Pontiac built more than 2.5 million Firebirds during a production run that spanned five decades, and even though the last Firebird rolled off the assembly line in 2002, they remain among the most recognizable vehicles on American roadways.
Unfortunately, the Third-Gen Firebird seemingly draws the least amount of respect from enthusiasts and collectors. That might be due partly to the fact that its introduction came not only at an industry-wide performance low point, but also when Pontiac discontinued its V-8, leaving various forms of Chevrolet's 305 as the Firebird's top powerplant for several years.
Though the Firebird regained much of its bite as horsepower rebounded and the Tuned-Port 350 debuted in the mid-'80s, it remained seemingly overshadowed by its Pontiac-powered Second-Gen brethren. It wasn't until Street Legal Performance (SLP) in Toms River, New Jersey, went a step beyond by transforming the Formula into a fire-breathing Firehawk that became capable of preying on most of its predecessors and attained Third-Gen dream-car status.
As we learned in "The Birth of a Legend: Formula Firehawk" (HPP, Sept. '05), the Firehawk was introduced in midyear 1991 as an optional package available through any local area Pontiac dealer. Beginning with a typical 1LE Formula 350, SLP added a host of upgrades during the conversion process, which brought the final vehicle selling price to a whopping $39,995. What buyers received, however, was a stealthy predator that was perfect for street, dragstrip, or road-course competition.
The 1LE Performance Package was a required option when ordering a Formula Firehawk. It inc
At the heart of the beast was a 350hp 350ci engine backed by a six-speed manual transmission and a Dana rear axle. The factory-installed 1LE suspension was left unchanged, but 17x9.5-inch wheels and 275/40ZR17 tires were included in the base package. A Competition Option package ($9,995) included such features as a Recaro driver seat with Simpson five-point racing harness; four-piston Brembo front brake calipers and 13-inch cross-drilled rotors; a six-point rollbar; and an aluminum hood.
Initial production plans included a total vehicle count of 250 during the '91 and '92 model years, but unforeseen issues and tough economic times limited sold cars to just 25. All Firehawks were to have a Bright Red exterior with Medium Gray cloth interior, but SLP began receiving requests for cars in other regular-production Firebird finishes, which subsequently lead to four uniquely colored Formula Firehawks-one in Dark Green Metallic.
A Dream Come True
Bruce Hawkins of Easley, South Carolina, has been an automotive enthusiast his entire life and had taken keen interest in Third-Gen F-bodies early on. "I've always been drawn to Firebirds and Camaros from that era, especially those equipped with the 1LE package," says the 31-year-old business owner. "But the '91-'92 Firehawk was what I really dreamed of owning. They have a muscular look with performance to back it up. To me, they're the ultimate Third-Gen."
With so few Formula Firehawks built in 1991 and 1992, they seldom appear in classifieds and when they do, the asking price oftentimes reflects their limited production numbers. Bruce says he first saw Firehawk No. 24 in Hemmings Motor News in late 1999. "It was advertised at a price that I really couldn't afford, but I still called to inquire and learn more about it. It's at that point my quest of owning unique Third-Gen Firebirds began."
Street Legal Performance introduced the Formula Firehawk in 1991. A total of 25 sequential
The Firehawk's sequential build number is embroidered onto the map pocket on the passenger
Medium Gray cloth was planned as the only interior choice, but just as SLP deviated on ext
SLP replaced the Formula's standard 16x8-inch cast-aluminum wheels and 245/50VR16 tires wi
Check out the vintage Panasonic car phone-high-tech circa the '90s.
Built by GM for SLP, the high-nickel 350ci block was fitted with a forged-steel crankshaft
Other required options on any Formula slated for the Firehawk conversion were the B2L 350c
Months passed as Bruce diligently searched for the right one for him. While in the midst of his hunt, a friend called to tell him of a Dark Green '92 Firehawk advertised in the Charlotte, North Carolina, newspaper. "I didn't believe it at first," Bruce says. "Most everyone thought that Bright Red was the only color available. I called the seller, asked a few specific questions, and found it was an authentic SLP car. Strangely enough, it was No. 24-the same car I saw in Hemmings a few months before, but I didn't know then that it was Dark Green Metallic with Beige cloth interior."
The Firehawk was completely original and in excellent condition with just 2,300 miles on the odometer, but its asking price was still much more than Bruce could afford. "Not only was it one of 25 built, but it was also the only one in that color combination. I just had to have it," he says. "I talked it over with my wife, and we agreed to cut corners for a while so we could buy it. I went to the bank and borrowed as much money as they'd loan me, and after some negotiating I purchased it in May 2000."
Life With A Firehawk
Bruce says that he shows his Formula Firehawk several times yearly, and that it always commands attention wherever he takes it. "I really enjoy driving it; it's just so powerful. Its acceleration is awesome. I've had it on the dragstrip, and it turns the quarter-mile in the low 13s with a trap speed of 106-108 mph, just as SLP claimed. I remember how happy I was watching my dad outrun an LS1 car with it the night we brought it home."
In addition to Firehawk No. 24, Bruce has also owned a few other unique Third- and Fourth-Gen F-bodies, including a '91 Trans Am 1LE, a '92 Formula with a transplanted LS1 engine, a '98 Formula WS6 with 1LE, an '01 Trans Am WS6, and an '02 Formula Firehawk. He admits the '92 Firehawk is still his favorite, however, and when asked about future plans, he says, "I'm leaving it all original. It's just too rare to modify."
Sliding behind the Firehawk's steering wheel surely takes Bruce back to 1992, a feeling only he and 24 other lucky owners presently share, but there are countless others just as enamored with Third-Gens even though theirs might not be nearly as rare. Around the same time that he took possession of the Firehawk, Bruce began searching for parts sources and found no companies dedicated to Third-Gen F-bodies or their owners.
"I knew there was a market for this," he says. "I started Hawk's Third-Gen Parts offering new and used parts for Third-, and now Fourth-Gen F-bodies. With the help of my wife, B.J.; son, Tyler; dad, Tony; and several hard-working employees, it's been quite successful. The Firehawk really pushed me into opening my company, and I consider myself truly blessed to be making a living doing what I love with my family and friends. Now that's what I call Pontiac Excitement!" We couldn't agree more.