1971 Pro-Touring Firebird Packs 468 Power


Scott brought this ’71 Pontiac Firebird to V8 Speed & Resto Shop with the desire to best suit it for its environment. See, since Scott lives in the middle of the Iowan cornfields, E85 is the most potent fuel he has regular access to.

To get the racey Pontiac 468 ready for the best local form of fuel, V8 Speed & Resto Shop plumbed all the necessary lines, upgraded the carburetor, and added a few pieces to increase the compression ratio to 11.4:1. Initially, these were the only intended modifications, but they ended up catalyzing a full transformation into a Pro Touring machine.

A Fearsome Powerplant

First, the Pontiac 468 came to them already assembled with Eagle 6.8 H-beams rods, Icon forged pistons with full floating pins, and Edelbrock 72cc heads ported to flow 310cfm. This helped get a little more out of the motor, as did a Torker II ported intake, an HR Bullet cam 240/248, Crower HiPPO solid roller lifters, Crower Stainless, Steel 1.65 rockers, a Powerbond SFI balancer, and a ProSystems HP1000 carburetor setup for E85.

ProSystems’ E85 carb.

Despite being carbureted, the stout motor provides a broad powerband and enviable response—even from 2,000 rpm. With the Tremec TKO600 five-speed in place, the powerplant is very streetable and easy to use despite its racey build specs. However, with over 600 horsepower on tap, it proved too much for factory rear to handle.

The 486 is mated to a Tremek TKO600 five-speed and sends its grunt back to 10-bolt with a 3.73 limited slip.

The crew then crafted a custom radiator bracket to mount the custom aluminum 4-core radiator, with two electric fans to drag cool air into the bay. To ensure a smooth flow of air through the radiator, they devised two close-out panels, which they painted in flat black for cohesion with the core support.

“One of the best things about having a big block, high-compression Pontiac is the impressive level of torque. Anytime you put your foot in it—if you’re just leaning on it, or you’re standing on it, this car is gonna go—even if you’re not in the right gear. When you do pick the right gear, and you’re standing on it, it will break the tires loose at will,” chuckles Trevor Spence, mechanic at V8 Speed & Resto.

An Immaculate Exterior

The car was immaculate thanks to its California history, and quite glossy, too. Painted in PPG Flamboyance Ocean Blue with pearl metallic with ghost flames, they were instructed to take whatever precautions they had to to keep it in great shape. They wrapped everything in 3M protective adhesive-backed paper to get to work without worry—before they realized it might be easier to remove the front end entirely.

By skinning the Firebird, they got a clearer sense of how bad the firewall’s condition was upon the reinstallation of the engine. They then performed a bit of metalwork, coated the seam-sealed firewall with black satin paint, and took the opportunity to freshen the subframe, underside, and front suspension while they were at it.

With the motor exposed, they could work efficiently without having to consider damaging the exterior paint.

V8 Speed & Resto Shop reinforced the welds in the subframe, primed it, and coated it in purposeful satin black. Fortunately, this car had a rust-free underside which made stripping it much easier, which meant the 3M Body Schutz undercoat went on effortlessly.

At the front end, the front suspension components were cleaned, and the steering box was painted. Scott provided some control arms from Global West, and these were tacked on along with a new transmission crossmember. Along with these modifications, QA1 coilovers with 550-lb springs would keep the front tires nestled firmly in the blacktop.

With these bits in place, Scott went and enjoyed his machine for a few months before returning with another upgrade in mind. He wasn’t too impressed with the factory rear suspension, which couldn’t handle the increased power and created terrible wheelhop. To make this machine handle the way it could with modern hardware, they’d have to try a few road course-related upgrades.

A Compliant Rear End

First, they removed the rear swaybar for a little more roll and suppleness. Then, along with moderately stiff Ridetech shocks, they added a BMR torque arm to help administer the power without much fuss or frustrating wheelhop. Once we installed the BMR torque arm, recalls V8 Speed & Resto Shop’s Kevin Oeste, the difference in traction was night and day.”

At the rear, Ridetech shocks help keep the Goodyear F1 tires in contact with the asphalt.

The BMR setup replaces the leafsprings with bolts in the lower control arms and a set of Ridetech shocks. They attached to the front leaf spring pockets, and to brackets that bolt to the original leaf spring mounts under the rear axle housing. The brackets were bolted in and welded to the frame rails to attach the Watts link. With two mounting points on the frame, and two on the axle, the Watts link keeps the “axle centered in the car at all times,” says Spence, and “mimics a swaybar somewhat.” With a more consistent feel and linearity at the edge of adhesion, Scott is comfortable challenging his own limits and seeing just how much the rears can handle past the corner apex.

They then mandrel-bent the oval exhaust to clear the new suspension, attached a set of Spintech mufflers, and funneled everything into discreet turndowns at the end.

Underneath the exhaust resides a stainless tank from Rick’s Tanks, which is designed to handle corrosive E85.

Concerned with ride height, Scott instructed the crew to use oval piping for the exhaust.

With greater acceleration and cornering forces in mind, V8 Speed & Resto wisely retrofitted the stoppers with a set of Baer six-piston disc brakes at each corner, housed within 17×10″ BOZE forged FE wheels. With drilled 13-inch rotors, a Hydratech hydroboost braking system, and sticky Goodyear F1 tires, it had the violent deceleration required of a Pro Touring car.

“Installing the torque arm and some stickier tires,” smiles Trevor Spence, “you really get all the power to the ground.”

Finishing Touches

The interior was as streamlined and focused as the rest of the car. The custom dash, stocked with Speedhut Revolution gauges and covered in carbon fiber applique, looked stealthy enough to pass the muster of the layman, but sharp and purposeful enough to impress the hot rodder. To wow his younger family members and provide some sporty illumination, Scott’s gauges glow blue—which happens to match the car’s exterior nicely.

Arizen Racing seats with fabric match rear seats and Ringbrothers billet door seals complete the focused cabin, though the dash-mounted Firebird emblem is the cherry atop the sundae.

Once the air cleaner had been added and the ancillaries polished, the engine bay was spacious, clean, and stylish enough to host a banquet in. Simple effective, and impressive—just like the car and its athletic stance.

With those massive wheels just barely fitting within their wells, an immaculate paint job, the hint of serious performance shown in the Baer brakes, and 600 well-harnessed horsepower at the driver’s disposal, this Firebird was both a head turner and a corner carver.

The racey parts were well-chosen and integrated intelligently, and every aspect of performance—braking, accelerating, and cornering—is balanced with the others. To the delight of those involved, it’s been the result of a long, steady, incremental build; slowly transforming into a true sports car with timeless style.

About the author

Tommy Parry

Tommy Parry has been racing and writing about racing cars for the past seven years. As an automotive enthusiast from a young age, he worked jobs revolving around cars throughout high school, and tried his hand on the race track on his 20th birthday. After winning his first outdoor kart race, Tommy began working as an apprentice mechanic to amateur racers in the Bay Area to sharpen his mechanical understanding. He has worked as a track day instructor and automotive writer since 2012, and continues to race karts, formula cars, sedans, and rally cars in the San Francisco region.
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