Friday, July 14, 2017

1996 Pontiac Firebird Formula - Against Our Better Judgment

This 1996 Firebird Formula, or is it Formula Firebird?, popped up on my Facebook wall a couple of weeks ago. That happens when you window shop on as much as I do. Amazing how well those algorithms work - you search for one type of car and then Facebook suggests similar choices for you. Pretty cool if not just slightly big brother like. Anyway, with an asking price of just $4995 and with nary 80,000 on it's 21 year old odometer it was worth taking a closer look at. And if the stars aligned perhaps my wife and I would take it home. Long shot but worth a look. Even if we both knew it was against our better judgment.

As much of a '93-'02 Camaro fan as I am I have to admit that I've never been that crazy about it's corporate cousin. Especially the Trans Ams. Over styled to the point of being cartoon like, they've never rowed my boat. However, at just 5 grand, this LT-1 powered, six speed little monster knocked me sideways. My wife was smitten by it too. 

Not as goofy looking as the Trans Am, the Formula version of the Firebird has always been quite the performance value. Our rust free specimen here sharing all of the performance goodness of a T/A without the tackiness. Or I should say less tackiness. This Formula is all T/A except for some bolted on baubles and bits. 

All T/A except for inside I should say. Our Formula here sharing the base Firebirds fairly drab interior. And the oh-so-'90's Tupperware bowl inspired world 'o plastic dash has not aged well. The biggest problem with this car, though, was that it lacked a power driver's. My wife and I aren't the tallest people in the world so a power seat that can jack us up is a must. Especially for my wife who might be 5 foot 2. You sit low in these cars and without a power seat, you sit really, really low. This car does have what I refer to as "GM rockers"; a handle on the lower right side of the driver's side bucket that enables the seat to pivot up and down on the its lower rear. It does provide some lift but not nearly enough for my wife to see comfortably over the dash. And with the hood swooping down and out of sight like it does, she really had a hard time getting comfortable. Bummer. So did I but not nearly as much as she did. 

My wife also struggled with this very close ratio six speed manual transmission. While she had little trouble with the heavy to operate as a leg press clutch, she balked and stalled out on the test drive because the notches on this shifter are hard to find. For whatever reason I took to it like a duck in water but I could empathize with her about how tiny the passages are in the gate. Maybe I found it easier to operate because this transmission is meant to be shifted aggressively? Reverse is all the way to the right and down. And right next to 6th. Yikes.

Allegedly a one owner car, someone paid dearly for that custom dual exhaust complete with headers. It sounded delightfully mean. No idea if it provided additional thrust or not but it sounded great. The "SERVICE ENGINE SOON" light, the precursor to the little check engine beacon, was on. Perhaps it was because of the exhaust. Damn early OBD II's are so finicky. Word of caution - never buy a car with the check engine light on. You just don't know what you might be getting yourself into and very few states if any will let a car pass an emissions test if the check engine or service engine soon light is on.

We couldn't come to terms on what we felt was a fair trade in value for the "older" of our two 1996 V-6 Camaros and our older son is emotionally attached to our 1977 Corvette that I thought of trading for this too. So, the pipe dream of an LT-1 powered pony in our garage faded out quickly. I've searched for it again recently and, not that we would seriously consider it, but it was gone. Some things just ain't meant to be. 

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