We told you to expect greater diversity among our feature cars, but you may not have been expecting a pro touring/restomod muscle car. And that’s OK—we’re well aware that a ’69 Firebird probably isn’t even on many of our readers’ radar when it comes to their dream project car platform. But we’re also pretty sure that once you take a good, close look at this masterpiece of old-meets-new craftsmanship and obsessive-compulsive attention to detail, you’re going to want to incorporate some of the thinking and execution applied to this project to your own, whether it’s a turbocharged Miata or a 2JZ-swapped BMW (though only a mentalist would attempt a 2JZ swap into a E39 chassis).
The ’69 Firebird you see here rolled off the assembly line as one of 75,000 or so produced that year, to go along with almost a quarter-million sister-car Camaros. So although first-gen Firebirds aren’t exactly the rarest of birds, compared to the Camaro, it seemed like a less common and thus more appealing starting point for a pro touring build for owner Sid Tracy, car builder Troy Grudge from BBT Fabrications, and designer Ben Hermance from Hermance Designs.
According to Troy, “Sid approached me a couple months after we finished the first car we built for him (a ’30 Ford roadster) wanting to build a pro touring muscle car. After talking a bit, we decided that the ’69 Firebird would be the car since it is very similar in body style to the Camaro [a shape Sid found attractive]. Sid had a lot of trust in me after we finished the first car, so he only had a few things he was set on with this build and left the rest to me. His must-haves were a European sports car theme; flush-mount glass; a dark charcoal gray, exotic sports car interior; and a modern LS-powered drivetrain.”
At this point, some of you might be assuming that Troy is an old, gray-haired hot rodder who used to hang out with George Barris and Boyd Coddington, but nothing could be further from the truth. Troy is just 27 years old, though his fabrication skills and the team he’s assembled at BBT Fabrications in Champaign, Illinois, do suggest he’s been at this for more decades than most of us have been alive. Call it an annoying convergence of talent and passion, but whatever it is, Troy and his crew at BBT (Built By Troy) are already producing some of the finest hot rods in the country, having opened for business just six years ago.
Sid, the owner of this Firebird and a number of other custom classics, explained Troy’s uncanny ability to turn metal into art like this: “He has no formal training in bodywork, but he’s a master at it. Troy is developing a name for himself, and it’s nationwide. He’s a talent for the ages, destined for good things.” Those good things, as it turned out, include this ’69 Firebird turning heads at SEMA, ours included, along with being chosen as one of five finalists for Street Machine of the Year at the Goodguys Rod & Custom Association’s PPG Nationals show in Columbus, Ohio, back in July.
Transforming this first-gen Firebird into the nationally recognized pro tourer it is today really began once Troy and Sid enlisted designer Ben Hermance. As Troy put it, “The one thing I knew we had to change was the front end of the car. The factory front end was so big and bulky, it had to go. After some back and forth design talk with Ben, we came up with a final rendering as a blueprint to build the car.”
Since Sid’s a Corvette guy who likes Italian sports cars but wanted his Firebird to maintain the overall feel of an American muscle car, Troy and Ben certainly had their work cut out for them to satisfy Sid’s diverse tastes. But the final rendering of a lowered, modernized version of the Firebird ticked off all the right boxes and allowed Troy and his crew at BBT to do what they do best.
One of the most radical and defining elements of the Firebird’s exterior treatment is the front end, which gets rid of the original dual-nostril beak-like chrome grille and replaces it with a much cleaner, flush split grille filled in with a modern black egg-crate mesh. This change, along with the use of ’11 Dodge Challenger headlights and an aggressive chin spoiler, really set the tone for the rest of the build, in which a sleek, chrome-free treatment has been executed to perfection from nose to tail, including aluminum side skirts and a rear diffuser under a molded-in rear end.
The exhaust tips exit through the rear bodywork, giving Sid that Italian sports car flair he was looking for, but the soundtrack produced by the 550hp Mast Motorsports LS3-based V-8 is more in keeping with a Firebird that looks like it’s been built for The Punisher. Pop the hood and you’ll also immediately notice the gorgeous hand-fabricated Detroit Speed stainless steel headers and the Vintage Air front runner system, a package that uses a compact water pump, steering pump, alternator, pulleys, ATI harmonic balancer, and custom bracket so it’s easier to swap modern engines into older machines like this one.
