In nearly 17 years of testing, we’ve had our fair share of high performance muscle cars out on the track. But few have lived up to the expectations like SLP engineering’s Firehawk series. We first hooked up with the boisterous Firehawk in 1992, and were instantly smitten with its raw power and bad-boy posture. Well, this year marks our fifth encounter with a Firehawk, and we’re still taken with its muscle car manners and over-the-top looks. So tighten those belts and plant your feet. It’s time to take a ride!
Your first encounter with the SLP Firehawk is the automotive equivalent of meeting a shark in the local wading pool: shock, fascination, and the realization that if you challenge it, you are going down! Because, there are few cars this aggressive, in either looks or performance, loose on American streets. Especially the 1998 SLP Trans Am Firehawk, that we recently used to tear up the fresh pavement at Savannah’s Roebling Road Raceway.
Starting with an already potent Pontiac Firebird Formula or Trans Am, SLP begins its monster make-over with a new headlight assembly. Compact halogen projector-lamps in carbon fiber housings look like a predator’s eyes, and save eleven pounds of weight as a bonus. While the composite hood gets larger air-scoops to feed SLP’s proven ram-air induction system and fully functional heat extractors, to cool the engine bay.
The tail can wear either the standard high-mounted spoiler, like our test car, or a custom two-tier design from SLP. While the factory wheels can be swapped for big 17 by 9 inch alloys in either paint or chrome, wearing low profile Firestone Firehawk tires.
But as anyone who’s ever encountered this beast knows, its in-your-face looks are secondary to its in-your-face performance. Which comes mainly from the SLP-tuned version of the Corvette’s 5.7-liter LS1 V8. Thanks to that free-breathing induction system, and a high-flow exhaust, it makes a crushing 327 horses, and 345 pound-feet of torque. Which spins to the rear wheels through the Firebird’s standard 6-speed manual transmission, controlled by either the factory shifter or this optional heavy-duty Hurst handle.
And spin they do, under a heavy foot. But exercise a bit of self control, and the Firehawk rips to 60 in only 5.1 seconds! And cuts the quarter mile down to size in 13.4 seconds at 106 miles per hour! As expected, the Firehawk exhibited stump-pulling torque, and a tractor-like midrange. But the ram air system’s benefits were most obvious in the upper reaches of the rev band. To put all this power to the pavement, the standard Firehawk’s already taut suspension is tightened up even more.
Our test car packed the optional Level I suspension package, which features thicker sway bars, specially valved Bilstein shocks and progressive rate springs. A combination which made the fire-breathing Firehawk remarkably responsive, yet still more user-friendly than its looks would suggest. Front plow was substantially reduced from stock, as was body roll. Turn-in was also quicker, and lateral transitions less abrupt. The Firehawk’s 4-wheel disc brakes are standard Pontiac. They delivered strong, stable braking, but started to fade a bit during hard race track use. Most Firehawks, however, will live on the street, striking fear in the hearts of Mustang owners, and delivering a remarkably smooth ride for such a highly tuned car. But be warned, it’s still no Lexus, thank goodness!
Of course, you wouldn’t mistake the Firehawk’s all-business interior for that of a Lexus anyway. It’s unchanged from that of the standard car, except for an enamel Firehawk plaque on the center console. The dash is the familiar F-body layout that we’ve praised so often in the past, with big gauges and straightforward controls for stereo and ventilation. Some of our staff did, however, feel that the upgraded suspension’s firmer ride also demanded upgraded seats.
But all agreed that, better seats or not, this was one of the most finely balanced muscle cars ever, and an absolute pleasure to drive. And compared to some over-priced, and overly-complicated aftermarket packages, should be a pleasure to buy, as well. Buyers need only to go to their local Pontiac dealer, and order either a Firebird Formula or Trans Am, and ask for option code WU6. The basic SLP Firehawk package is a steal at $3,999, and that’s a $600 reduction from 1997. Depending on options, the Firehawk’s delivery price will range from a low of $27,600 for a Formula-based car, to the $33,801 of our fully loaded Trans Am test vehicle. Either way, the buyer will get a machine that takes the traditional American muscle car to a new level, that’s still well short of bankruptcy.
After five generations of Firehawks, we’re still impressed with how the folks from SLP keep pushing the envelope of GM F-body performance, and can’t wait for our first ride in generation six!
Engine: 5.7 Liter V8
Torque: 345 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 5.1 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 13.4 Seconds @ 106 MPH