From the November 1997 issue of Car and Driver.
George Hurst’s first customized shifter was for a 1956 Chevy. It had shorter throws from gear to gear and a more precise feel than stock shifters. In no time, performance drivers everywhere were lining up for them. Detroit automakers were serious about performance back then, and by the Sixties, a Hurst shifter could be ordered on many cars—even Buicks!
In 1968, Hurst went beyond just turning out shifters. He built an Oldsmobile Cutlass 442 with a huge Toronado 455-cubic-inch V-8 under the hood. In addition to all that horsepresssure, this Hurst car stressed speed and comfort—something traditionally absent in most muscle cars of the day. Moreover, at the time, GM had a ban on engines larger than 400 cubic inches from all but the largest models. Oldsmobile may have seen the Hurst car as one way to get around GM’s policy and keep one serious racehorse in the stable by producing regular Cutlass 442s and then having Hurst perform the engine swap after the cars left the factory.
Since 1968, nine Oldsmobiles and three American Motors cars have carried Hurst badging. The latest Hurst car, a modified 1997 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am WS6, developed in a roundabout way. Hurst, now owned by Mr. Gasket, the performance-parts company, borrowed a car from Pontiac to develop a shifter for the Firebird’s automatic transmission.
Pontiac PR man Mark Hitchins handed over a black WS6 and suggested that maybe it was time for another Hurst car. Hurst agreed. Since both Pontiac and Hurst wanted the car to be more than just a paint-and-trim package, they called well-known aftermarket tuner John Lingenfelter. The result is not just a Hurst Firebird—it’s a Hurst Firebird by Lingenfelter.
Lingenfelter’s goal was to increase horsepower without jacking up the price too severely. The LT1 engine in a stock 1997 WS6 Firebird with a ram-air intake system makes 305 hp; Lingenfelter wanted to kick that up to 350.
Just as Primatene Mist opens up clogged breathing passages, Lingenfelter uncorked the LT1. First, he ported a set of cylinder heads and an intake manifold from the now defunct Corvette Grand Sport’s LT4 engine and installed them. Next came stronger valve springs and pushrods with titanium retainers (these helped allow the redline to increase by 800 revs). Longer roller rocker arms and a Lingenfelter Performance Engineering (LPE) custom-ground camshaft provided higher lift and more duration.
On the exhaust side, Lingenfelter installed new headers and added a Borla stainless-steel exhaust system. To handle the increased power, he specified an aluminum driveshaft 3.5 inches in diameter and, for more traction, swapped the original Goodyear rubber for Michelin Pilot SX tires, in the same size.
Of course, the Hurst six-speed shifter, with its well-established short throws and precise feel, was also added.
A Hurst custom job also includes a dose of body cha-cha. A ground-effects package complements the lower body panels, although WS6 Firebirds are already so busy-bodied that it’s tough to notice the new zoot. There is, however, no missing the car’s trick paint job, with gold aluminum wheels and gold paint covering the decklid and the hood.
The car is loaded with options. There’s a T-top, power leather seats (they bear badges that say “Hurst Firebird by Lingenfelter”), a CD and cassette player, cruise control, and power for the mirrors, windows, and locks.
We like the extra options, but let’s face it: This car is about extra speed. At the track, the 15-percent increase in horsepower pays off. The 0-to-60 routine takes 4.7 seconds, which is 0.6 second quicker than the new LS1-powered ’98 Trans Am. The quarter-mile flashes by in just 13.1 seconds at 111 mph. That makes this Hurst car the quickest set of wheels in the GM stable—outrunning even the new Corvette. (The fastest new Vette we’ve tested hit 60 mph in 4.8 seconds and ran the quarter-mile in 13.3 seconds at 109 mph.) The Hurst Firebird is still ahead of the Vette at 150 mph, and it stays there to a whopping terminal velocity of 182 mph, 23 mph faster than the new Trans Am and 7 mph faster than the Vette. Given the Vette’s 345 horsepower rating—that’s five less than this Hurst car—we think Lingenfelter’s estimate of 350 horses is, as even he says, “conservatively low.”
Oh, did we mention that the Hurst car generates 0.89 g on the skidpad, which is an improvement of 0.04 over the stock version? Did we mention there is no free lunch? In 1968, a Hurst package added $400 to the model. Today, it adds $15,495. Tack that onto an already pricey $28,789 WS6 Firebird, and you have—cha-ching!—a payment schedule involving $44,947.
Well, think of this car as the most exclusive ride this side of a Ferrari F50. That’s because only nine of these Hurst Firebirds by Lingenfelter (designated as 1997 models) will make it into customers’ hands. Why so few? The original plan called for 50 cars, but by the time contractual details were finalized, only nine WS6 cars, of 3807 built, had yet to be sold. Pontiac and Lingenfelter haven’t inked a deal yet for a Hurst version of the new LS1-powered Firebird, but chances are good they will. Either way, if you were one of the lucky souls to get your hands on a 1997 model, hang on to it. Who knows? Twenty years from now, it just might be worth some serious cash.
1997 Pontiac Hurst Firebird by Lingenfelter
Vehicle Type: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2+2-passenger, 2-door coupe
Base/As Tested: $21,249/$44,947
Options: Hurst package (LPE 350-hp engine package, ground effects, Hurst shifter, aluminum driveshaft, gold graphics, car cover, gold aluminum wheels, Michelin Pilot SX 275/40ZR-17 tires, oil cooler, embroidered floor mats and headrests, numbered dash plaque, and key chain), $15,495; WS6 option package (ram-air induction system, air scoops, dual polished exhaust outlets, performance suspension), $3345; 1SB option package (power locks, windows, and mirrors; cruise control; rear-window defroster), $1121; T-tops, $995; leather seats, $829; remote CD changer, $595; steering-wheel radio controls, $200; keyless entry, $150; Delco stereo, $130; theft alarm, $90; power antenna, $85; luxury tax on options, $663
pushrod V-8, iron block and aluminum heads, port fuel injection
Displacement: 350 in3, 5733 cm3
Power: 350 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 375 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm
Suspension, F/R: control arms/live axle
Brakes, F/R: 10.7-in vented disc/11.4-in vented disc
Tires: Michelin Pilot SX
Wheelbase: 101.1 in
Length: 197.0 in
Width: 74.5 in
Height: 52.0 in
Passenger Volume, F/R: 53/31 ft3
Trunk Volume: 13 ft3
Curb Weight: 3554 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 4.7 sec
100 mph: 10.9 sec
1/4-Mile: 13.1 sec @ 111 mph
130 mph: 18.8 sec
150 mph: 30.6 sec
Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 5.6 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 14.0 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 13.5 sec
Top Speed (drag ltd): 182 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 176 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.89 g
C/D TESTING EXPLAINED