According to Webster's, a monarch may either be a ruler of a sovereign nation or a beautiful butterfly. In Pontiac's case, Monarch refers to a vibrant shade of yellow-paint code 56 or "Y." Combine the '72-only color with a rare '72 455 H.O. Firebird Formula that's loaded with options, and you have a unique piece of Pontiac history.
Joe Parish, owner of Capitol Flag Company in Houston, Texas, says, "I received a call from a car buddy telling me that a '72 Formula was sitting outside of a Southeast Houston business, so I decided to stop by and see the condition of the car. The owner had lost interest in restoring it. After inspecting the Pontiac, I knew that this was something special as it wore Formula 455 badges and a factory-original Ram Air hood. Viewing the engine and transmission at the owner's son's house confirmed the Bird as a numbers-matching 455 H.O."
Fitted with a wide range of factory options, including air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, and a rear-window defogger, this was a fully loaded Ram Air Formula. According to the business owner, his son purchased it from the acquaintance of the original owner in 2002, but he couldn't relate the car's history. Although it is known that it was sold from the famous Gay Pontiac dealership in Dickinson, Texas, it is unclear how or why it sat untouched in a garage for 27 years before being rescued.
Only 276 Formulas were equipped...
Only 276 Formulas were equipped with the optional LS5 455 H.O. engine. Conservatively rated at 300 net horsepower at 4,000 rpm with torque coming in at 415 at 3,200, this engine was an 8.4:1 low-compression screamer. Breathed-over 7F6 heads and a XE268H Comp Cam pump up the factory ratings without being uncivilized on the street.
When purchased, the Formula was-for all intents and purposes-a time capsule. Having logged only 36,000 miles, the last state-inspection tag affixed to the car was from 1974, while the Texas license plate was circa 1975. In addition to being covered in decades worth of dust and grime, somewhere in its life, an apparently overzealous owner had fishtailed the Formula into a 2-inch-thick sign pole, resulting in a pole print in the driver-side quarter-panel, along with a dented roof and shattered rear glass.
Further investigation revealed that the Formula sustained some front-end damage after 1974 as it had a replacement '74-'75 core support installed with GM stickers from Frank Gilman Pontiac on the hood and front bumper. After purchasing the Pontiac for a mere $6,500, Joe set out to restore the areas in need of work with an eye toward maintaining originality.
The Formula was transported to Joe's warehouse where he stores and restores his private collection of cars. "Fast" Eddie Nicasio, a painter who had previously worked at a shop Joe frequented, was hired to work out of the warehouse and complete the body and paint tasks.
The original, standard, black-vinyl...
The original, standard, black-vinyl interior with bucket seats and the optional front console were removed to facilitate the restoration, but once complete, they were reinstalled right down to the carpet and headliner. An impressive list of amenities includes custom air conditioning, concealed windshield wipers, and AM/FM/stereo/8-track player. Small items such as the convenience-lamps package, right-side vanity mirror, and Soft-Ray tinted glass all around add luxury touches.
Joe says, "The goal was to retain as much of the original car as possible, including repairing the damaged quarter and roof." Work began by stripping the body to bare metal. The front end, doors, hood, and deck lid were removed, and after the shell was shot with Ditzler epoxy primer, the damage from the pole to the driver-side quarter-panel, roof, and passenger-side panel became the biggest challenges.
Since the accident had distorted the roof and damaged a quarter, the Pontiac was sent to Roy's Frame in Houston where a series of body pulls put the roofline back into proper position, and then the arduous task of getting the panels into paint-ready form began. By using a hammer, a dolly, and other reshaping and shrinking techniques, Eddie was able to tediously recraft the metal into shape. Once the major repairs were completed, attention turned to block-sanding the body.
With the front end and engine out, the engine bay was next in line for restoration. After removing the inner fenders, the front subframe and firewall were thoroughly cleaned. The former retained its original paint, while Eastwood chassis black was used to freshen the latter. Inner fenders and the core support were stripped and refinished in PPG semigloss black.
