Ron Brown’s 1971 Firebird Formula 455
In 1971, the Pontiac Firebird was offered with several engines and option packages ranging from the top tier Trans Am to the basic Firebird with its Esprit and Formula versions. The Formula was perfect for those looking for performance without the flash of the Trans Am, and for savvy performance enthusiasts, there was the rare Formula 455 package.
When Ron Brown came across a Formula Firebird for sale online, he knew it would make a perfect candidate for a pro touring build he had circling in his mind. The ’bird was rough and upon seeing the hulk on the trailer, Ron’s daughter, who was 11 at the time, asked him why he bought such a hunk of junk. (She’s now a big fan of muscle cars!) To help make his vision a reality, Ron enlisted American Legends Hot Rods in Phoenix to see the project through.
When it came to choose a powerplant, Ron’s mind told him to go with an LT4, but his heart said to keep the Formula 455 Pontiac powered. His heart won out so he called on the expertise of Frank Gostyla to assemble a big-inch, 1A II aluminum block to the tune of 535c.i. topped with Edelbrock heads and a Holley Terminator X EFI system. To handle the 650-plus horsepower, a Level-5 4L80E trans was prepared by RPM Transmissions.
With all that Pontiac torque on tap, the factory unibody design was just not going to suffice so a Schwartz Performance full perimeter G-Machine Chassis was sourced and set up with RideTech coil-overs, Baer six-piston brakes, and Rushforth 19×9- and 19×12-inch wheels with Toyo tires.
The plan was to keep mods to a minimum other than slightly modified A-pillars and a custom spoiler along with flush-mounted glass. The hood may appear stock, but it is completely formed of carbon fiber as is the entire front nose assembly, saving serious weight over the front end. All that trick carbon fiber work was coated in PPG Tropical Lime, the car’s original color, by Arizona Southwest Customs.
Carbon fiber also carried over inside to the dashboard that houses a set of Dakota Digital gauges that modernize the original instrumentation. The factory bucket seats and door panels were reworked by Stitched Envy to mimic the Pontiac style with contemporary techniques. Vintage Air helps beat the Arizona heat and behind the scenes you’ll find an American Autowire harness and JL Audio system.
As an autocross racer, Ron wanted the rare Formula 455 Poncho to have the handling and power of a modern muscle machine, but it was important to keep the original spirit of the car. Thanks to the capabilities of American Legend Hot Rods, Ron’s vision was not only met, but exceeded.
Photos by Terry Lysak