Silver Sensation – 1969 Pontiac Firebird


Leaking headers lead to a full-on restomod

When your first car is a red-on-red 1968 Firebird convertible that you still own today, it can be a challenge to top it with your next Pontiac project, but that didn’t deter Robert Thomas, a civil engineer from Centennial, Colorado. He purchased this 1969 Firebird in June 2007 from a local listing and recalls, “It ran, but wasn’t 100 percent. The Pontiac had already been modified in the Pro-Touring vein with a Doug Nash five-speed and Wilwood disc brakes, but most of the work was completed in the 1980s. Several small items, like interior bits and some brackets, were missing.”

Originally Windward Blue with blue interior, the Firebird “had been repainted red, the interior had been redone with black cloth door panels, and the front seats had been swapped,” Rob says.

His initial plan didn’t include a full buildup, however. “I just wanted to do enough mechanically to have a reliable car that I could drive and kind of beat on when doing some road course/SCCA events,” he explains. Then one day, after trying to fix a header leak with little success, he began taking the Firebird apart, and not surprisingly, “it ended up in a million pieces.” Rob began collecting components for the Pontiac’s complete Pro- Touring transformation in January 2008.

In that year, he had the body media blasted locally, and then some of the bodywork and mods were done by a friend and at a shop in 2009.

INTERIOR: A custom panel was fabricated from sheet metal by Bryce’s Street Rods and a set of New Vintage USA gauges reside in it. F&H Auto Upholstery in Wheat Ridge reupholstered the seats that had come with the Firebird when the current owner purchased it.

The project ramped up in late 2010 when, on a recommendation from a Pontiac expert, Rob contacted restorer/ fabricators Tim Tyler and Kirt Knox. Tim is a mechanic by trade and Kirt is a painter who owns Applewood Auto Body in Golden, Colorado, but they’ve also been building cars together in their free time in Tim’s garage for the last 20 years.

Not long after delivering the Firebird and its parts to Tim, Rob took its 400 engine to Pontiac Oakland Club International (POCI) tech adviser and engine builder Bill Arnold, owner of Mountain High Performance and Colorado Cryogenic Processing in Arvada. Rob had decided to retain the 400 block that came with the Firebird, but he wanted Bill to significantly increase engine displacement.

Upon teardown, Bill noted that the block had already been previously over-bored .060-inch, so it was hot tanked, machined, and honed again, and the walls cleaned up at .065. New cam bearings, core plugs, and oil gallery plugs (screw-in up front) were installed.

An Eagle Specialty Products’ Competition rotating assembly, containing the company’s 4.500-inch stroke forged-steel crankshaft and 6.800-inch forged H-beam rods and Mahle forged custom aluminum pistons, was selected and balanced with a Professional Products harmonic damper and the flywheel, as well as the piston pins and rings, and the bearings. The 4.185-inch bore and 4.500-inch stroke netted 494.95 cubic inches.

For the buildup, the block and virtually every other critical part were cryogenically treated in-house. Bill explained that the computer-controlled multi-step process gradually exposes the parts to extremely low temperatures and then allows them to slowly warm back up again. The benefits include stress relief and enhanced durability of the metal.

A Canton pickup and high-capacity oil pan, along with a Melling pump, ensure sufficient lubrication, and Rob says the relatively mild (when considering the large displacement) Ram Air III-spec Melling hydraulic camshaft was chosen to maintain streetability.

Improved breathing and lighter weight were advantages of the Edelbrock Performer RPM aluminum heads. The ports were gasket-matched, the included 2.11/1.66-inch valves and valve springs were retained, and Comp Cams pushrods and PRW roller-tip rockers were employed. An Edelbrock dual-plane aluminum intake manifold had come with the Firebird when Rob purchased it, so he reused it.

Once assembled, the 495-cu.in. engine was delivered to Tim and Kirt, who were already deep into the project. With the shell on a rotisserie, partially done prior bodywork was gone over. The end result was completed installs of the reproduction rocker panels and tail panel, quarter panels, smoothed firewall, mini tubs from Detroit Speed, and patches in the driver’s-side floor and in the trunk.

ENGINE: The F.A.S.T. EZ EFIinjected 495-cu.in. Pontiac engine sports Butler Performance anodized billet aluminum valve covers and breather, and a March Style Track serpentine belt pulley kit. A Vintage Air A/C system, Be Cool aluminum radiator, Detroit Speed fender braces, and Ringbrothers hood hinges were also added.

Additional work by Kirt and Tim included rear valance panel revisions for the exhaust tips to pass through it and narrowing of the rear bumper and “Frenching” it into the quarters. The bumpers and a reproduction 1969 Trans Am hood, fender air extractors, and rear spoiler, as well as later-model mirrors, were prepped to be painted body color.

