In 2002, performance enthusiasts cried as GM killed off the Firebird and Camaro. For those who cared, it really was heartbreaking. Both models had brought GM and their respective brands, Pontiac and Chevrolet, sales and glory on many occasions, but as is so often the case in consumerism, the public’s demands had shifted to trucks, and F-Body sales continued to slide. Less for them is more for us, and one Firebird of particular interest to collectors and performance enthusiasts is the hugely limited edition Firehawk by SLP Engineering. The first Firehawk Firebird debuted in late 1991 for the 1992 model year, and it was a virtual racecar for the streets.
For that inaugural year, only 25 SLP Firehawk Firebirds were built, in part because of the cost to build one (between $23-$33k), and also because it really was one step from being fit for NASCAR. Performance is blistering, with 0-60 times of about 4.6-seconds, and a mere 13.2-seconds turning ¼-miles into distant memories at 107mph. Mind you, this was ‘92, performance like this was reserved for cars from Germany and Italy, or with ZR1 stamped on their rear ends. Yes, they were expensive, but performance costs money, and great performance costs even more dough, although most people were hesitant to fork over $51k for a Firebird, even if it could shame some of the world’s finest.
Building the Firehawk nearly broke SLP, but the reputation had been established, what could be done was proven, and people were excited by it even if they couldn’t afford it or didn’t want to. SLP learned a valuable lesson in packaging and marketing, and they took a couple of years off to hone what they’d learned. In 1994, they reintroduced the Firehawk on the new Fourth Generation Firebird, focusing on options and handling over outright blistering performance. The trick worked - people could build out their Firebird the way they wanted to, allowing them to custom tailor their car while keeping an eye on their budget. Most customers wisely fitted their Firehawks with higher-flow intake and exhaust systems, enhance aerodynamic body kits, revised suspensions, and stickier tires on wider rims. Sometimes, those body kits would also reduce overall weight, which aided handling over a standard Firebird Formula or Trans Am. Of course, Firehawks offered more power out of the box over a standard Formula and allowing the customer to choose how far they wanted to take the performance was a great cost saving measure for both SLP and the customer.
While sales crept up, they were still notoriously rare, and some dealers didn’t even know the SLP Firehawk had returned. In the end, it stands as one of the most interesting, unique, and rarest Firebirds ever built – case in point: 25 were built for ‘92, 102 for ‘95, 41 in ‘96, and so on. For ’99 (none were built in ’98), the Firehawk would no longer be relegated only to the Firebird Formula, but SLP was modifying Trans Ams as well. For the final year, the Firehawk Trans Am would belt out 345hp, compared to the standard Trans Am’s 310hp or 325 horses with Ram Air. For 2002, production was way up, with 1,501 built – 1,334 Trans Ams and 167 Formulas.
This one is #1179, and it’s equipped with the always-appreciated 6-speed manual transmission, and it’s presented in Bright Red with ebony leather interior, 4-wheel ABS disc brakes, the composite hood with functional air intake, hood-mounted heat extractors, Firehawk graphics, specialized cat-back exhaust, Bilstein shock package, and much more. Having covered 64,480 miles from new, it’s no trailer queen, but it’s seemingly been well cared for, judging by the photos. The paint seems glossy and deep, the interior shows slight signs of wear, but nothing worth whining over. In typical Trans Am philosophy, it’s well equipped with power windows, power seats, power brakes, power steering, T-Tops, and more. Again, with only 1,501 Firehawks built for the final year of F-Body production, it’s indeed a fairly rare treat, and one that really moves unexpectedly well – the handling and performance package turn a respected performer into a psychotic road boiling maniac able to snack on Porsches and Corvettes. By the way, only 159 Firehawk Trans Am Coupes were built in red with the manual transmission. Makes us wonder how many are still around. That being said, we see much lower mileage examples sell in the $25-$30k at auction, although values are slowly creeping up higher mile examples like this one. Hopefully the seller will listen to some informed negotiation and come down to a more realistic price that’s appropriate for today’s market.