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Schwab Commemorates 1979 Tech Upgrade with a Custom Firebird

Image courtesy of Charles Schwab & Co. Car Beauty Shot.jpg
The Schwab 1979 Pontiac Firebird.
The stockbroker launched a computerized transaction system in 1979, so they’ve built a ’79 Firebird.

Stockbroker Charles Schwab & Co. gives a custom car to the winner of the Charles Schwab Challenge golf tournament in Fort Worth, and for this year’s prize, the company decided to pay tribute to the crucial decision to automate its transaction and recordkeeping systems with a new mainframe in 1979 by selecting a 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am as the car to customize.

Installing the computer system demonstrated the value of information technology, according to the company, as it was able to grow the business thanks to the improved customer experience provided by the computer’s data.

As it has for the previous prizes since 2019, Schwab turned to renowned builder Pure Vision Design for the customization work on the Firebird. The challenge was to identify a suitably desirable car from 1979, which fell in the depths of the automotive epoch that enthusiasts refer to as the "malaise era." "I said 'Thank god there’s a Trans-Am,' because that’s the only half-decent looking car from 1979, recalled Pure Vision Design founder Steve Strope.

The primary upgrade was the installation of a General Motors aftermarket crate version of its aluminum 6.2-liter LS3 small-block V8. This engine is rated at 430 horsepower and 425 lb.-ft. of torque.

By comparison, the cast iron 6.6-liter big-block V8 that was the most powerful available engine in the car when it was new was rated at 220 hp and 320 lb.-ft., so the lighter LS3 small-block represents a tremendous improvement.

The newfound speed necessitates improved braking power, so Pure Vision installed Baer racing brakes with 13-inch rotors. Larger HRA Classic Series wheels provide clearance for the larger brakes and they wear Michelin Pilot high-performance tires.

Image courtesy of Charles Schwab & Co.IG_Car Details_Carousel-03.jpg

Image courtesy of Charles Schwab & Co.IG_Car Details_Carousel-04.jpg

Image courtesy of Charles Schwab & Co.IG_Car Details_Carousel-02.jpg

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Driver amenities in the cockpit include power-adjustable seats borrowed from a Porsche Panamera and wrapped in custom Schwab-themed upholstery, Dakota Digital instrumentation, and a Kicker audio system with Bluetooth audio input and a subwoofer.

The Schwab Firebird is unmistakable thanks to its custom-painted Azzuro California blue paint (a Ferrari hue) scheme with a hand-painted Firebird graphic on the hood modeled after the one worn on Firebird Trans-Am models. Additionally, all of the Firebird's abundant pinstriping was recreated by hand, an incredible task because there is so much of it on the Trans-Am models. "It is astounding how much pinstriping, there is on that car," marveled Strope. "It is on both sides of the rear spoiler! All done by hand."

The 1979 Firebird Trans-Am’s second-generation styling is most familiar as the car Burt Reynolds drove in Smoky and the Bandit, though the movie car was a 1977 model with slightly different grille styling. With that in mind, Schwab also commissioned country singer Jake Owen to record a new version of the Jerry Reed theme song from that film, “East Bound and Down,” with the Schwab Firebird included in the song’s music video.

While all of the hardware that went into upgrading the Trans-Am, it is the thoughtful execution of the car's interior that Strope says stands out to him. The Porsche front seats have their tops shortened by 6 inches to more suitably match the cabin of a car from 1979. The seats retain their power adjustment, heating, and cooling, but they are now wrapped in leather that is printed like a Luis Vuitton bag, but with Schwab lettering and the Pontiac emblem in the center of the seat backs.

"A lot of tasteful design went into that seat and I'm very proud of it," Strope said, giving a shout out to Gabe's Street Rods Custom Interiors for the work.  Additionally, the Firebird's cockpit incorporates the tartan fabric from the winner's jacket for the Schwab Challenge. "The very material from the winner’s jacket is in the door panels and down the sides of the seats," Strope pointed out. "Not like it; the same actual fabric used in the jacket."

That kind of attention to detail ensures that the golf tournament winner will get a better reward with this car than any trophy that would collect dust on a shelf in his palatial home.

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