Major Johnny Hamilton is a...
Major Johnny Hamilton is a USAF A-10 pilot, but his '88 Firebird looks like an honest-to-goodness stealth fighter. The front and rear bumper covers were changed to the 1989 versions for a cleaner appearance and a Formula hood and Trans Am ground effects complete the look. It is painted in Code-41 Black with PPG basecoat/clearcoat.
Major Johnny Hamilton, 33 years old, of the USAF, has loved Firebirds since college. In fact, he still owns the very same '88 model that he purchased before his junior year of academic studies in 1994. He tells HPP, "I liked the Firebirds but couldn't afford a V-8, so I bought the 2.8L V-6 as my sole driver. Since I wasn't working at the time, my father helped me buy it."
Money was tight, and Hamilton was barely able to buy a Formula hood, aftermarket ground effects and a cheap paint job, let alone the V-8 conversion he really wanted for his Firebird. He recalls, "The car ended up looking like a Ferrari Testarossa. I drove it like that throughout my last year of college and my first year in the Air Force, when I was in pilot training." That year he also installed some stereo equipment and Centerline wheels.
Hamilton began the long road to his Firebird's current configuration upon his second Air Force assignment, a one-year deployment to South Korea. He says, "My uncle Jack in Alabama had been rebuilding cars as a hobby for many years and he agreed to work on my Firebird while I was away in Korea." The good-deed uncle replaced several Bondo-ed body panels and added '89 Trans Am ground effects. "Since Jack's son owns an automotive paint store, he provided the paint," Hamilton recalls. His Uncle Jack also installed a GM 2.8L crate engine and a Dynomax after-cat exhaust.
Though well on its way, the Bird was still far from "mission accomplished."
The Next Phase
"My goal at the time was to spend money on one expensive project per year, while doing smaller projects as time and funds became available," Hamilton explained.
After a tour of duty in Iraq, he installed '99 Firebird front seats, a new carpet and a reproduction console. Mark's Custom Upholstery in Converse, Texas, added GTA door panels and covered the rest of the interior and the dashboard in dark grey ultra leather with light grey microfiber inserts. "The ultra leather is very soft to touch, but it's more durable than real leather and the micro-fiber is much easier to clean than suede," Hamilton reasoned.
A year after being stationed in Tucson, Arizona, the brakes, wheels and tires were upgraded. Technology had advanced since Hamilton's college days and the Firebird's rear drum/front disc setup was outdated. He dumped the rear drums for a Baer Track kit featuring slotted/drilled and zinc-washed solid 13-inch rotors and matching calipers, and upgraded the stock front discs with similarly-featured Baer two-piece 13-inch rotors and calipers. Ronal LZ 17x9 and 18x9.5 wheels with silver painted spokes and a polished lip wrapped in BFG KDW-NT rubber followed.
Off to war again, this time in Afghanistan, Hamilton says he had a lot of time to think about his next move. Consulting with Hawk's Third Generation Parts (www.hawksthirdgenparts.com) and using the online forums of www.thirdgen.org, he decided his next modification to the Bird would be as intense as the attack planes he pilots for a living.
"I searched for an LS2 for a few months," he told HPP. "Eventually, I found one at Motorsport Technology Inc (MTI) (www.motorsporttech.com) in Houston, Texas. The company was removing a 364ci 6.0 liter LS2 from an '06 GTO with only 58 miles on it." Hamilton explained to MTI that his goal was 500 hp at the flywheel and they discussed the upgrades to accomplish his mission. MTI suggested its Stealth II cam with 224/220-degrees duration at 0.050 and 0.581/0.581 lift on a 116-degree LSA. David Coates of MTI told HPP, "Our Stealth II cam is designed for someone who wants the benefits of an aftermarket cam without the idiosyncrasies. It's got little or no cam lope and no cam surge. This cam makes excellent power from 3,000 rpm up to 6,500 rpm and offers a good blend of power and drivability."
