To fully appreciate Kevin Brueggeman's '89 Firebird Formula, it is important to step back in time to remember where this car came from. In 1989, Motorola introduced the first "pocket sized cellular telephone," a device that boasted an eight-character dot-matrix display and promised to revolutionize the world. It was also the year of the Game Boy, a personal 8-bit video game platform with "cutting-edge" graphics, the first ever full-length episode of The Simpsons, the first episode of Seinfeld, and the launch of the first GPS satellite, which were then only used for scientific and military operations. More importantly, 1989 was the year Kevin turned 16 and the year he got his first car, a brand-new Firebird Formula 350, a gift from his loving parents. Fast forward 21 years and we have the iPhone, a device much smaller than that first Motorola, capable of streaming the The Simpsons 456th episode while downloading a Game Boy emulator app and Facebooking your current location to all of your friends in real time. Yeah, times have changed and most of us look back on those things as just a distant memory. But what if you could take a classic icon of the past and put a new spin on it? Kevin Brueggeman and the masters at Hawks Third Generation decided to do just that and the results are incredible.
"My car is 'the one that never got away.' It was a full bolt-on car in high school and I had a 383 built in '93." Unfortunately it wasn't long after building his engine that life got in the way of Kevin's project and, like most of us, midway through college he ran out of both time and money. "The car sat for eight or nine years. I was pressured to sell it a few times and I had to move it from one garage to another for a few years." In 2004, after graduating college and getting some money saved up, Kevin finally managed to start back on his first love, getting it back up and running, but never to the same standard he seemed to remember from back in the day. "I started looking at new muscle cars but decided to spend the money on my Formula instead. I had seen a few well-built third-gens done by Bruce at Hawks Third Generation. After a couple of phone calls, I shipped the car to them." And believe it or not, Kevin didn't once visit the Hawks facility until the day he came to pick up the car!
According to Steven Woods of Hawks, "the car ran pretty well when it got to our shop but Kevin really wanted to build something special. We started by removing the 383 and transmission and, with Kevin's permission, selling most of the parts to help fund the rest of his build." With the car torn down, the Hawks crew started with the undercarriage, prepping it for a modern LS1 powerplant and T56 transmission. "At first we were just going to yank the 383 and install an LS1, but that plan changed as we got further along in the build." What started as a stock LS1 quickly turned into a Magnuson-supercharged LS1, an engine capable of producing well over 500-rear-wheel horsepower. Before sliding the new engine into the engine bay, the crew at Hawks began prepping the chassis for its new heart, starting with modifying the existing K-member to fit the LS1 and a new A/C compressor. With the hard parts complete, the crew began swapping over the fuel system, adding a Racetronix fuel pump kit and wiring harness along with a Hawks proprietary fuel regulator system, which would allow for a factory-style install of the new engine. As for the LS1 itself, it was left relatively untouched, although a new boost-friendly camshaft as well as a ported and polished throttle body did manage to find their way onto the supercharged engine before the final install. Once in place, Hawks slid a pair of its own 1.75-inch long-tube headers, which couple to a custom 4-inch single exhaust for a stealthy look and a menacing sound.
Attached to the rear of the LS1 is a Spec Stage 4+ clutch, which is tasked with applying power to an otherwise stock T56 manual transmission donated from a less fortunate fourth-generation F-body. A 3-inch extreme-duty driveshaft parallels a BMR adjustable torque arm down the length of the stock third-gen tunnel, with each attaching to a Moser 9-inch rearend stuffed with a set of 3.70 gears. This rear really is one of the most important parts of the car as it has been narrowed to Hawks specifications, allowing them to run a massive 18x10 Boze Boost rear wheel with enough dish to make even Emeril Lagasse jealous. "My favorite thing about the car is the lip on the rear wheel," notes Kevin, and we don't disagree. When we asked Bruce for the specs, he was atypically quiet, smiling and telling us he doesn't like to give them out to just anybody, they are part of his formula for building some of the nicest third- and fourth-gen cars in the country. The rest of the rear suspension is courtesy of BMR, with its Panhard bar, subframe connectors, and lower control arms tying it all together. Kevin told us that "the car is very tight and responsive with no rattles," a real testament to the solid suspension and drivetrain setup.
