Coffee, tea, or did she say, "T-tops"? That's exactly what you can hear when flying on American Airlines as long as flight attendant Kim Hoover is onboard. Instead of asking if you want a soda or peanuts, this 42-year-old Pontiac hobbyist is known to ask unsuspecting passengers, "Want to see pictures of my Turbo Formula?" Though her flight plan in the air revolves around 737s and DC-9s, on the ground it's all about her Pontiac.
This Berrien Center, Michigan, resident got into Firebirds through her husband, Ron, who, in 1978, bought his first Trans Am-a demo off a dealer's lot-that he still owns. Not wanting to be left out of the excitement, Kim told the couple's friends to keep their eyes open for a well-optioned rare and beautiful Firebird she could call her own.
In 2004, a coworker of Ron's told Kim that he had found just such a Pontiac. Its owner had passed away, and his brother allowed the Bird to sit in a barn for three lonely years. Kim rushed out to look at the prospect, fell in love with it, put down a deposit, and called her husband. Ron then gave the Firebird a professional inspection (he has over 30 years in the auto-collision repair industry) and agreed it was time for his wife to enjoy what she had found-a rare, low-mile '80 Firebird Turbo Formula.
What Condition Its Condition Was In
This Pontiac had racked up only 62,000 miles in the 24 years from production to its sale to Kim in 2004. "It was like driving down the street, seeing a dilapidated house, and knowing in your mind exactly what it should look like when it was restored, but the car surprised me," she says. "It had a perfect interior-dusty but complete-requiring minimal detailing to return it to its like-new factory sparkle. The body needed only a buffing and detailing to bring out the original factory paint. I didn't want to do any kind of paint refinishing because I love that it's so old yet looks so good." Truth be told, the Tahoe Blue (Code 24) attention-getting color is what drew Kim to her car. "It's like looking at a cloudless sky on a sunny day," she says, describing perfectly both the color of her Firebird and the view she gets when the T-tops are tucked away and the roof hatches finally breathe the open air.
A call-out on the door handle reveals the presence of the RPO Code J65, four-wheel disc br
The bulge in the hood reveals its purpose. Three lights indicate Normal, Medium, and High
The switch controls the brightness of turbo boost lights on the hood.
The only other work needed on the Firebird was a thorough cleaning and detailing of the engine compartment that Ron says took him about 50 hours.
To capitalize on the success of the '79 Trans Am's record-selling year and at the same time bow to pressure to raise the fuel economy of its flagship ponycar, Pontiac discontinued the use of its 400ci engine and the Olds 403 and introduced a high-performance version of its 4.9-liter V-8 (first used in 1977 with a two-barrel) with a turbocharger in its Firebird line for 1980. Pontiac advertisements boldly used the acronym for miles per gallon [MPG] but changed the message to "More Pontiac excitement for the Great ones."
Designated by Pontiac as RPO code LU8, this $350 option for T/As ($530 with the required dual resonators for the Formula) brought grand touring manners and decent fuel economy to buyers still longing for big-cube performance.
Pontiac proudly declared the 301 was "the World's Only Turbocharged V-8," proceeded to stuff them into 16,476 Trans Ams and 5,700 Indy pace cars, and even provided movie cars for Smokey and the Bandit II. However, only 1,245 Firebird Formulas were so optioned-a rarity indeed. In fact, it was just 1.15 percent of total Firebird-T/A-Formula production for 1980.
The factory stock twin resonators were replaced with two-chamber Flowmaster mufflers mated
Featuring hobnail cloth upholstery with Lombardy velour bolsters, the code for this Dark B
This Formula shares the turned-aluminum dash appliqu with the Trans Am. The odometer tells
The 210-horse 4.9-liter turbo engine in Kim's Formula is stamped with engine-block code YL and with the last six digits of the VIN, which, of course, match the VIN on the body. The head casting is 01 and the Q-jet is stamped 17080274. A turbo 350 three-speed automatic trans (code MT) feeds the torque to a 3.08:1 (code 2PW with Safe-T-Track) rear.
A look at the window sticker shows the base price ($7,255.52) and an extensive group of factory extra-cost options ($3,225.00) that make this Firebird Formula Turbo a luxury/performance F-body. Options aside from the aforementioned turbo engine and limited-slip rear include the attractive W50 Appearance Package, A/C, I/P (instrument panel) tachometer, turbo boost gauge, Soft Ray glass, removable hatch roof, luggage compartment, glovebox and instrument panel courtesy-lamp group, roof-drip moldings, window-sill moldings, power door locks, power windows, radio accommodation package, WS6 Special Performance Package featuring 15x8 cast-aluminum wheels and special handling package, Formula steering wheel, tilt column, and custom trim group including custom velour seats.
