Tubeframed, V8-Powered, Featherweight Pontiac Firefly

Click Here to Begin Slideshow It doesn’t occur to most people that one of the lightest economy cars in existence should be made into anything but a grocery getter. That’s for good reason, since the idea of a V8-powered, rear-wheel drive dragster in the most unassuming exterior should intimidate just about any mortal driver. Yet that power-to-weight ratio is mighty appealing. One of the braver builders I’ve met, a man by the name of Greg, decided to shoehorn a V8 into the engine bay of a Pontiac Firefly. The (Canadian) Firefly, better known to Americans as the Chevy Sprint, has a bit of a cult following in North America - mainly for weighing about as much as a photograph of itself. Fortunately, Greg never had to pay any of the cult tax as the former owner, an apathetic student, was unwilling to get the car running and chose to let it go quite easily. Once Greg had pushed the Firefly into his garage, he stripped the car and started building a custom frame. Then the cage work began. Trying to design a cage for both drag racing and solo sprints was a bit of a challenge; the two rule sets don’t work together very well. Around this point, he picked up an ‘88 Firebird for peanuts, and while its transmission was toast, the TBI 305 ran perfectly. The engine was narrow enough to fit between the shock towers, short enough to fit under the hood - and the whole thing would still fit under the dashboard. It was kismet! Greg rebuilt a TH350 gearbox to drive the power to the rear axle, which he narrowed 9”, and had the axles shortened by Moser Engineering. He then turned his attention to the suspension. His aim was to reuse as much of the Firebird’s original suspension as possible to keep costs down, but packaging was always an issue. So, he ended up buying S10 spindles and a Chevette rack from Pick-N-Pull, and fabricated his own control arms. He then grabbed the cheapest set of eBay coilovers he could find. Even at this stage of the build, he’d recouped some coin by selling unwanted parts and had only really doled out dough on the tubing. After cutting and re-welding a set of used $50 headers in the bay, he turned his attentions to the rear suspension. He'd originally built the rear using the torque arm and panhard of the Firebird, but that caused packaging issues with the exhaust, gas tank and seats. So he changed to a triangulated four link and installed a Detroit TruTrac in the factory housing. After cutting some of the corrosion out from underneath, Greg added glasspacks and finished off the whole exhaust arrangement with both new and used scrap exhaust tubing. The single-exit exhaust in the original location is about as inconspicuous as can be. New rotors and pads came next, though their dimensions weren’t much different from the standard Pontiac items. As the car only weighed 2,420 pounds near completion, it didn’t need much help in the deceleration department. After adding a set of sticky RE-71 tires, having enough bolster was a must. Greg chose a set of Suzuki Swift seats, then trimmed them as much as possible to help them sit flush on the raised floor. Even with the cage, the body-hugging seats offer plenty of room - enough for Greg to sit comfortably with his helmet on. Greg has taken it to a couple local autocross events, where it was surprisingly easy to drive. It was not scary or hatchet-murderingly awful at all - not what you’d expect from something with those proportions and that much power. Even more surprising, it's a pretty good commuter. In the future, Greg intends to run his local hill climb events, surprise Hellcats at the drag strip and even try a few track days. It’s sure to be fast everywhere, and best of all - it’s only set him back $3,500. It pays to be a shop teacher with a great appreciation of lightweight cars. To follow Greg’s exploits, you can visit his YouTube page, or his build thread.

Tubeframed, V8-Powered, Featherweight Pontiac Firefly

Click Here to Begin Slideshow

It doesn’t occur to most people that one of the lightest economy cars in existence should be made into anything but a grocery getter. That’s for good reason, since the idea of a V8-powered, rear-wheel drive dragster in the most unassuming exterior should intimidate just about any mortal driver.

Yet that power-to-weight ratio is mighty appealing. One of the braver builders I’ve met, a man by the name of Greg, decided to shoehorn a V8 into the engine bay of a Pontiac Firefly.

The (Canadian) Firefly, better known to Americans as the Chevy Sprint, has a bit of a cult following in North America - mainly for weighing about as much as a photograph of itself. Fortunately, Greg never had to pay any of the cult tax as the former owner, an apathetic student, was unwilling to get the car running and chose to let it go quite easily.

Once Greg had pushed the Firefly into his garage, he stripped the car and started building a custom frame. Then the cage work began. Trying to design a cage for both drag racing and solo sprints was a bit of a challenge; the two rule sets don’t work together very well.

Around this point, he picked up an ‘88 Firebird for peanuts, and while its transmission was toast, the TBI 305 ran perfectly. The engine was narrow enough to fit between the shock towers, short enough to fit under the hood - and the whole thing would still fit under the dashboard. It was kismet!

Greg rebuilt a TH350 gearbox to drive the power to the rear axle, which he narrowed 9”, and had the axles shortened by Moser Engineering. He then turned his attention to the suspension. His aim was to reuse as much of the Firebird’s original suspension as possible to keep costs down, but packaging was always an issue. So, he ended up buying S10 spindles and a Chevette rack from Pick-N-Pull, and fabricated his own control arms. He then grabbed the cheapest set of eBay coilovers he could find. Even at this stage of the build, he’d recouped some coin by selling unwanted parts and had only really doled out dough on the tubing.

After cutting and re-welding a set of used $50 headers in the bay, he turned his attentions to the rear suspension. He'd originally built the rear using the torque arm and panhard of the Firebird, but that caused packaging issues with the exhaust, gas tank and seats. So he changed to a triangulated four link and installed a Detroit TruTrac in the factory housing.

After cutting some of the corrosion out from underneath, Greg added glasspacks and finished off the whole exhaust arrangement with both new and used scrap exhaust tubing. The single-exit exhaust in the original location is about as inconspicuous as can be.

New rotors and pads came next, though their dimensions weren’t much different from the standard Pontiac items. As the car only weighed 2,420 pounds near completion, it didn’t need much help in the deceleration department.

After adding a set of sticky RE-71 tires, having enough bolster was a must. Greg chose a set of Suzuki Swift seats, then trimmed them as much as possible to help them sit flush on the raised floor. Even with the cage, the body-hugging seats offer plenty of room - enough for Greg to sit comfortably with his helmet on.

Greg has taken it to a couple local autocross events, where it was surprisingly easy to drive. It was not scary or hatchet-murderingly awful at all - not what you’d expect from something with those proportions and that much power. Even more surprising, it's a pretty good commuter.

In the future, Greg intends to run his local hill climb events, surprise Hellcats at the drag strip and even try a few track days. It’s sure to be fast everywhere, and best of all - it’s only set him back $3,500. It pays to be a shop teacher with a great appreciation of lightweight cars.

To follow Greg’s exploits, you can visit his YouTube page, or his build thread.

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About Tommy Parry 115 Articles
Tommy Parry has been racing and writing about racing cars for the past seven years. As an automotive enthusiast from a young age, Tommy worked jobs revolving around cars throughout high school and tried his hand on the race track on his twentieth birthday. After winning his first outdoor kart race, he began working as an apprentice mechanic to amateur racers in the Bay Area to sharpen his mechanical understanding. He has worked as a trackday instructor and automotive writer since 2012 and continues to race karts, formula cars, sedans and rally cars in the San Francisco region.

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