There she was, covered with leaves, dirt and grime, stuffed in the backyard of a friend’s house beside several bags of trash and an old broken bicycle. We asked if it ran, which was a mistake, only to be told, "it did, until we cut the body harness out of it..." Great, just what we needed. After a moment of silence and a couple of awkward looks at the beast, we decided to take the leap and commit to buying our new project car, a 1995 Firebird, which shall be here forth named "The Dirty Bird."
Let’s rewind a moment and figure out how we got here. Like most "good deals," our new Firebird came from a friend of a friend. More specifically, it came from a man named Austin Hubbard, who is currently stationed overseas in Iraq serving our country with the Marine Corps. As an active part of our military and now a man with some real money, Austin began to lose interest in wrenching on his beloved Firebird whenever he was on leave, and with less time to spend with his ride, it slowly found itself falling into worse shape. When an unknown electrical problem finally kept it grounded to his yard, Austin knew it was time to sell his beloved car, as long as it went to a good home.
Enter Greg Lovell, Austin’s mechanic and owner of AntiVenom EFI in Seffner, Florida. Never one to turn down a good deal, Greg and Austin came to an agreement on the price and the deal was done. Besides money, Austin only had one request, that we keep the Dirty Bird alive and put it to good use. Well, Austin, we plan to do just that! With the Dirty Bird back at Skunkworks, our top secret R&D facility, the first order of business was to take inventory of our project and tackle the re-wiring project we had ahead of us. Under the hood, we found a mildly modified LT1 engine stuffed in an unusually barren engine bay, which meant less hassle and weight in the long run. Visually, we could see an aftermarket cold-air intake, a set of long-tube headers, and an electric water pump. Austin had also installed a set of 28 lb/hr injectors from a C5 Z06 (grey tops), and de-screened the stock MAF, which isn’t always ideal but should work OK for our purposes. Other than that, though, the rest of the LT1 looked to be in good shape, with the Optispark still intact and a set of aftermarket wires, which didn’t appear to be melted to anything (always a good sign).
Under the bird, we were excited to find an aftermarket torque converter stuffed in the stock 4L60E transmission, but like any old F-body, we couldn’t be sure of the 4L60E’s internals. From the transmission back, everything else looked stock, including the factory 10-bolt rear and all of the suspension pieces. As you can see in the pictures, we did manage to score a nice set of Firehawk-esque wheels, which we planned on trading for a set of drag oriented hoops once we got up and running.
Speaking of running, it was actually much less of a headache than we expected, and simply splicing the BCM wiring back together and by-passing the stock VATS security system had us up and running in no time. With a turn of the key, the Dirty Bird roared to life and that is when we heard the most glorious sound in the world--the sound of a camshaft thumping away through a set of long-tube headers. Yes, Austin had told us it had a cam, but we didn’t expect to find a 224/230 duration camshaft stuffed in the block and we definitely didn’t expect it to run and sound as mean as it did. After letting the Dirty Bird come up to operating temperature, we scientifically tested (I stress, this was science) the driveline components by doing a giant smoky burnout in the Skunkworks driveway and then did what any diehard racer would do--we loaded the bird on the trailer and hit the highway for Gainesville Raceway to see what our budget beater could muster at the dragstrip.
Would you believe the old dirty bast... uh, bird, laid down a 13.590 at 99.35 mph with a terrible ignition misfire on the top of second and third gear and through a badly slipping 4L60E? It may not seem blistering fast, but considering the money we had invested so far, it was a great start. But, it also reaffirmed the reality of buying another man’s project--there is always a catch. Since we don’t have a ton of cash to spend on the Dirty Bird, we did what any smart enthusiast would do and turned to the largest online marketplace in the world: eBay Motors.
Obviously, eBay needs no introduction, but besides great deals on used and new cars, it can be a virtual treasure trove of great automotive parts deals, and Greg is one of the best at sniffing them out. A quick search brought up a ton of transmission choices, everything from high dollar 6L80E’s to low buck TH400’s, but we were looking for a slightly more efficient TH350, since we knew it would bolt up to our LT1 engine and work well for our eventual power goals. Then we saw it, a listing simply titled "FTI 9-inch TH350 Transmission." It was a pick-up only deal, 1,000-dollar "buy it now" and looked, at least on the outside, to be in great shape. Sold!
After winning the auction, we called the crew at FTI Competition Converters and Transmissions, arranged a time to pick up the transmission, and talked to owner Greg Samuel about our project and our overall goals. Greg was eager to help out and, after a couple minutes of talking, had us sold on a new 9-inch torque converter to go along with our project. A couple of days later, we had both the FTI-built TH350 in hand and a new 9-inch torque converter, both of which we were excited to install in the Dirty Bird. Want to see how it all went together and how well it worked? Read on--the best is yet to come!