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1998 Pontiac Firebird Formula

Formula For Success

Barry Kluczyk Jan 14, 2014
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Anthony Green had it tough growing up in Ohio. No, he didn't have to hike six miles to and from school each day – uphill each way. Nor did he have to load manure spreaders to earn money as a teen. His mom didn't make him take ballet lessons, either, but his parents did indeed harbor a dark secret that young Anthony had to confront: They were Ford fans.

They didn't hide their sordid affinity for Dearborn's rust piles, either. Mom and dad had his and hers 1972 Mustang Mach 1s, and during his formative years, Anthony was indoctrinated at the drag strip, watching his father run his Mach 1 locally, at National Trail Raceway. Later, he traded that Mustang for another – a 1986 SVO Mustang – and years later, he added a '94 Mustang Cobra to the garage. He still owns both of them.

Hate the sin not the sinner, it is said, so Anthony still visits his parents on the holidays. Those familial bonds are strong, and besides that, it gives him the opportunity to evangelize LS power. Anthony's 10-second, street-driven Firebird Formula proves he lives the words he preaches. His conversion didn't come overnight, but it is pure and by all accounts everlasting.

 Pontiac Firebird Side 2/7

"I joined the Navy in 1997, and after reaching my first duty station in Mayport, Florida, I purchased my first F-Body, much to my father's dismay," says Green. "It was a 1994 Camaro coupe with the lethargic 3.4-liter V-6. It wasn't fast, but I loved it."

That heretical dalliance with General Motors nearly ended a year later, when the Camaro was wiped out in an accident.

"Someone on the highway merged into my Camaro, causing me to lose control and hit a cluster of trees," says Green. "I broke my neck and back in the accident, and was eventually retired from the Navy."

Rather than view the accident as a divine strike for straying from the Ford flock, Anthony took the insurance money from the totaled Camaro and put it toward another, this time, a '94 six-speed Z28. Pound for pound, it would run rings around the comparably modified Mustangs of the day, but the LT1 was no match for the growing number of LS1 cars on the road.

"The '94 Z28 was modded with pretty much every bolt-on imaginable, including nitrous, but I spent years trying to keep up with the new LS1 cars that had comparatively few modifications. It was tough and cost a lot of money, so I absolutely wanted an LS1 car for myself," he says.

Anthony moved back to Ohio and put his Z28 up for sale to fund an LS1 car, with his sights set firmly on a Firebird Formula. He enlisted the local F-body club members to keep their eyes peeled too, for a simple yet specific combination: An automatic car with the optional 3.23 gears.

 Pontiac Firebird Rear 3/7

"I absolutely fell in love with the design of the LS1 cars, but the aggressive look of the Formula was, to me, the best-looking of the bunch – and it was lighter than the Trans Am," he says. "I wanted the automatic, of course, because I was going to build a streetable drag car."

His network of car spotters came through when a friend commuting between Columbus and Dayton spotted a 1998 Formula holding down the Tarmac at a Pontiac dealership near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The car had languished there for about nine months and the dealership was eager to sell it. It was an automatic car, with only 34,000 miles on the odometer, but equipped with the standard 2.73 cogs.

Although the rear axle wasn't ideal, Anthony couldn't say no to the color-shifting Blue-Green Chameleon paint. Turns out, only 124 Formulas were painted that color, making it truly a rare bird.

"On the drive home from the dealership, the Formula knocked down 29 miles per gallon," says Green. "It was the best mileage the car ever got since I've owned it."

Within a week, the car was strapped down to a chassis dyno, where it baselined at an eyebrow-raising 314 rear-wheel horsepower. That was very strong performance for a car that was rated at only 305 horsepower at the crank.

"Some people called it a factory freak," says Green. "I'm not sure, but that's what the dyno told us."

The factory-freak Formula was taken to the track a few days later – the same track where his dad ran his Mustang – and rang up a 13.24 ET at 106.5 mph, while also cutting an impressive 1.9-second 60-foot time on street tires. With the stock performance of the car recorded for posterity, little time was wasted in trumping it. The first mod was a gear change, made by a buddy who built turbo Buicks. Out went the 2.73 highway gears and in went a set of used GM Motive 3.73s and a used Zexel-Torson limited-slip differential, purchased from a Camaro SS owner Green knew while stationed in Florida.

 Pontiac Firebird Roll 4/7

The gear swap helped shove the Formula down the track in 12.96 seconds at 108.5 mph on the same street tires – and with the same 1.9-second short time. By the way: The gear and differential change was made more than a decade ago, and they're still spinning away in the car's factory 10-bolt rear end. That will seem more impressive shortly.

Although understandably pleased with the performance of his Pontiac, Green was on a fast-street-car mission with the Formula. With his Z28 still unsold, he stripped off a bunch of the Camaro's BMR chassis components—strut tower brace, lower control arms, Panhard bar and more—to firm up the Formula's body. He also ordered some new subframe connecters, and debated swapping over the Camaro's nitrous system, but decided against it.

"I really hated going out for the weekend and running out of power adder," he says. "I wanted something that didn't need constant refills."

Welcome to the wonderful world of forced induction. But again, this was about a decade ago, when blowers were really just being introduced to the LS1. Bolt-on superchargers were few and expensive. The same went for turbo kits, which mostly required the removal of the car's air conditioning system – a convenience that anyone who cruises around in Columbus's dog days of summer will tell you is not something you want to give up.

"Axing the A/C would have gone against my goal of keeping the Formula a true street car," says Green. "To me, then, the turbo kits were out of the question, but the supercharger kits were just about as expensive. Fortunately, I found someone online who was selling a complete ATI ProCharger setup, including gauges – and I'd just sold my Z28."

