As a child, I was always coming up with new ideas for cars, and being a hard-core Pontiac fan even way back then, I had some ideas for future models and improvements on existing cars. I had a scrapbook that I would use to flesh out my ideas … I still have it somewhere.
When Chevrolet introduced the Chevette in late 1975 as a '76 model, I decided that Pontiac should have a companion car and it should be a fast little thing. Being 11 years old at the time, I also loved Bugs Bunny and the gang and thought that a Looney Tunes tie-in would be a great way to attract young buyers. I decided that Pontiac should call its Chevette version Tweety Bird, sort of a kid brother to the Firebird and Sunbird.
The Tweety Bird Formula would be the top performance version and would have a turbocharged version of the Chevette's 1.6-liter engine. OK, giggle all you want, I was 11.
Anyway, my memory was jogged a bit when Ted Alexander sent me a copy of his latest rendering. As it turned out, Pontiac did not release a badge-engineered version of the Chevette in America until 1981: the T-1000. The T-1000 was renamed the 1000 in 1984, and it was in this period where two significant things happened.
First was the introduction of the mid-engined Fiero, and with it an ambitious road-racing venture that included the reintroduction of the legendary Super Duty program. The Pontiac SD-4, a race version of the venerable 2.5-liter, pushrod Iron Duke four-cylinder, was the main development in this re-launched SD program. Even though the production 151ci Pontiac four-cylinder was a gutless wonder, the racing versions were quite spectacular and quickly developed a reputation of performance, durability, and light weight. They were used in everything from midget cars, NASCAR Baby Grand stock cars, hydroplanes, and other applications well beyond the Fiero road racers.
Also developing at the time was the Hot Hatch market segment in America. These were high-performance versions of the then-current crop of subcompact front-drive, four-cylinder hatchbacks. The trend had been active in Europe for years and it came stateside in the form of the VW Rabbit/Golf GTI, and later the Dodge Omni GLH and Shelby-tuned GLHS. Pontiac even had one, in the form of the Sunbird Turbo, though few remember it. These cars had a very loyal following, as they were inexpensive, easy to insure, and offered performance on par with the V-8 ponycars of the era. Meanwhile, back in Europe, the factory-hot-rodded rear-drive Vauxhall Chevette HSR was enjoying quite a bit of success in rally competition.
By taking all of these components and rolling them into one, we have come up with a hot hatch that would have blown everyone away: the Pontiac 1000 Formula. It would have been an affordable, insurance-friendly machine that offered rear-drive performance and handling with a real Pure-Pontiac powerplant under the hood.
Let's start with the styling: think Bandit Jr. The 1000 two-door hatchback bodystyle receives a Pontiac split grille with a Firebird-like beak and honeycomb grille mesh. A urethane front air dam houses a pair of driving lamps and a dual-element Ram Air hood is accented with a hood tach.
The body sides stay pretty much unaltered, though rocker extensions and hooded racing mirrors are added, as well as an H.O. Firebird-style stripe and gold pinstripe accents for the black paint. Gold SD-4 badges let everyone know this isn't some wheezing econobox. The wheels are 15-inch crosslace units with gold centers and 205/50VR15 Goodyear Gatorbacks. A small spoiler for the rear hatch rounds out the package.
Under the hood, we add a 2.7-liter street version of Pontiac's SD-4 engine. It starts with a heavy-duty Super Duty block with a 4-inch bore and a 3.25-inch stroke, then adds a single two-barrel Holley carb on a specific aluminum intake manifold with a removable carb mount. The aluminum SD cylinder head is filled with 2.02/1.60-inch valves and a McKellar No. 13 cam, while a special cast-iron header flows into a rather restrictive, single exhaust system.
Why? The answer is to restrict the power rating to an artificially low 125 horsepower to avoid competing with the Trans Am. The smart kids will already know about the over-the-counter 390 Holley upgrade with functional Ram Air system and the single 3-inch exhaust with a high-flow converter, turbo muffler, and black chrome splitter at the end. These little goodies can be added before delivery and push the power level to about 200 hp at the wheels. Time for a little Hasenpfeffer! The five-speed manual transmission used in the Trans Am is mandatory, and it transfers power to a 3.73:1 Safe-T-Track rearend.
Our 1000 Formula's suspension system is a direct carry-over from the successful Vauxhall Chevette HSR rally car, with competition-tuned springs, shocks, sway bars, and bushings. The ride and characteristics would be just the ticket for the weekend gymkhana competition or track day.
We envision the 1000 Formula's cabin sporting the same Recaro seats as the top-level Trans Am and treating the driver to a full rally gauge package and a Hurst shifter. Floor mounts for an over-the-counter rollbar kit would be included and a rear-seat delete could be specified.
Would the 1000 Formula have built excitement for Pontiac in the market segment? We think so! The SD-4 parts are still out there and there must be at least a few rust-free 1000s out west to use as builders. Someone should do this!
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