By Brian Earnest
Dan Oliver doesn’t take offense when somebody acts puzzled or tells him they’ve never heard of a Pontiac Firehawk.
Until he bought one and became a big fan of the factory hot rods, Oliver says he didn’t know much about them, either.
“I think I had read about Firehawks but had ever seen one I person. I did a lot of research [after buying one,” says Oliver, a resident of Cibolo, Texas, located just a few miles northeast of San Antonio. “I take it to shows and people never heard of a Firehawk. They have no idea what it is. They’ve heard of the Firebird, but they have no idea with a Firehawk is.”
Oliver has made up a sign and put together some other visual aides that he takes to shows to help tell the story of the hot Firehawks. There weren’t many built and not many people know the back story on the swift Pontiacs, which turned out to be a beacon of hope during a time when few new machines were quickening the pulses of horsepower fanatics.
To Firebird muscle model fans, the letters “SLP” stand for “Street Legal Performance.” That was the goal of SLP Engineering. This Toms River, New Jersey, firm was what General Motors called an “aftermarket partner company.” It converted new Firebirds that Pontiac shipped to its Garden State shop into super high-performance cars.
In 1992, Pontiac Motor Division and SLP teamed up to make the hot new Formula Firehawk available through the factory dealer network as a special 1992 Firebird model-option. Representatives of Pontiac and SLP Engineering exhibited one of these cars at the Boston “World of Wheels” show during the first week of January 1992. They explained that Firehawks would be offered in “street” and “competition” versions. The street version produced 350 hp at 5500 rpm and 390 lbs.-ft. of torque at 4400 rpm.
The factory-built Formula Firebird that served as the basis for SLP’s Firehawk carried the 5.0-liter TPI V-8 and a four-speed automatic transmission (both upgraded to 1LE specs) plus air conditioning. Externally, the main difference from a stock Formula model was the use of five-spoke aluminum alloy wheels and a Firehawk decal on the right-hand side of the rear fascia.
The factory Formula had a $19,242 base price and the Firehawk street package was $20,753 for a total delivered price of $39,995. The Firehawk Competition package was $9,905 additional, raising the total bill to $49,990.
When a Firehawk was ordered, Pontiac shipped a new Formula from its Van Nuys, California, factory to SLP Engineering in Toms River, New Jersey. The aftermarket company then extracted the entire drive train and added a Corvette ZF six-speed gearbox with computer-aide gear selection (CAGS), a Dana 44 rear axle with 3.54:1 gears, a shortened input shaft and a 16-lb. flywheel. A heavy-duty block fitted with four-bolt mains then got a forged steel crank, Gen II cast pistons, Ed Pink Racing con rods and a hydraulic roller cam. Bolted to this were aluminum heads with 2-inch intake and 1.56-inch stainless-steel exhaust valves.
A special downdraft port-injection manifold was also employed. Designed by Ray Falconer, it featured 11 1/2-inch runners, a 52-mm throttle body, high-flow dual filter system and stainless-steel exhaust headers and exhaust pipes with dual catalytic converters.
Firehawk suspension modifications included revised spring rates, a lowered ride height, new struts, new rear shocks, larger front and rear anti-roll bars, special bushings and Corvette 11.85-inch disc brakes. Firestone 275/40ZR17 Firehawk tires were mounted on the 17 x 9.5-inch Ronal wheels. Recaro seats were extra for $995 and the center console inside the cars was modified to give more space for shift throws.
The competition version of the Firehawk included the Recaro seats as standard equipment, plus 13-inch Brembo vented disc brakes with four-piston calipers, a roll cage and an aluminum hood. The rear seat was also left out.
By 1995, the Firehawks were being promoted as “an irresistible force that moves you.” The hot Hawks featured 300- and 315-hp versions of the 5.7-liter LT1 V-8, plus all-new features like optional chrome wheels. In addition, Ed Hamburger and his SLP engineers added a Hurst six-speed gear shifter. About 750 Formula Firehawks were sold this year.
Twin air scoops on the Formula Firehawk’s snout were part of a special air-induction system that added 25 to 35 hp. The suspension was upgraded from Formula specifications to increase handling limits. Coupes benefited from bigger, better-handling Firestone 275/40/17 tires and 17-inch wide wheels. Firehawk convertibles, however, came only with Firestone 16-inch tires and closed-lug 16-inch-wide alloy wheels. Other Formula Firehawk features included megaphone-style polished stainless-steel tailpipe tips, special exterior graphics and a sequentially numbered dash plaque. A sport suspension and performance exhaust system were optional.
A six-speed Firehawk coupe with the performance exhaust system went from 0 to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds and did the quarter-mile in 13.5 seconds at 103.5 mph. Its top speed was reported by some sources as 160 mph. The ’95 Firehawks came with a three-year, 36,000-mile limited warranty. The base price for the SLP treatment was $6,495, an increase of $500 over the 1993 and 1994 versions.
Oliver says he wasn’t in the market for a Firehawk — or any car in particular — when he started poking around for a hobby car a little more than two years ago. “Since I retired I was looking for a car for my son and I to mess around with,” he says. “My son is a certified Harley mechanic and he’s pretty decent with cars, too, so he can work on the mechanicals for me.”
Oliver stumbled up a white 1995 Firehawk — white with T-tops — on a car lot in the nearby town of New Braunfels. He immediately liked what he saw and plunked down $13,000 to take the car home.
“The car only had 26,000 miles on it and it had been in Virginia for most of its life,” Oliver continued. “The story I got is the gentleman who had it got too old to drive it and eventually it came down to Texas.
“I was a Pontiac guy. I have had other Firebirds and Camaros. The first car I bought brand new was a 1969 Camaro Super Sport. I wish I still had that, of course… At the time I bought [the Firehawk], I had a ’92 Camaro convertible, but that only had the 305 in it. It was a nice car, too. But when I found this one I sold the Camaro in about two days.
The Firehawk’s interior and engine were flawless, according to Oliver, and he had no intentions of touching or changing either. He wasn’t keen on the baby blue-colored decals, however. “I kind of wanted a car where I could do my own customizing thoughts,” he says. “It’s classy look, but it’s a white car and it had baby blue/turquoise Firehawk emblems and I didn’t really like he look so I had all the emblems changed to black and I get tons of looks on the car now … I also added a stripe on the hood and a stripe just behind T-top and on the trunk area below the glass on the back. I also recently Plasti Dipped the wheels in black, and I couldn’t believe how well that worked. I can’t say enough about that product, and if I don’t like the black I can always peel it off.”
Oliver says mechanically the only thing he has done is a recent set of new brake pads and rotors. Beyond that, he’s spent most of his time joyriding and collecting trophies at charity car shows. The car always attracts lots of admirers, he says. And if it didn’t, the shows are a welcome excuse to get behind the wheel and take the Pontiac for a spin.
“It rides great, it handles great, and it has a button can push to increase the jump on the line,” he adds. “It’s got the Ram Air and the 3-inch stainless steel exhaust. About the only thing this one doesn’t have is a 6-speed; it’s an automatic. You can manually shift through the automatic gears and it has low end torque to beat the band. It will really take off on the line. I’ve had the car up to 115 mph and still had probably had more another 1/4 of the gas pedal left … The top end is supposed to be 140 or 145. I’ll never take it up that high, but I will probably put it through its paces on the local dag strip here. The good thing about these cars is they are 315 hp, but they only weight about 3,400 lbs.”
“I’ve been nothing but pleased with it. It’s a joy to drive, and a lot of people seem to like it.”
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