With the assistance from a few friends, the "seasoned" supercharger was installed within a weekend. Nothing is that easy and, perhaps, the Ford Fates were still punishing him, but fueling issues, part fitment problems, inferior hardware, and what Anthony admits was a large learning curve, prevented the newly pressurized Poncho from instant quarter-mile success.

"Frankly, it took years to dial the car in properly," he says. "On top of that, I had to deal with the fact the 1998 PCM couldn't handle boost properly via mass air – and even with a speed-density conversion, tuning was a guess in some of the volumetric efficiency [VE] tables. There was lots of trial and error."

Anthony stuck with it, changing the injectors and upgrading the fuel system a number of times, swapping the other original twin "side-draft" heat exchangers for a front-mounted intercooler and, of course, experimented with different tires and more. There's also an RPM Transmissions-built 4L65E backing the engine. To date, the car's best ET is a blistering 10.33 and the car has also achieved a terminal velocity of 136 mph in the quarter-mile. That's truly fast for a true street car that runs on pump gas.

 Pontiac Firebird 5/7

Oh, and did we mention the rotating assembly on the LS1 is as stock as your grandma's Camry? The original crank, rods and pistons have never left the block. And the heads are simply port-matched 6.0-liter "LQ4" units – the respected "317" castings – that have larger, 71cc combustion chambers than the LS1 heads' 66.6cc chambers, which helps reduce the overall compression ratio to lessen the chance for detonation under boost. The heads are complemented with a COMP XER281HR camshaft.

The comparatively simple engine combination is devastatingly effective, pushing 618 horsepower and 562 lb-ft. of torque to the rear wheels, with 13 pounds of boost.

"I get knocked by some who claim it's not a real street car, but apart from a few gauges and a custom 10-point cage – built by Mike Ward Racing, in Columbus – the interior is stock," he says. "At least, it hasn't been gutted or stripped out. The AC still works, it still has the Monsoon audio system and all the other accessories are functional. This car is completely streetable."

We can attest to that, as we took a long drive around the outskirts of Columbus to do the driving shots and complete the rest of the photography for out story. The car ran and drove in traffic with perfect manners. It didn't get hot. And it didn't stall, stumble, or hiccup at low speed. In fact, it slipped around town with surprising stealth, with the wheels and airflow-enhancing front fascia surgery the only outward clues to its capability. Body shop owner Kevin Clifford, from Clifford Automotive, in Columbus, opened the front fascia, and straightened a damaged Trans Am WS6 hood, and paint-matched it to the car.

 Pontiac Firebird Steering 6/7

Of course, now that he's run in the 10.30s, the 9s are enticingly close. Anthony says he's headed there, but even if the LS1's admirably durable short block can take it, we're not so sure about that 10-bolt axle.

"Yeah, it's probably living on borrowed time," he says. "It's howling now and I've had a Strange 12-bolt sitting in my garage for a couple of years, so I should probably install it and trans brake and get that single-digit ET."

Either way, Anthony has proved that dedication to a goal matched with the durability and airflow capability of the LS engine is the formula (pun intended) to high-performance enlightenment. He's a true convert - but his dad still owns those Mustangs.

No word on where Anthony is spending his Christmas this year.

1998 Pontiac Firebird Front 7/7

Data File

Car: 1998 Pontiac Firebird Formula
Owner: Anthony Green
Block: 1998 GM LS1
Compression ratio: 9.5:1
Heads: Port-matched GM 317s w/ three angle valve job
Cam: Comp XER281HR; 224/230 degrees duration, .581/.592-inch lift, 114-deg. lobe separation angle
Pushrods: Comp hardened 7.40 inches long
Rocker arms: Stock LS1 with trunnion upgrades
Pistons: Stock
Rings: Stock
Crankshaft: Stock
Rods: Stock
Throttle body: Edelbrock 80mm
Fuel injectors: Mototron 60-lb./hr.
Fuel pump: Twin Walbro 255lph 340m/342s in-tank
Ignition: Stock
Engine management: Stock PCM tuned by Randy Barch of Jegs and Brian Turner of Dyno-Tune Motorsports
Power adder: Procharger P-1SC-1
Boost: 13 pounds
Intercooler: IPS Motorsports 3-inch front-mount
Exhaust system: MAC 1-5/8-inch mid-length headers w/ custom true duals
Transmission: RPM Transmissions Level V 4L65E
Torque converter: Circle-D Billet 3C 3800, 2.4 STR
Driveshaft: 3.5-inch aluminum 1LE (third-gen F-body)
Front suspension: Stock
Rear suspension: Eibach drag springs, KYB 8-way adjustable shocks, Air Lift Drag Bags, BMR boxed LCAs, BMR boxed SFCs, BMR tubular PHR, BMR adjustable torque-arm, third-gen F-Body 1LE rear sway bar
Rear end: Factory GM 10-bolt; stock axles, Zexel-Torsen differential, GM Motive 3.73 gears, TA Racing diff cover
Brakes: Brake Specialties cross-drilled/slotted rotors, Performance Friction pads (front and rear)
Wheels: Weld Pro-Stars
Front tires: P165/R15 metric
Rear tires: Mickey Thompson 2P75/60/15 ET Street Drag Radials
Fuel: 93-octane unleaded
Race weight: 3,710 pounds
Best ET/mph: 10.33/130.56 (ET)
Best 60-ft. time: 1.50 seconds
Current mileage: 53,600
Miles driven weekly: 20

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