It takes an remarkable eye to look at a 1967 Pontiac Firebird and see the Toyota Prius that is hiding beneath. But that’s just the kind of eye that a imaginative mechanic known online as “Bill the Engineer” has Bill is restoring his old Firebird into a true classic for the 21st century and has documenting the chronicle over at Priuschat and EcoModder. The TL,DR version of the story: he’s replacing the worn-out powertrain with the gas-electric hybrid one from a Prius V, because it turns out the two vehicles have almost exactly the same wheelbase.
Bill is from Columbus, Ohio and doesn’t what his true identity to be revealed, said in his posts on the conversion project that he’s made many memories with this vehicle since buying it back in 1979. Since then, a few moves, a few decades, and some time in storage meant that the car would no longer function as he wanted it to. As he wrote, “when it comes to mice in the vehicles IT IS WAR.” His solution is to make new memories and making a greener vehicle, and so we wanted to ask him how things have been going. Bill’s been traveling a bit recently, but told AutoblogGreen that he’s now figuring out the next steps for this amazing and complicated project. “I always plan things out before I do them,” he said. That’s the only way something like this can work.
ABG: I think we have to start with what gave you the inspiration for this project. Was it simply that you had the two cars and wanted to see them merged into one cool mashup, or was it something else?
“One day my wife wondered out loud if the car could be converted into a hybrid… The rest is history.”
Bill: I have been the owner of my 1967 Firebird convertible since 1979 when I bought it for $750.00. I drove it for years and made many memories. Afterward it was in storage for many years during which time mice at their way into the car and trashed the interior and wiring. I started working on a conventional restoration but always ran into major problems with hidden corrosion, electrical issues and an engine on its last legs. The car was never going to be as nice as I wanted going the conventional route. One day my wife wondered out loud if the car could be converted into a hybrid like our two daily driver Prii. That got me thinking about how it could be done. The rest is history…
ABG: It looks like you started in late 2014. Have things gone well since then, or has it been one hassle after another? What has been the biggest setback, and what were the biggest victories?
Bill: Dismantling the Firebird was a series of discoveries, from failed suspension parts to rocker panels completely filled with birdseed and interior batting from the mice. My biggest issue is time. I am a full time engineering supervisor for a company that manufactures hybrid transit buses. My free time is limited to weekends and days off when the weather is warmer. The garage isn’t heated, so my arthritis is an issue in the cold months.
ABG: What skills did you come into the project with, and what have you had to learn along the way?
Bill: My late Dad was a vocational auto shop teacher in the suburbs of Baltimore. I grew up helping him work on his old cars on the weekend. Eventually, I was working on my own cars. I earned my B.S. in Mechanical Engineering in 1979 and have been a working machine design engineer or engineering supervisor ever since. Along the way I have been awarded six US Patents for my work. I am a very hands-on engineer. Unlike many others in my profession, a good day to me is when I get my hands dirty. Recently, I took a refresher course in MIG welding to stay up-to-date with my skills.
ABG: How much time and money have you spent so far, and how much more do you think it’ll take?
Bill: $750.00 for the Firebird, about $6,000 for the rolled-over Prius V, and pushing about $4,000 for the tools and equipment that I didn’t already have from previous projects. The total is steadily climbing as the need for parts comes up. I started about 2014 as you mentioned, and bought the Prius V (with only 4,500 miles on the odometer) in early 2015. I estimate that the project will be close to finished in 2019. I’m a perfectionist.
ABG: Do you know what caused this project to gain so much attention recently? It seems to have made quite an impact out there.
Bill: I don’t think many people realized a project like this was even possible. It is just using hot-rodding skills and techniques, only using a newer platform and for a different purpose. I have made a career out of seeing possibilities where others only see what is in front of them.
ABG: You say that the different reactions from the Mustang and green crowds reminds you of the politics of the day. Did you expect that when you started the project? Do you think about it when you’re working in the garage?
Bill: Oh, yes. No surprise there. I have been experiencing both reactions from co-workers ever since the project started. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.
ABG: The unasked question: What is the next project?
Bill: Once the Firebrid is done, I have promised my wife that I will build her an all-electric BMW Z3 for her to zip around town.