Today Super-Duty Firebirds are so coveted that hobbyists go to great lengths to salvage a relic. Just 252 Super-Duty Trans Ams were produced during the ’73 model year, and value and rarity make them worth restoring. So what about a ’73 Super-Duty Formula? Only 43 were produced--10 with a four-speed. While they weren’t nearly as popular as a Trans Am, most weren’t laden with weight-adding options and they maintain a strong following today.
Jeff Walls of Sunbury, Ohio, always wanted one for its uniqueness and rarity, and he stumbled across this SD Formula, which was completely disassembled and in two different states. Amazingly, he reunited thebody with its drivetrain, producing the beautiful example before you. Follow along as he shares his painstaking experience.
A Pontiac Passion Begins
While a dual-scooped hood was a Formula trademark, those equipped with the $675 SD-455 eng
The 50-year-old general contractor tells HPP that his love affair with Pontiacs began around 1980 when
he spied a Grenadier Red ’64 GTO in a afield. "The 389 didn’t run, but it had Tri-Power and looked so cool that I had to buy it," he recalls. "I had the body repainted and got the engine running. I can still remember how well it ran. I really enjoyed that car."
Jeff’s acquaintance with Second-Gen Firebirds came in the late ’80s when he found a ’74 Trans Am for sale locally. "It was Admiralty Blue and had a Super-Duty 455 in it. I had no idea what the SD-455 was at the time, but the car looked cool and was very fast, so I bought it. It took me a few years to find how special the SD-455 was, and from then on I thought the Super-Duty Firebirds were the greatest Pontiacs ever made," he adds.
The ’73-’74 SD-455 (No. 16) cylinder heads are capable of as much as 240-cfm intake flow a
In 2008 Jeff learned of ’73 Super-Duty-spec Rochester Quadrajet for sale in Tennessee. "I asked the seller if he had any other Super-Duty-related components. To my surprise I found that he owned a ’73 SD-455 four-speed Formula in Admiralty Blue that he used to race. He had completely disassembled it but had most of its original parts, including the numbers-matching drivetrain."
It seems the Formula was sold new through Suburban Pontiac in Glen Head, New York, in July 1973. The seller became its third owner in 1981 while living in Florida, and he began racing it shortly after. He moved to California, and then to Tennessee. Just before leaving California, he completely disassembled the Formula, taking with him to Tennessee anything of any value--including its title--but left behind its body shell, with plans of claiming it later. He lost interest in racing, however, and made arrangements to have the body shell hauled away, presumably to be scrapped.
Purchasing a Super-Duty
Variable Power Steering ($113) (not shown) and Power Disc Brakes ($46), which were extra c
Jeff struck a deal to purchase anything Super-Duty-related with the intent of someday building his own Firebird, and he hauled most everything from the Formula back to his Ohio home. He also received many other non-Super-Duty Pontiac pieces from the seller, but most importantly to Jeff, the names and phone numbers of individuals in California who might know the whereabouts of the Formula’s body.
After some inquiries, amazingly, Jeff found that the body hadn’t been scrapped, but instead had been converted into an unregistered race car. "I couldn’t believe it was still around," he says. "It was in very poor shape, however. I went through hoops to verify its originality, and once I was convinced that it was legitimate, I purchased it and reunited the body with the original drivetrain."
The Formula package included a 1.125-inch front sway bar and a 0.625-inch unit at the rear
The Formula was in dire need of a complete restoration, and Jeff shared the details of his find with friend Chuck Henley. "Chuck strongly recommended that I let Steve Schappaugh of Musclecar Memories Restorations (MMR) in Lincoln, Nebraska, perform the restoration. I contacted Steve to discuss the project, and he sent me photos of Firebirds he’d restored over the years. I was very impressed with what I saw and decided Steve was the right person for the job."
The optional gauge package, which includes an in-dash tach-ometer, added $92 to the origin
While the body and remaining drivetrain components were sent to MMR in Nebraska, Jeff had Cliff’s High Performance in Mount Vernon, Ohio, spec the SD-455 rebuild. Cliff Ruggles sent the original No. 490132 block and No. 16 cylinder heads to Kauffman Racing Equipment (KRE) in Glenmont, Ohio, where several cylinder sleeves were installed in the block, and it was bored 0.030 inch to a total of 4.18. The round-port cylinder heads were left unported, but were rebuilt using new valves and roller-spec valvesprings.
Ruggles then assembled the short-block, which consists of a nodular-iron Pontiac crankshaft with a 4.21-inch-stroke, forged 4340-steel H-beam connecting rods, and forged pistons from Keith Black. He also installed a custom-spec hydraulic-roller cam from Comp Cams, which features 230/242 degrees of 0.050-inch duration, 0.541-inch valve lift with 1.5:1-ratio rocker arms, and an LSA of 112 degrees, and he positioned the intake centerline at 108 degrees.
This tasteful contrast of white seats and door panels with black appointments was returned
Jeff delivered the assembled short-block and remaining engine components to MMR, where Schappaugh painted portions of the engine and then sent it to Willard Auto Machine (WAM) for final assembly. WAM installed a 60-psi oil pump and stock oil pan, the correct LS2 intake manifold, and the No. 7043273 Quadrajet and No. 1112205 points-type distributor—both of which were specially prepared by Ruggles.
When Schappaugh received the body, it was in poor shape. “There was some rust,” he recalls. “But it was mostly mangled from its use a race car—a large hole was cut into the transmission tunnel, a homemade rollbar had been installed, and in the trunk was a fuel cell and the battery. The dash pad was from a later Firebird, the seats were from a Camaro, and the door panels and rear seat were constructed of fiber board with black vinyl stapled to it.”
He continues, “Even if it takes more time, I prefer saving original body panels and I was confident that we could save the Formula’s.” After adding new metal in the appropriate areas, the body was treated to several coats of PPG primer, three coats of PPG Admiralty Blue, and four coats of PPG clear. It was wet-sanded with sandpapers of various grits and polished to a mirror-like finish.
“It was a very difficult project,” says Schappaugh. “We started out with a stripped-out body shell that had rust issues and was pretty cut up. It’s such a rare car that I felt everything should be as close to original as possible and that meant taking more time to hunt down N.O.S. or good used parts. The project took three years to complete, and I appreciate that Jeff was very patient throughout the entire process. I’m very happy with the way it turned out.”
You’d never know this SD-455 Formula was once a clapped- out race car with components spre
Jeff admits he wasn’t sure what to expect going into to his Formula’s restoration. “My Formula was pretty rough, and I was really hoping that I’d end up with something I could be proud of while driving it. This Formula turned out so well that now I’m afraid to drive it! Finished just in time for the 2011 Trans Am Nationals in Dayton, Ohio, show-goers were continually around it the entire day.”
When asked what he likes best about his Super-Duty Formula, Jeff replies, “It’s exactly how I would have ordered it when new. I really like the look of the ’70-’73 front end and the fact that this car isn’t in a typical Trans Am color from those years. The interior looks great without a center console; the black and white interior contrasts perfectly with the exterior finish.”
Considering where this car came from, its restoration is nothing short of miraculous. As a result, this ’73 SD-455 Formula no longer suffers from separation anxiety.