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Thread: Build Thread: The Roaring Season Firebird

  1. #1

    Build Thread: The Roaring Season Firebird

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    Well this is it folks. I have finally begun the first steps to making the switch from spectator, to driver. Its been a lifelong ambition of mine to go car racing, and specifically, historic car racing, and this build thread is dedicated to the 1967 Pontiac Firebird I eventually intend to race. This car will be known as The Roaring Season Firebird.

    The reason for building this car is two-fold. Not only will I finally get to make real a dream of building and racing my own historic car, Iíll also get to share the car with all of you, the members and visitors of The Roaring Season, who have provided me with so much enjoyment since I first started this site back in 2011, and so much inspiration. Its my goal to bring the car to as many tracks as I can, and to fully take advantage of track days and lunchtime parades, to get as many TRS members and supporters into the passenger seat as possible. This is really a car for everyone here to enjoy.

    I think itíll be a great way to promote The Roaring Season, and to allow me to meet more TRS members. And I hope it helps make this an even better website, by encouraging even more old photo collections and great stories out of the woodwork.

    As great as my passion is for motorsport history, I really donít make a good spectator. And while I love running The Roaring Season, and love being involved in running historic groups such as New Zealand Historic Muscle Cars/Historic Saloon Cars, to maintain my interest, I need to get my backside into a race car. The Roaring Season Firebird will incorporate many of my interests into one package, and keep me motivated going forward to stay involved in historic car racing.

    Iím not a wealthy guy, and if I were more sensible, I probably wouldnít be building this car. But at the same time, Iím fully aware that life is short, and I donít want to leave this earth with any regrets. I recently turned 45, and have been wanting to go historic car racing since I was 21, when I attended the Silverstone Classic event in the early 1990s while doing my OE. So this is going to be a big challenge for me, but its one Iím prepared to tackle head-on.

    I raced Karts as a teenager for about five years through to the age of 20. But Iíve never done any car racing. So this whole process is going to be a big learning curve, which I hope you will all enjoy being a part of.

  2. #2
    Good on you Steve and great to see. I hope it goes really well.

    It seems too many of us just sit in the grandstand. And believe me, 45 is not old............

  3. #3
    Thanks Terry, I really appreciate the encouragement.

  4. #4
    I started getting serious about the idea for building a historic race car about 4 years ago, not long after Dale Mathers, Tony Roberts, and myself created the New Zealand Historic Muscle Cars class. Finally, here was a class that I could actually build a car for, where performance was less important than the joy of ownership and taking part. I don’t have the budget to be racing at the front of any grid, but for me, the car is more important than the result. I’m a car enthusiast first and foremost.

    I’ve always been a little different in my thinking, and have always liked the idea of racing a make/model of car that isn’t common. Since I was a young bloke, I’ve always loved the shape of the Holden HQ Monaro coupe. Early influences were the Bob Jane Improved Production/Sports Sedan race car, the Mad Max Nightrider, and a fuel-injected speedway car owned by Bill Dorn that raced at my local dirt track. However, by the time I’d made the decision to build a race car, HQ Monaro prices, along with those of most other classic Australian muscle cars, had soared, and even half-decent road cars were way beyond my budget. But a guy on Trademe had been trying to sell a deregistered bare HQ Monaro coupe body for a while, and I contacted him about buying it. If I couldn’t buy a complete car to convert into a race car, I’d instead cobble together a complete car from parts as they came available.

    I paid $2000 for that bare shell. And when I say it was bare, it was bare. It was a shell; no doors, glass, interior, sub-frame, driveline, front sheet-metal, etc. It was a bare shell. Over the span of about a year, I also amassed some doors, all the windows, a sub-frame, all the front sheet-metal, front bumper, and various other parts.

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  5. #5
    However, as time went on, I started to realise attempting to build an HQ Monaro just wasn’t going to work for me. There were two reasons for this:

    Reason #1: I’m on a tight budget, and while Aussie muscle car stuff was cheap twenty years ago, today its massively expensive for what it is, and far more so than the American equivalents. I was paying over the odds for used up old rusty parts, and it was driving me crazy. For example, I was Trademe bidding on a rusty back bumper, and as the auction neared its completion, the price hit $350. This was for a bumper that required a few dents to be knocked out, and to be re-chromed. Alternatively, Rare Spares offer brand new HQ Holden rear bumpers, for $995! How can I not be paranoid racing a car in which the rear bumper cost me the best part of a grand? I’d be constantly watching my mirrors, worried about other drivers getting too close.

    It was one morning while doing a Trademe search on rear bumpers, that I stumbled upon an auction where someone was selling a brand new 1967/68 Camaro rear bumper. It was $250. These massive price variances continue right throughout the entire car. Eg, door cards for the HQ Monaro were at the time, $1000. New front grill, $795. And on it went.

