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.
Log manifolds and a Y-pipe lead to the cat, but the exhaust was mildly modified after it with a W72-style layout featuring split pipes with two resonators connecting to the tailpipes.
The 400 Pontiac engine was...
The 400 Pontiac engine was rebuilt with a hotter 744 cam prior to Brian purchasing it. He and his father restored the engine compartment. The current mileage on the Bird is 57, 555.
Brian paid special attention to the Formula’s original Turbo 350 trans. He tells HPP, “It was rebuilt to ’77-’79 W72 package specs using transmission components from a W72 engine/tranny combo out of a parts car. I have a document that lists part numbers of specific items for the W72 tranny—shift points were increased from 4,200 to approximately 4,850 rpm.” He also installed an original W72 converter and explains that the stock torque multiplication was around 2.0:1 ratio, but with the W72 converter, it was 2.5:1. At the far end of the driveshaft is the stock code-PJG 2.41-geared 10-bolt.
The previous owner had already replaced the wear items in the suspension and the factory disc/drum brakes were rebuilt. Specifying the GR70-15 steel-belted radials (in this case, code QCY—white letter) on the order form also netted the Trans Am’s 1.25-inch front and .812-inch rear swaybars on this Formula. The 15x7 Rally II wheels are now shod with BFG 245/60R15 tires.
On the road, “My Formula accelerates smooth and quick right from the start.” Brian relates. “There’s no lag anywhere in the rpm range as it runs up through the gears, but the rear-axle ratio keeps it from really getting going. Handling is precise and the suspension is tight.”
The Formula was restored to compete in stock classes and received a ’12 All GM Nationals Class Award of Excellence at Carlisle, where HPP photographed it. It has also won at several local POCI chapter events, First Prize in class at the Ban-One car show in Atlanta, Winners Circle award at the 2nd Annual Ban-One show in Atlanta, Best GM at the North Carolina Collector Car Autofest Fall 2006, and Best in Class and Best Interior Overall at the F-Body Beach Bash in Myrtle Beach.
For the second month in a row, we have a feature car that was built in the same week as the current owner’s birthday—I wonder if a trend is starting. (Last month it was Basil Morales and his ’68 GTO. Brian’s Pontiac reveals a build date of 10E on the cowl tag (10=October, E=fifth week of month). He was born on October 28, 1975.
Here's Brian (right) and his...
Here's Brian (right) and his dad Dennis on Brian’s wedding day.
The biggest reason this Bird has an emotional attachment for Brian, however, is because it’s the last one he and his father restored before Dennis passed away in May of 2009. “I owe him special thanks for teaching me his motor skills, attention to detail, and perseverance with restoring Birds our way,” Brian says.
The show-winning results of this father/son collaboration provide a fitting tribute to Brian’s dad.
Here’s what the Formula looked like the day Brian bought it.
It’s a bit dirty, but as we learned, most of the paint finish could be saved. Note the missing headlight bezels. Brian said, “The headlight bezels were the last pair Hendrick’s Chevrolet in Cary, North Carolina, could get.”
Though the engine had been...
Though the engine had been rebuilt, the engine bay needed serious TLC.
Does this look like the future...
Does this look like the future winner of a Best Interior award? Note the Buckskin-painted column discussed in the finished interior caption.
Here’s a look at the aforementioned...
Here’s a look at the aforementioned rear window rust.