Car Catcher: The Factory-Turbocharged 1981 Pontiac Firebird Formula

There are people out there that will tell you that the 1970s through '80s were a dark time in the automotive world, but we did enjoy some interesting ideas to cope with the issues of the time. Take this 1981 Pontiac Firebird Formula Turbo, for example. It came equipped with Pontiac's own 4.9-liter V8 with a turbocharger attached, enough to produce 200 horsepower—not terrible numbers, given Pontiac's 6.6-liter squeezed out only 20 more horsepower just a few years prior. Pontiac would abandon the turbocharged V8 with the introduction of the third-generation Firebird in 1982. Values have remained pretty steady on the Formula Turbos, with Hagerty valuing a No. 2 example at around $19,000. Find this extensively-restored Firebird on offer at Mecum's Kissimmee show January 2-12. 

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stuart in mn
stuart in mn MegaDork
10/17/19 11:19 p.m.

Turbo Formulas were pretty uncommon, most people went for the Trans Am.

ShawnG
ShawnG PowerDork
10/17/19 11:45 p.m.

Actually, Pontiac didn't "abandon" the 4.9 Turbo for 1982, they were told by GM that they weren't going to be using it.

The early factory service manuals for 1982 list the 4.9T as an engine option. The turbo bulge continued on the 3rd gen hood for a couple years even though they stuffed the wheezing 305 into those cars.

Considering what Buick was able to do with their turbo 6 after a few years, imagine what could have been done with the v8. The early draw-thru 3.8 turbo systems were very similar to the 4.9.

84FSP
84FSP SuperDork
10/18/19 5:53 a.m.

The gauges on the backside of the hood scoop won me over.  Strange and interesting beasties.

Jordan Rimpela
Jordan Rimpela Digital Editor
10/18/19 8:17 a.m.
ShawnG said:

Actually, Pontiac didn't "abandon" the 4.9 Turbo for 1982, they were told by GM that they weren't going to be using it.

The early factory service manuals for 1982 list the 4.9T as an engine option. The turbo bulge continued on the 3rd gen hood for a couple years even though they stuffed the wheezing 305 into those cars.

Considering what Buick was able to do with their turbo 6 after a few years, imagine what could have been done with the v8. The early draw-thru 3.8 turbo systems were very similar to the 4.9.

Good information, Shawn, thanks for the insight. It seemed like a pretty good idea at the time; it's a shame Pontiac was forced the pull the plug. 1981 was the last year of the Pontiac V8, yes? 

ShawnG
ShawnG PowerDork
10/18/19 9:21 a.m.

In reply to Jordan Rimpela :

Yes, two years only, 1980 and 1981.

I used to specialise in parts and service for these cars.

1981 was the last year of any Pontiac V8 but the 151 Tech 4  4-cylinder (half a 301) stayed on forever.

1980 was a conventional but slightly modified carburetor with electronic spark control and in 1981 they went to a computer controlled carburetor.

The 1980 Indy Pace Car wasn't a factory ringer either, all they did was change the axle gearing and delete the air conditioning.

ShawnG
ShawnG PowerDork
10/18/19 10:45 a.m.

In reply to 84FSP :

Someone's been fiddling with that car.

It has the boost gauge in the hood but no brightness switch for the gauge inside the car. The control block with the pressure switches that operate the boost gauge is also missing on the intake manifold.

There is a proper boost gauge in one of the A/C vent holes in the dash and the EGR has been blocked off.

 

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