1998 Firebird Formula: From Sleeper to Street Beast

Sold in December of 1997 to its first owner, this 1998 Firebird Formula has seen a lot of pavement busting miles in its lifetime. Once a very sleek stock car, it is now a fully built car that has gone to the edge as a track car and now rides on the extreme side as a street car.

When the second owners, Elizabeth and John, bought this F-Body in 2004, they swore they would leave it stock. It was their second F-Body at the time, the other being a 1978 Trans Am, and modifying the ’98 was far from a priority. It was actually when someone gave them an exhaust system that the modding bug bit. From a very simple bolt-on modification, the car landed a high 12 second 1/4 mile at its first track day. That’s all it took to set the events in motion that would turn this mild commuter car into a track queen.

After the first modification and track day, friends from their car club talked the owner’s into aiming for the fastest bolt-on LS1 list. This was well before the days of LS1 swaps into everything on wheels. The unofficial list on LS1Tech consisted of one LT1 car with a LS1 swap and original LS1 F-Bodies with major weight reduction. Back then, the fastest bolt-on only LS1 was a high ten second car.

The next set of modifications included a GM Performance LS6 intake, bigger fuel injectors, and long tube headers. As the car creeped down to the lower 12 second category, a ported throttle body, extreme weight reduction, and other bolt-on mods would follow. They did eventually land it in the top fifty in 2009.

“That was a lot of fun, we got really competitive and surprised a lot of people”, Elizabeth shared. Once they got to the point where going fast was becoming an addiction, their plans of bolt-on glory were canned and the car got a monstrous cam and dual valve springs. It was an unfortunate mishap during a later valve spring change that caused them to have to clean metal shavings out of the inside of the block. They decided to do a bottom end build while they were there. Further misfortune at a machine shop eventually led to them giving up on the original engine and buying a new one from a generous friend who gave them a good deal.

The new engine now has all of the bolt-ons from before, the same spec cam, ported LS6 heads, retro rockers, LS7 lifters, and a handful of other go fast goodies. In addition to the built engine, the transmission is very different than GM intended. It left the factory line as an automatic with a 4L60E and now has a built T-56 six-speed with Monster clutch and MGW shifter.

In its last phase of “this isn’t a track car anymore”, it got a full street tune by expert LS1 speciality shop Spartan Performance (they also threw in a set of 4.10 rear gears to liven it up), a new hood, and front end repaint. The street car was also recently lowered and received a new wheel/tire combo to help it hug the road.


Photo courtesy of Mike Bailey, painter during the body work phase

Photo courtesy of Mike Bailey, painter during the body work phase

No matter what state the car is in, it has always been an important fixture in their lives. When shopping for the car, Elizabeth wanted exactly what she bought — a 1998 Firebird Formula. “Plenty of Trans Ams and newer F-Bodies were available, but 1998 started the generation of LS1 F-Bodies, and Formulas are understated”, the owner said.

“People used to think it was a V6, until I cranked it”, says Elizabeth. “I used to get such a kick out the way their faces would turn from superiority to shock when I would get in my Formula and leave. Now they just think it’s a Trans Am because of the hood. A little kid pointed out my ‘Firebird’ to his dad in a parking lot and his dad was quick to correct him that it was a Trans Am. I’m always shocked at how many people don’t know what a Formula is”, she continued.

This car has been taken to its limits and has never failed to excite. Although its days of racing are likely in the past, it will always be a beast that no one saw coming.