A Piece of Pontiac History Survives: The Prototype Formula Wheel
Pontiac’s Formula steering wheel is considered by many to be among the most attractive steering wheels ever used in an American performance car. Most commonly associated with the Second-Gen Trans Am, the simulated-leather–gripped wheel was also used on other popular Pontiac models during the ’70s.
So where did Pontiac’s inspiration for it come from? The founder and former head of the Division’s Product Planning Department, Ben Harrison, holds the answer—literally.
“I purchased a new ’67 Firebird, which was the first production Firebird 400 model to come to Pontiac Engineering, and our engineers were able to drive it for evaluation,” recalls Harrison. “I loved the car and its outstanding performance, but its standard sedan-type steering wheel didn’t fit its performance image. I immediately began searching for an aftermarket replacement that had the look I was after. It took some time to find exactly what I wanted, but as soon as I saw the Formula 1 steering wheel by MoMo, I said, ‘This is it!’
I created a hub from woodgrain samples Pontiac used to differentiate the Firebird’s instrument panel from the Camaro, and added a Firebird emblem. It totally transformed the interior appearance. I really liked it and so did everyone else within Pontiac who I showed it to.”
Harrison’s Formula 1 steering wheel went on to become the basis of the production Formula steering wheel first introduced as a mid-year option on the ’69 Trans Am in September 1969. Harrison’s original Formula 1 wheel remained with his Firebird until the day he sold that car. “I reinstalled the production steering wheel to maintain the car’s originality for the next owner and kept the Formula 1 wheel because I liked it so much. I decided to bring it with me to display for enthusiasts at the 2012 Trans Am Nationals in Dayton, Ohio, and couldn’t believe the interest it received,” Harrison says. —Rocky Rotella
Tri-Power Builder Carman Leonard Remembered
Carman Leonard, a Pontiac drag racer and Tri-Power carb rebuilder, passed away this past year. Leonard was one of the Pontiac’s first-generation drag racers. The speed bug bit him when Pontiac General Manager Bunkie Knudsen decided the Division would go racing in the late ’50s. In response, Carman bought a ’59 Pontiac Catalina powered by the NASCAR 389 and a three-speed manual shift, and drove it from his home in Ohio to Daytona Beach to compete in NASCAR drag races. He raced Firebirds and LeMans through the ’70s.
Carman, despite being diagnosed with cancer, continued to build Tri-Powers for the Pontiac hobby until shortly before his death. He was 74 years old.
High Performance Pontiac extends its condolences to Leonard’s family and friends.