The cars we loved.
Depending on your bent, SLP could well stand for Socialist Labor Party. For performance fans, the Street Legal Performance (SLP) Firebird Firehawk stood for Ferrari or Porsche level performance at a price real working people could afford. It had seemed that the second generation Firebird was on its last leg by the beginning of the 1990’s. The tired styling got a facelift in 91 that updated the front end to resemble the Pontiac Banshee concept car from a few years back. Small changes under the hood meant that the Firebird in stock form would continue its slow evolution until the all new car arrived in 1993.
The big Firebird news that year came from SLP. SLP had been providing performance bits for GM cars for years via dealer networks. This was the first time that the New Jersey based company would offer a complete modification package under its own name. The car to get this special treatment was Pontaic’s Firebird. The Firebird was chosen over the heavier Trans-Am for cost and weight issues, although there was not as much difference in the overall appearance between the two cars with the new Banshee inspired restyle. Firebirds notably lacked the aero styled ground effect on the lower body of the Trans-Am (later it would share them).
It was widely known by 1991 that an all new Firebird was on its way. The 91 and 92 cars had a design that would bridge the gap between the 80’s engineering of the older car and the coming organically styled modern car. GM did not have much money to spend considering that it was busy with the new models, so SLP’s performance option was welcome news. More importantly for Firebird fans was that the 1991 SLP Firehawk Firebird was perhaps the best performing of all F body cars since the turbocharged Buick powered Trans-Am of 1989.
In fact, it would not be a stretch to say that the SLP Firehawk was the best performing F body of all time. No mass tuner or factory issued Trans-Am or Camaro from the past or future could match it in a stoplight drag race (not counting the current high performance variations Camaro of course). Acceleration from 0 to 60 was 4.6 seconds with a top speed of 160 mph. There were a few F bodied cars that could come close to the top speed, but none could match the overall performance of the 91 car. For good reason, as it’s namesake would imply, SLP produced a street legal race car. Even SLP’s next Firehawk in 1994 based on a fifth gen body style would not match its original Firehawk offering.
The key to the Firehawk’s performance lies in SLP’s well-placed modifications to the engine and suspension of the stock 5.7 L V8 powered Firebird. Firebird buyers could check the FU2 option when ordering and for about $39,000 would get a full arsenal of SLP performance bits including: modified 350 engine rated at 350 hp, 17 inch special Ronal wheels on special Firestone Firehawk Z rated tires. Other racing car like parts included a full roll cage and cross drilled Brembo brakes (the same ones on the Ferrari F-40).
The high engine output was achieved by using aluminum cylinder heads, a port injection manifold and steel hydraulic roller camshafts among other things. A 6-speed ZF transmission from the Corvette helped manage all that power through a Dana performance rear axle. In essence the Firehawk was as close to a street legal race car as you could get.
There were many options and configurations available resulting in no two cars being exactly alike. All the expected conveniences of the time like a CD player, air and power windows were standard. For anyone wanting more, a $10,000 competition package was available offering a higher level of track ready performance. An aluminum hood, Recardo seats with a full racing harness and other race car like touches were all part of the package.
The process of building a Firehawk required cars be shipped from the factory (or dealer) to SLP’s facility in New Jersery. There, the cars were taken apart and fitted with the modifications. SLP only built 25 cars (27 were said to have been ordered) but had hoped to build as many as 250. With such low production numbers, the 92 SLP Firehawk Firebird was sure to become a collectable item. Ironically, most Pontaic dealers were not even aware of the SLP’s existance, which may have explained why so few of them were ordered. Cars from 1991 were available as 1992 models, but were identical.
Color options were almost non existant. Most were red, with a few being ordered in white, aqua or green (one of each color). There was reportedly one convertible made from a non-Formula donor car. From the outside the Firehawk was identifiable mostly from its very wide low profile tires and special rims, otherwise it looked like a regular Formula Firebird with a wraparound rear spoiler. For those who passed on the Recardo racing seats or other interior options, the standard SLP Firehawk emblem inside might have been the only indication that you were in something beyond the run of the mill Firebird.
A second and more affordable Firehawk car was developed based on the new style Trans-Am in 1993. When the F body was discontinued in 2000, SLP continued to make versions of GM cars like the Monte Carlo, Grand Prix and Impala (most of which have since been canceled). The company also prepared a small number of modified Ford Mustangs and Rangers. The first Firehawk cars will go down as one of the greatest and most rare Firebirds in recent history.