Patient Zero: Meet the ‘Apocalypse’ 1973 Pontiac Firebird

I am often one of the youngest in attendance at the car events I cover and consequently, I am asked why other “millennials” aren’t interested in classic muscle cars or why “we” don’t like driving in general. From my perspective, it’s not that millennials aren’t interested, it’s just that we can’t afford them and we aren’t exposed to it enough.

However, if you know where to look you will find other muscle car enthusiasts from my generation that appreciate a classic with quirks over modern vehicles.

I’d like to introduce you to Israel Salazar. Israel is an artist and his chosen mediums are videography, photography, and car building. His current project is this raw 1973 Pontiac Firebird.

Israel worked his way through high school in a tattoo shop and bought the Firebird when he was 19-years-old. The car had some dings, dents, scratches, and sloppy bondo work but Israel fell in love with his first car and nicknamed it “Apocalypse” after the X-Men character because he felt one day it too would come back to life in an unsettling and awesome way.

However, unforeseen circumstances led Israel to move in with his father shortly after he got the car. Up to this point in his life, his father was just a stranger and Israel’s memories were mostly made up of a family without his father due to his father leaving early in his childhood. The new relationship was strained from the beginning and Israel’s father made him pay rent, effectively putting an end to his tattoo career and forcing him to get a “regular job” to make ends meet.

Israel continued to practice drawing whenever possible and started going to car shows with his brother. Together they formed the Addicted Muscle Car Club. “It was a couple of our friends that all had second-gen Camaros,” Israel said, adding “I was the only one with a Firebird.”

Between the car shows he attended and working on his car, using his “apocalypse” idea as his muse, cars became an escape from the harsh realities he faced living in Los Angeles and inspired his interest in photographing cars. Israel took photos beginning with his cell phone but quickly advanced to using a DSLR camera. It was then he made the decision to start two Instagram accounts – one dedicated to his artwork, the other to his photography.

“I kept posting content to both accounts and I noticed my automotive shots would get shared a lot,” Israel said. “The account was growing fast and once I found my style, which was muscle cars, I stuck with it.” He began posting daily and changed the account name to @Musclecarshots when he started sharing other high-quality images of muscle cars.

“I always strive to be different than other pages by posting shots they don’t have, constantly sharing high-quality shots, and posting my own content,” he said. “I was documenting everything I did to the Firebird with my camera and sharing that.”

As the account continued to grow, Israel started noticing other Instagram pages that had been selling shirts and hats with unoriginal, poor-quality designs. It seemed like a natural move towards custom design work his digital design experience, so Israel began creating a logo and various designs for his own page.

It has been four years since Israel got his car and his Instagram account currently has over 77,000 highly engaged muscle car enthusiasts following it. His account also helped to land him work creating videos for Hedman Performance in addition to securing a few sponsors for the Firebird.

“What makes this car meaningful to me is that it’s my first car and it’s been through some stuff with me,” Israel said. He commented that he daily drove it for about a year until he could get an economical daily driver for the sole purpose of saving even more money for his project car.

“The great thing about the Firebird is that it’s not anything special,” Israel said. “I don’t feel bad about cutting it up and modifying it because it has rust and is a pretty common car.”

As it sits, most everything is original to the Firebird. It is powered by its original Pontiac 350 cubic-inch engine with modifications like Hedman headers, Edelbrock valve covers, MSD distributor/coil/box, and Taylor wires.

Israel has a complete render of the finished build but is not ready to release it publicly. He anticipates his vision for the overall build will upset many traditional muscle car fanatics like how the Apocalypse character alone could cause so much disruption in the X-Men universe.

His build plans include a custom“widebody” with a race-inspired front splitter and spoiler. He wants to cut a shaker scoop hole, fender vent holes, add side skirts, cut hood and trunk latch holes, incorporate Formula One-style side mirrors, a GT-R style hood with air duct holes, and honeycomb grilles in addition to other small details.

Without any experience and a willingness to learn, Israel plans to do all the work himself.

“I’ll be documenting the entire build,” he said. “I’m excited to start posting videos.”

The most recent modification the Firebird has received was a set of Dapper Lighting headlights. For the next modification, Israel plans to begin cutting into the car and installing Flowmaster mufflers and adding a custom diffuser of his own creation.

Israel said he had planned to build his car with his brother, but he got married, moved, and now his Camaro sits abandoned near where the Firebird is kept. “We don’t talk anymore,” Israel said, adding that his brother and sister have started families of their own so he is left to care for both of his parents. “My father just had a stroke a couple months ago and the left side of his body was paralyzed for some time; he is still recovering and my mother just got out the hospital last month for knee surgery.”

“This car is what kept me in the automotive industry and without it, I wouldn’t feel right doing what I’m doing, not having a ride myself or even working on it myself.”

Photography by Nicole Ellan James 

About the author

Nicole Ellan James

As an automotive journalist and avid car enthusiast, Nicole Ellan James has a passion for automotive that is reflected in every aspect of her lifestyle. Follow Nicole on Instagram and Facebook - @nicoleeellan
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