Pontiac has always been a major influence for Hot Wheels designer, Brendon Vetuskey. The enthusiast has owned multiple Firebirds across the 4 generations, beginning with the purchase of a 1984 Trans Am at the age of 17. “I have been a Pontiac fan ever since,” he says; and currently, he owns this 1967 Pontiac Firebird that has undergone a complete transformation from its original factory look.
The Firebird first began life as a Verdoro Green 326 HO car. From there, Vetuskey tore the ‘bird apart only to find that the rust situation was even worse than anticipated. “I had it acid dipped to remove the rust, only it was so thick, the acid dip could not remove it. It took a few years before it stopped rapidly rusting,” he explains.
Vetuskey’s Firebird is powered by a 383 stroker LS1 engine and produces over 550 horsepower, and he had the transmission tunnel raised to fit the T-56 Magnum. The car has also had major suspension upgrades to improve its drivability with Detroit Speed front suspension and coil over shocks and 1969 Z/28 steering arms. The rear suspension features a Detroit Speed Quadralink with coil over shocks and panhard bar. He included a 1.25 inch solid sway bar in the front with custom end links and mounts, and a Detroit Speed sway bar in the rear.
“I'm very happy with the driving performance of the car. It's a fuel injected LS, so it starts and drives great. The T-56 magnum gives me great acceleration and decent fuel economy too. The car is very stable at speed thanks to the Detroit Speed suspension all around, and the Toyo R888 tires are very grippy,” Vetuskey told us. “Of course, I can induce oversteer but otherwise it's great. I've taken it to the track a few times and have had the car up over 130mph,” he says.
Over the five and half year build process, Vetuskey has made a number of custom modifications in order to complete the car. “Custom built 6-point style roll cage, subframe connectors and hoop supports were all designed to integrate better into the car,” he begins. “The engine was recessed 3 inches back for better weight distribution and to maintain use of the factory 6-quart oil pan and windage tray. The firewall had to be notched back to accommodate,” he says.
The Firebird consists of subtle alterations in order to support Vetuskey’s vision for the overall look of the car. Flared rear quarter panels help accommodate the 1969 Trans Am spoiler, and the use of BMW E30 HID projector headlights give the front end a modern touch. As well, both the front and rear wheel openings were enlarged to fit the US Mags forged alloy Bandit rims. The hand built scoops in the quarter panels provide a more functional use and help assist with rear brake ducting.
It is quite easy to see how much thought was put into this build through little details and personal design, like the custom honeycomb grille that was made to pay homage to the second generation styling that made the Firebird such an icon. Vetuskey even had the aluminum block painted Pontiac Blue as tribute to the now-inoperative brand.
When asked why he decided to go with the bare metal look instead of painting the car, he responds, “Technically, the car is painted. It's just painted with a clear paint [KBS coatings Diamond Clear]. I was four years into the build and was to a point that I wanted to drive the car. I didn't want it to sit at a paint shop for a year, and having gone through that process on a previous car I knew it would take a while. I figured I'd put a temporary coating on it now to keep the rust off, and I'd go back and paint it later. Well, it turned out to be quite popular at local shows, and I quickly came to the realization that I didn't have to detail the car every time I drove it. I didn't have to worry about chips or scratches, or where I parked it. It took a lot of the stress of owning an older car out of the way.”
He says the goal of this project was to build a reliable daily driver, with a vintage look and modern performance, that could also handle days at the track – and this Firebird definitely checks all the boxes.