    Then there were the parts that couldn’t be had for love nor money (well, they could for money), such as the stainless trim around the windows. These pieces are unique to the Monaro coupe, and are unbelievably hard to come by. And, they’re not currently being reproduced. I’ve heard of complete sets trading for as much as $3000.

    Twenty years ago, there were plenty of Aussie muscle cars being raced, because they were cheap and plentiful. Hell, there were even a couple of HQ Monaro coupes being racing in the Streetstock division at my local speedway! But that isn’t the case today, and building an HQ Monaro was going to kill me financially. If I ever did finish it, I’d probably be too scared to race it.

  6. #6
    Reason #2: The other reason I decided not to continue with the Monaro was because my wife Helen and I are looking to eventually move to Europe. Helen is English, and while we probably won’t go back to England, some countries in Europe, such as France, really appeal. But if I were to build a race car in New Zealand, I’d want to take it with me to race in historic events in Europe. And as I started researching this, I soon began to realise there would be just about nowhere I could race the Monaro. And this is because of the way historic racing is conducted throughout Europe and the UK.

    Unlike New Zealand, European and UK historic racing is extremely tightly controlled, with the sports governing body, the FIA, completely in charge. For a car to contest a historic event there, it needs to be completely period correct, and have all the important FIA paperwork. Historic racing in Europe/UK is run to FIA Historic Appendix K rules. Each car must be compliant to these rules. In addition, each car must be correct to its FIA Homologation Sheet. Finally, each car must have an FIA Historic Technical Passport (HTP). If any one of these three pieces are missing or incorrect, the car does not race.

    Firstly, I downloaded the Appendix K rules from the FIA website. Its 96 pages long! I read it several times, and it was only after consulting people who had experience with the rules, that I finally began to get a grasp for what they meant. Essentially, when a manufacturer wanted to race a particular make/model of vehicle in any FIA championship back when it was new, be it international or national, a Homologation Sheet needed to be drawn up for the car, stating the various modifications, homologated and aftermarket parts that could be utilized in its construction, specific to the championship it was to contest.

    The HQ Monaro fell over at the first hurdle, in that there is no Homologation Sheet for it. The model only contested one national championship of significance; the Australian Touring Car Championship in 1972, which was run to Australia’s unique Improved Production rules, which were not in use anywhere else in the world, and not recognized by the FIA.

    The Appendix K rules do state that if a make/model contested a National Championship of importance, it may be eligible to compete legally in historic events. But I didn’t want to go to the trouble and expense of building a car, only to find that there was just no way it would be accepted. In addition, where would I find replacement parts in Europe? It all became too difficult.

  7. #7
    Live the dream Steve, life is not a rehearsal, we only get one chance at it so you just go for it mate.

    Cheers Dave

  8. #8
    Definitely do the American car Steve, its a no brainer on the new parts.
    After just having my XA Coupe smacked against the wall at Hampton Downs, finding any Aussie panel stuff is heartbreaking.
    Last edited by John McKechnie; 01-23-2017 at 10:48 AM.

  9. #9
    World Champion ERC's Avatar
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    Well done Steve! Go for it.

    And here is the problem for many of us:

    "The Appendix K rules do state that if a make/model contested a National Championship of importance, it may be eligible to compete legally in historic events. But I didn’t want to go to the trouble and expense of building a car, only to find that there was just no way it would be accepted."

    Correct me if I am wrong, but Appendix K may well be the holy grail for many, but it effectively also excludes models of cars that people want to race today. Although they are 100% period correct, if they weren't homologated, or didn't contest a championship in period, hard luck.

    As you well know, I'm also all for variety - which is after all, why Classics and Historics are so appealing. Good choice and so glad it is a bit different.
    Last edited by ERC; 01-23-2017 at 08:47 PM.

  10. #10
    Wow, this is great news mate, looking forward to following the build, you've really thought it through and it all stacks up beautifully.
    I might add that there are a number of folk on TRS who are amongst the finest technical minds and mechanical whiz kids who have ever spun a ring spanner on a race car, or pulled an overnighter to fab up some device to get a race car to the line.
    Like many of us, I am absolutely sure these same people share a massive debt of gratitude to you for founding and sharing TRS, which has uncovered thousands of period race pics, awoken countless memories and reunited friends and foes from race days they may otherwise have left in the fondly-recalled but dim and distant past.
    For this reason, I am sure you will find there will be many talented people only too willing to assist you with advice, recommendations, support, assistance and knowledge throughout the build, and I think you'll only then realise what a great thing you have conceived with TRS. I'm sure you'll only have to ask and they'll be there for you. Hell, most of them will probably do it off the cuff.
    Good luck, and enjoy the project
    Regards GD

  11. #11
    Thanks for all the encouragement guys, I really appreciate it. I hope the car proves to be a good tool for making this site even better. I think of the people we've lost just in the time The Roaring Season has been active, and the important stories that have gone with them.

