COAL: 1972 Pontiac Firebird Formula – First Flip

It was the mid 1980s and I was in High School and working at a gas station.  We sold only gasoline; there were absolutely no food or drinks of any kind for sale.  Our inventory consisted of metal oil cans, and various other automotive fluids.  If a customer pulled up at the full-serve island, I would go out and gas up their car, clean their windshield, and check fluids and tire pressure if they asked.  We had four bays and two mechanics.  The owner of the establishment was always pushing us to sell tires, specifically Uniroyal tires.

My friend Eddie was jealous of my job until he got a job as a porter at the Ford Dealer in town.  Ed was a car nut and was hoping the auto body repair and refurbishing class we were taking in high school would eventually lead to a decent job in the field.

One morning at school he tracked me down.  “You’ve got to come take a look at what we took in on trade yesterday!”  He was not usually animated and full of energy like this.  “Someone traded in a Firebird on a five point oh”.  Most of us liked the 5.0 Mustangs, but who could afford an $8,000 or $9,000 car?  The Pontiac was going to be wholesaled and the used car manager just wanted it gone.  The price was rock-bottom.

For 1972 Pontiac had a lot going on in the Firebird lineup.  Besides the base model Firebird and the high end Trans Am, they offered an in-between model.  The easiest way of spotting the Formula was seeing the two fake scoops at the leading edge of the hood.

Later, Pontiac would offer another variant, the Firebird Esprit.

The auto trivia buffs know Pontiac also offered a Sunbird Formula later in the 70s.

Under all the dirt, there was white paint.  The car had a 400 and a four speed.  By this time the car was nearly 15 years old and was no longer stock.  It reeked of cigarette smoke.  It had a Holley four barrel on an aluminum intake and rusty long tube headers.

Someone had also added Cragar SS wheels, wide in the back, and narrow in the front.

We cooked the clutch soon after trying to do burnouts.  I didn’t know enough about RPO codes back then to check what gear ratio the differential came with from the factory, but the car would do something like 60 in first gear; or so it seemed, anyway.  It shook so badly at the top of second gear it felt like we were going 200 miles per hour.  We were probably going about half that.

The F bodies were redesigned for the 1970 model year, but production was screwed up because of a UAW strike.  Interestingly, there were two 1970 Camaros, the carry-over body from 69 and the newer, revised one.  I’m not sure if Pontiac had the same chaos.  The Firebird’s styling was basically unchanged from 1970 ½ through 1973.  Remember this was the era of the new 5 mph bumper so there were lots of styling changes to incorporate the new federal mandates.

Another change was that the 1975 F bodies had a revised and larger rear window.  This backlight stayed with the car through the end of the model run in 1981.

I didn’t keep the car long.  I reluctantly sold it to an older kid at school who was confident he could replace the clutch and pressure plate.  If I remember, I broke even financially.  I’ve bought and sold many cars, but this Formula was my first flip.