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1988 Pontiac Firebird Formula 350 - Renovated

After 20 Years On The Road, This TPI Firebird Got An Extreme Makeover

Tony Whatley Jul 1, 2009
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During the late 1980s, the GM and Ford rivalry had once again kick-started their enthusiast followings. Both camps were finally dusting off the non-performance era of the late 1970s and coming out with some relatively quick cars for the era. The Mustang guys had their beloved Fox-body 5.0 cars and the General came out with the 5.7L examples of the Camaro and Firebird. GM guys in-the-know quickly figured out the Formula Firebird seemed a little quicker than the Trans Am, due to its lighter weight and lack of ground effects and wing. Terry Blanton of Simpsonville, South Carolina, was a hot rodder during that era, and he purchased this 1988 Formula 350 brand new. The price back then was $14,500. Not bad for a vehicle that Motor Trend claimed as one of the 10 Fastest Cars in the USA at the time. The Formula lived its first eight years as Terry's daily driver, and racked up 94,000 miles on the odometer. His attachment to the car kept him from selling it, and he has enjoyed it as a weekend toy for the remainder of the car's life. At the moment it has approximately 127,000 fun-filled miles on it, and it was restored into the condition seen here about 6,000 miles ago.

Blanton realized that a six-digit-mileage Firebird wouldn't ever be worth much on the collector market, so he wasn't concerned about keeping things stock when the time came to rebuild the car. Terry enlisted the services of Hawk's Third Gen in Easley, South Carolina, to do the restoration and performance upgrades. Instead of repainting the car the original white color, he picked a custom shade of PPG Electric Blue to respray the car in. Inside the cabin, he had some custom interior and stereo work done. Custom seats with logos embroidered and a custom rollbar and harnesses were installed for both safety and comfort. The stereo system consists of a Pioneer head unit and Fosgate amps and subs. The factory wheels were dumped and in their place came a set of 18-inch Boze Forged rollers.

Under the hood, it was decided to stick with the old school TPI L98 engine and simply enhance it to perform much better than stock. The displacement was increased to 383 cubes, via a 0.030 overbore and Eagle stroker crank. Forged pistons and rods make up the rest of the rotating assembly. The topside was adorned with a set of aluminum Brodix Race-Rite 23-degree cylinder heads. To assist with higher rpm breathing, a Lingenfelter TPI Super Ram intake manifold was chosen. The cam is a 210/221 duration hydraulic spec and gets the L98 mill breathing more efficiently. Together this combo puts down 340 hp at the rear wheels and a whopping 420 lb-ft of torque. Enough propulsion to send the Formula down the quarter-mile at a current best of 12.27 at 114 mph. This performance is just the tip of the iceberg however, as Blanton purposely built the forged engine to accommodate a large direct-port nitrous shot in the future.

It wasn't just show and go that were enhanced on the car, the undercarriage and drivetrain also got some much needed detail work and upgrading. Out back, the weak 10-bolt axle was discarded for a Moser 12-bolt sporting 3.73 gears and 33-spline axles. Suspension parts from Spohn and Bilstein helped make the car more stable and reliable at speed. The planned power increases also call for more stopping power, so a Baer 13-inch dual-piston disc brake system was installed. Terry opted for making the ride height and quality adjustable, and went with an Air Ride suspension with multiple height settings available. The Air Ride system is neatly installed in the trunk hatch reservoir. Another OEM item that was tossed was the 700-R4 automatic transmission. In order to increase the fun-factor, as well as fuel economy on long cruises, the beloved T56 six-speed manual was installed. A Spec clutch and Pro 5.0 billet shifter work in conjunction to put the power through all six gears.

It is still uncommon to see clean examples of restored third-gen F-bodies. We suspect the trend will become more popular in the coming years, as the unique boxier-style bodies still retain a muscular stance to most gearhead eyes. Given the right stance and killer set of wheels, as well as upgraded motivation under the hood, these third-generation cars are sure to turn some heads at your local cruise night. Want something a little different from the sea of first-gens and fourth-gens? Build a clean third-gen, GM High-Tech will be watching for it.



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