The stories of nearly all car enthusiasts have a common thread-the yearning for a long-lost car from one's youth becomes the inspiration for the quest to find another similar one. It's a little bit of a nostalgia trip, but there is so much more to it. Sure, there is the wanting to return to a simpler, more idyllic chapter of one's life, but just as importantly it's the new adventures the "reunited" car and owner can experience in the present that is the icing on the cake. Though the plot remains the same, it's the differing details that make each story so interesting.
Phil Gregory’s ’74 Formula 455 Firebird is a factory-original, Ram Air-equipped machine th
For Phil Gregory, a variable- frequency drive specialist from Aurora, Illinois, the details of his quest make his story unique, but easy for most of us to relate to. It starts in high school, when he purchased his first car: a blue '76 Firebird with a '74 Formula hood.
His best friend at the time had a '74 Trans Am painted Admiralty Blue with a hot-rodded engine. It was very fast and inspired Phil to find one of his own. "We would cruise the local hot spots and would cause quite a stir when we pulled in together with similar cars," he recalled. "It also gave me the status of having the coolest car at my school."
Unfortunately, the good times came to an abrupt end. Four years later, Phil's Firebird was stolen out of his garage and was found in the south side of Chicago, an area known for chop shops (and the baddest part of town, according to ol' Jim Croce). By the time he got to the location where the police found the stripped carcass, even that was gone. Tragically, not long after, his friend died in a workplace accident (but not before introducing Phil to his future wife, Christine). An era was over.
Phil took the insurance money and used it to finance his education. He got married, and life went on. He never forgot his Firebird though, and the good times he had with it. He would look through his collection of photos, and vowed that one day he would once again be sitting behind the wheel of a blue Firebird, gazing over those glorious twin scoops.
The combination of that dual-scooped, fiberglass hood and the Regatta Blue paint look fant
The interior is factory-fresh and features a wood-grain dash, as opposed to the engine-tur
The addition of air conditioning makes for a pretty busy engine compartment, but the level
Several years passed, and while on the hunt with his wife with for a new SUV, both of them realized that nothing was appealing to them. Driving home, they happened upon a cruise-night event and Christine said to him, "Why don't you try to find your old car?" Phil says he was home less than 10 minutes before he located a '74 Regatta Blue Formula 455 online, which was for sale at a classic-car dealership less than an hour from his house. The excitement really began to brew in Phil's head. "We went to see the car, and when we entered the room where it was sitting, the other cars around it blurred and disappeared," he recalled. "I circled around it and thought that this was God giving me a second chance at having my car again!"
Needless to say, it was pretty pricey but Christine was also very encouraging. She said, "It's already done, and we can go to shows immediately." He thought to himself, It's just two days until my birthday and you only go around once. He took the plunge.
The ’74 Firebird was a transition as far as styling. It was the first with the black-rubbe
Once Phil got the Firebird home, he found that it had a story of its own. It came with a diary of sorts, which contained information on its previous owner. It was special ordered for Mr. Frank Carter, the owner of Thompson Pontiac, in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, and it remained with him, mostly stored indoors until about 1998. After his passing, Mr. Carter's daughter sold it.
Phil was impressed at the overall condition but knew that some work was going to be needed, mostly due to the fact that the Formula sat for many months at a time. The brakes needed to be serviced and most rubber parts needed replacing. "Things like window sweeps started to crack and break as we opened and closed the doors," he reported.
The good news was that the 15-year-old PPG basecoat/clearcoat repaint still looked new and only needed some clay barring and polishing to remove some light scratches in the clearcoat. "People can't believe the paint isn't brand-new," he reports. "Sometimes I have to mention it twice before it sinks in."
Under the hood, the original 455 four-barrel and Turbo 400 automatic are still there. In fact, all of the original engine components are still there, including the carb and alternator. The stock exhaust was replaced with a Pypes CrossFlow system, but instead of the two-in-and-two-out crossflow muffler, Phil changed to a pair of Powerstick mufflers flowing in the same pattern, which provide a very throaty sound. The only change to the driveline is an upgrade to 3.42 gears with Safe-T-Track.
The stock suspension was augmented with Hotchkis springs and Monroe shocks, and Energy Suspension polyurethane bushings replaced the aged rubber pieces. A set of P225/70R15 BFGoodrich Radial T/As are mounted on the original Rally II wheels. The result is a taut handling machine that doesn't beat you up with a rock-hard ride.
Inside is much the same: a largely original interior with some minor replacements. In fact, the Formula's interior is factory-issue with the exception of the headliner, which was drooping when Phil purchased it. It was replaced with a correct-grain perforated-vinyl unit.
The code-Y9 455 four-barrel engine with dual exhaust is rated at 250 hp at 4,000 rpm, with
The end result has exceeded Phil's expectations and the Formula's high- quality preservation efforts have rewarded him with a few trunk-fulls of awards, most notably a Most Outstanding (First Place) in Class at the 2012 POCI Convention in St. Charles, Illinois, and First Place awards at the 2011 Cruisin' Tigers GTO Club Indian Uprising, the 2012 Marquardt of Barrington show in Barrington, Illinois, and Hooter's Cup Series XII. The blue Bird has also won numerous local awards.
"When I tell guys that this all started with my wife's encouragement, their jaws literally drop open and they advise me to keep her, as they are not that lucky, and truth be told, I am very lucky," Phil said. "My old Firebird was our transportation while we dated, so it held a lot of history and meaning for us both. Having this car is bringing back good old memories and creating new ones. I have even reconnected with old friends from back when I had the first Firebird."
Merging those old memories with the new experiences that Phil and Christine are having with their '74 Formula 455 Firebird have brought them full circle and allow them to move forward together. It really is the Pontiac-inspired happy ending we all hope to find.
Phil would like to thank Greg Sarto for helping him get the Formula back into prime condition.