Lord Vader, your ride has arrived. Just make sure your sissy cyborg reflexes can keep it pointed straight, because this 1,000-plus horsepower beast is a Firebird like no other. While most second-gen ’Birds have been spared no dignity, shamelessly emblazoned with screaming chicken graphics much to the amusement of the drunken hillbillies that defiled them as Bandit clones, this one has thankfully been spared the same fate. Subtle yet aggressive in a sinister kind of way, it wears a cloak of black so dark that the gravity of its visual presence breaks down time and space in its wake. Instead of hearing the buzz of a big external fuel pump when juicing up the electrical system—as you’d expect in most mega horsepower forced-induction machines—the menacing cadence of Darth Vader’s respirator seems like a more appropriate soundtrack. If you don’t know the power of the Dark Side, the Firebird’s twin-turbo, all-aluminum Pontiac motor will make sure you do. Furthermore, with a four-link suspension, six-speed stick, humongo brakes, and more body augmentation than the entire 90210 zip code, it might just be the finest ’70 Firebird ever assembled.
In truth, many early second-gen Firebirds weren’t subjected to the screaming chicken treatment, but even so, the car’s increasingly garish evolution throughout the ’70s left it with a certain stigma that proves nearly impossible to rub off. Trying to transform a ’70 Firebird into something that’s tastefully aggressive, yet polished and refined, is something most people aren’t exactly volunteering for, but the duo of Thomas Cronkright and Brian Moat don’t know how to back down from a challenge. For Thomas, the project started out as a means of reliving the juvenile delinquent lifestyle once again. “My first car was a ’70 Firebird, and thanks to my heavy right foot, I didn’t have that car for very long. In no time flat, I couldn’t afford the tickets and insurance anymore,” he says. “I longed to have that feeling of speed from my youth once again, so I tracked down a ’70 Firebird several years ago to build. The car had no motor, trans, or front clip, so it was basically a lawn full of parts when I bought it. Impressed with the work he’d done on other cars before, I contacted Brian at All Speed Customs [www.AllSpeedPerformance.com] for some fresh ideas. The original plan was for a simple restoration, but Brian put his creative touch on the car and breathed new life into the project.”
The plan was as daring as it was ambitious: build the most technically brilliant execution of a ’70 Firebird the world has ever seen while pushing the envelope of craftsmanship at every turn possible. “No one had ever put this kind of effort into a ’70 Firebird before. We didn’t sit around and say ‘let’s see what we can order out of a catalog,’ but instead wanted to build as many one-off parts as possible using local Michigan talent,” Thomas says. “That meant installing a modern engine and suspension wasn’t enough. We wanted to build a car with modern styling elements, like something Pontiac would design if they were still in business today.”
Thanks to the help of designer Kris Horton, Thomas and Chris were able to lay the framework for their collective vision. The end product is a car in which just about every body panel is tweaked. “The factory hoodscoop is one of those ‘love it or hate it’ kind of things, so we wanted to mute that effect. We started out with a stock fiberglass hood, and enlarged and elongated the scoop to make the nose look shorter,” Thomas says. “The custom heat extractors in the fenders are functional and help cool down the turbos. The fenders were also stretched out in order to fit 10-inch-wide wheels inside them. The front valance, chin spoiler, grille, side skirts, deck spoiler, and rear diffuser are all custom built out of metal as well. The roof has been modified with a ‘reverse Mohawk’ look, a theme that spills over into the rear spoiler.”
When it came time to chose a color, rather than going with a flashy shade of red or orange, Thomas insisted on painting the car black. “I wanted to tastefully black out the car, and highlight the interesting design elements with a silver stripe running down the center of the car,” he says. “My first Firebird was black, my favorite color is black, and since the Pontiac brand is now dead, it just seemed like the right color. You can’t do black without doing it right. I knew the crew at ASC would get the bodywork perfect, and painting the car black would be the perfect way to show off their talents.”
While the rest of the hot rodding world has gone cuckoo for LS engine swaps, Thomas felt like it wasn’t enough of a challenge. To make things more interesting, he enlisted ASC to build a twin-turbo Pontiac 455. “Cramming a 400 Pontiac with twin turbos into a Firebird and trying to make it look good is extremely difficult. We built custom inner fenders to more efficiently package the turbos and piping,” Brian says. The motor itself is based on a Butler aluminum block that’s been matched with an Eagle forged crank and rods, and Ross 8.5:1 pistons. Unlike a stock Pontiac 455, which uses a 4.155-inch bore and a 4.210-inch stroke, ASC’s over-square 4.250×4.000-inch cylinder dimensions hint at the turbo 455’s rev-happy intentions. The short-block is topped with Kauffman Racing cylinder heads and a custom Visner intake manifold carved out of a single block of billet aluminum. In addition to building the long-block, ASC custom fabricated all the hot and cold piping for the twin 66mm turbos. At just 12.5 psi of boost, the huffed Poncho spits out 1,020 hp on pump gas. “Dropping in an LS motor with some custom powdercoating would have been the easy way out, but I wanted more of a purist Pontiac setup. I originally planned on building a mild 400 Pontiac with a six-pack intake and EFI. As the look and caliber of the car got more extreme, I realized the car needed a far more extreme engine combo. Once the turbos spool up, the motor goes from gentleman to sheer chaos,” Thomas says.
Numbers like that mandate a suspension that can produce tons of stick, and to achieve the requisite levels of adhesion, Thomas installed a slew of battle-tested hardware from Detroit Speed and Engineering. Suspending the Moser 12-bolt rearend out back is a DSE four-link, sway bar, and coilovers. Getting the job done up front are DSE control arms and a sway bar, matched with QA1 coilovers. Big Wilwood discs—14 inches up front and 13 in the rear—scrub off speed. Linking it all to the road are Forgiano Ritorno wheels, blacked-out, of course, and wrapped in Nitto NT05 tires.
If we didn’t know any better, we’d assume that this ’Bird is destined to be caged in a garage its entire life. As both car builder and car owner affirm, however, it’s one super high-end Pro Touring machine that will be free to fly. “I’m not a show car builder, and I don’t build cars to win the Ridler award. At ASC, we build cars you can beat the crap out of, but we still want them to look good in the process. If you can’t blast down the highway in it, there’s no point in building it,” Brian says. As no surprise, Thomas agrees. “I pound on this car so hard that I should be buying stock in tire companies. Once the turbos spool up, you better keep your eyes locked on the road to make sure it’s going where you’re pointing it,” he says. “The amazing thing is that this car makes over 1,000 hp, but still gets 20 mpg on the freeway. We just got back from the Run to the Coast event, and plan on racing in the Heidts Challenge and Motorstate Challenge this summer. Our goal is to qualify for the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational. Whatever happens, you’re going to see this car sliding around, burning rubber, and doing what muscle cars should be doing.”
Taking into account the ’Bird’s exercise regimen of routine autocross and road race competition, it serves as yet another example of ultra high-end g-Machines getting thoroughly abused like beaters costing a fraction of their price. Maybe the growing number of events that encourage on-track skirmishes has something do to with it, or maybe people just want to have more fun for their hard-earned buck. All we know is that if you’re unfortunate enough to go head-to-head with this blacked-out ’Bird at one of these events, you will learn about the power of the Dark Side, and you will learn it very quickly.