Blurring the line between factory and after market

Remember the Pontiac SLP Firehawk? It’s an almost mythical breed that flew in the shadows of mainstream obscurity. While sifting through a box of brochures I came across a flier for the 1993 version and wound up learning a thing or two.1993 Pontiac SLP Firehawk flier

1993 Pontiac SLP Firehawk

From ‘bird to ‘hawk
Generally defined, a bird is a fully-feathered class of vertebrates with wings for forelimbs.

More specifically, a hawk is a bird of prey.

There is little question that the name alteration was an appropriate one.

SLP logoAlthough the Firehawk package was ordered through your friendly local Pontiac dealer, the actual alterations were done by an outfit called SLP Engineering (SLP is an acronym for Street Legal Performance). That storied company was started in 1987 by a fellow named Ed Hamburger, a former drag racer.

When I came across the subject flier, I’d wrongly remembered 1993 to be the Firehawk’s first year. In fact, there was a 1992 Firehawk model based on the third generation F-body (below left, shown in every color available that year).

1992 Pontiac SLP FirehawkYet, what may be more surprising, 1992 wasn’t the model’s first year either.

Technically, 1991 is the car’s debut year because the first handful wore VINs identifying them as such. If you don’t take my word for it, consider the SLP Trans Am 10th-Anniversary Firehawk. It was a 2001 model, not a 2002.

Predatory instincts
The first-gen hatchlings would start life when a Formula buyer checked the RPO B4U option. Incidentally, that spot of ink rocketed their bill to $39,995. Checking the box marked “Competition Option” would add another $9,995. That’s no chicken feed. Of course this included the roughly $17,000 cost of the Formula but did it hit you that, at $23,000, the base package was more pricey than the car itself? By the way, nearly half were ordered with the Competition Option.

Upwards of $50k was a lot of money — heck, it still is — but it bought 350 hp and 390 pound-feet of torque. Back then, those numbers meant a great deal more and the results were almost as shocking as the price. Channeled through a six-speed transmission, the 3,400 lb. car was propelled to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds and through the quarter-mile in only 13.2 seconds (according to manufacturer data).

Exotic performance indeed, for the early ’90s, but also exotic pricing, for a Pontiac. Which was likely a factor in low initial sales. I read 250 was the goal for the first run.

Only eight were built for 1991 and 25 for 1992 (27 were ordered but two were cancelled). Interestingly, the last of the 1992 Firehawks built is reportedly a convertible Trans Am, the only one of its kind.

This brings us to the 1993 model which had been upgraded to the fourth-generation F-body (1993 Formula shown below). But that wasn’t the only big change.

1993 Pontiac Firebird Formula

The new Firehawk’s performance was a bit toned down and it was cheaper — a heck of a lot cheaper. In fact, you could get a 1993 Firehawk for just slightly more than the cost of the base package the year prior. The new price was $24,244, complete.

The new model’s power-to-weight ratio took a hit which explained much of the story. While only up about 75 pounds, horsepower conversely went down to 300, from 350. Put another way, each horsepower the car made in 1992 had to move about 9.7 pounds. For 1993, the load increased to 11.6 pounds per horsepower.

That’s not to unduly diminish it’s performance credentials. At 4.9 seconds, its 0-to-60 run was only three tenths slower than the 1992, but still quicker than a Mustang Cobra, 300ZX Turbo, Dodge Stealth Twin Turbo and Corvette LT1. Its quarter mile time was up also, to 13.53 seconds from 13.2, but remained entirely respectable.

Considering the new car came with a 60% price advantage over the older model, the relatively marginal performance loss would seem a non-issue. One would think this was a ‘formula’ for success. According to one metric it was: sales were up 800%. But at just 201 built (250 had reportedly been ordered), it was again short of the mark.

1993 Ford Mustang CobraSort of confusing if you ask me. But when you consider a Mustang Cobra went for around $21,000, the competition wasn’t exactly road kill.

Below are scans of the front and back of SLP’s 1993 flier. I picked it up when I attended the auto show that year in Los Angeles.
I hope this was informative or triggered some memories.

1993 Pontiac SLP Firehawk flier front   1993 Pontiac SLP Firehawk flier back