was chosen to accentuate the body lines. A total of five coats of clear were sprayed over the color coats and wet-sanded progressively through 3,000-grit paper before being buffed to a radiant shine.
Suspension And Chassis
During the bodywork, a plan was developed to achieve the proper stance to accentuate the swoopy lines of the Bird. Starting with the stock chassis, Charles Pilcher of Drasco Auto Center sandblasted the subframe, the floorpans, and the rear framerails, and painted them semigloss black using PPG basecoat/clearcoat. Various suspension modifications were discussed, but in order to lower the Firebird within an inch of the pavement while still retaining the ability to raise it for cruising duties, an Air Ride Technologies ShockWave system was sourced.
After integrating the system with the chassis, the Air Ride air tank was fabricated into the spare tire compartment. Stock front shocks and Monroe heavy-duty rear shocks work in concert with stock stabilizer bars (1.125 inches in front and 0.875 rear) upgraded with poly bushings to aid in controlling the suspension movements. Ron wisely chose to weld Lakewood subframe connectors into the unibody for some additional chassis stiffening, while Competition Engineering traction bars were chosen to minimize traction losses when the power is applied.