Here is the cloisonn badge...
Here is the cloisonn badge as used on the GTA.
This example of the reintroduction...
This example of the reintroduction Formula Firebird has only 7,000 miles on the odometer and belongs to Alex Gorbunov.
GM Designer Jack Folden designed...
GM Designer Jack Folden designed the graphics packages on the '77 and the '87 Formula. This low-mile example of an '87 Formula no longer sports its original tires but does retain the original 16x8 aluminum wheels.
HPP: Were you ever involved in having to save the Firebird from extinction?
LW: Not really. Once we got on a roll with the Formula and GTA and gasoline prices started going down, the volumes picked up and any talk of dropping the carline vanished. To the contrary, GM committed several hundred million dollars for the fourth generation of the F-body. I had already left Pontiac and wasn't part of that program.
HPP: What would you have liked to have done with the GTA but weren't able to do because of limitations?
LW: As I mentioned earlier, there were a few attributes that I thought the GTA needed to have to get onto the consideration list among the intenders of the Nissan 300ZX and the Toyota Supra: ride, handling and quality.
Now, from a ride and handling standpoint, we were locked into a chassis with a solid rear axle. In those days, F-bodys had a very hard ride because we were trying to squeeze out every last 0.01g of lateral acceleration on skid pad tests. When I finally got enough nerve to ask, "Why?" I was told that Chevrolet insisted on having the F- car nameplate with the highest skid pad numbers, and Pontiac had to keep pace with them. Not only was the ride too harsh for me, but the import intenders and our own buyers were saying the same thing. Long story short, we changed the suspension tuning to soften the ride-but only enough to take out the harshness-and I don't think we lost much in the way of numbers on the skid pad. And that move turned out to be nearly as important to the road manners of the GTA as was the horsepower boost of the 5.7L engine.
Our biggest challenge with the GTA was to build it with a quality level that was commensurate with the 300ZX and Supra, and then convince import intenders that we had actually done so.No easy task back then, and based on what I'm reading, perceived quality is still a big problem for GM. To put it politely, the F-body had quality challenges in those days. It had nothing to do with the assembly plants. In fact, during my monthly trips to California as a member of Pontiac's West Coast Marketing Group, my friends at the Van Nuys plant, both in manufacturing and on the line, would always want to know what I was doing to help them build a better car. Short of a brand new platform or brand new tooling, it seemed there wasn't much we could do.
During one of my trips to Los Angeles, I thought of a partial solution to the quality issue. I had an idea to build every GTA off-line. That is, hand-select all the key parts; rework all the glass, doors and body panels so everything fit like it's supposed to; blueprint the 5.7L engine; buff out any paint imperfections; just go over the whole car with a fine-tooth comb before it left the plant. In short, we would nearly hand-build each GTA to the best possible quality. I thought that putting our best-quality foot forward with our flagship Firebird and then touting it through our advertising and PR gave us our best chance to attract the import intenders.
Well, the proposal was shot down by Pontiac management. They didn't want two significantly different quality levels leaving the plant. I understood their argument, but I always felt that we missed an opportunity to make the GTA a truly world-class sports car.
HPP: If you could go to work for General Motors today, what could you do for Pontiac in the high-performance area?
LW: I would take a look at getting back into the traditional sporty car market with a front-wheel-drive base Firebird for volume and/or a rear-wheel-drive Trans Am and GTA for the high-performance buyer. Take either or both off existing architectures, of course, but give them each a fresh, bold look. The guys at GM Design Staff know what to do. I'd make damn sure to have the right high-performance powertrain for each, too. Let the new Camaro have the retro segment all to itself. That's probably the right thing for Chevy, but the Pontiacs should definitely be avant-garde.
HPP: Should the Firebird be a perpetual program that will never be declared extinct despite the fact that it has been on hiatus since 2002?
LW: If you plan to keep Pontiac as a full line division then yes, because what you're talking about is a perpetual car line like what Ford has with the Mustang. Ford has nurtured that product. They haven't always made the right decision, but they've always come back to fix the problem. That's a franchise player for Ford. If Ford's going to be around, they're always going to have a Mustang. If Pontiac's always going to be around, they should always have a Firebird.
Whether or not GM intends to keep Pontiac as a full line division, they should maintain an honest link to their heritage with a nameplate that's always in the market. I think the key word is honest. You can't just throw the nameplate on a car and expect credibility. It has to have all the key styling and performance attributes of the original, but improved and executed in a contemporary way.
Formulas (shown) and GTAs...
Formulas (shown) and GTAs both received this special badging placed below the passenger side map pocket.
The Firebird Formula was the...
The Firebird Formula was the Firebird's mid-range performance car, designed to compete heads-up against the Mustang GT.
Lou Wassel wanted all GTAs...
Lou Wassel wanted all GTAs to come equipped with the Buick 3.8L Turbo engine. Only 1,555 examples made it through production, all specially-prepared 20th Anniversary Trans Ams sold as replicas to the official '89 Pace Car of the Indianapolis 500. Here, Indy driver Bobby Unser poses with one of the Turbo GTAs.
Lou Wassel's Gta/Formula Timeline
June 7, 1982
Joined Pontiac Motor Division as Sales / Marketing Analyst.
July 9, 1982
Assigned responsibility for all new F-body introduction (then scheduled for the '88 model year).
July 30, 1982
Started attending weekly planning meetings at Design Staff, related to the '88 F-body.
August 5-9, 1982
'82 F-body marketing research clinic in San Diego, California. The '82 F-body had been introduced in January 1982 and Pontiac wanted detailed customer feedback on its reception in the market.
November 12, 1982
Sporty car market analysis-market segmentation, strengths and weaknesses, opportunities, etc. It was a pretty traditional by-the-book analysis which confirmed that generic issues of quality, performance and pricing still needed resolution. GM was starting to hear these types of criticisms across all carlines, not just the F-body.
January 12, 1983
'88 F-body prototype review meeting at Chevrolet.