At the risk of sounding clich, we had to ask A.J. how she felt about working with all the guys. It was obvious in her voice that she couldn't have had a better experience. She knew she could be herself around them, and suggests that girls looking to get into the car world needn't be intimidated, and that the majority of the guys in the business have nothing but support to lend to women with the automotive bug. In this case, however, the roles weren't the norm and A.J. was in charge. "She stuck to her guns on everything," Phil Brewer of Year One told us. He was impressed with what she had in mind for the car.

A.J.'s main objective was to have it drive and run like a new car, but with classic looks. With those requirements, Year One introduced her to the Detroit Speed and Engineering (DSE) suspension system. They've installed several of these setups and had full confidence it would deliver the driving feel she was after. She wasn't looking for the rock-hard hyper suspension of a race car, nor did she want the sloppy feel of the original Firebird suspension, and the DSE was a happy medium.

The color of the car was a very important thing to A.J. "I drove everyone nuts! It took me a whole month to come up with the right color. I wanted it to look black at night, but shine like a blue sapphire in the sun," she says. She looked at dozens of paint chips to find the right color, and ended up with a custom BASF Midnight Blue pearl.

To keep it simple, A.J. wanted an LS2 powerplant, but that was already out of production, and an LS3 was used instead. A step up in power from the LS2, this alloy jewel makes an effortless 430 hp with the economy of a late-model fuel-injected motor. A.J. and Year One considered taking the LS3 apart to make some changes, but then decided it was better left undisturbed. A.J. didn't want something that would have problems down the line. To a lot of people, including A.J., 430 hp is quite a bit of power, and more than she's used to. "I didn't realize what I was getting myself into with this engine. I have to relearn how to drive," A.J. explains.

Flexing her creative muscle, A.J. designed the interior as well. She wanted a graphite and black theme with only subtle changes to instrumentation. Year One presented her with several light gray fabric swatches, but she thought the contrast would be too dramatic. The final dark charcoal gray really downplays the fact that it's all custom, and makes it fit into the theme of less is more. Comfort was a major factor in this car, and being based out of Southern California, a Classic Auto Air system was a must.

This is a car A.J. hopes to spend a lot of time in. At the Year One Experience (see p. 106), she had the opportunity to cruise the Road Atlanta road course in her Firebird for the first time and get a feel for the car's capabilities. Beyond that, it will have seen plenty of highway cruising on this year's Power Tour by the time you read this. A.J. has always wanted to do a Power Tour, but without a car of her own in prior years, she tells us it would've been unfulfilling. Not a problem this year!