After a final check of the bodywork and application of a sealer, the Formula was shot with PPG DCC acrylic urethane. A total of four coats were expertly applied, and following adequate curing time, the paint was wet-sanded and buffed to a brilliant shine. The factory Cordova top was replaced with a reproduction YearOne item, and the body trim was reinstalled.
In this day and age of over-restored trailer queens, this Bird was done with an eye toward retaining as much originality as possible
This '72 Formula 455 H.O....
This '72 Formula 455 H.O. wears an intriguing hue of Monarch Yellow and was shipped from the factory on March 21, 1972, retailing at $5,763.20. With a total of 28 options, it was loaded. Note the optional belt and reveal moldings at the top of the door and hood, along with the transitional contrast of the stainless moldings surrounding the sail panels and glass areas with the black, extra-cost Cordova top.
455 H.O. Equipped
The original YB-code 455 H.O. (option code LS5) had been rebuilt, according to the previous owner. Since the builders admitted this was their first engine build, Joe felt it wise to pull the intake and heads and take a peek before committing it to the engine bay. According to Joe, "It's a good thing that I checked the work as there were several problems, any of which could have seriously damaged theengine beyond repair at startup.
"There was some pitting in cylinder No. 7, and upon disassembly, I found that the piston-ring end gaps were lined up as opposed to being correctly staggered. Three of the rod caps were installed incorrectly. Once the mains were pulled and the crank removed, serious scuff marks on the new bearings were revealed. Although the engine was bored 0.030 and wore TRW forged pistons, the small pitting in the cylinder combined with the amateurish assembly forced a rebuild."
Motor Reconditioning of Houston, Texas, was tasked with the machine work. After hot-tanking the four-bolt main block and stripping it of its "Ford blue" exterior, it was determined that a more aggressive hone in cylinder No. 7, along with a refinish of the other cylinders, would allow the TRW pistons to be retained, all within proper specifications for ring-end gap. The nodular-iron crank only needed a light polishing to maintain its uncut dimensions. In light of the rod-cap confusion, all rods were resized and numbered before the rotating assembly was balanced.
True to its performance nature,...
True to its performance nature, the Formula carries the optional Rally gauge cluster that includes an electric clock, 160-mph speedometer, and an 8,000 rpm tachometer. Interestingly, instead of the popular Formula steering wheel, this Bird was adorned with the standard-issue, Custom Cushion steering wheel, paired with the optional tilt column.
Assembly was completed by Joe using Hastings piston rings and Clevite 77 bearings. A Melling oil pump was installed and the pickup brazed, and the factory windage tray was retained. The stock 6-quart oil pan was buttoned up to the bottom end.
Rather than retain the original heads, a duplicate set of 7F6 heads from a '72 455 H.O. was sent to Andy Giles of Braselton, Georgia, for freshening. In addition to a performance multi-angle valve job to work with the factory 2.11- and 1.77-inch valves, the heads received some performance bowl and port work to enhance the flow characteristics by approximately 20 percent.
Compression checks in at the factory rating of 8.4:1, but the venerable "068" cam was replaced by a Comp Cams XE268H grind with 224/230 degrees duration at 0.050 and 0.477/0.480 lift to take advantage of the enhanced head-flow capabilities.
A Comp Cams valvetrain works with factory pushrods and the stock, 1.50-ratio, stamped-steel rockers. Following cleaning and port-matching of the factory aluminum intake manifold, the Quadrajet carburetor (7042270) was recolored and rebuilt to factory specifications by Zepeda Carburetors in Pearland, Texas.
Hidden behind the Ram Air Induction (WU3) is a Unitized distributor that was required with the 455 H.O. in the Formula. Original wires and AC R45TS plugs light the fire.
Sans the D80 rear air spoiler,...
Sans the D80 rear air spoiler, this yellow 'Bird flies under the radar and is often mistaken for a low-performance Firebird. Clues to its alter ego can be garnered by the twin, reproduction, chrome exhaust-pipe extensions. The taillight lenses, rear bumper, and emblems are all original, as is the trunk weatherstripping.
