Home Car Stories One Owner 1974 PONTIAC Firebird Formula- Berry and Marlene
1974 PONTIAC Firebird Formula- Berry and Marlene PDF Print E-mail
Written by Double Dragon
Sunday, 23 September 2012 09:57

1974 PONTIAC Firebird Formula- Berry and Marlene

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74 firebird formula one owner berry logo

Story and photography copyright D. S. Brown, except for two period photos courtesy and copyright Berry.

In 1967 Pontiac unveiled the original Firebird prepackaged in five varieties ranging from a sedate six cylinder version to a full blown musclecar. The "Magnificent Five' grouping of options worked so well for the first generation that the concept was adapted for the second generation 1970 1/2 Firebird lineup. The second generation Firebird spectrum still ran from base six cylinder to full on supercar, but now the range was packaged into only four distinct Firebird models.

The four 1970 1/2 Firebird models were divided evenly into two mild Firebirds and two wild Firebirds. The base Firebird and Firebird Esprit were great looking cars offering moderate performance. The top dog Trans Am had sticker graphics, spats, spoilers and scoops with the 400-4 barrel. For those guys who preferred to fly beneath the radar, it was possible to buy performance in a subtle package. The less popular Firebird Formula provided a stealth version of the Trans Am.

74-firebird-formula-400-berry-and-marlene

1970 1/2 Firebird Formulas were equipped with slightly smaller sway bars than the T/A, and one step down in engine performance, although the T/A ram air engine was optionally available. A popular option was the handling package which put the 15 inch wheels and top suspension onto the Formula.

74 firebird formula pass rear berry

The visual difference between T/A and Formula was mainly defined by what was NOT on the Formula. The Formula dispensed with graphics, spats and spoilers, although spoilers were optional. The Formula didn't have the Trans Am rearward facing shaker scoop which became part and parcel of the T/A image for the duration of its second generation run. The Formula was given two hood scoops set as far forward as possible to catch leading edge air. Pontiac liked this look so much that for 1971 and 1972, the Pontiac GTO used a similar pair of hood scoops. The standard Formula scoops were dummy scoops that became functional if the top engine was ordered.

74 firebird formula front dusk

The Firebird line went through its share of problems over the next few years. A long strike in 1972 amplified the effects of a steep sales decline due to the death of the musclecar. Fervent believers within Pontiac were the only thing standing between the Firebird and extinction.

Most other ponycars died at this time. Ponycar buyers had grown up but the cars were the same. Ponycars still lacked back seat and trunk room that the once youthful ponycar buyers now needed. If the buyer was willing to live in cramped quarters good gas mileage was expected as a compensation for the discomfort. The foreign invasion was gathering momentum with similar interior room but double the gas mileage. The Datsun 240Z was actually a cool car but also economical. The faithful musclecar buyers of the performance ponycars were being crushed by expensive insurance and gasoline combined with lower performance due to emission controls.

The 1964 1/2 Mustang had morphed into the gigantic 1973 Mustang leaving it out of step with the gas crisis while simultaneously offering inadequate back seat or trunk. The Mustang became a successful seller again when Lee Iacocca reinvented it as the compact 1974 Mustang II which provided a nice alternative to the armies of imports. The 1971 Mercury Cougar went the other way, becoming a huge personal luxury car emulating Lincoln styling.

Over at Chrysler two of the best ponycars of all the time, the 'E Body' Cuda and Challenger were canned before making it through the 1974 model year. At American Motors, the two seat AMX became a trim package on the four seat 1971 Javelin. The Javelin survived the 1974 model year before it, too was cancelled.

The Firebird and Camaro were on rocky territory. The 5 MPH bumper laws provided more ammunition to the people trying to kill off the 'F bodies'. No one believed the bumpers could be properly integrated. There was some justification to that thinking when the Camaro came out with a large metal bumper added onto the sleek body. Pontiac ingeniously hid the big bumper with some inventive design work.

Amidst the decline of the musclecars, 18 year old Berry was on the hunt for a nice car. Berry's home in Golden is located in the south- east corner of British Columbia not far from the border of Alberta. Despite a small population, Golden has a surplus of garages in town which reflects the local enthusiasm for cars. By spring of 1974, Berry was getting frustrated with the quality of musclecars he was seeing in the used market. Being particular about his cars, Berry was looking for a well cared for mechanically sound car. The musclecar market was full of abused drive trains and cavalier disregard for the interiors.

Berry was making very good money and decided to go all out on a brand new car so he could own a car up to his exacting standards. The relatively small new car market in Golden didn't offer anything enticing. The days of dealer lots crammed with Ram Air GTOs, Cobra Jets, 440s and Hemis had passed. Small town dealerships couldn't afford to carry anything risky on the showroom floor during these days of inflation and gas crisis. Berry and his dad set out to the larger city of Calgary, Alberta in his father's New Yorker 440.

In Calgary all attempts to locate mighty Mopar muscle hit the skids. As mentioned earlier in this article, Chrysler pulled the plug on the E body Chryslers before the 1974 model year expired. Berry switched from his Chrysler fixation to GM and looked at a Camaro Z28. He didn't like the hound's-tooth interior which he now laughs about. It's ironic now in light of how popular it has become with collectors. But back then, a kid looking for a tough car didn't want a hound's-tooth interior. That was definitely not cool!

May 10, 1974 everything came together at Calgary Motor Products in downtown Calgary near the Husky Tower. The dealer had a Firebird Formula just unloaded off the carrier. The Formula had tinted glass, power steering, power brakes, gauge package, AM radio with 8 track and rear speaker. It hadn't been through dealer prep yet, but Berry wanted it. The sale was made at a flat $5,000.00 until Berry asked to have a rear spoiler added on as a dealer option. That added $50.00 to the price of the Formula for a total of $5,050.00. Final paperwork was completed and the warranty was registered May 25, 1974. The original paperwork below has name and significant portion of VIN removed for privacy.

