Let's be honest, running 10.9s these days in a street car isn't quite the headline material it was a few years ago. It's quick, no question about it-but it's been done. Jon Beam's Firebird Formula, however, is a member of the 10-second club without an LS motor and the usual mods like a big cam and spray. In fact, his '95 Formula still sports a stock LT1 engine under the hood, albeit with an ATI ProCharger blowing into it. That's right, stock. No cam, no heads, not even forged internals. The same cast crank, rods, and pistons that were originally slipped into the Gen II small-block (with two-bolt mains) 15 years ago. They've stood up to the centrifugal blower's 9 pounds of boost admirably well.
The farthest Beam has dived into the engine was popping off the valve covers to replace the valvesprings and rocker arms. "The intake manifold and oil pan have never been off," Beam told us. "It runs great and has never missed a beat. The best e.t. so far is 10.914 at almost 122 mph." The Formula is an in-house project for his brother Bob's tuning shop, Brute Speed, in Roanoke, Indiana, and it is regularly flogged at Muncie Dragway. Here's one more amazing fact: the engine is barely broken in. Despite its repeated flights down the track, this silver 'bird has covered only about 5,700 miles since new. "I bought the car in 1995," says Beam. "I got a great deal on it, but it was slow. It was an automatic car with a 2.73 rearend." He got to work on the basic bolt-ons, including the typical mods of the day, such as a MAF-which cost horsepower rather than enhance it-underdrive pulleys, colder thermostat, larger throttle body, etc. The culmination of the parts raised the rear-wheel output from a lethargic 190 horsepower to about 240. Keep in mind that the LT1 was rated at 275 horsepower, which was stellar in its day, but the 4L60E slushbox absorbed horsepower like a fresh sponge. Nevertheless, Beam was able to coax some high-13-second runs out the car.
Years later, Beam and his brother Bob operated Exotic Performance Plus, a speed/tuning shop in the Muncie area. That provided the impetus, facility, and opportunity to take the Firebird not just to the next level, but a whole new realm of performance. Sure, there's a ProCharger P-1SC hung on the front of the engine, but it has taken more than 357 horsepower and 343 lb-ft of torque at wheels (on a stingy Mustang dyno) to deliver a 10-second timeslip. "The power is useless unless you can get it to the ground effectively and efficiently," he says. To that end, Beam tossed the factory 10-bolt rear axle and replaced it with a Moser 12-bolt, including 4.30 gears and a lightweight aluminum spool. There's also a full complement of suspension components, including a Spohn torque arm, control arms, and 25mm sway bar along with a BMR Panhard bar and subframe connectors. Air Lift drag bags and QA1 single-adjustable shocks work with the stock springs in the rear. Up front is a BMR tubular K-member and control arms. QA1 double-adjustable shocks and 300-pound springs, as well as Art Morrison travel limiters, comprise the front suspension. The suspension setup is continually tuned and adjusted to optimize launch bite. "You have to experiment to find the right balance for perfect launches," says Beam. "The car has been very consistent and launches hard and straight."
Strong performance from a reliable transmission has helped ensure consistency, too. And despite the lackluster performance of the car's original automatic, Beam stuck with an auto for racing. It's a Rossler-built Turbo 400 with all the drag racing basics: reverse manual valvebody, trans brake, and a Neil Chance 9.5-inch converter with a 4,000-stall speed. The factory transmission crossmember was modified to accept the Turbo 400. A Mark Williams 3.5-inch Duralcan MMC aluminum driveshaft channels torque between the trans and the 12-bolt, where it ultimately meets the pavement via Moser axles and a set of Weld Stars shod with 28x12.5-inch Mickey Thompson ET Street tires.