When you're blessed with a fertile imagination, ideas flow through your mind effortlessly. Once you discern the good from the bad, you're left with some excellent stuff. Forty-one-year-old Rick Bohler has made a career out of transforming pipe dreams into reality. As the owner of a company that themes restaurants and amusement parks-Disney, Universal Studios, Sea World, IKEA, and Royal Carribean Cruises to name a few-the entrepreneur decided to put his mind to dreaming up a one-of-a-kind custom car.
In an attempt to reconnect with his hot-rod youth, Rick set out to find a project car. "As a teenager, I had fast cars that I brought back to life with time and a little bit of money," says Rick. Now he has a little more money in his pocket but less time, thanks to his growing company.
He originally entertained the idea of building a Camaro, but as he puts it, "Everyone had one," not to mention the prices were out of this world. He ultimately chose a Pontiac-a '67 Firebird he'd found in great shape, for a quarter of the price of a comparable Camaro. It's a decision that he's happy he made.
With a blank canvas before him, the creative juices began to flow. Rick mocked up a ground-scraping Bird, dressed in custom flames over a two-tone paint scheme. Now all that was left to do was prepare his canvas to receive his vision.
Under The Knife
The interior was kept simple,...
The interior was kept simple, clean, and custom with the same colors inside to keep things neat and tidy. The dash is dressed with Auto Meter gauges, a Flaming River column, and a Isotta Katiena steering wheel. SPW power windows were installed, and a Vintage Air A/C unit keeps the hot Pontiac cool.
Rick's Bird had nearly 70-percent new metal already on it, but most of it had been installed incorrectly. It drove but it wasn't going to win any car shows. "I intended from the start to have a truly custom car, so I just saw it as a good starting point," he says.
Knowing that the current condition of the bodywork wasn't going to work for him, he delivered the Pontiac to Clarence and Tad Glover, the father-and-son duo at Old Iron Customs in Jacksonville, Florida. There, each body panel was reshaped and tweaked to create better-than-factory gaps, and the Bird was mini-tubbed. The list of new panels is enough to make anyone's heart skip a beat: floors, rockers, fenders, quarters, doors, and the trunk are all new. "Every panel was fitted specifically for this car, so I couldn't just go out and buy another Firebird fender because it wouldn't fit,"Rick says.
Once all of the panels were smoothed, Clarence and Tad blasted the F-body with two coats of epoxy primer and then block-sanded. Since Rick designed the paint scheme himself, he made up stencils with his company's plotter and helped mask off the car for paint.
BASF Glasurit sealer was applied, and then five coats of Glasurit urethane paint. The lower portion was painted dark silver with a high-gloss black on the top. With the stencils in place, the tribal flames on the lower portion of the car were sprayed gloss black over dark silver, and the top half was sprayed in dark silver over gloss black. Racing stripes added to the fiberglass '69 Trans Am replica hood have tribal flamelicks extending off of them.
The Pontiac was wet-sanded with 400-grit between coats, and after the clear was applied, a final wet-sanding process was performed using 800- to 1,500-grit. Some of the bright trim was painted black during the process-something that Rick gets mixed reviews on-and the bumpers and much of the trim were replaced.
In The Cabin
Inside, the custom theme is carried throughout. Rick purchased a set of Lamborghini style seats from Arizen Racing Sports and had them embroidered with Firebird logos. A rollbar was installed for safety and racing style, while Marquez Design made custom fiberglass door panels around the rollbars.
Here is the command center....
Here is the command center. The center console is home to the overdrive control, Ridetech suspension system, and Hurst shifter.
Not satisfied with just custom seating, Rick at DaddyO's in Jacksonville made a backseat Alpine stereo enclosure-with two silver stripes running through it to match the racing stripes on the outside. It houses a slew of modern speakers and amplifiers. The system is all Alpine and consists of an IVA W505 DVD player with LCD monitor;AM/FM tuner, 2DIN Mobile multimedia station, two Alpine PDX-1.1000 amplifiers, PDX Mono Power Density Digital Type-R SPR-17S car speaker system with 110-watt 6.5-inch coaxial two-way speakers, 6.5-inch component two-way speakers, two Type-R SPR-57C coaxial 5x7-inch two-way speakers, and two 500-watt 12-inch Type-R SWR-1242D subwoofers, all installed by DaddyO's.
The suspension was modified with new bushings and parts from Ridetech, formerly AirRide. Ridetech's Level 3 System places StrongArms (control arms), a MuscleBar (sway bar), Shockwaves (air spring and integrated shock), and spindles up front. Rick upgraded to the double-adjustable Master Series Shockwaves. The rest of the package consists of an AirBar four-link rear suspension with Shockwaves, and the complete system is controlled by a RidePro Airpod. Rick has control over the Bird's stance with a pressure adjustment screen housed in his custom center console. When he's cruising, he usually has them pumped up to avoid scraping anything. When at rest, the air pressure is dropped, and the 17x8.5 front and 18x8.5 rear American Racing Rouge wheels tuck nicely away into the Bird's fenders.
