JUSTIN MAY’S 8-SECOND TRUE STREET FIREBIRD BLENDS CLASSIC THIRD-GEN BEAUTY WITH MODERN BLOWN LSX POWER
By Justin Cesler
Photography by Justin Cesler
“With the ProCharger it is so easy. I transbrake it to 2300rpm, off the button, shift, shift...Run 8s.” Yeah, like that’s all there is to this 8-second True Street ’91 Firebird; just get in and run 8s like it’s no big deal. What Justin May is leaving out from that statement is the years of hard work it has taken him to get to this point, years of hard work that started way before Justin could even drive, let alone head to the dragstrip. “Growing up in a family that valued education, my mother offered to pay for half of a new car in trade for me achieving a 4.0 GPA in high school.” And unlike your author who barely maintained enrollment, Justin was actually intelligent enough to make that happen, which meant his parents had to make good on their half of the deal. It would be Justin’s father who located the ’91 Firebird you see before you and “from the day I saw it I knew I loved the Pontiac...” What Justin didn’t know at the time was that his first love would end up being his one and only (well, there were some on the side from time to time...), with the Firebird sticking around for the long haul.
Like any long-term project this Firebird didn’t go from stock to a race winner overnight. In fact, it’s first real run-in with another “fast” car was on the street against – get this – a Nissan SUV. “We lined up twice, netted two losses by a length. I’ll never forget his little fingertip wave out the driver’s window – that victory ‘bye bye’ wave. That was enough to inspire me very deeply as I never wanted to see it again.” Justin drove directly home and pulled the 305 cubic-inch slug out of the engine bay that night. From the 15.5-second fury that it was, Justin built a 350 cubic-inch TPI engine that went 13.5s on motor and 12.20s on nitrous, as well as a 406 cubic-inch AFR-headed TPI combination that was good for 10.50 runs at over 127mph. In 2004, 10.50s were crazy fast, especially for a street driven car, but – come on now – you knew that just wasn’t going to be enough for this guy. “At the track one day, I remember thinking that 8s was the fastest car at the track. I wanted to drive it there and have people say that.”
That desire to run 8s in a street car brings us to today, where Justin runs well into the 8-second zone at almost any track in the country, after driving the car 30-miles on a street cruise and running 3 back-to-back passes. And, if you’re wondering, he’s good at driving too; taking home multiple wins in the heavily contested NMCA LSX True Street category year after year with a 10-second win in 2010, a 9-second win in 2011, and a Runner-Up win in 2012 for the fastest True Street car period. So what’s the secret? Well, most of it comes from a combination of well thought out parts, both under the stock hood and throughout the drivetrain. Naturally, running in the LSX Shootout, Justin first had to convert to LS power, a move he made with help from engine builder Bryan Neelen of Late Model Engines in Texas and his friend Shawn McAlees. “Brian picks up the phone every time I call and talks me through every detail, I love that.” What started as a 408 is now a stout 427 that uses a set of JE pistons that Justin actually won at an NMCA LSX Shootout pre-party, along with an octet of Oliver billet 6.125-inch rods and a Callies DragonSlayer crankshaft. Late Model Engines spec’d the combo in at 9.3:1 compression and sent it off to Justin, who completed the final assembly with a set of Trick Flow Specialties 245cc cylinder heads and a custom 248/260 duration hydraulic roller camshaft.
Of course, the real star of the Firebird show is a massive F-1R ProCharger head unit, which rides on a custom built 12-rib serpentine drive system (from IndianaMuscleCar.com). “There wasn’t much made for the third-gen F-car / LSX crowd at the time, so I had to fabricate the entire supercharger system myself. My primary goal was a bolt-on, streetable system that fit under the stock hood.” Those design constraints proved to be rather difficult, as the stock hood and extremely sloped front-end made it challenging for Justin to get everything installed without cutting everything up. Of course, we’re talking about a guy who works as the Principal Engineer for Global Knee Development and Surgical Instruments, so fabbing up a couple of brackets wasn’t knearly (see what I did there?) as difficult as what he does at his day job. Thanks to some CAD work and many hours spent lining everything up, Justin’s supercharger system ended up fitting the chassis very well and allowed him to keep the factory radiator without making any modifications, which keeps the cooling system working properly on those long heat soak inducing street drives he loves so much. You’ll no doubt notice the big air-to-air intercooler up front, which uses 3-inch stainless steel piping to deliver upwards of 17psi to the 427 cubic-inch mill.