Rather than utilize the original round-port exhaust manifolds, a reproduction set that features enlarged 2 1/2-inch collectors was purchased from Ram Air Restorations Enterprises. After treating the manifolds to a high-heat coating by Eastwood Products, a set of Performance Years Ram Air down pipes were fitted to the manifolds. Instead of utilizing the factory 2 1/4-inch exhaust system, a Dr. Gas X-type crossover was joined with a custom 211/42-inch dual exhaust and twin Dynomax Super Turbo mufflers. A set of reproduction tailpipe extensions from Performance Years completed the system.
The ultra-rare PQ-stamped Turbo 400 transmission was removed and sent to Danz Trans of Tyler, Texas, to be readied for the impending avalanche of torque. A high-performance rebuild utilizing Raybestos clutches and bands was employed, while proprietary valvebody modifications allow crisper, neck-snapping shifts when the pedal is mashed to the floor.
To provide the torque transference, a GM 12-inch converter was modified by Britain Transmission of Houston for a more performance-oriented stall speed.
The factory-equipped 10-bolt that carried an optional Safe-T-Track differential and 3.08 gear set was disassembled, cleaned, and treated to new bearings and seals to prepare it for years of future service. Rounding out the drivetrain, the steel driveshaft and U-joints were cleaned and refurbished.
Dash-mounted, optional, power...
Dash-mounted, optional, power door locks and a two-speed rear defogger are rare options on a Formula. The rear-window defogger wasn't available with the optional electric rear-window defroster.
According to Joe, "The low mileage of the car and the excellent components included in the optional Formula Handling package (Y99) allowed the Pontiac to retain its original suspension. The undercarriage still carried the factory red primer, and surprisingly, the suspension components-including the rubber body bushings and stabilizer-bar bushings-were still in good shape, so everything was cleaned. Only the core-support bushings were replaced."
Included in the Formula Ride and Handling package were the Trans Am's suspension components featuring higher-rate leaf springs combined with specially tuned shocks, quicker variable-ratio power steering, and 1.25-inch front and 0.875-inch rear stabilizer bars to provide the steering and cornering capabilities to rival the best factory offerings.
Braking consisted of excellent, optional, power front-disc brakes measuring 10.9 inches (option code JL2) with 9.5-inch rear drums. Other than a Wagner drum and a left rear axle to replace the damage done when the car smashed into a pole, all that was required to return the braking system to factory-fresh condition were new pads and shoes and a thorough flush of the hydraulics.
Although purchased with Rally...
Although purchased with Rally II wheels and F-70 tires, the buildsheet showed Honeycombs and the fatter, optional F-60 Goodyear PolyGlas GT tires. After careful research, a correct set of date-coded, 15x7-inch Honeycombs were purchased and expertly restored before being adorned with N.O.S. trim rings and center caps.
The unique combination of originality, numbers-matching status, '72's most powerful Pontiac engine, and a staggering array of options make this ultra-rare Formula a great street car and highly collectible. According to Joe, "My first car was a '68 GTO hardtop that took me through high school and college. I love Pontiacs and have 17 in my collection, including a '69 and '71 T/A. The '72 H.O. Formula is great to drive, with a nice mix of luxury and most importantly, the torque to plant you in the seat. Without the rear Formula spoiler, this looks very close to a plain-Jane Firebird, allowing this to be a true sleeper car."
Almost as important as the lengthy list of options and rarity is the manner in which the owner restored it. In this day and age of over-restored trailer queens, this Bird was done with an eye toward retaining as much originality as possible. When you are able to reuse all of the original weatherstripping, sheetmetal, and interior, and effectively refrain from spending thousands to marginally "improve" upon a nonfunctional part on the car, it shows patience and a true love for the spirit of Pontiac performance.
Next time you're out cruising and happen upon a wingless Monarch, pay heed, as this ruler doesn't need a wing to take flight.
"I knew that this was something special as it wore Formula 455 badges and a factory-original Ram Air hood. Viewing the engine and transmission at the owner's son's house confirmed the Bird as a numbers-matching 455 H.O."
This is the business side...
This is the business side of the Ram Air system.
Here is the factory, optional...
Here is the factory, optional rear defogger.