The Story Behind the Firebird


Well, the story is long, but is true. Back when I was a young teenager, I always into old muscle cars. I just loved the way they looked, how they sounded, how fast they were. Ever since I was small, I wanted one. I didn't know who made the Camaro, the Charger, the GTO, the Firebird, or even the Mustang at that age, I just knew I liked them. As I grew older, my passion grew, and I became very interested in how these powerplants really worked. For the longest time, my favorite car was an 67 Camaro, with a 4 speed, posi rear end, and a 427 under the hood, red with black race stripes. I was too young at the time to even think about getting my driver's license, and I knew I would probably never have a car that was THAT fast. I told my parents I wanted to be a racer, and they just laughed, thinking I was just day-dreaming of a cool job like that. As I grew older, my friends began purchasing cars, none of them very fancy, but they had wheels. I was 16, still didn't have my drivers license, and no real desire to because we lived so close to school, and I didn't have a job, or even money to buy a car like the one I had always dreamed of. I still remember my friend Randy buying a 1972 Camaro, mint, with a 350 4bbl, and a 3 speed automatic transmission. That car seemed so fast to me at the time, but the thing constantly needed maintenance, and repairs. One day, Randy was over at my house and his car wouldn't start, it acted like it was out of gas, or wasn't getting any spark. He left it here until he could get it fixed, which was about a week. Every day, sitting in front of my computer, I could see that beautiful Candy-Apple red camaro parked on the street in front of my house. Randy finally got fed up with it, and put a price tag of $3500 on it. I asked my parents if they would loan me the money and I would pay them back, but by the time they even had time to think about it, Randy traded the Camaro for a 1967 Pontiac Firebird. The firebird was a brilliant blue, sounded great, and ran even better than the camaro did! Randy installed a stereo system, and poor electrical wiring cooked it. It seemed like everything would go wrong with that car. One day, it would be fine, the next, on the side of the road. Randy and I went everywhere in that, and finally, I drove it around the block. Sitting in the bucket seat, with my legs stretched out to the pedals, with my hand on a 3 speed manual shifter made me feel in control of a monster. The thing had almost no power really, but sounded like it did. It had single stock exhaust, with holes in the muffler, exhaust manifolds, and leaked oil like a son of a gun, but I still loved it. After getting back from our little cruise, I felt an adrenaline rush. At that time, even though I knew it wasn't EXACTLY what I wanted, I begged my parents to let me buy it from him even though I still didn't have my license, but had gotten my permit to drive. He told me he'd sell it to me for $2000 straight up, said it had a 400 in it, so my parents wrote him a check, and he took the car home, cleaned it the best he could, and drove it back to my parent's house. I was so happy to get in that thing just to putt my way into the driveway in my new car. Well, problem after problem occurred continually. The front end had to be replaced, because the car wouldn't even drive straight, so we had to pay $1500 to get it repaired. We wondered why the car sounded like it had a miss no matter what we did, and eventually figured out why we were getting so much pop back under full throttle, 3 of the 8 intake lobes were completely flat, so the valves couldn't open. I bought a set of #62's that were supposedly Ram Air 4 heads from a guy in Indiana, and had them put on, along with a new cam and lifter set. It smoothed out the idle, but it had much more power and sounded completely different by swapping from 6S 455 heads (120+/- chambers) to #62's which are 72cc chambers. It was like going from 6.5:1 to 9.25:1 on the motor. After having the work done, the shop told me the engine was only a 350. I could not believe what I was hearing, and had to check myself. After checking the numbers, they were right.... It really was a small 350. After that, I drove the car around, hot rodding it, working on bits and pieces of the engine, getting it to run right, fixing vacuum leaks, and what not. My new dream was to get a 455 pontiac and slam it in the engine compartment of that beast. My parents said a 350 was plenty of power for that small car, and refused to let me get one. After many months of tuning the 350, it ran like a dragster, and idled like an angry skunk. Shortly after, during lunch while I was at school, a car full of my friends and I were doing "destruct-o" in front of the school in 1st gear, getting the front tire to hop off the ground. When I slowed down, i could hear some transmission noises, and could feel it in the shifter, so I took them to where they had to go, and drove home, I knew I had done it this time. It ended being a bad output shaft bearing and wasn't worth fixing. So I bought an ST-10 4 speed and Hurst Competition-Plus shifter for it, put a new clutch in, and ran it. Boy did that thing FLY after that! It was like driving an entirely different car, more like what I had always wanted. In June of 2000, I graduated high school, and my graduation present from my parents was a little jewelry box that had a model-engine in it, that I had put together. I asked what it was, and they said it was for a 455, and that they would pay $500 for one if I found one here in California that we could pick up. I found one in Sacramento, about 4 hours from where I live. He only wanted $250 for a 428 short block and 455 short block. I was so happy that I had picked up 2 of Pontiac's biggest engines for that cheap! Shortly after that, on my way to work with my mom, I lost a rod bearing and oil pressure plumetted. We drove to work knocking down the road, and trailered it out to my grandmas house to store it. I would drive all the way out there just to see it, and work on it. I pulled pieces off it to go onto the new motor, and eventually trailered the car back to Exeter to work on it here. Slowly, I took everything off to pull the motor out, while my new one was being machined. I kept buying performance parts using the ol "Midas" theory, I Midas well get this and Midas well get that. It was a neverending loop until I had bought all of the best parts I could find. I got a job at a local machine shop here as the teardown guy, just to get my foot in the door. One of my benefits was I got to get all parts there at cost, and got a 50% discount on machine work. I finally sold the 350 and the grenaded 3 speed to a buddy for $100 to get it out of our back yard, and started working on the engine compartment.