Any purist will appreciate...
Any purist will appreciate the Pontiac engine found under the hood of Rick's '67. The original engine was long gone when he picked it up; in its place was a 455 Olds. Barry Harrison at Harrison Racing Enterprises located a '67 400 block and built him a 494ci monster. It's dressed with a March Performance serpentine pulley system and custom-engraved valve covers from Tin Indian Performance, and it's cooled with a Ron Davis aluminum radiator.
The wheels are shod in 275/45ZR17 and 275/40ZR18 Goodyear Eagle F1 GSD3 tires. Sitting behind them are Wilwood six-piston binders with 13-inch front and 12-inch rear two-piece drilled and slotted rotors.
Underneath the Trans Am hood is a '67 Pontiac 400 block that was machined by Gary Harrison at Harrison Racing Enterprises, also in Jacksonville, to a 4.180-inch bore. With a 4.500-inch stroke, the new displacement is a monstrous 494 ci. Inside, Ross pistons wrapped in Total Seal rings are attached to Eagle H-Beam connecting rods. An Ohio forged crankshaft commands the rotating assembly and is held in by ARP main bolts. A Pontiac baffled oil pan keeps the crude at the pickup for the Melling 60-psi oil pump, and a Melling double-roller timing chain delivers accurate timing.
Final compression is 10.9:1 and pump gas is possible thanks to the aluminum Edelbrock Performer heads with 87cc chambers. They feature 2.11/1.66-inch valves, PRW 1.5-ratio roller rockers, and Lunati valvesprings, and employ custom chrome-moly pushrods. The valvetrain is controlled by a 224/236-degrees at 0.050, 0.520/0.540-lift Comp Cams hydraulic roller camshaft with a 114-degree LSA.
An AED Performance 850-cfm carburetor is bolted to a KRE North Wind intake manifold that draws clean air through a 14-inch K&N filter to help the Pontiac mill generate well over 500 hp. Spark is ignited by an ACCEL HEI distributor with a BOP gear, MSD 6AL box, and Taylor wires. The engine is set to 38 degrees total timing, all in by 2,800 rpm, and it runs perfectly, even through stop-and-go traffic.
To evacuate the exhaust, ceramic-coated Doug's Headers with 1.875-inch primaries and 3.5-inch collectors were installed. They flow into 3-inch low-profile Spintech mufflers with 2.5-inch side-exit exhaust.
Sitting behind the Pontiac powerhouse is a performance rebuilt Turbo 400 with a 2,200-stall converter and a Gear Vendors overdrive unit with 0.78:1 overdrive. Rick can control when the Overdrive kicks in with a button mounted on his custom center console. This Gear Vendors unit is actually a gear splitter that can electronically shift into gears between the factory three speeds using a 1:1.286 ratio to, in effect, create a six-speed automatic trans, or it can simply operate like a four-speed automatic overdrive.
Paying homage to Trans Am...
Paying homage to Trans Am road-racers of the past, Rick went with flat-black side-exit exhaust. Note the flames on the rear-quarter spilling over from the gloss-black top.
Out back, a Mark Williams 12-bolt rearend with an Eaton posi and 3.73 gears helps the Firebird put the power to the ground and keep highway rpm at a tolerable level in conjunction with the overdrive unit that reduces the effective final drive ratio to 2.91:1.
The project started in late 2006 and wasn't completed until late 2009. For its maiden voyage, Rick took his wife to the beach in his hometown of Jacksonville. "We hit First Street, where there were hundreds of people walking around. The sound of the car made them look; then stare. Many pointed, some clapped, some yelled, and we got a bunch of thumbs-up."
Wilwood six-piston calipers...
Wilwood six-piston calipers bite the massive 13-inch two-piece rotors to bring this Pontiac to a halt in a hurry.
As if the attention wasn't rewarding enough, the Bird dominated at its first show. It took home three trophies at the Amelia Cruisers 13th Annual 8 Flags Car Show, where 225 cars were entered-a Top 50 award, Sponsor's Choice award, and the huge People's Choice award.
With the Bird now complete and on the streets, Rick couldn't be happier. "I set out to build the Pontiac my way, and I did just that," he says. "Ultimately, I'm just happy that I went with a Pontiac. Once you own one, you become part of a family." His new Pontiac family, The Pontiac-Oakland Club International (Dixie Chapter), is happy to have him on board too.
Rick doesn't keep the Firebird in the garage either, he tries to drive it at least once a week since he enjoys it so much. "This Bird has power!" he says. "It purrs like a lion and runs like a scalded cheetah on steroids. The Ridetech suspension is solid and reliable, and it handles great!" Wherever Rick goes, with 494 cubes under the hood and flames on it, this '67 Bird is sure to heat things up.
HPP would like to give special thanks to Jacksonville Fire/Rescue 4 for helping us out with the shoot.