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Hangar Find: 1981 Pontiac Firebird Formula Survivor

Okay, I have to admit it. I’ve always been on the fence with Pontiac’s second-gen (’70-’81) Trans Am. I think it’s the body flairs, faux shaker hood scoop, the excessive pinstriping on the “Smokey” editions, and in many cases, the screaming chicken decal emblazoned across the hood that made just too busy a visual for my taste. Sure, they were performers, at least before emission controls zapped their power, and even after that, their road manners remained superb but… The Firebird Formula on the other hand got my attention. They were less ostentatious but capable of being Trans Am performance-endowed – now we’re talking. Today’s find, courtesy of Tony P, is a 1981 Formula, that’s not a powerhouse model – not much was in ’81, but it’s a fine-looking example of what dear departed Pontiac could muster without going all the way to the performance mat. Located in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, this brown ‘bird is available, here on craigslist for $29,500.

The year 1981 marked the end of the line for this generation of the Formula and the Firebird in general. Formula sales fell short of 6K units so they’re not rare cars but not commonplace either. I’m not a brown fan, and it seems an incongruous color for such a car but I must admit that it does show well in this case. The seller claims, “this baby has perhaps been rained on perhaps 4 times in its life“. The finish has nice depth and contrasts beautifully with its gold snowflake wheels and beige fabric upholstery. Throw in the restrained hood vents and this Formula projects an understated but confident image.

Power, unfortunately for Pontiac fans, is delivered by a 150 net HP, Chevrolet 305 CI V8 engine, spinning a Turbo-Hydramatic automatic transmission. The mileage listing is 50K kilometers (31K miles) and the seller claims, “runs great“. As stated earlier, no, this one’s not a hot rod but it should still be an enjoyable driver. The seller adds, “In the last 4 years I have changed the brakes, new battery, new heater core, regular oil changes…“.

The interior is incredibly clean, it looks as if it has rarely seen an inhabitant, not even 31K miles worth of inhabiting! The upholstery, dash, door panels, and carpet, in particular, are just spotless! The seller claims that they purchased the car four years ago from the original owner who had it stored in an airport hangar. Air-conditioned this Firebird is, but the T-tops can be removed if one wants to enjoy a wind-in-the-air flying experience.

This Formula is as good as it gets, but still, I’m not sure about that $29,500 price, which I’m assuming is U.S. funds. If it’s Canadian dollars, then it would be the equivalent of about USD 22,400 and that seems more marketable. If not, you’re getting close to Trans Am territory. What do you think – would you take this subtle Formula over a flashy Trans Am?


  1. Avatar photo Aussie Dave Member

    Jim, I have blue (Ford) blood running thru my veins.
    But, I disagree with you, a Trans Am, isn’t a Trans Am, without the flares, bonnet scoop etc.
    And a “Bandit” Trans Am, there is nothing better.

    Like 14
    • Avatar photo DaveMustang

      I had that same almost gut punch while reading that part. To be fair, I was a little kid when the Bandit types were coming out. I’m sure all of that caught my cartoon saturated eye, but this middle aged guy still drools when he sees a nice example. The one above is almost too plain looking. Lol

      Fellow Ford guy too!

      Like 2
  2. Avatar photo Mike B

    I like that it shares the T/A machine turned instrument panel & wheels. Nothing wrong with less show for the same go. (Just wishing it was a burgundy instead of brown.)

    Like 6
  3. Avatar photo Davo

    I bought new a red 1980 Turbo Formula, fully optioned, with a garish red interior. I chose it over the Trans Am because a Formula was a lot cheaper to insure! Anyway, for a 20 year old kid it was faster than my driving skills could handle. This brown Formula is money, somebody buy it before I do something stupid!

    Like 7
  4. Avatar photo Steve R

    It’s nice, but that’s a lot of money for a dark brown 305 Formula. For that kind of money you could probably find an early-70’s Formula.

    Steve R

    Like 7
  5. Avatar photo Robert Levins

    It’s a beautiful, well preserved 1981 Pontiac Firebird. For sure. I want to say that you could still get a 350ci in 1981 but my memory isn’t as good as it was. ANYWAY – Yeah, Jim , I’ll agree, $22,000.00 ( and change) is probably about it for this one. However it would be worth it because you DON’T have to restore it AND you could easily get to a cars and coffee event this weekend. Or maybe next weekend. It’s a great cruiser, even with the 305ci V-8 and the only requisite is – you have to love BROWN. Somebody will get a good one here. Love the article and best of luck to everyone!

    Like 1
    • Avatar photo Keith C

      You couldn’t get a nice second-gen T/A for less than 40 grand, so the price isn’t far-fetched.

      Like 2
  6. Avatar photo 19Tiger65

    Always liked the Formula over the Trans Am. The 70s Formula with the double snorkel hood scoops were the bomb! It’s what made the Formula stand out from the Trans Am and I thought Pontiac made a mistake when they made the scoops less prominent and not functional. Like this Formula but the color is not my thing and I also think the price is pushing it. All in all its a nice, clean example.

    Like 1
  7. Avatar photo John

    I think there is a big difference between a restored vehicle and one that is totally original, and for this original car to be in “as new” condition justifies the price. You could hold out and maybe, just maybe find a TA in this condition, but I think they are a needle in a haystack.

    Like 1
  8. Avatar photo JCH841

    I had another brand with the Chevy 305. Not a barnstormer, but a nice cruiser. And I also always liked the Formula over the TransAm. Should have bought a Formula 400 in 77 instead of the 305 other car. But the brown is not the best color. Still tempting as a turn key cruiser.

    Like 0
  9. Avatar photo Fox owner

    IDK, maybe it’s the lighting but in some shots the brown seems to have a purple ish hue. I like it. And while beige isn’t my thing the interior looks very nice. Agree that the Formula looks more grownup than the TA. Maybe eighties cars are having their time in the sun now because the prices for these seem high to me, but I’m not in the market for one.

    Like 0
  10. Avatar photo PRA4SNW Member

    It’s too bad that this generation of the F body when out with a fizzle instead of a bang – under the hood, that is.

    Like 0
  11. Avatar photo David

    Hello everyone, I am the owner of the “Hangar Find” 1981 Firebird Formula. I was surprised and excited to see it hit this great site.
    If anyone has any questions on the car I’d be more than happy to reply. The car is for sale and is in Vancouver, BC.. The price listed is Canadian dollars. She’s a fun car and there truly isn’t anything that needs work. It’s just as it was coming off the line in 1981….plus 31,000 miles…..ha


    Like 1

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