As a devout Firebird enthusiast and one who aspired to own an LS1-powered Fourth-Gen, a rush of excitement passed over me each time I saw one of Pontiac's television commercials promoting the newly restyled '98 Firebird. The clip I recall best depicts a Trans Am prowling an empty street on a sultry evening, seemingly in search of its next victim. To this day, that scene plays in my mind while driving my own '01 Trans Am.
I've often wondered if that particular series of Firebird promotions left such an impression on any other enthusiasts. Since no fellow Firebird owner I've spoken to has ever alluded to the racy late-'90s marketing campaign, I simply dismissed it as a sign that the commercials had faded away into obscurity. I felt very alone in my fascination with it until I met A.J. Viruet of Edison, New Jersey. He revealed in his interview with HPP that Pontiac's aggressive marketing convinced him that he needed a new Firebird.
"When I saw a Trans Am pull up behind an import, swallow it whole, and spit it out the tailpipe, I was immediately in love with the '98 Firebird," the 35-year-old security specialist admits. But A.J.'s love affair with cars, and Firebirds in particular, didn't start at that moment. "As far back as I can remember I've always liked cars," he says. "I was only 5 years old but could name every car on the road back then. Smokey and the Bandit and Knight Rider fueled my Firebird passion and I dreamed of owning one when I was old enough to drive."
True to his word, A.J.'s first was a used '86 Firebird he purchased at the age of 18, and a used '87 Trans Am was its replacement when his first was totaled while parked. His plans of owning a new Firebird were delayed when he joined the Marine Corps in 1995. "I remember seeing the new Firebird in that commercial just before leaving for my first overseas deployment and knew then that I'd own one," he adds.
This '01 Firebird Formula...
This '01 Firebird Formula was a dream come true for A.J. Viruet when he purchased it new. A series of modifications in recent years have transformed it into a turbocharged corner-carver that can presently provide 12-second timeslips or plenty of self-contained entertainment.
RPM Wheels R-505 rims and...
RPM Wheels R-505 rims and BFGoodrich G-Force KDW2 tires provide the grip for the corners. The wheels measure 18x8.5 up front and 18x9.5 out back, and the tires are 245/45ZR18 and 275/45ZR18, respectively. The center cap was borrowed from a '70s Firebird. Hawk brake pads, Power Stop rotors, and red-painted stock calipers handle braking duty.
A number of aftermarket components...
A number of aftermarket components were installed to maximize the Formula's already-excellent handling ability. Suspension Techniques 17/16-inch and 1-inch sway bars replaced the original front and rear units. Strano coil springs and KYB AGX adjustable struts and shocks are found at each corner. A double-adjustable panhard bar from UMI Performance locates the original 7.5-inch rear axle, while manually adjustable rear airbags maintain a consistent ride height.
Upon news of his homecoming, A.J. planned it so that his dream car would be waiting for him on arrival. He wanted to pay cash for his Firebird, so he decided to keep it as economic as possible. "The '01 models were out and it seemed as if every Firebird owner had a Trans Am. I liked the Formula because it was different, but performed just as well, and was cheaper. I considered the WS6 package, but it cost several thousand dollars and I really didn't feel it was worth the extra money. I didn't even want T-tops or leather interior."
Using a military sales outfit that allows deployed servicemen and U.S. diplomats to buy American-made vehicles directly from the factory at invoice cost, A.J. placed his order for a Black '01 Firebird Formula replete with the LS1 engine and six-speed manual transmission in November 2000. He then made arrangements for it to be delivered to a Pontiac dealer in Fairfax, Virginia, where he would be stationed upon returning from his tour.
The Formula was assembled at the Saint Therese, Quebec, plant on March 1, 2001, and shipped to the dealer, where it sat awaiting his arrival. "I couldn't wait to get home. I took delivery of it on March 27, 2001, and paid $23,200 for it. It was everything I dreamed of. When I drove it to New Jersey to visit family, I remember being so excited that I didn't care about having to pay the tolls," he jokes.
A.J.'s Formula was his mode of daily transportation for the next few years, racking up over 105,000 miles on its odometer in that time. "I retired it in September 2005," he says. "It was mechanically sound, but the exterior needed to be refinished, and I wanted to add an aftermarket Ram Air hood and airbox assembly from www.ramairhoods.com and a Wings West rear spoiler."
Rated at 310 hp and 340 lb-ft...
Rated at 310 hp and 340 lb-ft of torque when new, this LS1 has never been rebuilt. Bolt-on equipment includes an 85mm SLP mass airflow sensor, an 85mm throttle body from Jantzer Performance, 42-lb-hr fuel injectors from DeatschWerks, and 1.75-inch tubular Hooker headers. The combination cranks out 500 hp and 530 lb-ft of torque at the tires on 8 psi of boost from the remote-mounted STS turbo. The strut-tower brace is from BMR.
Tristate Leather in Elizabeth,...
Tristate Leather in Elizabeth, New Jersey, added black Corvette leather to the Formula's original seats. Red stitching tastefully matches the red-leather door-panel inserts. An optional Hurst shifter rows the gears in the T56 six-speed manual transmission.
A 7-series Elite gauge package...
A 7-series Elite gauge package and dual pillar pod from GlowShift Gauges allow the driver to monitor the engine's air/fuel ratio and turbo boost from the cockpit.