The Black Bird was made by GMMG of Marietta, Ga., in 2002. This outfit was essentially an aftermarket tuner operation put together by Matt Murphy, a man who had been a regional manager for SLP (Street Legal Performance) Engineering. Murphy was a Camaro fan and developed two special Camaro packages called the Berger SS and the Earnhardt Intimidator SS that were designed for dealers to sell. Berger Chevrolet of Grand Rapids, Mich., has a performance parts package history dating back to the ’60s. The Intimidator SS was built for Ralph Earnhardt’s (Dale’s dad) Newton, N.C. Chevy dealership.
GMMG was smaller than other companies like SLP and Saleen that built aftermarket muscle cars, so it could make a profit on building very limited-edition packages and Carl Black was interested in doing a Pontiac version of the F-body GM muscle cars. Black knew that Murphy would custom build as little as 30 cars to sell through his dealership and would also dress up the cars with exclusive Carl Black trim, badges, decals and features. The power train upgrades would be the same developed for the Camaros, but the cosmetics would be totally unique.
Carl Black’s dealership had created a performance image. In 2001, this Pontiac dealership sold 80 factory-built Ram Air Firebirds. Black also sold a bunch of SLP’s Firehawk Trans Ams. Then, at the top of the heap came its own Black Bird, which did not come only in Black (in case that’s what you were thinking). In fact, if you wanted a Black Bird in a non-Ram Air color, you could get the package added to a standard Firebird. If the Ram Air colors suited you, you would get the 380-hp version. Guess how most of them came!
To create the power train upgrades, GMMC interfaced with the Camaro and Firebird brand teams at GM to develop cars that would give extra performance, but still satisfy GM warranty requirements. Modifications included breathing improvements on both the induction and exhaust sides. Then the computers were re-tuned to adjust fuel and spark timing. Eibach lowering springs were used to get the front end of the WS6 suspension to hug the earth tighter. Dimpled brake rotors were added, as were big 17×9.5-in. American Racing Torq-Thrust D wheels. Dress-up items included hood racing stripes and 380 hp engine callouts. Black Bird badges replaced factory jewelry on the nose.
Black Bird buyers could choose between a Tremec 6-speed manual gearbox or a 4L60E computer-controlled four-seed overdrive automatic transmission. Hurst shifters were used for gear selection. To go along with the Black Bird theme, buyers got a big black shifter ball and a Black Bird tachometer.
On the drag strip a Black Bird with Ram Air and racing skins replacing the stock Goodyear Eagle F1 tires was good for 12-second quarter miles at around 110 mph. Make that 13.08 and 108 mph with stock tires. And unlike “old school” muscle cars of the ‘60s, these numbers were for a car with air conditioning hooked up and a complete assortment of sound and convenience options. In a sense, the Carl Black Trans Am is today’s answer to the Royal Bobcat GTO, but the overall package—while just as quick and powerful—is more sophisticated.
The Carl Black dealership was known as “The South’s No. 1 Pontiac Dealer” and sales inquiries about Black Birds went to Pontiac Manager Lance Martin, unless they came in via the Internet. In that case, Bob Hanscom was “the man.” Package pricing started at $39,980 and included the following content: 380-hp 400 lbs.-ft. LS1 V8; Carl Black chambered exhaust system; high-flow air box lid with Black Bird decal; front and rear 1.5-in. Eibach lowering springs; Torq-Thrust II 17-in. ARE wheels; dimpled front and rear brake rotors; dual hood accent stripes; metallic silver rear lower panel; Black Bird floor mats; black Hurst shift ball; horsepower plaque; car cover with Black Bird logo; Black Bird cloisonné fender emblems; choice of performance colors; all-new silver face gauges; car number on windshield and rearview mirror; rearview mirror with compass and auto dimming; Black Bird logo key fob; and Mobil 1 oil fill cap and decal.
The car you see here is the Carl Black No. 2 Black Bird that was owned by Willie Giacalone of Chain of Lake Auto & Detail in Waupaca, Wis. at the time it was photographed. This car started out as a $31,250 Firebird with the factory’s base WS6 package. Then, the standard Black Bird package price of $8,630 was added. On top of this was a special 435-hp Phase II performance upgrade tagged at $9,6230. When a $100 emissions certification fee was added, the total window sticker price for the car was a whopping $49,610!
According to Carl Black this car’s 10.1:1 compression 5.7-liter LS1 generates 435 hp and 410 lbs.-ft. or torque. The Phase II Black Bird is a rarity and a genuine muscle car on a par with anything that Detroit built in the ‘60s or ‘70s. In addition, collectors have found these cars being sold as pre-owned Trans Ams with used car prices much lower than what they sold for when new.
Only 50 Black Birds were produced, which makes Giacalone’s silver No. 2 car very special. Ironically, another Carl Black Trans Am resides in Waupaca. The second one is the No. 1 car of 19 Firebird 35th Anniversary models that Carl Black sold in 2002. These cars had all Black Bird features, plus the factory anniversary edition package. The car that wound up in the hands of Dr. Joseph McCausland of Waupaca was the car used in ads and promotions for this model.
“Only 50 original Blackbirds were produced,” says McCausland. “They sold so quickly that Carl Black Pontiac wanted to do another series of 50 high-performance Trans Ams, which they would refer to as the ‘35th Anniversary Firebird’ package. These cars had the same performance modifications as the Blackbirds, but sported unique Anniversary badges/emblems and different nostalgic wheels. The production run of these cars was cut short due to General Motors legal issues and only 17 promotional cars were allowed to continue to full production, with two additional cars being pushed through late by Carl Black’s sales manager, for a total of 19 Anniversary edition cars.”
McCausland got information on his car directly from Matt Murphy. He is the second owner of the white and blue Trans Am, which had only 5,000 original miles on the odometer when he purchased it in 2004.