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301/4-Speed: 1979 Pontiac Firebird Formula

Pontiac rode the crest of a wave in 1979 with its Firebird models. A sales total of 211,453 cars across all model derivatives represented a new record, and our feature car is 1-of-24,850 Formulas ordered that year. However, the seller claims that its rarity helps it stand out from the crowd, and we’ll get to that shortly. It appears to need nothing but a new owner, with the seller listing the Firebird here on Craigslist in Chattaroy, Washington. It could be yours simply by waving $24,900 under the seller’s nose, but there might be room to move on that price. I must say a big thank you to Barn Finder PRA4SNW for spotting this stunning classic.

This Firebird makes a positive first impression, from its sparkling Solar Gold paint to its spotless Snowflake wheels. The history of this classic is unclear, but it carries the hallmarks of a car that is a cherished possession. The supplied photos reveal no signs of significant flaws in the paint or panels, but a close inspection is almost guaranteed to uncover some minor chips or marks. The gaps are tight and consistent, and there is no evidence or mention of rust. It would still pay to check the trunk pan and rear valance area, but this Pontiac shows promise. The decals are crisp, and the car’s desirability is increased courtesy of the original owner’s decision to order it with the optional T-Top. It offers the chance to experience wind-in-the-hair motoring on sunny days, but slotting the glass panels back into place will provide effective protection if the weather turns nasty. There is no color mismatch between the metal and plastic painted items, and the glass is crystal clear.

I’m disappointed the seller doesn’t provide any engine shots, but they confirm this classic features a 301ci V8 and a four-speed manual transmission. The 301 produces 150hp and 240 ft/lbs of torque, and although that doesn’t represent the most potent package available in 1979, rowing the shifter should provide a satisfying driving experience. That brings us to the seller’s point regarding the relative rarity of this car. They claim that of the 24,850 Formulas sold in 1979, only 1,530 buyers combined this drivetrain with the optional T-Top. I cannot confirm that figure, but I am sure we have readers who can enlighten us on that point. They indicate the odometer reading of 64,200 miles is genuine but don’t mention supporting evidence. However, they state the Firebird runs and drives beautifully, meaning the new owner should be able to slip behind the wheel and drive this baby home.

Two things immediately struck me when I examined the interior photos. The first was how tidy it is. The second was less positive and is how out of place the aftermarket speakers look set into the door trims. I generally like what I see, but I would have to reverse that modification if I found the car in my workshop. You may disagree, and that’s fair. Otherwise, the upholstered surfaces are free from significant issues, the carpet looks clean, and there are no signs of damaged plastic. The machine-turned gauge fascia is flawless, and the pad isn’t cracked. The interior isn’t highly optioned, but the new owner receives an AM/FM radio, a tilt wheel, a rear defogger, and a remote driver’s mirror.

If the seller’s claims about the odometer reading and the car’s relative rarity can be confirmed, this 1979 Firebird Formula is special. It doesn’t possess the cachet of a Trans Am, nor does it feature the price of one in a similar state of preservation. The figure is at the top end of the market, but it could be justified if those points are clarified. This Formula has been on the market for less than a week, and while I doubt the seller will have potential buyers beating a path to their door, I believe it will find a new home fairly quickly. Do you agree?


  1. Big C

    LOL! OMG! A 1979 Firebird with stereo speakers in the doors! Unheard of back then! Sure…
    The big bummer with this car is the 301 stone under the hood. But the rest looks mint.

    Like 7
    • Greg B Greg B Member

      Agree about the 301 and lack of power here but the 4 speed and condition along with the T tops help it out. Again, not enough information in the add and no engine or underside pictures present. A little more information would help it sell quicker IMO.

      Like 4
      • tim961 Member

        I have to say I had a 1979 301 formula auto and while it was no drag racer it was certainly adequate. It was a great highway cruiser! Of course before that I had pintos and vw’s so my opinion might be jaded.

        Like 6
      • Richard

        The 301 is fine for cruising. I had one in my 80 Esprit. Nor fast, but definitely adequate enjoy fir a nice cruiser.

        Like 4
      • Tom

        Yup, the 301 was designed as a reliable economy engine, and it filled that role well. The 4 speed definitely helped make it a fun driver.
        I had an ‘80 T/A with a 301 and automatic. It was very comfortable, handled extremely well, looked great and was a really nice highway cruiser that easily saw 20+mpg. At this point Pontiac was desperately trying to hang onto it’s engine design while facing increasing Fed regulations.