With the drivetrain complete, Hawks bolted a set of Baer six-piston Extreme brakes front and rear and sent the car into the paint booth, hoping to bring the exterior into the 21st century with a timeless, classic black paintjob. Doug Johnson was in charge of making it look perfect, opting to smooth the entire body before slathering the Firebird in three coats of PPG Global Base Jet Black and three coats of PPG Concept Clear, which looks absolutely incredible on this body style. After block-sanding and polishing the paint, Hawks rolled it back into the shop to put the finishing touches on the Formula. Inside, the crew installed a brand-new carpet kit, along with two custom Corbeau TRS seats in the front, with matching re-covered seats in the rear. A single boost gauge was added to the A-pillar, while a subtle six-speed shift pattern emblem was added to the center console, the only visual interior clue that this Formula isn't exactly as innocent as it may seem.
Almost done, BJ Hawkins and Cole Graham hooked the Formula up to the dyno and started tweaking on the stock LS1 computer. After perfecting the tune for killer driveability, a steady idle, and reliable power, the car belted out 508 rwhp and 492 lb-ft of torque, enough to put a smile on any muscle car enthusiast's face. And with that, Kevin finally made the trip from Texas to South Carolina, eager to reunite with his old friend, the '89 Formula. And just like the very first time he drove it, 21 years ago, the smile on his face made it all worthwhile. "The car is now a great cruiser that you can easily downshift and drop the hammer. The big brakes really shut it down quick. My favorite thing is popping the hood and seeing people's faces smile. Giving rides and showing people what can be done with the third-gen platform. Hawks built an awesome car, special thanks for getting my car finished under 'dire' circumstances." The moral of the story? Never give up on your first true muscle car. Don't sell it, don't destroy it, and never send it to the crusher. What's old can be made new again. You just need the right team of people around you to help create the perfect ride. That feeling of your first love is just around the corner, or in this case, just a throttle blip away.
Car: 1989 Firebird Formula 350
Owner: Kevin Brueggeman
Block: LS1, 346 cid
Compression ratio: 10.2:1
Heads: Stock LS1, 2.00 intake, 1.55 exhaust valves
Cam: Hawks custom hydraulic roller, 0.608/0.608-inch lift, 114 LSA
Rocker Arms: Stock, 1.7:1 ratio
Pistons: Stock, hypereutectic
Crankshaft: Stock, nodular iron
Rods: Stock, powdered metal
Throttle body: Stock GM, ported
Fuel injectors: 42 lb/hr
Fuel pump: Racetronix, in-tank
Ignition: Stock, coil-near-plug, NGK TR6
Engine management: Stock, tuned by Hawks Third Generation
Power-Adder: Magnuson TVS1900
Boost: 8 psi
Intercooler: Magnuson air-to-water
Exhaust system: Hawks 1.75-inch long-tube headers, 4-inch Y-pipe, MagnaFlow muffler
Converter: Spec Stage 4+
Driveshaft: Extreme Duty 3-inch, aluminum
Front suspension: Stock control arms, sway bar, KYB shocks, Hotchkis springs
Rear suspension: BMR lower control arms, torque arm, Panhard bar, sway bar, KYB shocks, Hotchkis springs
Rearend: Moser 9-inch, 3.70 gear, 31-spline axles, Detroit TrueTrac posi
Brakes: Baer 6-piston Extreme front and rear
Wheels: Boze Boost 18x9 front, 18x10 rear
Front tires: Nitto 555 275/35/18
Rear tires: Nitto 555R drag radials 305/35/18
Fuel Octane: 93
HP/TQ: 508 rwhp / 492 rwtq
Best ET/MPH: 11.20/126
Best 60-ft time: 1.50