Brian color-keyed the Rally...
Brian color-keyed the Rally II wheels to the body, which was an option in ’76.
I remember my dad, Linwood “Dennis” Robbins, working on a ’37 Pontiac Straight 8 Sports Coupe when I was a toddler,” Brian Robbins of Windsor, Virginia, tells HPP. “When he got older, his tastes changed to Firebirds. Pontiac muscle has always been welcome in my family’s house. We parted out several Birds over the years, and restored the ones we felt had a significant place in our collection. Pretty soon my dad became known as the ‘Trans Am Man’ and the ‘Firebird Man’ in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia.”
That being said, it was no surprise that leads on the whereabouts of more Firebirds seemed to gravitate to Brian and Dennis. A cryptic conversation with a participant at a North Carolina car show in 2004 lead to the Carousel Red find you see here. The talk revealed only that the Pontiac in question was a “late-’70s Bird” and “bright orange.” Intrigued, Brian and Dennis felt further investigation was warranted.
This Firebird was number 9,178 produced in 1976, which makes owner Brian Robbins wonder how close it was to being the first production Carousel Red W50 Formula.
“I drove out to Wendell, North Carolina,” Brian recalls. “The car was sitting exposed in the property owner’s backyard, but he wasn’t there, so I wrote down the VIN and cowl-tag info. After doing some Pontiac number crunching, I learned that it was a ’76 W50 Special Appearance Package Formula.
“Later the owner filled us in on the car’s specifics. The Formula was mired in his divorce. He and his wife had separated, but the car remained on the property, where it was caught in a hurricane. It sat with water up to the top of the windowsills for two weeks until it receded. Despite it being so far inland, the water was still salty.”
Factory options include the 185-horse L78 400 engine, GR70x15 raised white-letter tires, rear-seat speakers, air conditioning, rear spoiler, roof molding, front and rear floormats, Custom trim group, automatic transmission, AM/FM radio, Space Saver tire, tilt steering wheel, Rally II wheels, W50 Formula Appearance Package, and body side moldings.
Undaunted, Brian paid $2,000 for the Pontiac in the spring of 2004. What he got was a ’76 Formula flood victim, including the interior—which had been removed and stored at another location, a rebuilt engine, decent yet faded paint, and nearly no rust or substantial filler in the body.
The restoration took about a year and a half, and the Formula was back on the streets in time for the T/A Nationals in 2006. A photo of it actually ran in HPP as part of the T/A Nats event coverage. Dennis did most of work, with Brian helping often when he was not in the process of moving to a new home. The father/son team didn’t really keep track of time or cash outlay for this Pontiac, since they were simultaneously working on other projects, like Brian’s silver ’76 T/A and gold ’78 T/A (converted to a black and gold SE clone), his sister’s blue ’79 T/A, and his dad’s red ’78 T/A. They also had a large cache of used parts to choose from, which kept costs down.
Despite its age and surviving a flood, the body was in very good condition. A silver-dollar-sized rust area in the passenger lower quarter-panel and small spots around the rear glass were repaired and repainted by family friend Bill McNeely of VA Customs in Hampton, Virginia. The body panels were realigned, and surprisingly, the rest of the body paint was retained. “We don’t know when the car was repainted, but we cleaned, buffed, and polished the existing finish to an amazing shine,” Brian says.
It appears the block was changed by a previous owner, but the original top-end parts were retained. Brian was told that the engine had been rebuilt to mostly stock specs—the stock crank and rods were retained and replacement pistons were installed. Its cam was upgraded to a “744” Ram Air stick with 301/313 degrees duration and 0.413/0.413 lift with 1.5:1 rockers. Factory 6X-8 heads feature 2.11/1.66 valves and J175 date codes (October 17, 1975). A correct 17056274 Q-jet breathes through a K&N filter and is bolted to a stock intake. A factory PN 1112928 HEI sends juice to Autolite plugs via Packard Electric Suppression 8mm wires and with help from an ACCEL coil.
A set of Rally gauges and...
A set of Rally gauges and an 8-track were added from a donor T/A, which also gave its engine compartment, interior wiring harnesses, and steering wheel for the cause. Though we normally see a black steering column and black Formula wheel in Birds of this era if the Formula wheel option was ordered, keep in mind that this Bird was built with the Custom Cushion three-spoke wheel, which was color-coordinated to the interior along with the column. When Brian added the Formula wheel he decided to dye it to match the interior and column.
The 64N1 Buckskin Custom interior...
The 64N1 Buckskin Custom interior was restored using a combination of the parts that came with the Formula, and those from Brian and his dad’s stash of spares. Where needed, the parts were dyed to match the rest of the Buckskin components. The shifter was swapped for an earlier Firebird unit that has detents for manual upshifting.