This rare Turbo Formula was produced in June 1980 and shipped to Courtesy Pontiac in Memphis, Tennessee. The total cost-including its travel from the Van Nuys, California, factory to the dealer lot-was $10,836.52.
This Turbo Formula still sports its original Tahoe Blue paint and W50 Formula Appearance p
At The Shows
How does Kim still have fun keeping the mileage unbelievably low? Easy. She and Ron log only 1,500 miles per year on the Formula, mostly traveling to national and regional car shows. "I love watching people's faces at car shows when they realize it's a Turbo," she says. Last year, her Formula was a class winner at the Great Lakes Regional Firebird Gathering. Her biggest thrill was when her Firebird took HPP magazine's Editor's Choice at the '05 Trans Am Nationals.
But most memorable for Ron was when in 2005, Kim attended the AAAA Show in Harbert, Michigan, where her Formula took First Place. It was 105 degrees outside, and she was not acclimated to the temperature. When she went up to the award stand to receive her First-Place trophy, she passed out and had to be taken to the hospital. But here's the good part-though Kim was unconscious, she never dropped her trophy.
Kim returned a huge compliment to HPP when she found out her Firebird Turbo Formula would appear in this magazine. She renamed her Firebird, "Maggie." So if you see Kim with "Maggie," don't forget to ask what everybody does, "Wow, is that thing a Turbo?" And remember, Kim, they're not asking about the 737s and DC-9s you see every day. They're asking about your low-mile, original, and beautiful '80 Firebird Turbo Formula.
The turbo engine represents vintage '80 GM technology. This draw-through system produces 2
Inside The 301 Turbo Engine
The irony of this engine's development would make Rod Serling blush. Pontiac's 301 turbo was derived from the basic 301 engine whose sole purpose in life was to increase the economy of Pontiac models through reduced weight and low rpm operation, which are two philosophies that are diametrically opposed to a performance-bred powerplant.
When the 301 debuted in 1977 as a two-barrel model, it produced 135 hp. However, it weighed just 452 pounds as compared to the 350 Pontiac that checked in at 579 and the 400 at roughly 675 pounds. How did Pontiac do it? Well, it was important to retain the same general configuration of the traditional Pontiac engine to keep tooling cost down so the block was very similar but the deck height was reduced and cylinder walls were thinner. The crank featured just two counterweights. Connecting rods were also shorter and lighter.
The intake manifold was a single-plane design with small, computer-designed ports that provided peak efficiency at low rpm, so weight was saved over the heavier and traditional-for-Pontiac dual-plane design. Siamesed intake ports and small 1.72/1.50 valves were used in the lightened heads as well, which was a complete departure from the norm at Pontiac. It killed upper rpm flow, but that didn't matter to an engine that was supposed to produce low-rpm power.
Pontiac's 301 was offered in a four-barrel from 1979 through 1981, with horsepower ranging between 140 and 155 depending upon the year and application.
|301 Weight Loss Plan|
Bottom end changes alone for the 301 turbo added 5 pounds to the engine. Total 301 turbo engine dressed weight is unknown.
Both Pontiacs and Buicks employed turbos manufactured by AIResearch Corp. for General Moto
Turbocharging the 301 required many changes. The economy engine would be forced into performance duty, and Pontiac knew some reinforcement was required for durability. To that end, the block was cast with thicker bulkheads, 11/42-inch bolts were used for the mains, and the deck was made thicker to improve head-gasket sealing. The normally aspirated 301 pistons with transfer slots in the ring grooves gave way to slugs with reinforcement struts in the grooves, and the piston top featured an offset disc for a better burn. Pistons were counterbored to lessen the chance of pin bending, and the pins were made from thicker material. Piston rings were changed for Moly units, and a low-tension oil ring was employed. The crank got rolled fillets.
Moving up, the heat crossover on the intake was eliminated to keep the mixture cooler as it entered the chambers for a denser fill. The AiResearch TB03 turbo featured a 69mm housing and a 0.82-area radius for the impeller. The unit took exhaust gas via a pipe from the passenger-side manifold to drive the impeller and compress the mixture that was drawn through the carb into a plenum on the intake. Said plenum was surrounded by a waterjacket to facilitate engine warmup, and a wastegate bled off excess boost once 9 pounds was reached.
Though the 301 looked pretty good on paper, performance was not as crisp as the 400 it replaced. The engine ran out of breath above 4,400 rpm, and the mandatory automatic trans and 3.08 rear didn't help matters. Horsepower was rated at 210 in 1980 and 200 in 1981.-Thomas A. DeMauro, as published in the May '04 issue of HPP