74 firebird formula warranty berry

Note that the OOCC Formula started life with Berry registering 8 miles on the odometer. The Formula hadn't gone anywhere once unloaded from the carrier. Those 8 miles of use occurred back in Norwood, Ohio when the car was moved about from factory to carrier or possibly during a short road test. Cars were randomly selected for testing off the line. You may also have spotted the mistake the dealer made. He thought Golden, B.C. was in Alberta.

Domestic factories were famous for 'slapping them together' back in the 1960s and 1970s and Berry's Formula is no exception. Berry's Firebird never made it to dealer prep, so Berry was the one to discover that the car was missing a piece of side chrome trim. The car had one 'Formula 400' and one 'Formula 350' badge. See the story on the 1968 Firebird 400 H.O. also in the ONE OWNER section. That Firebird was delivered with reversed chrome trim pieces and other incorrect details from the Lordstown, Ohio factory. Eight years later, the Norwood, Ohio factory was making similar goof-ups!

Calgary Motor Products obtained the chrome pieces and another 'Formula 400' badge and installed them on Berry's Formula along with the spoiler. They color matched the car and painted the spoiler. Berry drove his first new car home to Golden, British Columbia. A lot of people scoffed when he declared, "I'm never going to sell this car." Coming up on 40 years, they probably believe him now.

Berry had a good job at Overwaitea Foods and was able to pay off his $3,425.28 car loan in record time: just one year. Below is the original reference card recording his monthly payments to the bank. His monthly payments of $285.44 are enough to give 18 year olds today pause even with the current devalued dollar. Berry still had to deal with high insurance rates and gassing up this car during a fuel crisis on top of the payments.

74 firebird formula berry loan payment card

The Formula had one mishap very early in its life when a lady backed into the front end of the car when it was about one year old. The front nose piece had to be replaced plus two new grilles. The other 'accident' was more of a miscalculation. Years later, when the car was in storage, Berry leaned on the roof when reaching for something and put a dip into the roof just above the driver's window. A dent removal place came in and worked magic on the car gently working the metal back.

The Formula went through many changes over the years. Most muscle cars enter Day Two with a bare minimum of mags, ignition, aftermarket tachometer and headers. Eighteen year old owners with good paying jobs are able to take it even further than your average musclecar owner. The dummy ram air scoops were made functional almost immediately. Berry moved onto mags, racing steering wheel, an additional rear speaker (instant stereo!) and exhaust improvements.  Below is a period photo of the car with giant rear meats getting a fill-up in an old Texaco gas station. The service attendant is Berry's brother, Phil. The Gulf sign cut off in the furthest left top corner of the picture is from the gas station next door where Berry worked. The two brothers had a monopoly on gas stations!

74 firebird formula berry 1970s gulf gas station

Firebird Trans Am wheel well spats came next. Soon the stock hood was ditched because it wouldn't clear a Holley on a high riser intake. A L78/ L88 style bubble was added to the Formula hood which was now secured using hood pins with cables. The straight out the back exhaust seen above was ditched in favor of Corvette side pipes exiting beneath the door sills.

74 firebird formula 1970s high riser

Of course, it didn't stop there. In 1979 it was time to rip out the engine. Berry had a rebuilt 1970 GTO 400 all set to go when it was stolen right out of the shop. Starting again, he found and rebuilt a 1968 Firebird 400 H.O. engine. With that kind of power in there, the factory TH350 didn't cut it.

Time for a TH400. This involved shortening the driveshaft and relocating the transmission mounts. Berry installed 'His/ Hers' Hurst mechanicals into the stock appearing Formula console shifter. It looks like a standard 1974 Formula shifter but can be banged over into the unmarked manual shift gate position. The console on the classic 'His/ Hers' shifters famous in the old GTOs had a second plate up top to make it easy to see the shift points, but with only 3 shifts it's not hard to figure out when adapted to the Formula console.

Around the same time the drive train was getting beefed up, the stock 3.08 axle was ditched for 4.11s. Eventually the rear end was changed for a more livable set of 3.42s.

Aside from the front nose incident, the Formula has never been in an accident and never been restored. The Formula was put away every September for the winters. In 1982 Berry bought a truck for work which kept the Formula off the road entirely at 30,000 miles. Missing the car, Berry turned it over in 1994 and it fired up after a decade of sitting.

He soon brought the car back to stock appearance with the exception of the 15 inch wheels. The drive train was left in its Day Two state but redone in a factory style appearance. It would be too much work to undo the engine swap and complex trans/ driveshaft alterations especially since they make the car so much more fun to drive. Berry has a functional Ram Air set-up and added "Ram Air" stickers to the scoops.

74 formula firebird 400 HO transplant stock look

Berry was unable to take off the spats without doing bodywork, because holes were drilled to mount the T/A spats. Bodywork would entail repainting which ends the still original paint job. As they say, "It's only original once." Having a car with incorrect spats but all original paint (except the fiberglass piece up front from the 1975 accident and the hood) is preferable to removing the spats and losing the pristine original paint.

When putting correct looking wheels on the car Berry opted for the bigger 15 inch Rally IIs, even though the Formula came through from the factory in 14s. The car rides high like it always has ever since new. Berry is looking into a kit to lower the car a bit from the stock fairly high stance.

74 firebird formula berry int

The OOCC Firebird Formula interior has held up well. The car has always been garaged which helps to preserve everything and Berry was careful with the car.

Below you can see that the 33,000 miles of use has barely made any inroads into the brake pedal rubber. The edges have just a hint of wear.

74 firebird formula berry pedals

 

 

 

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 29 April 2014 21:52 )