  12. #12
    wooow Steve this is cool , I did not know this until today , you [we] have a great bunch of people in your [our] class , you will enjoy , remember the drug bug [motor racing] can bite hard at times $$$$$ , I know you are not silly so you are well aware of what goes on , floooow with the whole thing , you have good people around you .

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by ERC View Post
    Well done Steve! Go for it.

    And here is the problem for many of us:

    "The Appendix K rules do state that if a make/model contested a National Championship of importance, it may be eligible to compete legally in historic events. But I didn’t want to go to the trouble and expense of building a car, only to find that there was just no way it would be accepted."

    Correct me if I am wrong, but Appendix K may well be the holy grail for many, but it effectively also excludes models of cars that people want to race today. Although they are 100% period correct, if they weren't homologated, or didn't contest a championship in period, hard luck.

    As you well know, I'm also all for variety - which is after all, why Classics and Historics are so appealing. Good choice and so glad it is a bit different.
    Yes, you are right Ray. The FIA rules do exclude various makes and models, and tends to focus on exactly what raced in period, but mainly just in international competition. There was a reliance on factory involvement, or at least from championship promoters submitting the homologation paperwork.

    Unfortunately, that means in a country with a unique racing heritage such as New Zealand, many of the vehicles raced here would not be accepted. When Neil Tolich first began looking at taking the Fleetwood Motors Mustang to race in the UK/Europe, he was told the car would require several changes to comply with the pre-1966 Group 2 rules, even though its a car with period race history that had been restored to how Ivan Segedin raced it in NZ during the 1965/66 season.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Grant Sprague View Post
    wooow Steve this is cool , I did not know this until today , you [we] have a great bunch of people in your [our] class , you will enjoy , remember the drug bug [motor racing] can bite hard at times $$$$$ , I know you are not silly so you are well aware of what goes on , floooow with the whole thing , you have good people around you .
    Thanks Grant, I appreciate the advice. And yes, I will be very careful with my spending. I don't have a choice. Actually, when I decided against building the Monaro, I sold the car and made a profit from it which really surprised me. I thought I was doing well. But then I spent the exact same amount of money on an engagement ring for Helen!

  15. #15
    World Champion
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    Steve,
    That is really wonderful news and I know you will put in a 100 % effort to make it all happen.
    If I can be of any help from this end please let me know.
    Sometimes you might see something here at this site that can not be sent directly to NZ and I will try to assist.(Just for you ONLY !)

    http://www.ebay.com/bhp/1967-pontiac-firebird

    These cars have always been a favorite of mine such as this one where the flowers are so pretty !
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    Cheers, (p.s. It is great to have the wife on your side and you don't have to hide that extra expense account,,correct ? )
    Ken H
    Last edited by khyndart in CA; 01-24-2017 at 09:51 AM.

  16. #16
    Hi Ken, thanks so much for the kind words. And yes, they really are a pretty car, and that one in your picture is especially so!

    Its best to be honest with the wife, they always find out sooner or later. I read something recently that made me laugh. It said: "My biggest fear is that when I die my wife sells my race car for what I told her it cost me". Ha ha

  17. #17
    With the Monaro gone, I turned my attentions to what to build instead. I still liked the idea of doing something a little different, but it had to be cheaper than the Monaro for parts, and it had to be something for which there was an FIA Homologation Sheet, therefore allowing me to race the car in Europe. I quickly settled on what is one of my all-time favourite cars; a 1967/68 Pontiac Firebird.

    To my mind, the 1967/68 shape Firebird is one of the most beautiful and aesthetically well balanced cars ever to come out of the US. Its essentially a Camaro, but with a few sheet-metal changes, most notable of which is its very clean looking integrated front bumper inside which the grill and headlights are housed.

    Best of all, the Firebird contested the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Trans-Am series from 1968. The Trans-Am is a series I’ve had a lifelong fascination with, have studied for many years, and for which I’ve built a sizable amount of research material. It was contested under the FIA, and therefore, I felt it likely the Firebird would have a Homologation Sheet, as I knew the Camaro does. Better still, the first generation Firebirds that raced in the Trans-Am series used a Chevy driveline, which would help keep costs down.

    A quick search through the FIA Homologation Sheet list turned up the following: The Pontiac Firebird is listed under Homologation Sheet #1528, for Group 2 Touring Cars, homologation date May 1, 1968.

    So I began an online search for a 1967 or 1968 Firebird. Because I wouldn’t be able to view the car in person and would be working off photos, I needed something that was honest, so I knew what I was getting. My search eventually led to a 1967 Firebird on Craigslist, in Palmdale, California. It had no motor, no transmission. It also had no Title, which meant it couldn’t be used on the road. But that was OK with me, as it was only going to be a race car. The seller had started stripping it down for restoration, so I could see the bare metal, and the areas that needed attention. But I could see it was structurally in great shape, with excellent floors. The price was US$4000.

