Car Feature: Subtle Beauty

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photos by: Brandon Burrell

Bruce Hawkins Transforms the Mundane into a Masterpiece 

In an age of 300 hp base model pony cars and performance variants in the 600-plus horsepower echelon, it’s sometimes hard to imagine a time when a 150 hp 5-liter V8 was considered a high-performance engine. But it’s true, just ask anyone who picked up an ’82-83 Z28 or Trans Am brand new back in the day. The term at the time was “image car,” and the car’s certainly lived up tot that title very well.

Of course as the years pressed on, new technology emerged, and companies like General Motors were able to give us both larger engines, and vehicles that provided more efficiency. Here we are some three decades later, and we know have 4-cylinder engines that produce more power than V8s with nearly three times the displacement from yesteryear.

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Of course, it’s pretty simple to walk into a car dealership today and roll out with a 650 hp Camaro, but back in the ’80s, that was entirely unheard of — even from our European friends across the pond. These days, it’s a whole new ballgame. But what is a third-gen lover to do, make do with a measly 150-200 hp? Not quite.

Enter Bruce Hawkins of Hawks Motorsports in Easley, South Carolina. Bruce has adapted his love for the 3rd-Gen, and F-bodies in general, into a passion-driven business that caters to basically all late-model GM enthusiasts. Having made a name for himself in the parts and restoration side of the business, Bruce keeps just as busy with what goes on under the hood as well, including performing full-builds on customer cars.

This particular example, however, is one of his personal cars — among many. Located out of a local classified ad, Bruce took a rather mundane base Firebird convertible and tansformed it into something spectacular and totally original. Long gone is the original powerplant that racked up 52k miles on the body, and ditched the rest of the drivetrain along with it.

Bruce keeps himself incredibly busy with his customer’s cars, as well as his mail order parts business, but he manages to find time to continuously build incredible F-bodies for himself like you see here. On the lookout for a super clean example, we think he found the perfect canvas to start with.

Residing under the hood currently, is a 2002 Fbody-spec LS1 with a stock bottom end, factory compression at 10.25:1 and a Hawks-designed custom blower bumpstick of unlisted specifications (sorry, kids).

Sitting squarely on top of the 346 cubic-inch mill is a F.A.S.T. 92mm intake manifold and throttle body, and a set of CNC-ported AFR 205cc cylinder heads.

Not one to build a stock-block-with-bolt-ons combination, Bruce seriously stepped it up with a Hawks custom supercharger; that comprised of an A&A Corvette bracket and a Vortech V-3 T-trim head unit. With the boost set at 12-psi., Hawks used HP Tuners software for a speed density tune, ultimately sending 700 horsepower and 650 pound-fort to the rear tires.

Naturally, you can’t just build a 700 hp engine in a third-gen and call it a day without first addressing all of the details. Those details, in this case, include a Hawks-built, Level II 4L65E transmission that sends power to the Hawks-modified 8.8 rearend through a 3-inch DSS driveshaft. A Yank 300 stall converter helps get the “bird into the power band quicker, while a Flex-a-Lite auxiliary cooler prolongs the life of the modified slushbox.

Keeping the engine the well-fed and well-lubricated, comprises of Hawks twin in-tank pumps, FIC 80-lb injectors and an Aeromotive regulator set at 43.5-psi. A Melling oil pump lives inside the OEM F-body pan, and provides all of the oil needed to get through the cylinders of a boosted mill. Spark is divided up evenly between stock LS1 coil packs, MSD 8.5mm wires and NGK TR6 plugs.

Now if you know Bruce, you know that he’s not the type to skimp out on the undercarriage; utilizing some of the best hardware that’s available throughout the aftermarket. In this case, he went pretty modest with his braking system; electing to only implement LS1 F-body rear discs out back, and minting the OEM binders up front.

With that said, he went buck wild on the suspension; utilizing his own Hawks Sinister brand torque arm, Panhard bar, and rear upper and lower control arms, a UMI K-member, A-arms and boxed subframe connectorsKYB shocks/struts, Hotchkis front and rear springs and stock WS6 sway bars in the front and rear to keep this ‘Bird planted in the corners.

Aiding in the effort, are Weld RT-S 18-inch rollers at all four corners, wrapped in Nitto NT05 rubber. The tire dimensions reflect the size of the wheels, naturally, with 275/35 up front, 295/35 out back and the wheels themselves, stretching out to 9.5- and 10.5-inch widths, respectively.

Tightening up the body is a Hawks roll cage that adds both rigidity and safety to the car, something that’s certainly needed in a soft top Firebird with 700 hp. That said, this car is so stunning, I’m not sure we would ever track it ourselves.

Either way, with this car, Bruce has reminded us what we could build with a little imagination, and a bit of subtly — proving that you do’t need loud paint, over the top modifications or super deep pockets to make a statement out catch out attention. It just has to be right.

TECH SHEET:

  • CAR: 1989 Firebird Convertible
  • OWNER: Bruce Hawkins
  • ENGINE BLOCK: LS1; 2002 F-body
  • CRANKSHAFT: LS1
  • PISTONS: LS1
  • CONNECTING RODS: LS1
  • CAMSHAFT: Hawks Motorsports; custom-grind blower cam — unlisted specifications
  • CYLINDER HEADS: AFR; 205cc
  • COMPRESSION RATIO: 10.25:1
  • ROCKER ARMS: LS1
  • INDUCTION: FAST 102mm intake manifold and throttle body, speed density
  • IGNITION: Stock coil packs, 8.5-mm MSD wires, NGK TR6 plugs
  • EXHAUST: Hawks 1-7/8 long-tube stainless headers and 3-inch Y-pipe with chambered exhaust
  • FUEL DELIVERY: Hawks twin in-tank pumps, Aeromotive regulator, FIC 80-lb injectors, 43.5-psi.
  • OILING: Melling pump, LS1 F-body pan
  • POWER ADDER: Hawks Motorsports; custom supercharger kit with A&A bracket and V-3 T-trim head unit
  • BOOST:  12-psi.
  • TUNING: HP Tuners; tuned by Hawks Motorsports
  • TRANSMISSION: Hawks; Level-II 4L65 w/Flex-a-Lite cooler
  • CONVERTER: Yank; 3600-stall
  • DRIVESHAFT: Driveshaft Shop 3-inch aluminum
  • REAREND: Hawks 8.8 w/TrueTrac posi and 3.73 gears
  • SUSPENSION: Hawks Sinister torque arm, Panhard bar, and rear upper and lower control arms, UMI K-member, A-arms and boxed subframe connectors, KYB shocks/struts, Hotchkis front and rear springs, stock WS6 sway bars
  • BRAKES: Stock disc (front), ’98-02 disc (rear)
  • WHEELS: Weld Racing; RT-S, 18×9.5 (front), 18×10.5 (rear)
  • TIRES: Nitto NT05 (275/35/18, front — 295/35/18, rear)
  • HP/TQ.: 700/650
  • BEST 1/4-MILE ET: N/A
  • BEST 60-FT.: N/A
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Being infatuated with cars since he was a toddler, GM EFI Founder and Editor, Rick Seitz, has a true love and passion for late-model GM vehicles. When he isn’t tuning, testing, or competing with the brand’s current crop of project vehicles, he’s busy tinkering and planning the next modifications for his own cars.
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