Detroit Speed was also the source for the hydro-formed front subframe, a gorgeous aluminum piece that changes the front end to a suspension design very similar to the C6 Corvette, utilizing tubular upper and lower control arms up front and coilovers on all four corners. The rear end has been completed with a Moser 9-inch 3.73-ratio axle connected to Detroit Speed’s Quadra Link suspension setup, plus there are Detroit Speed antisway bars front and rear as well.
Take a peek in the rear wheelwells and you’ll also notice they’ve been mini-tubbed to make room for the 12-inch-wide center lock Forgeline ZX3P wheels and 335/30R18 BF-Goodrich rubber. With big Baer brakes added all around, Sid’s definitely got a track-ready ’69 flaming chicken on his hands, not to mention an absolutely killer stance for the streets.
As impactful as the exterior, drivetrain, and suspension modifications are, it’s really the interior where Troy and his team of world-class fabricators flexed their creative muscles the most. Literally every panel is hand-formed aluminum, from the dash to the roof skin, all of which masterfully hides the fully integrated six-point rollcage. As Troy explained, “Sid wanted a covered ’cage like in a Ferrari. It’s not so much for racing but to stiffen the car and make it safer for the street. He didn’t want to see it, though, and it was a challenge to design the interior around it in a way that tucked it all up out of sight.”
The custom-machined gauge cluster, done by Jesse Greening at Greening Auto, is also a true centerpiece for the interior, changing the look and feel of the driver seat from late ’60s F-body to modern exotic. The hand-formed metal work around the Tremec 6-speed gear lever is also a testament to old-world craftsmanship. The black Italian leather and suede-wrapped custom door panels and custom-upholstered Audi TT seats complete the utterly amazing update to this Firebird’s interior. The MOMO steering wheel, push-button start, and modern navigation system screen complete the modernization process. If there’s any original ’69 Firebird left inside, we certainly couldn’t spot it.
Pro touring muscle cars may not necessarily be your cup of tea, but taking in the details on a truly customized and modernized hunk of Detroit iron like Sid Tracy’s first-generation Firebird can’t help but inspire you to think outside the box when you beginning planning your next project car.
Sid wanted a covered ’cage like in a Ferrari. It’s not so much for racing but to stiffen the car and make it safer for the street.
Specs & Details
’69 Pontiac Firebird coupe
Engine Mast Motorsports LS3 6.8L V-8
Engine Modifications Mast Motorsports camshaft, beehive valvesprings, CNC cylinder heads, forged Callies crankshaft and H-beam rods, Mahle 11.2:1 pistons, fuel rails and LS7 hydraulic roller lifters; BBT Fabrication custom valve covers, dimple-died brake boost cover, clutch and brake master cylinder reservoirs; Detroit Speed LS-to-F-body stainless steel headers; 2.5-inch Borla cross-pipe
Engine Management Mast Motor-sports M-90
Drivetrain Tremec T-56 Magnum 6-speed transmission, Moser 9-inch 3.73 rear end
Wheels, Tires & Brakes Forgeline ZX3P 18x9.5’’ (f) and 18x12’’ (r) center lock wheels with center lock conversion kit and GT nut option; BFGoodrich 275/35R18 (f) and 335/30R18 (r) g-Force T/A KDW 2 tires; Baer Brakes 6-piston calipers and 14’’ rotors (f/r)
Suspension Detroit Speed front subframe, coilover suspension (f/r), tubular upper and lower control arms (f), antisway bars (f/r), and Quadra Link rear suspension
Interior BBT Fabrication hidden six-point rollcage, custom dash, center console, door panels, rear panels; Greening Auto gauge cluster; Redline Gauge Works refaced gauges; custom upholstered Audi TT seats; custom Italian black leather and suede upholstery; MOMO steering wheel; push-button start; Vintage Air A/C; navigation system
Exterior BBT Fabrications custom grille, chin spoiler, side skirts, bumper-less molded rear end with diffuser, integrated trunk lip spoiler, flush-mounted glass (concealed window channels), and custom pewter gray paint; ’11 Dodge Challenger headlights