In an era when fat people are "horizontally gifted," lazy deadbeats are "motivationally challenged," and Washington bureaucrats are "ethically reserved," guys like Blake McIlwain are a refreshing throwback. His blunt, off-color, and socially taboo commentary is just what the doctor ordered for battling the assault on literal accuracy known as political correctness. While this personality trait may seem inconsequential in the walk of building hot rods, Blake's irreverent attitude is what defines the essence of his '69 Firebird. Nothing about it is status quo. When asked about dropping a big-block Chevy into a Pontiac he quips, "I knew it would piss off the purists, but the people whining about it are the same ones in my rearview mirror." That's a lot of talk, but with a best-to-date e.t. of 10.41 at 130 mph, we'll take his word for it. Fortunately, Blake's far more concerned with executing his vision of what a street machine should be than potentially offending his slower competition.
Unless you've seen and experienced this Firebird in person, it's easy to write off as just another Pro Touring charlatan funded for, instead of built by, a white collar wanker. Despite its fancy suspension bits, big brakes, power everything, A/C, amped up stereo, and flawless bodywork, that perception starts to change as soon as the good ol' boy in the driver seat climbs out the door. A fence contractor by trade, it becomes immediately apparent that Blake knows his way around torches and welders, and if there's anything he fears, it's keeping his hands clean. "When I got this car it was the first time I tackled metal work like this, but I figured if I can cut and weld on fences for a living, I can do the same thing with a car. Besides, it's much more fun to do it myself than to drop it off at a shop, write a check, then hit the gas pedal," he opines.
As Blake's business grew and afforded him the opportunity to finally build a nice car, he was eager to move on from the beaters of his youth. "I've never had the money to build a nice car before, so everything I've owned in the past were hoopties. I had a '78 Camaro with a missing nose piece and a straight-six that I blew up three times, and an '84 V-6 Firebird. I guess when you're 16 years old with no cash, a three-speed V-6 Firebird is like a hot rod compared to your 10-speed bike," he recollects. Although he doesn't classify himself as a Pontiac traditionalist, for Blake, a dime-a-dozen body wouldn't suffice. "Everyone and their mom has a Camaro, and I've always loved the lines of the first-gen Firebird. I think it's just a better-looking car overall," he opines.
While many Pro Touring buffs are more concerned with debating steering axis inclination angles and moments of inertia with their online buddies than actually road racing, Blake kept it real from the get-go. "I'd like to take my car on a road course some day, but that's not what I built the car for. My goal was to run 10s in the quarter-mile on pump gas in a true street car, and also have modern levels of handling and convenience features to make driving it more enjoyable," he explains. The search for a suitable build candidate took him to an Air Force base in San Antonio. The original straight-six was still running, and after talking the owner down to $4,500, Blake drove it all the way back home to Houston. "The motor lost a cylinder on the way back, but I was so happy to finally have my project car that I didn't care."