After the remaining dings were repaired and the metalwork was finished, Evercoat Quantum 1 filler was used sparingly and block-sanded smooth. PPG’s Deltron paint system was employed. Six coats of DPS3055 V-Prime acrylic urethane primer were applied with block sanding performed between each until all of the panels were straight. Next, two coats of V-Seal DAS3027 sealer were laid down.

Lizard Skin Sound Control was applied to the floors and minitubs over etching primer and then painted black. Four coats of Deltron 2000 DBC in a Mercedes silver were applied to the outer shell while it was on the rotisserie, and the bolt-on body parts were painted separately.

Following the bodywork and paint, the chassis was assembled using the upgraded components Rob had purchased back in 2008 from American Touring Specialties. On the powder-coated subframe, Tim and Kirt installed the Global West tubular upper and lower control arms, Bilstein coilover shocks with Hyperco 625-pounds per inch (ppi) coil springs, AFX tall spindles, a Hotchkis solid 1.125-inch anti-roll bar, a 12.7:1 quick-ratio steering box, and Moog linkage.

In the rear, Hyperco 175-ppi composite mono-leaf springs and Koni shocks were bolted in, along with a Chevy 12-bolt Positraction rear end that was narrowed 3 inches and rebuilt in 2008. Global West Del-A-Lum bushings were used throughout. The rollbar and subframe connectors that had been welded in by a previous owner were retained.

A C6 Z06 Corvette brake swap kit from KORE3 Industries delivered DBA 14-inch rotors for the front and 12-inch rotors for the rear with six-piston calipers and four-piston calipers, respectively, and Hawk pads. The rotors were cryogenically treated prior to installation, and a Wilwood master cylinder and proportioning valve were used.

Rushforth Rated X 18 x 8-inch front wheels wrapped in Z-rated BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KDW tires were bolted on and the engine was mounted on the subframe. A Tremec T56 Magnum six-speed followed. It was included in the Elite conversion kit from Classic Motorsports Group that featured an SFI-approved billet steel flywheel, RAM 11-inch Street Comp clutch, a hydraulic throw-out bearing, and more.

The body was lowered onto the subframe and fastened through solid bushings, and the front clip and the rest of the bolt-on panels were reinstalled and properly aligned.

Fender stripes somewhat reminiscent of the GTO Judge were designed and applied, and feature the same gray hue as the wheels. Four coats of PPG DCU2042 clear were then shot on the body. Wet sanding followed with 1000- grit followed by 1500 and 2000. Wizards polishing products brought out the shine. Reproduction Firebird body trim was installed, as was a front spoiler and LED taillamps.

Rob chose a F.A.S.T. EZ-EFI system for its assurance of smooth driveability and its self-tuning qualities, and the master kit included a 4150-style four injector throttle body; fuel injectors; rails, and pressure regulator with gauge; sensors; ECU; wiring harness; hand-held programmer; and an inline fuel pump kit. Tim and Kirt installed it along with a Detroit Speed gas tank (with an in-tank fuel pump instead), an MSD ignition system, and Doug’s round-port ceramic-coated headers that feed the spent fumes into a Pypes exhaust.

Dynamat sound deadener was laid down in the interior before Kirt and Tim installed the carpet and other items. A custom instrument panel houses aftermarket gauges. Since the non-stock bucket seats came with the car, Rob is unsure of their brand, but he surmises that they’re likely Recaro knock-offs. Nevertheless, he had them reupholstered. The dash pad, door panels, carpet, and headliner are stock reproductions.

The stereo consists of an Alpine Digital Media Receiver and four-channel amp with mid-range speakers and tweeters in custom fiberglass kick panels covered in vinyl, a subwoofer in the trunk, and 6 x 9-inch speakers in the package tray. A Flaming River tilt column was installed and later Trans Am Formula wheel was added. The shifter handle is Hurst, pedals are Lokcar and the stainless-steel door strikers and jamb vents are from Ringbrothers.

In 2011, the buildup was completed, and Rob and his family have since put 4,000 miles on the Firebird. Regarding its road manners, he reports, “Because every nut and bolt has been touched, it’s tight and handles superbly. Acceleration is ample and the Firebird is exhilarating to drive. Though the pedal pressure is a bit high without power assist, the brakes really work well.”

Looking back, Kirt comments, “It was probably one of my favorite cars that we built. We hadn’t done a Firebird before, and the best part for us was that Rob didn’t care what it cost. Nothing had to be nickel-and-dimed. It’s satisfying to build a car without having to work around a certain dollar amount. He was always open to suggestions and that made it an enjoyable project.”

