Muscle Cars You Should Know: Lingenfelter ’97 Hurst/Pontiac Firebird
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Many people cite the 2005 Mustang as the car that birthed the modern muscle car craze, and while it may be true as far as retro styling is concerned, we think the theme of ‘60s heritage started roughly ten years earlier, when Ford brought back the Cobra Mustang, Chevy released the Camaro and Impala SS models, and once again Pontiac had bolted a factory Ram Air package onto its Firebird – something that had been missing in action since the early ‘70s.
The '97 Hurst/Pontiac Firebird by Lingenfelter. Images: The Lingenfelter Collection
Even Dodge started tagging their haloed R/T logo onto Neons, Stealths, Vipers, Durangos, and Dakotas. Around the same time, Chrysler also released the Plymouth Prowler and eventually, the Chrysler PT Cruiser.
It seemed by the end of the ‘90s, people longed for a better time when safety and fuel economy took a back seat to horsepower and torque.
These cars would later evolve into the factory-built, mega-horsepower cars that we have today with reborn Shelby and BOSS Mustangs, HEMI Mopars, ZL1 Camaros, and ZR1 Corvettes developing as much as 638hp, along with outsourcing tuning companies like Hennesey looking to turn already lethal monsters into something truly frightening. But this isn’t something that just started happening lately.
If we look back at the decade that opened the door for today’s muscle cars, we can find a car that started out in life as a LT1-equipped Formula WS6; the Hurst Firebird.
Pulled Together From The Parts Bin
Now although no such animal existed in the ‘60s, both Hurst and the late John Lingenfelter saw potential in Pontiac’s Firebird with the WS6 performance package for the ‘90s.
They felt that if they built the car with a healthy dose of increased performance, the ultra-exclusivity, and the classy but aggressive image of those Grand Prix’s and Oldsmobiles from a few decades earlier, they would have an instant collectible on their hands. And they would be right.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the fourth-generation Firebird lived a full life after ten model years, came in a total of three different body styles, and only received one makeover during that time. However, it’s anything but forgotten, and the mark it has made on modern society is anything but small.
After the prototype car made its introduction at the 1996 SEMA show in Las Vegas, shod with sexy gold over black paint, the Firebird was a hit amongst those in the media who saw it. However, a few changes had to be made from the show car to the proposed 50 production units for the following model year.
For starters, the two-tone scheme was replaced with black paint adorned with gold decals over the hood and rear deck lid. The show car’s tan interior was swapped for a more mass-appealing grey cockpit, and the automatic transmission that was in the SEMA version was replaced with the T-56 6-speed.
Other changes on the outside included gold-plated factory 17-inch wheels, wrapped in Michelin 275/40 ZR rubber, while the suspension was essentially left unchanged from the standard WS6 setup, with thicker sway bars, stiffer springs, and performance-tuned shocks completing the chassis layout.
A unique ground effects package (appearing alarmingly similar to that of the W68 Firebird V6) also complimented the cosmetic features along with special “Hurst/Pontiac” badging blasted throughout the interior and exterior of the car.
This particular Hurst/Pontiac Firebird was signed by Ms. Hurst herself, Linda Vaughn.
Recently, we ran across some now-vintage Motor Trend TV road test footage of the ’97 Hurst Firebird on YouTube, along with some photos and additional information on the Lingenfelter Collection website.
Not Just Another 4th Gen
Many of you may just look upon this car as just another fourth-generation Firebird, with nothing more than an appearance package, but anyone who knows anything about Lingenfelter and Hurst, knows the fruitless efforts of two dynamos that have succeeded in coming together to build the ultimate ‘90s pony car.
No sir, this Pontiac was equipped with a custom Lingenfelter camshaft with all of the complimenting valvetrain components and 1.6:1 stainless steel rocker arms stuffed into a pair of ported LT4 heads, a 58mm throttle body, Borla exhaust, shorty headers, and a complete Accel system which includes the 300-plus ignition box was all part of the package.
To maximize the potential of the intake charge, feeding air into the hopped-up LT1 is a K&N filter that lives inside the WS6 air box which was supplied from Pontiac.
Only nine of these cars would be built during the 1997 model year.
All of these changes added up to a “conservative” power rating of 360hp. A very impressive number for 1997, considering the newly released C5 Corvette was only good for 345hp. With an automatic transmission-equipped example running quarter-mile performance times in 12.9 at 103mph and a 0-60 dash covered in 4.6 seconds, we would have to think the true number was more like 400hp.
When Motor Trend TV tested the car, they felt it would have been closer to a 12.6 time in the quarter if it were equipped with the 6-speed. If you watch the video, wheel spin is clearly evident, and we think it would have been much quicker with stickier tires.
1997 Hurst/Pontiac Firebird by Lingenfelter.
With all of the enhancements made to the Hurst Firebird’s engine, it only made sense to build the car for all-round performance aspects. So thanks again to its WS6 suspension and brake system, it was able to run the 600-foot slalom in 65.8mph, pull .9 G’s on the skid pad, and come to a halt in 111ft. from a 60mph roll. Not too shabby, especially for the era. Realistically, all of these numbers are within spitting distance of today’s’ factory offerings.
At this point, you may be asking yourself, “OK, so why haven’t I heard about them before and why isn’t there any reference to them in any of old Pontiac catalogs?” There’s a simple reason for that. The cars were special order, and the only way to obtain one was to order directly through Lingenfelter, not Hurst or Pontiac.
As an added bonus, each car would come complete with a certificate of authenticity, and would be signed by the late Lingenfelter himself. Obviously, all of this exclusivity comes with a price -$42k in 1997 money (or just over $59k in today’s cash)!
Menacing from any angle.
Ultimately, only nine of these cars would be built during the 1997 model year, and a total of ten additional units would be created the following year, using the LS1 WS6 Trans Am as a basis. While some may argue that the ’98 version was more aesthetically appealing, and despite them making as much as 410hp with all the same modifications, it was the ’97 cars that got most of the hype in the press.
They’re highly collectible today, and it’s a very rare treat to even see one in person. While we haven’t stumbled upon any lately ourselves, we can’t really speculate for sure what their current values are, or how many are actually left in existence for that matter.
Last edited by Isaac@Lingenfelter; 11-22-2011 at 03:22 PM.