This Formula was restored by Sunrise Automotive in London, Kentucky. It’s not a W50 Formul
Every once in a while, a Pontiac comes along that seems to defy accepted logic. For decades we’ve been told that no Pontiac 400 engines were installed in California-bound ’79 Formulas and Trans Ams due to emissions requirements. Then there is the curious case of this ’79 Formula. According to its paper trail and Jim Mattison of PHS Automotive Services, the Pontiac was originally ordered by Bob Warren Pontiac in Manhattan Beach, California.
The Starlight Black Van Nuys-built L78/W72 400-powered Formula was supposed to first be shipped to Mecham Pontiac (of Macho T/A and Mecham T/A fame) in Glendale, Arizona, to receive performance mods and then continue to Bob Warren Pontiac.
The ordering dealer did not hold back on the options. Custom Trim Group was specified as w
Somehow the Formula was instead shipped directly to Bob Warren Pontiac. Though it never received the performance mods, this error in shipping still makes it unique, as it’s the only documented 400 Pontiac-powered ’79 Firebird (including Formulas and T/As) shipped directly to a California dealer that we and Jim have heard of.
Whoever ordered it got a very special 1-of-346 L78/W72 Formula to drive on the streets of the Golden State. The extra-cost 220-horse L78 400 engine had mandatory options that included: the close-ratio four-speed transmission, limited-slip rear with 3.23 gears, and the WS6 Special Performance Package, which included WS6 suspension with rear disc brakes and 15x8-inch Snowflake wheels.
This rare Formula now resides in Pontiac-aficionado Ken Lingenfelter’s collection of 200-p
Its exploits and owners from ’79 forward are largely unknown, but Jim’s son, J.B., found it on eBay in early 2011. He told his dad what the Pontiac was and where it was delivered, and Jim replied as most Pontiac people would: “There weren’t any 400, four-speed Firebirds delivered in California in 1979.” When further investigation revealed that this one was, they bought it.
What they received was a virtually rust-free Formula with approximately 60,000 miles on it; one repaint; and the original code-PWH engine, code-UH Super T10 trans, and code-2PP rear. The engine ran very smoothly and the Pontiac drove well, but it was still ripe for restoration.
Jim sent the Formula to Mike Lang and Bobie Patton at Sunrise Automotive in London, Kentucky. There it was completely disassembled and stripped down to bare metal using aircraft stripper, then 80-grit paper on a DA sander, and finally media-blasting in the jambs and pinch-weld areas. Mike says, “This Pontiac was very clean overall, with no rust and very minor dents here and there.” Once the dings were filled and sanded, Bulldog adhesion promoter was applied to the bumpers and Axis urethane primer to the whole body. Block-sanding was performed with 180-grit paper. After more primer and 320-grit block-sanding came another application of primer and a guidecoat, followed by block-sanding with 400-grit.
The 220-horse 400 remains as the factory assembled it, with numbers-matching components fr
With all the panels straight, Omni epoxy sealer was applied before three coats of PPG Deltron 2000 urethane basecoat. The car was painted with the body parts off “so there are no lines or dry spots in the jambs,” Mike says. Also, the panels were laid flat for more even flow and less runs, and he shot with cross patterns even though it’s not a metallic paint.
Three coats of DBU 2002 clear came next; once it dried, it was wet-sanded with 2,000-grit. Mike relates: “The paint surface had very little texture to it, so 2,000-grit was all it needed.” It was then buffed four times using progressively milder compounds, and was polished with 3M products.
The rear spoiler and Formula graphic were added during the restoration for a more performa
Since the engine ran so well, it was simply checked to ensure good compression, a new fuel pump was installed, and it was detailed for installation. The trans and rear were both opened for inspection and then resealed. Though factory exhaust manifolds are in place, the aftermarket true-dual exhaust with a crossover, no cats, and hi-po mufflers was retained and dressed with stock tips.
Prior to reassembly, the subframe, upper and lower control arms, core support, and many other small parts were stripped and powdercoated. The balljoints, bushings, shocks, fuel tank, and fuel and brake lines were replaced, along other wear items, but the 1.25-inch front stabilizer bar, the WS6 springs, 0.750-inch rear stabilizer bar, and 14:1 constant-ratio steering box remain.
Looking back on the restoration, Jim says, “This Formula was a great find. At first I couldn’t believe its California delivery story was true—but it was, so I had to have it. Also, its color combination and its options made it worthy of a full restoration.
A simple cleaning was all that was required to make the Snowflake wheels look new, since t
He continues: “Mike and Bobie at Sunrise Automotive specialize in Firebirds and T/As, so they know them well and do fantastic work. Though I would have loved to keep the Pontiac for myself, since I started a new business venture, PHS Muscle Cars, with my son, we decided to auction it. Because our mission statement is to only provide cars to the public that we would be proud to have in own car collections, I knew that this Formula would represent the new company well.”
Shortly after the restoration, noted Pontiac collector Ken Lingenfelter of Lingenfelter Performance Engineering purchased the Formula at auction, and it now resides in his collection. Ken says, “It’s a very rare Pontiac that’s drop-dead gorgeous—I couldn’t help myself.” It turns out Jim and Ken know each other and their businesses are only 45 minutes apart in Michigan and Indiana respectively, yet both of them and the Formula made the trip to the Mecum auction in Dallas to do the transaction, since Ken didn’t know Jim was the seller of the car.
Here’s a peek at the clean undercarriage.
In Ken’s hands, it will live the life of luxury going forward and remain a well-preserved piece of Pontiac history. One thing is for sure—this Formula reminds us to never say never, especially when it comes to Pontiacs.
A copy of the dealer invoice lists the options and shows the California dealer to which th
The buildsheet reveals how special this Formula is.