Since COVID-19 is still a thing, getting on an airplane packed in like a bunch of sardines doesn’t appeal to us. In fact, even before the pandemic, I’ve never really enjoyed the experience of being herded through a terminal like cattle, flight delays, and dealing with lost baggage. So when the opportunity arrived to cover LS Fest West 2021 in Las Vegas, we had a plan and decided to drive to the three-day event April 23-25th. And while we could have rented a car for the long road trip, we decided to be more daring and navigate the roads on our Pontiac Firebird WS6 project, known as the Dirty Bird.
In the days leading up to Holley’s LS Fest event, it’s been nothing short of a mad thrash to get the car worthy of the open road. The car was in pretty good shape to start with but desperately needed some attention before we were comfortable attempting the 2,000-mile round trip from Texas to Las Vegas. Maintenance started with big-ticket items a few months ago. First, we updated the worn-out suspension on the F-body. We ordered several new parts from BMR Suspension to replace the old parts and increase the Pontiac’s rigidity. We used the company’s lowering springs, with a set of Bilstein shocks to fix the bouncy ride and get the car’s center of gravity a little closer to Earth. Because, who wants to drive a vehicle at the stock ride height? Other modifications include BMR’s lower control arm brackets, adjustable Panhard bar, tubular torque arm, and subframe connectors which tie the front and the back of the car together. We also used a host of parts from Rock Auto to replace the WS6’s deteriorating isolators and bump stops.
Our next concern was the factory clutch in the car. This unit was still original, and while it was in working condition, we knew the slave cylinder needed to be replaced. And if you’re going to it, you might as well put a new clutch in the car. We opted for a Monster Clutch Co. S-Series Twin-Disc unit with a new slave cylinder. The organic-based clutch is rated at 700 horsepower and 700 lb-ft of torque and still retains stock driving characteristics. And while this might be overkill for our slightly modified LS1, we have plans for more power in the future that will get us closer to the 700 horsepower mark.
Speaking of horsepower, the WS6 does have a dirty little secret that most people will never know exists. We installed a completely hidden Nitrous Express (NX) nitrous system on the car. NX routed spray bars inside the LS1 intake manifold keeping the system out of sight of anyone who might be poking around under the car’s hood. The 10-pound nitrous bottle is also tucked away in the spare tire compartment with a remote bottle opener. This setup gives us an additional 200 horsepower at the flip of a couple of switches when needed.
With added power, you need an ignition system that supplies enough volts to deal with the increased cylinder pressure. As you probably know, the LS1 coils do an outstanding job, but the 20-year-old parts had us concerned. And since we weren’t comfortable trying to figure out what coil went dead on the side of the road, we replaced them with a set of Pertronix Flame Throwers with ceramic spark plug wires. These coils will increase the spark energy by 10-15-percent, improving fuel efficiency on our trip.
Tires were another area of concern before we headed down historic Route 66 as well. The Firestone Firehawk tires still had decent tread but showed their age as they started to crack sidewalls. To fix this problem, we installed a new set of Mickey Thompson tires and Forgestar wheels. While the iconic WS6 five-spoke 17-inch wheels were a good look for the Formula, we opted for 18×10-inch Forgestar CF5 wheels with a plus 42mm offset wrapped with Mickey Thompson 275/40/18-inch fronts and 295/35/18-inch rears. The new combination gives us added traction and killer looks.
Now it’s coming down to the final preparations before we head out and still have some work to do. We still need to service all of the fluids on the car and change out the air cleaner. We ordered a Flowmaster Delta Performance panel air filter. The high-flow filter uses red woven cotton gauze filtration media that is serviceable. The unit comes pre-oiled and dropped right in the WS6 airbox. After the filter gets dirty, we will be able to service it with Flowmaster’s Delta Force air filter cleaner kit.
While our WS6 is still mostly stock under the hood, we don’t like the lack of sound coming from the exhaust pipes. So, we decided to install a Hooker cat-back exhaust system and custom exhaust tips at the last minute. This exhaust system offers an aggressive exhaust note that will undoubtedly be heard as it echoes among the bright red Aztec sandstone rocks during our Valley of Fire cruise. This system features 2.5-inch aluminized pipes with dual show-polished 304 stainless steel tips. The Hooker cat-back system is also mandrel bent for consistent inside diameter and maximum flow.
The factory gauges in the Firebird are all in working order. However, it would be nice if we had more information at our fingertips if needed. While we have a laptop and software to plug into the OBDII port, dealing with a computer in our cramped cargo space is less than ideal. Luckily for us, SCT offers a product called the Livewire Vision. This performance monitor from SCT offers virtual gauges and real-time monitoring. The Livewire will allow us to look at things like the air-fuel-ratio, vehicle functions, and other information at the push of a button. You can also do data logging and performance test with this monitor, but for now, we’re more concerned with accessing data in the engine and drivetrain if needed, and this unit is perfect for that.
The only other part that we will be changing before we leave is the factory T56 shifter. This OEM unit leaves a lot to be desired when making gear changes. A Hurst Billet Plus short-throw shifter will take its place and make shifting the T56 more precise. Hurst engineered the shifter with a high pivot mechanism which reduces the throw by 30-percent. A self-centering alignment also improves the second to third up-shift and minimizes the chance of missing gears. The shifter also features an exclusive oil control seal to prevent leaks, a heat-treated billet steel gear selector, CNC machined billet aluminum base, and a tough anodized finish.
With everything buttoned up on the 21-year-old Formula, we are finally ready to hit the road. And while we are not expecting any issues with the car, you never know what will happen. So if your planning on attending LS Fest West 2021, be sure to stop by and say hi and check the car out. I’m sure we will have a story or two to tell about this epic road trip from Texas to Las Vegas. See you soon!