Back in 1977, James Parker had more drivers living under his roof than he had cars to drive, and with his daughter Layna preparing to leave for college, he had to get another set of wheels. Fortunately a fellow Abilene, Texas-resident had a great Pontiac for sale-this '71 Formula, which was a lightly used car in 1977, still very clean, and with low mileage. Its 300-horse 400 was backed by a Muncie four-speed and a 3.42-geared Safe-T-Track rear-and that combo got James interested. It also had a long list of options, including console Rally gauges, variable-ratio power steering, A/C, Soft-Ray glass, visor mirror, roof molding, power brakes, electric rear-window defroster, Formula wheel, AM/FM stereo, 8-track, Rally II wheels, power windows and locks, HD air cleaner, recessed wipers, custom trim group, custom seatbelts, F70x14 white-letter tires, and front and rear floormats. It cost just $1,200 Jimmy Carter-era dollars to put it in James' driveway.
While a great Pontiac and a great deal at the time, a '71 Formula wasn't all that unique on the streets of Hometown, USA, so James set out to make this Pontiac-to be shared by Layna and her sister Rhonda-into a showstopper.
Custom graphics were painted on over the factory Lucerne Blue paint to complement the custom vinyl top, which was in place when the Pontiac was purchased. The top revealed only a band of blue over the roof and was trimmed out in chrome. Wide American Racing wheels and sidepipes were bolted on.
Here is where the project...
Here is where the project began. This is what Layna Gunderson's '71 Formula looked like in 2004 after 20 years of hibernation. Note the custom vinyl top and paint that dated back to the '70s.
As part of the graphics package, "My dad had an artist airbrush murals of a sailboat and a lighthouse on the hoodscoops, and add stripes down the sides," Layna remembers. The trunk lid had the car's name, "The Kids' Toy," suggested by her sister's boyfriend since the girls were sharing the Pontiac. You may think that this customization is a bit over the top by today's standards, but it was right on par with mods of the "Me Decade."
Once done, the Parker family hit the local shows. "When we showed the car in the late '70s, my sister and I filled the backseat with all of our stuffed animals," she told HPP. "We added a sign painted on a framed mirror, and it was hot stuff at the time. The Formula won Second in class at the first World of Wheels in Abilene, runner-up People's Choice at another show, and placed in the remainder of the shows we competed in.
"I purchased the car from my father in 1982 and have enjoyed owning it ever since." The Bird saw street duty for another few years in California with Layna; then it was put in storage while she made a couple of moves, finally settling in Springfield, Nebraska. Ultimately it stayed in storage in California for 10 years; then spent another decade in husband James' garage in Springfield.
This is one of only two photos...
This is one of only two photos (both black and white) that exist from its '70s heyday when Layna's father owned the Formula, and the family drove and showed it regularly.
By 2004, the couple decided it was time to restore the Pontiac and the search for a restoration shop began. In the meantime, they decided to have the engine rebuilt, and the trans and rear checked out since the Bird sat for so long.
Engine and Drivetrain
Steve Stark, a local mechanic, rebuilt the 400 to mostly stock specs. The block was bored 0.030-over, and fitted with the refurbished original cast crank and rods, and new hypereutectic pistons. A high-volume oil pump adds durability. An "067" replacement cam was chosen, featuring 273/289-degrees advertised duration and 0.410/0.413-inch lift when working stock stamped-steel 1.50:1 rockers.
Because the factory #96 heads were damaged, they were changed for an earlier set. A rebuilt Q-jet, the original intake and distributor, 7mm silicone wires, and log-type exhaust manifolds handle mixture delivery, spark, and exhaust.
Steve also went through the Muncie trans and the 10-bolt rear, replacing worn parts and all the seals. A stock replacement clutch was swapped in for the stiff racing clutch that Layna's father installed in the '70s.