Tony Figueredo of New Caney, Texas, was not unlike most guys in high school, as two of his main interests were cool cars and attracting girls. He figured with the right set of wheels, date nights would be plentiful, so he began combing local classified ads for something sporty to drive. His search led him to purchase a used '78 Pontiac Firebird Formula in Heritage Brown with the standard corporate-sourced 305 V-8 (RPO code LG3) backed by the optional and desirable four-speed manual tranny.
The Formula certainly fit the bill, as it was popular with girls and quickly racked up miles running around town and making trips to the beaches just outside of the Houston area. While it was reliable and fun transportation, Tony always wished for more motorvation than the 145-horse, 305/two-barrel could muster, but teenagers tend to have tight transportation budgets, so a monster motor would have to wait.
This is about as loaded as a ’78 Formula gets. Camel Tan vinyl has worn well over the past
He did not have to wait long for a steady girlfriend, who later became his wife. The new marriage lessened the need for fun transportation, so they made the decision to sell the rare Pontiac. Tony's mother-in-law offered to sell the newlyweds her mom-mobile at an attractive price, so they bought it and life went on.
Several years later, Tony and his wife divorced, bringing him full circle as he sought to purchase another fun set of wheels. He bought a black '01 Trans Am, but it just wasn't the same to him … the search continued for the perfect Pontiac. This time, he zeroed-in on a '78 Formula, but with the kind of power not attainable from the 305 of his first Bird.
By way of an Internet search, Tony connected with the seller of an all-original Cameo White '78 Formula, which was 1,200 miles away from him in River Falls, Wisconsin. Not only was it an excellent surviving specimen of the exact year and model he wanted, it had all of the right options to go fast and look good: genuine Pontiac power in a W72 T/A 6.6 engine, an M21 four-speed manual transmission, a G80 posi axle with 3.42 cogs, a V02 H.D. radiator, C60 air conditioning, a D80 rear spoiler, the CC1 hatch roof, YJ8 Snowflake aluminum wheels, WW8 rally gauges, a NK3 Formula steering wheel, and the John Folden-designed W50 Formula appearance package with gold accents.
In addition, creature comforts abound: power windows and locks, rear defrost, pulse wipers, custom trim, tilt wheel, tinted glass, and acoustical insulation. Tony made the purchase and began recalling the carefree days of his youth, cruising to the beach listening to classic rock on the Delco 8-track radio he installed. Life was good.
Formula sales were invigorated with the optional John Folden-designed W50 Formula appearan
Shortly thereafter, Tony noticed a photo of a '71 Trans Am that fellow employee Bruce Tharp had posted on a bulletin board at work. Tony sought Bruce out to talk to him about Pontiacs and the two construction workers became fast friends. While Tony was happy just to cruise around in the stock Formula, Bruce was into horsepower and showing his T/A competitively. It didn't take long for Bruce's influence to affect Tony, and the two men hatched a plan to build the stock-appearing road-ripper Formula that Tony envisioned back in high school.
Enter Owens Racing Engines in Pearland, Texas, with whom Tony set a goal of building a "strong 12s street car." Rather than risk damaging his original low-mileage 400, he stashed it and summoned additional horses with a '71- vintage 455 block, stuffed with Speed Pro forged pistons and stock rods, which are clamped to the throws of the 455's crank to true the surface and keep the Clevite bearings happy. ARP hardware keeps the rotating assembly together. Sealed Power rings help the forged slugs make the most out of each power stroke, while a Melling timing set and oil pump keep the mechanical bits gliding over each other in harmony. Oil deflection and collection are handled by a custom windage tray and pan.
With the bottom end built, Tony and his engine builder turned their attention to the brains of the operation. A Comp Cams X-treme Energy bumpstick was chosen, as its 230/236 duration at 0.050-inch and 110-degree lobe separation was capable of achieving Tony's performance goal, while providing enough vacuum to operate all of the Formula's power accessories. Comp Cams flat-tappet hydraulic lifters ride on the cam lobes and operate Magnum Roller 1.5:1 rockers.
Edelbrock Performer 87cc aluminum units resulting in a 10:1 compression ratio top this Pure-Pontiac assembly. An Edelbrock Performer intake supports an 800-cfm Quadrajet, which is fed a steady diet of pump gas by a high-volume mechanical fuel pump. An HEI distributor, stock replacement coil, Taylor 8mm wires, and ACDelco plugs complete the ignition path. Fumes exit the heads through 1.75-inch Doug's Headers and a Pypes 2.5-inch exhaust system hushed by Street Pro mufflers.
The combo posted 462 hp at 5,000 rpm and 555 lb-ft at 3,400 rpm on Owen Racing's dyno. That led Tony to add a Centerforce clutch and a pair of Global West subframe connectors to keep the power from wrapping the body around the driveshaft.
Not wanting to hurt the original W72 400 in his quest for more power, owner Tony Figueredo
Any fan who sees and hears his Formula run will already know it isn't stock, but Tony applied a reproduction 455 air-cleaner decal just so people will know he's not trying to hide the fact.
With his goal of a powerful '78 Formula realized, Tony thought it couldn't get any better … until buddy Bruce asked him if he'd like to take the Bird to Dayton, Ohio, for the Trans Am Nationals in August 2009.
"I told him, ‘No way! It won't win anything,' Tony explains. "... but he said he had space for two cars on his trailer, so I wound up going." While walking around the show, the pair made an interesting observation—Tony's was the only '78 Formula there.
On Sunday, they were sitting amongst the other participants during the trophy presentation when Bruce suddenly hit Tony and said, "Get up there! They just called your name!"
Tony says, "I couldn't believe it! Out of all those beautiful cars, mine won Third Place." Despite the strong finish at the T/A Nats, Tony says the original paint and interior are starting to show their age and will be refreshed as time and money allow. In the meantime, he maintains that his '78 Formula is "... the only thing that takes me back to the old days—just much faster."
Tony and Bruce enjoy cruising and tweaking their Birds in the warm Texas weather whenever the motivation strikes. Like any good friends, the ribbing and friendly competition is plentiful, resulting in performance improvements to their Pontiacs. Tony gives Bruce full credit for inspiring him to do much more to his Formula Firebird than he ever imagined he would. The two friends are most certainly kindred spirits bonded by the passion each of them has for Firebirds.