When you think of “sleek” and how it relates to cars, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For most, the image almost certainly includes something flashy and low-slung, whether it’s a chopped custom, a lowered muscle car, or a late-model performance car. For NSMC Members David and Vicki Brown of Salvisa, KY, sleek is “Blackbird,” their ’69 Pontiac Firebird convertible.
While David and Vicki have always been interested in cars, it wasn’t until they bought their first project that their interest really took off. David explained, “The first car we built was a ’67 Pontiac GTO. We bought it about 11 years ago and then we spent a year restoring it. It grew from there.” After making a driver out of their ’67, the couple moved on to restoring another Pontiac, this time an original numbers matching ’69 Firebird convertible. David shared a bit about the project, “We thought the first Firebird would be a daily driver for Vicki, but once we got started, it ended up not working out that way.”
Five years after completing the restoration of their numbers matching Firebird, the Browns decided they wanted to build a total opposite version of the same car. After locating a solid foundation with original sheet metal, the Browns formulated a plan for what they wanted this car to be. Their plan called for a late-model drivetrain, an aggressive stance, and an interior that complemented the car’s attitude. To help complete the build, the Browns chose to work with Carl and Shane Carey at Carey’s Classics in Harrodsburg, KY.
Starting with the suspension, David and Vicki chose a front subframe and two-inch drop spindles from Fat Man Fabrications with stainless steel upper and lower A-arms up front. For the rear, they utilized a stainless steel four-link and Panhard bar from Total Cost Involved. Filling the role of the spring and shock at each corner are Air Ride Technologies’ ShockWaves, which offer adjustability that allows the Browns to raise and lower their Firebird as they see fit, and is what gives the car its sleek, ultra-low look when parked.
Nestled nicely between the rails of the Fat Man subframe is an all-aluminum LS1 V-8 featuring components from Street & Performance. While most who transplant the late-model powerplant into their classic street machines leave them stock, the Browns wanted more. To increase the power output of their fuel injected mill, they installed a Magna Charger supercharger from Magnuson. The polished hybrid roots-style blower produces six pounds of boost, ensuring David and Vicki will always have enough power on tap. Exhaust travels through a set of Sanderson 21⁄2-inch headers that feed into similar size ceramic-coated tubing routed past a Rock Valley stainless steel 17-gallon fuel tank. The custom exhaust produces a throaty note well fit for a muscle car.
The rest of the drivetrain in David and Vicki’s ’69 Firebird consists of a T56 six-speed manual transmission outfitted with a Ram Powergrip clutch and a stock flywheel and shifter. Aft of the manual gearbox is an aluminum driveshaft that leads to a Ford nine-inch rear axle featuring Moser 31-spline axles, 4.11:1 gears, and a limited slip differential.
With a considerable amount of power under the hood and the potential for rapid acceleration, the Browns knew they needed a formidable set of brakes to keep it all in check. Confident they would handle the task with ease, they selected a set of four-piston calipers and 121⁄2-inch drilled and slotted rotors from Wilwood Engineering.
Considering the car was equipped with a solid body made up of original GM panels, David and Vicki knew the car had to wear a color that would show off its arrow-straight panels and timeless lines. After some searching, David was introduced to Rick Croft of Rick’s Restoration in Maryville, TN. David was confident Croft was the right man for the job after discussing the project with him. “I had never met Rick before, but after being introduced, I knew I could trust him just by talking to him. I could tell he was just a good ol’ country boy,” David admitted. The Browns chose to cover the car in a DuPont two-stage black paint, which Croft sprayed with great skill. Knox Custom Chrome in Knoxville, TN, took care of chrome plating the original bumpers, which stand out well against the mirror-like black finish.
Upon entering the car, passengers are greeted by the handi-work of upholsterer David Lewallen of Cleveland, TN. The black interior includes German square weave carpet and Procar seats, which wear black leather and feature black ostrich accents. The door panels are covered in a similar combination and are complemented by door handles from Paul Atkins Interiors. A stock dashboard houses All American Series gauges from Classic Instruments, which are visible through a Lecarra steering wheel that steers a Mustang II power rack and pinion. Additional interior features include a climate control system from Vintage Air and a sound system from Secret Audio.
Contributing to the modern look and feel of Blackbird is a set of Intro polished billet aluminum Rally wheels measuring 19x81⁄2 inches up front and 20x10 inches in the rear. The five-spoke wheels wear sticky BFG G-Force T/A KDWS tires measuring 225/35ZR19 and 255/35ZR20 (front and rear).
For the crowning touch, which complements the name the Browns have given their car, they commissioned the folks at Motorhead Design House to create “Blackbird” badging using the original font for placement on the front fenders in the stock “Firebird” badge location. The custom badges look like original equipment pieces and are a testament to the Browns’ pursuit of excellence.
A self-proclaimed love for Pontiacs means David and Vicki aren’t done yet. David shared their plans for if they ever decide to part with their beloved Blackbird. “If we sell this car, we’re going to build a ’70 GTO, something along the same lines as this one. It’ll be a pro-touring car; low with big wheels and wide tires.” He continued, “It’ll be a driver too, since I think we’re done with the show cars.” Considering the popularity of the ’60s muscle cars, there’s no doubting that Blackbird will be popular among street machine enthusiasts. Congratulations to David and Vicki Brown for building a fine ’60s muscle car and for the successful execution of Operation: Blackbird.
Photos by Matt Sprouse
1969 PONTIAC firebird Convertible
David & Vicki Brown, Salvisa, KY
Suspension (front, rear): Fat Man Fab, TCI
Springs/Shocks: Air Ride Technologies, ShockWaves
Rear Axle, Ratio: Ford nine-inch, 4.11:1 limited-slip
Brakes (front, rear): Wilwood, 121⁄2-inch discs, four-piston calipers
Wheels (front, rear): Intro, “Rally,” 19x81⁄2, 20x10
Tires (front, rear): BFG G-Force T/A KDWS, 225/35ZR19, 255/35ZR20
Engine Year, Make, and Model: 2002 GM LS1 V-8
Supercharger: Magna Charger by Magnuson
Transmission Year, Make, and Model: 2002 GM T56
Paint: DuPont Basecoat/Clearcoat, Black
Body/Paintwork by: Rick’s Restoration, Maryville, TN
Badging: Motorhead Design House
Upholstery (material, color): Leather/Ostrich, Black
Upholstery by: David Lewallen, Cleveland, TN
Dashboard/Gauges: Stock, Classic Instruments
Miscellaneous: Vintage Air, Secret Audio, EZ Wiring