Showin' is great but goin' is even better. And when we say goin', we mean extended-trip Interstate cruising and back-road corner carving-just what Albert Melchior built his '701/2 Formula to do.
We met the 50-year-old developer at the 2009 T/A Nats. He had just completed an all-nighter from his home in Vaughan, Ontario, a small city just north of Toronto. He and his crew-Mike Tersigni, Roland Presutto (RP Motorsports), Joe D'artino, Brian Scoles, Christian Melchior, and Albert Melchior Jr.-made some final adjustments to the Formula before trailering it stateside to Dayton.
The Origins Of The Beast
Albert, an avid car collector and restorer, was looking for a clean early-'70s Bird to restore. "I found this Formula on Craigslist in Renton, Washingtonm, listed as an original Ram Air III," he told HPP. He drove down to check it out and discovered it wasn't a real R/A-III, but was still a Formula 400. It had its original drivetrain with some R/A-III parts added. That didn't bother him too much, it just altered his plan. "The fact that it wasn't a super-rare car allowed me the freedom to play with it," he notes.
Though unpainted, the shell was clean and the seller had already completed all of the bodywork. Not a single panel needed to be replaced, which is impressive, considering the car's northern blood and age. It was originally sold in Whittier, California, but found its way north.
This Formula 400 was ordered with some additional options, such as white-letter tires, automatic transmission, Rally II wheels, air conditioning, and power steering.
The original drivetrain was...
The original drivetrain was set aside, and a '73 455 that owner Albert Melchior had was used in its place. It's far from stock, too, with a slew of go-fast parts inside. The A/C system was sourced from Hot Rod Air, but to make the TA Nats, installation has yet to be completed.
Albert added the spoiler since...
Albert added the spoiler since this Formula 400 didn't receive the option from the factory.
Granada Gold was the factory applied color, but not much was left of that hue. Albert had something more eye-catching in mind anyway: Keylime Green. It was prepped and sprayed by crew-member Tersigni. The application of four coats of PPG Epoxy primer was followed by aggressive block-sanding. Once arrow straight, it was hit with PPG sealer, four coats of PPG Keylime, and four coats of PPG clear, with wet-sanding between coats. After the final coat of clear cured, it was wet-sanded with 600-, 800-, 1,200-, and finally, 2,000-grit paper. The body was then buffed and later polished with Farécla to bring out the shine.
Engine And Drivetrain
With the factory drivetrain tucked away, Albert turned his attention toward his '73 455, using it as the starting point for the buildup. The 455 was sent to RP Motorsports in Woodbridge, Ontario, where it was bored 0.030 over to clean up the cylinder walls. This brought displacement to 462 ci. The pistons were replaced by SRP forged flat-tops with Speed Pro rings and Eagle H-Beam forged rods connected to the original nodular-iron 455 crank. The rotating assembly was balanced, and compression was bumped to 10.4:1 from 8.0:1 thanks to a head swap.
The 455's 114cc-chamber iron heads were shelved; in their place is a pair of 87cc-chamber Edelbrock Performer heads, custom ported by Astro Machine/RP Motorsports. The 2.11/1.66-inch stainless valves are augmented by Comp dual springs, and are actuated by Jesel shaft-mounted 1.65:1 roller rockers, Comp Magnum solid lifters, and Comp 5/16-inch pushrods. The solid-roller camshaft is a custom grind from Comp with 244/244-degrees duration at 0.050 and 0.603/0.603-inch lift.
A Melling high-performance oil pump fed from a Canton kick-out pan provides lubrication. A Milodon windage tray keeps the crankshaft free of excess oil whip.
Air is drawn through an original Ram Air air cleaner with a modified 800-cfm Quadrajet mounted to a port-matched Hurricane intake manifold. An MSD Pro Blaster 2 and Pro-Billet distributor deliver the spark through 8.8mm wires. The remains of the air/fuel mixture are shot through 2-inch primary Hooker SuperComp headers with 3.5-inch collectors. Behind the headers is a 2.5-inch, oval Spintech exhaust system.
Steamroller-sized tires were...
Steamroller-sized tires were mounted out back.
The heavily modified 455 sends its power through a Keisler Tremec TKO600 transmission with an 11-inch Centerforce clutch. "It's shifted by a period-correct Hurst T-Handle shifter, too," says Albert. Torque is delivered to the tires through an original '70 12-bolt with new internals, 3.42 gears, Safe-T-Track, and Moser axles.
T&M Custom Auto Trim performed all of the interior work and received parts from Early Birds, both located in Toronto. It was originally Sandlewood-Custom and is now White-Custom. Schroth harnesses restrain Albert and his lucky passengers, and the stock gauges were recalibrated by "The TachMan." Upgrades to the audio system were made by Kenwood.
The suspension system is equally impressive with adjustable QA1 coilovers and a Hotchkis 13/8-inch swaybar in front; modified rear leaf springs, a 7/8-inch swaybar, and QA1 shocks out back. The bushings were replaced with polyurethane units from Energy, and Albert designed and built his own three-piece, 17x9 honeycomb wheels from polished billet aluminum. Super-sticky Toyo R888 tires are mounted, 255/40R17 and 275/35R17 sizes (front/rear). Behind the wheels are 11-inch factory front discs with Wilwood pads and 12-inch rear discs.
At the Trans Am Nationals, this so-bright-its-retina-burning Bird won the A Special Wish Children's Pick award. "I was so humbled to be selected by the children that day," Albert says. "I can't even accurately describe how special I felt walking up to be presented with the trophy. It will surely trump any other recognition the car will ever get again."
But don't think of this good-looking Bird as a show car. Albert just drove his Formula for the 6,000-mile trip to the 2009 SEMA show in Las Vegas from his home in Vaughan. "I've also taken it on some pretty extreme drives such as 'The Run Through the Hills' pro-touring event."
With its eye-popping color and custom wheels, this Pontiac-powered beast makes people take notice wherever it goes.
How many people can say they...
How many people can say they designed their own wheels? Albert used extensive testing to show stress points, which helped him design not only a great looking one-off wheel, but an extremely strong aluminum, three-piece, 17x9 honeycomb wheel.
The interior is a still a...
The interior is a still a work in progress. It was converted to white with black carpet. Some original interior parts were retained and others were restored. The steering wheel is next on the to-do list. Gone is the AM/FM radio: A modern Kenwood CD player and speakers battle the exhaust note for which can be the loudest.
Stock '70 low-back buckets...
Stock '70 low-back buckets have been upgraded with four-point racing harnesses.