    I shipped the Firebird home in 2016, and was really happy with its condition when it arrived. Its an honest car, and really solid, with just a few tiny rust holes around the lip of one rear wheel arch, plus the lower rear quarters, and tail pan. In addition, the lower sections of the front guards have rust holes, but brand new replacement guards are only $250, so its not even worth bothering to repair the old ones.

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    The low prices on new and old parts for these cars is a big part of the appeal to me. Like so many American cars where there is a strong restoration market, pretty much everything is being reproduced. Likewise, most original parts are easy to source, and very reasonably priced. Remember I mentioned the stainless window trim for HQ Monaros selling for $3000? I’ve seen complete used sets of stainless trim for 1967-69 Camaros/Firebirds for as little as $40. Big difference.

    The car I purchased is a 1967 model to which the seller had fitted with a 1968 front. The only real difference is that the 1968 models had side indicators, which became law in the US that year. In addition, my car had also been fitted with a reproduction Firebird 400 steel hood, with its twin nostril scoops. Having this already on the car saved me money and a lot of hassle, as I would have needed to source one for the build.

  18. #18
    Semi-Pro Racer kiwi285's Avatar
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    Fantastic news Steve and I am really shuffed to see that you have taken the bull by the horns and are prepared to give it a big shake. As someone else said 45 is certainly NOT too old. Waiting until you retire doesn't work either and you start running out of energy.

    Enjoy old age it is a privilege denied to many. And what better way than historic motor racing with such a great bunch of people.
    Last edited by kiwi285; 01-24-2017 at 03:25 AM.

  19. #19
    Thank you Mike, I appreciate that.

  20. #20
    As for how the car will be built, from the moment I settled on a 1967/68 Firebird, I was clear in my mind how it would look. The car will be a replica of the yellow Firebird raced by Craig Fisher in the 1968 Trans-Am series. ‘Who is Craig Fisher’, you may ask? To my mind, he is one of the great unsung heroes of the Trans-Am series, who many will be unfamiliar with, but who played an important role in regards to General Motors impact on the series.

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    Craig Fisher Collection photo.

    The young and very shy Canadian driver Craig Fisher became the first driver to score Trans-Am points for the Camaro model when he placed second in the 1967 Daytona 300 Miles Trans-Am feature which was a support to the big Daytona 24 Hour race. This was the very first Trans-Am race in which the Camaro competed.

    Fisher was a hugely accomplished driver, and very good car developer. His achievements brought him to the attention of Roger Penske, who was in partnership with another Canadian by the name of Terry Godsall, in 1967. When the Penske team required a co-driver for Mark Donohue in a couple of the longer Trans-Am races, they called upon Craig Fisher. In Round 7 of the championship at Marlboro Raceway, Fisher was drafted in to drive alongside Donohue, and the pairing claimed the very first victory for Camaro in the Trans-Am series.

    For the Daytona 24 Hour and Sebring 12 Hour endurance events that opened the 1968 Trans-Am championship, Fisher was once again called upon as a Penske co-driver, and it was at Sebring the pairing of Donohue and Fisher claimed an incredible third outright in the race, headed only by a pair of factory Porsche 907s. After 12 hours of racing, they were just 5 laps behind the second placed car, and 6 laps behind the winner. The entire paddock was stunned.

    For the shorter Trans-Am races of 1968, Donohue drove solo, while Craig Fisher teamed up with Terry Godsall to run their own entry. Godsall was a successful businessman whose father ran a company supplying parts to General Motors. So he had strong GM ties.

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    Craig Fisher Collection photo.

    Fisher contested Round 4 of the championship in a Camaro, however, Godsall wanted to score a factory contract, and was busy working behind the scenes setting in motion plans to woo Pontiac into the Trans-Am series. But first he had to find a way to show the potential of the Firebird as a road racer, and do so as quickly and cheaply as possible. So he went to the SCCA, and somehow convinced them that in Canada it was possible to purchase a Pontiac Firebird fitted with a Chevy V8 motor. Whether the SCCA actually believed this or whether they were prepared to play dumb in order to have another manufacturer on-board is not known to me. Firebirds were not available in Canada with Chevy V8 engines. But regardless, they gave Godsall the green light to run a Pontiac Firebird fitted with Camaro running gear.

    To that end, Craig Fisher debuted the very first Pontiac Firebird to contest the Trans-Am series at Round 7 at Meadowdale. This was not a factory backed entry. The factory money would come later. This was just a privateer effort. Fisher finished 4th behind Donohue in the Penske Camaro, Peter Revson in a factory Javelin, and Sam Posey in the second Penske Camaro at Meadowdale. Not a bad start for the Trans-Am’s newest manufacturer.

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