“I think level of craftsmanship shown in my Firebird by Kirt, Tim, and Bill is very high,” Rob says. “They take a lot of pride in what they do.”

He also relates that his wife Donett, sons Frank and Harlan, and daughter Mahalia think the Firebird is “pretty cool,” and they plan family vacations around attending the annual POCI Conventions and make extra stops along the way.

“Patience and research are key elements in successfully building a Pro-Touring car,” Rob advises. Given the positive results depicted here, he would know.

OWNER’S VIEW
Though I was born in 1969, I initially didn’t care for the ’69 Firebird, but it has grown on me over the years. Pro- Touring/Restomod styling looks better on the ’69s in my opinion. Mine has won “Best American Muscle Car” and an “Award of Excellence” in local shows, and at POCI Conventions, it earned Points Judged “Gold” in 2013 and 2017, and Popular Vote “Most Outstanding” for 2019. I’m just happy that it’s running well, looks good, is fun to drive, and gets a lot of complements. If I were to do it again, I’d focus less on the racing (i.e., solid bushings) and keep it more practical for driving. Also, I was torn on an LS conversion, but being a POCI member, I kept the Pontiac engine. — Robert Thomas

Big wheels, tires and brakes are mainstays of Pro-Touring cars. Mini-tubs enabled the 335/30ZR18 tires on 18 x 12 wheels to fit, and narrowing the rear end 1.5-inches per side allowed for a deeper dish.

SPECIFICATIONS
1969 PONTIAC FIREBIRD

ENGINE
Block type………………………………………………………………………………..Pontiac V-8; cast-iron
Cylinder heads………………………..Edelbrock Performer RPM aluminum; 87-cc chambers
Displacement………………………………………………..495-cu.in. (.065-overbored 400 block)
Bore x stroke………………………………………………………………………………….. 4.185- x 4.500-in
Compression ratio………………………………………………………………………………………………..N/A
Pistons…………………………………………………………………………………Mahle; forged aluminum
Connecting rods……………………………………………………………… Eagle H-beam; forged steel
Crankshaft…………………………………………………………………………Eagle stroker, forged steel
Horsepower @ rpm……………………………………………………………………………………………….N/A
Torque @ rpm……………………………………………………………………………………………………….N/A
Camshaft type………………………………………………………………………………… Melling hydraulic
Duration…………………………………………………………… 224/236-degees duration (at 0.050)
Lift……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. .410/.411-inch
Valvetrain……………Hydraulic lifters; Comp Cams pushrods; 2.11/1.66-in stainless-steel valves; valve springs; PRW roller-tip 1.52:1 ratio rocker arms
Induction system…………………….. F.A.S.T. EZ-EFI; Edelbrock dual-plane intake manifold
Lubrication system……………………..Full pressure; Melling high-volume gear-type pump,
Canton high-capacity oil pan
Ignition system………………….MSD Electronic Pro-Billet distributor, 6AL box, Blaster SS coil and 8.5mm wires, Champion sparkplugs
Exhaust system……………………………………………..Doug’s Headers, Pypes 2.5-in diameter dual exhaust with X-pipe and Street Pro mufflers
Original engine………………………………………………………………………………………..Pontiac 400

TRANSMISSION
Type ……………………………………………………………..Tremec T56 Magnum six-speed manual
Ratios ……….. 1st/2.66:1 … 2nd/1.78:1 … 3rd/1.30:1 … 4th/1.00:1 … 5th/0.80:1 … 6th/0.63:1

DIFFERENTIAL
Type………………………………………………………………………….GM 12-bolt; hypoid; Positraction
Ratio………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 3.73:1

STEERING
Type…………………………………………………………………………..Recirculating ball, power assist
Ratio…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..12.7:1
Turns-to-lock…………………………………………….. Two before contacting the external stops

BRAKES
Type……………………………… Hydraulic disc/disc; dual-reservoir Wilwood master cylinder
Front…………………………………C6 Z06 Corvette-spec 14-in rotors and six-piston calipers
Rear………………………………..C6 Z06 Corvette-spec 12-in rotors and four-piston calipers

SUSPENSION
Front……………………………….Global West tubular control arms and Del-A-Lum bushings; Hotchkis anti-roll bar; Bilstein coilover shocks with Hyperco coil springs;
Rear…………………………………………… Hyperco composite mono-leaf springs; Koni shocks

WHEELS & TIRES
Wheels…………………………………………………………………………Rushforth Rated X, aluminum
Front: 18 x 8-in
Rear: 18 x 12-in
Tires…………………………………………………………………………….BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KDW
Front: 245/40ZR18
Rear: 335/30ZR18

PERFORMANCE
1/4-mile ET……………………………………………………………………………………………………………N/A


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