Exploring the prototype 1998 Pontiac Firebird Firehawk with eyes wide open

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We’ve previously discussed the magic of Pontiac’s Firebird Firehawk, in which the automaker utilized a third party engineering firm to add a dash of spice to an already impressive package. While the formula of adding go-fast parts from SLP Engineering to factory-built Pontiac Excitement was set in stone, it appears the wonks at SLP also had a cosmetic trick up their sleeve to go with the transition from LT to LS small-blocks. They intended to make the Firehawk strikingly unique—relative to a standard Pontiac Trans Am—with a pair of sleek, exposed headlights.

While the 1998 Camaro wore headlights somewhat like these, the Firehawk was clearly influenced by the flagship Oldsmobile Aurora. These lights never made production (more on that later), but this uber-rare 1998 Firehawk prototype is memorialized on the Internet, thanks to the folks at Motorweek. SLP Engineering’s prototype possesses the performance upgrades we’ve come to love with the production 1999–02 Firehawk, but the difference was clear: Exposed headlights work surprisingly well with the redesigned front fascia.

It appears SLP Engineering wanted no part of the 1998 Firebird’s headlight change, as the design grew wider to accommodate the four sealed-beam headlights underneath. Instead SLP made these almond-eyed headlights, which start at the bumper-to-fender cutline and logically flow to the seam between the front bumper and the hood’s twin-snout grille. It has a logical flow, much like a fourth-generation VW Jetta but with far more attitude. Unfortunately, these parts never made production, and we can only guess that factors like R&D costs, federalization headaches, or even interference from Pontiac management ensured they never saw the light of day (so to speak).

Imagine a Pontiac executive’s face when realizing the top-dollar Firebird now looked more like a … gaspCamaro! No matter, a total of six Firehawk prototypes were made in 1998. While at least two (here and here) sported the Firebird’s conventional pop-up lights, SLP Engineering’s press photos (above) suggest at least one red and one silver prototype had the exposed headlights. Clearly they had intentions of going all the way with the project, lest Motorweek would have received a pop-up headlight prototype instead for evaluation. Details on these unique headlights are sparse.

It’s unfortunate that Pontiac had no Firehawk to do battle with the 1998 Camaro SS (with SLP goodies under code WU8).

Reg Harris, SLP’s Marketing Director, set the record straight on Firehawk.org:

“SLP Engineering, Inc. did not produce 1998 model year Firehawks at its Montreal, Quebec, Canada production facilities. SLP did however add Firehawk content to six 1998 model Trans Ams and Formulas. That work was performed at our Troy, Michigan, facility. The six vehicles were purchased locally from Pontiac/GMC dealers, converted in Troy, then used for 1998–99 model year marketing and sales activities. In addition, it should be noted these vehicles do NOT contain the GM RPO WU6 option code. While these vehicles do contain Firehawk content, they are NOT considered production Firehawks by SLP.”

And now you know the truth about these mysterious Firehawks from 1998. While somewhat unfortunate, that’s not to say the production 1999–02 Firehawks were a disappointment. Far from it, as SLP Engineering shined bright, from the Ram-Air intake down to the sticky Firestone SZ-50 tires. You may never witness those headlights open, but you’re almost guaranteed to see those honeycomb taillights.

 

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