The rest of the engine combination is fairly “standard” for a build of this caliber, with 2-inch Stainless Works long-tube headers expelling the spent exhaust fumes and a FAST 102mm intake manifold dividing air and fuel to the intake ports. Aft of the crankshaft, it’s all about reliability, with a B&C Transmissions’ built TH400 sending all 1,000-plus horsepower back to the 9-inch rear end and out to the relatively small 275mm Mickey Thompson drag radials. “I upgraded to a Moser 9-inch rear from Bob at Brute Speed after twisting my wheel studs due to wheel hop at the 2011 LSX Shootout. The track went away and what was I to do? Not flat-foot it?! This is the True Street finals we’re talking about!” You did the right thing Justin, you did the right thing.
That right thing also includes what Justin didn’t do, which was ruin the exterior or interior of his slick ‘bird with any ridiculous modifications or ugly wheel choices. And while the factory body work isn’t perfect, this bright red Firebird looks as good in the staging lanes as it does in these photos, which is impressive considering it’s been through 21 years of abuse, hundreds of track passes, and is still wearing the original paint and metal work. Inside, it’s as stock as it could be, with a stealthy pseudo 6-speed shifter in the center console, hidden gauges in the air vents, and a neatly tucked legal 10-point roll cage with swing-out door bars and an 8.50 certification. Even the parachute is stealthy, relying on the factory e-brake handle to release it, which really compliments the modest appearance of this 8-second monster.
“My favorite part about the car is that it is a true sleeper. I went to great lengths to tuck everything under the stock hood, run little tires, and even maintain a full interior with a 6-speed looking shifter. I rarely even pop the hood at many of the tracks I frequent during tech inspection. They assume it is just a stock 14-second third-gen and have no idea it is packing 1,100 crank horsepower.” Well, looks like the cat is out of the bag now Justin. Sorry about that, we guess you’re just going to have to run even faster and break even more new ground to keep the tech guys and would-be racers confused! As for us, we’re just glad racers are still going strong with the third-gen platform. A real Pontiac for the ages and one with true staying power. I mean, who could have ever imagined a 5,000-dollar Firebird built for a nerd with good school grades turning into a True Street winning, 1,000-hp street car with looks that could kill. Certainly not Justin’s mother, who technically bought half of it for him!
CAR: 1991 Pontiac Firebird
OWNER: Justin May
BLOCK: GM LSX, 427cid
COMPRESSION RATIO: 9.3:1
HEADS: Trick Flow Specialties 245cc, 2.100 intake, 1.600 exhaust valves
CAM: Custom hydraulic roller, 248/260 duration at .050, .640/.640 inches of lift, 116 LSA
ROCKER ARMS: Yella Terra, 1.8-ratio
PISTONS: JE Pistons, forged
RINGS: JE Pistons
CRANKSHAFT: Callies Dragonslayer, forged
RODS: Oliver, billet
THROTTLE BODY: Nick Williams 102mm
FUEL INJECTORS: 96 lb/hr
FUEL PUMP: Walbro 255 in-tank, Aeromotive Eliminator in-line
IGNITION: Stock coil-near-plug, Denso plugs
ENGINE MANAGEMENT: Gen 3 ECM, tuned by Brent Malone at Lingenfelter Performance Engineering
EXHAUST SYSTEM: Stainless Works 2-inch long-tube headers, 3.5-inch exhaust, (single) 3.5-inch Stainless Works muffler
TRANSMISSION: TH400, built by B&C Transmissions
CONVERTER: Yank 3200-stall, billet
DRIVESHAFT: 3-inch, steel
FRONT SUSPENSION: Spohn upper control arms, BMR lower control arms, K-member, QA1 struts and springs, Indiana Muscle Car spacers, removed sway bar
REAR SUSPENSION: BMR lower control arms, sway bar, torque arm, Panhard bar, AFCO double adjustable shocks, Eibach springs, Jegs subframe connectors
REAR END: Moser 9-inch, 3.50 gear, 35-spline axles, steel spool
BRAKES: Stock GM, Hawk pads, stainless lines
FRONT WHEELS: Weld RTS 17x5.5
REAR WHEELS: Weld RTS 15x10
FRONT TIRES: M&H Front Runner 185/55/17
REAR TIRES: Mickey Thompson drag radial 275/60/15