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1995 Pontiac Firebird Formula - Thrill Ride

Kyle Mckenzie Turns The Street Into A Roller Coaster

John Ulaszek Nov 1, 2008
0811gmhtp_01_z 1995_pontiac_firebird_formula Front_view 2/9

Maybe it was Coney Island, Disney World, or Six Flags, but at some point in our childhood we are strapped into a roller coaster and our perception of gravity and acceleration is forever changed. Until that first coaster ride, you probably never experienced any real lateral acceleration, and suddenly you are strapped into a brightly painted car and find yourself hurtling down the rails with your heart climbing out of your chest and your lunch trying to stay in your stomach. Sure, after this first ride some kids hurl, but most want to go again. We suspect Kyle McKenzie as one of the latter. Maybe that first roller coaster motivated him to build his current thrill ride.

McKenzie is no stranger to F-bodies, having owned a mid 12-second '91 305 RS Camaro and a cammed and nitrous-powered '99 Trans Am. After taking a break from F-bodies to start a family, Kyle wanted to "go again." He said, "I was looking for something I could just drop a motor in, but something happened along the way, and I decided if I was going to build it, I was going to build it the way I always wanted my last car to be."

Fortunately for Kyle, his wife Amanda is a patient woman. Unfortunately for Amanda, Kyle is friends with Tony Shepherd-the same Tony Shepherd who coordinated the first-ever LTX shootout and drives a 9-second LT1 Camaro. Between Kyle and Tony there was no rev limiter, and they went wide-open throttle on finding and building an LT1 car in time to run at the LTX Shootout.

Through the magic of the Internet, Kyle found a 1995 Formula Firebird on With Tony's help he brought it back to Waco, Texas, where it would be resurrected from a laundry list of afflictions, including blown airbags, broken windows, and a bent framerail.

The first stop in the Formula's transformation into a street-driven, roller-coaster ride was at Airbrush by Von Otto, where Von and Mike Cotter would sand the shell to bare metal before laying down three coats of PPG Sebring Silver basecoat and four coats of clear. Kyle told Von Otto he wanted an "old-school" flame job, so Von broke out his airbrush and created flames with just enough edginess and color that they can't help remind one of the paintwork you would find on the rides of a traveling carnival-this is a good thing, it's spooky and retro cool.

While the body was being transformed, Kyle's attention turned to the powerplant. The LT1 was bored and appropriately stroked with an Eagle forged crankshaft and rods for 383 ci of displacement with Wiseco forged pistons bumping the compression up a full point over the factory hypereutectic's 10.5:1 ratio. To keep the reciprocating assembly contained, the stock block's two-bolt main caps were upgraded to four-bolt splayed billet pieces from Callies. The robustness of the short-block was tested at the LTX Shootout when its pressed-in oil pump pickup slipped out, causing a complete loss of oil pressure with only a few rod bearings sacrificed. Kyle fixed the damage and has since replaced the press-in pickup with a bolt-on model.

The LT1's 374-casting cylinder heads were treated to a Stage II Plus port job, Ferrea valves, and Comp springs by the now defunct Port Pros in Austin, Texas.

A Comp 290HR12 roller cam with split duration of 0.510/0.540 actuates a set of stainless steel, 1.7-ratio Comp rockers. Hooker Ceramic-coated 1.75-inch long-tubes dump the exhaust through a Mufflex Y-pipe, and finally the menacing sound of the high-compression small-block exits out a Magnaflow muffler.

Upgrading the long-block put new demands on the induction, so the very capable, stock LT1 intake was ported and stuffed with bigger injectors. Kyle made sure the 383 was not starving for air by upgrading to a 58mm BBK throttle body, ceramic-coated elbow from Trick Flow, and a K&N air intake. To accommodate the 100-horse shot of nitrous, fuel delivery was upgraded with a Racetronix pump and Aeromotive regulator.

0811gmhtp_08_z 1995_pontiac_firebird_formula Shifter 6/9

While the wrecked '95 was originally an automatic car, Kyle wanted to do the shifting himself and converted to a six-speed with a SPEC Stage 3 clutch. While McKenzie said he still hasn't mastered a proper burnout with the manual box, we suspect he will be grateful for the 0.5 ratio sixth gear with the ever-increasing price of gasoline.

Although Kyle gets most of his thrills in the quarter-mile, he was determined to build a street driver that turned as well as it accelerated. To that end, McKenzie took advantage of the fourth-gen's versatile torque-arm suspension and upgraded it with a suite of BMR components, Eibach springs, KYB adjustable shocks, Fikse FM-10s, and, to improve steering-wheel feedback, a Turn One power-steering pump and pulley.

After replacing, detailing, polishing, and painting every aspect of the car, it was time to tune the combination. The first time on the dyno, the results were a marked improvement over stock with 353 rwhp and 356 lb-ft of torque. Eight dyno runs later, Tony Shepherd's tuning bumped those numbers to a very respectable 405 and 388.

A year and a half after the project started, Kyle was literally working to the last minute to get the car ready for the first annual LTX Shootout, installing the Nitrous Outlet 100 shot while we were photographing the car at the shootout. With Tony Shepherd's help, Kyle has built a versatile F-body with so much horsepower and lateral grip, we're certain Kyle's kids won't get their first real thrills at an amusement park!



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