After pulling the stock LS2 "243" heads, they were hand-ported to Stage 2E specs by Robert Manza of MTI, who has 30 years of experience in performance head porting. They were milled only enough to clean the surfaces, thereby maintaining the stock compression ratio of 10.9:1. The company then outfitted the heads with 7.4-inch hardened pushrods, stock GM 1.7 rockers, Comp 921 high performance dual valvesprings and 2.02/1.56 Ferrea stainless steel one-piece valves. Testing revealed that the modified heads flowed 305 cfm intake and 205 on the exhaust.
Before delivering the LS2 to Hamilton, a Nick Williams 90mm throttle body and a FAST 90mm intake were installed to work with the stock 85mm MAF and 28 lb/hr fuel injectors.
Can't believe your eyes? Look...
Can't believe your eyes? Look again. This Third-Gen Firebird features an '06 GTO's LS2 engine with a top end reworked by MTI. A Stealth II cam and Stage 2E ported heads from MTI are augmented by a Nick Williams 90mm throttle body, a FAST 90mm intake, a custom wiring harness and an '04 GTO ECM. Up front, a natural aluminum finish Be Cool aluminum radiator with dual electric fans keeps the LS2 at a 180 degree operating temperature. A K&N conical air filter connected to a custom 3 1/2-inch powdercoated black aluminum cold air intake provides plenty of incoming airflow. On a Dynojet chassis dyno, this '88 Firebird pulls a healthy 409 rwhp and 402 lb ft of torque.
"While collecting the parts, I kept looking for a shop to do the conversion because I didn't think I would have the time or know-how to do it all myself," Hamilton recollects. "A friend ran across Hi Speed Customs in Tucson, Arizona. After visiting the shop, I was impressed with the work, so I dropped off my car in October '06."
While Hi Speed mounted the LS2 in his Third-Gen F-Bird, the Air Force "Top Gun" would learn that the swap required a series of carefully conceived mods. First, he scrapped the Third-Gen K-member. A "correct" one was ordered from BMR Fabrication of Thonotosassa, Florida.
Hi Speed swapped the LS2's oil pan for an LS1 pan, thereby changing the front sump designed for the '05-'06 GTO to a rear sump compatible with the Firebird's steering linkage. Hi Speed also installed an aftermarket A/C compressor and relocation kit from Street and Performance (www.hotrodlane.cc), placing the compressor high on the passenger's side to gain more clearance at the K-member. According to Hamilton, this kit came with its own pulleys and an adjustable arm. A Walbro 340 fuel pump was installed in the Third-Gen fuel tank to feed the LS2 and uses an adjustable Aeromotive fuel regulator.
Then came the wiring harness. An '06 GTO uses "drive by wire" throttle, and Hamilton's Firebird required cable throttle actuation. An '04 GTO uses a cable actuated throttle, but its wiring harness is not a stand-alone one. Rather, the power, ground and fuel pump circuits are in the vehicle system itself, not on the wiring harness. When you pull the OE harness off of the '04 GTO, there are no power or ground wires. Hamilton had to research the solution, and it came to him by way of Fuel Injection Specialties (www.fuelinjection.com) of San Antonio, Texas.
Don Sutherland, the company's director of sales, tells HPP, "As all our wiring harnesses are custom designed to each customer's needs, we built a harness for Hamilton's LS2, which included power to the ECU, the ignition, the injectors, and the appropriate grounds. In other words, we built a stand-alone harness that Hamilton could use with the '88 Firebird, the '06 LS2 engine, and the '04 GTO computer."
This short-throw Pro 5.0 stick...
This short-throw Pro 5.0 stick allows this Bird to row through six-forward gears in its Tremec T56 transmission as quickly as you can say, "Get the pilot to the flightline."
Ronal LZ 17x9 and 18x9.5 silver...
Ronal LZ 17x9 and 18x9.5 silver spoke wheels wrapped in BFG KDW-NT 255/40ZR17 and 275/35ZR18 rubber make this Third-Gen handle as well as its Fourth-Gen younger brothers.