        Like 4
  2. CCFisher

    Gold and brown? Only in the 1970s.

    Like 2
    • Scrapyard John

      And the car actually kind of pulls it off, in my opinion! Beats the heck out of looking at another black one.

      Like 8
  3. Nelson C

    Let’s do the time warp again. Sweet looking cruiser with a lever action trans. Not fast but fun just the same. Original owner was careful with the options but it does have the nice seats. I guess the speakers had to go somewhere.

    Like 4
  4. AndyinMA

    I love it. That interior looks just like the one in my brown 79 camaro

    Like 1
  5. Bick Banter

    The 301 is highly unfortunate. You would get smacked silly in your muscle machine by an Odyssey minivan, and would probably be beak to nose with a Ford Ecosport, a stubby weird third world thing that is the slowest recent new car. You would want to do some mods in short order, preferably an engine swap

    Like 4
    • Johan

      The Pontiac Firebird wasn’t a muscle car. And I can assure you that no one will ever write a song about your Odyssey minivan or Ford Escort econobox. So what exactly is your point?

      Like 3
      • Bick Banter

        I would love to hear your song about the Pontiac 301, LOL! Anyway, my point is the 301 is a slug of a motor, if that wasn’t clear.

        Like 4
    • Bick Banter

      I just hate to be negative, but I owned a 301 myself, so I know it was a real weak sister of a mill. I guess it was ok back in ’79 when everything was slow but in ’23, it’d be painfully deficient, as my point illustrates. The good news is it could be swapped out and preserved for originality if one wished.

      Like 1
  6. Stan

    Fabulous 4spd Formula

    Like 4
  7. Dwight

    Many people bash the 301 …. HOWEVER …. The magazine test cars that got sent for HANDLING tests, were the stripped down, 301, manual cars. They simply were the best domestic handling passenger car from any manufacturer (including the Corvette by some tests). The 301 manual cars were hampered by a mileage biased 3.08 rear gear ratio. Pontiac changed out the transmission ratios with lower gearing 1-3 to make up for the reduced torque the 301 offered… yet retain the 301 economy while cruising in 4th with the 3.08 gear.
    It’s a great combo for the times. The 301 made the most torque (250) out of all the small displacement engines for 79/80/81(the turbo 301 dominated ALL passenger car engines of the era with 345).
    There’s always gonna be 301 haters … but they were remarkable for what they were… and that’s an economy motor that got 4000lb cars moving with the most available torque of the era and still almost double the fuel mileage of the previous large displacement engines that could no longer be produced due to emissions restrictions.
    Also, they were the last Pontiac V8s made …. along with the 265.

    Like 7
    • Elwood

      Finally someone who appreciates the 301. In 1979 I bought a new Trans-Am with a 301 and the WS6 package. I auto-crossed the car for many years and had no trouble running with and winning against similar cars in the stock SCCA class it ran in. It didn’t spin the tires it just stuck to the track, it simply handled better than almost any other car in the class. I still have it, it is still a fun car to run on the curvy back roads. You don’t need horse power to have fun with one of these cars.

      Like 9
    • Tom


      Like 2
    • Driveinstile Driveinstile Member

      I had a 77 Delta 88 with a 260 V8 and a THM200. Little old ladys in 1980s Buick Centuries running their air conditioners would walk away from me at traffic lights and they werent even trying! Anyway, a buddy of mine had a full size Bonnevile, probably an 80 or 81 with a 301. It was a WORLD of a difference. The 301 in its time did very well all the way around for gas mileage, and have enough torque and horsepower to move these large cars. They may not have been the fastest engines even at that time, but all around performance was very respectable in my opinion.

      Like 3
    • JoeNYWF64

      Would not the birds fitted with the light 305 chevy v8 handle just as well?

      Like 0
  8. Erikf555 Erik Ferrar

    I had a 1980 Formula with the 301/Auto in High School. In auto shop at school I installed a B&M Shift Kit, being young and dumb I think I expected it to turn the car into a rocket. Results were highly disappointing to say the least. I feel like the Holy Grail with this one is definitely the 4-Speed. That transmission was elusive even in the mid-80’s.

    Like 3
  9. Jim in FL

    Big money, but also a unique car. The formulas were nicer looking than the trans ams in my opinion. Less is more for graphics and spoilers. Love the t tops and 4 speed. No ac, makes for more balance and better handling. I say look into a turbo if you want to wake up the engine. That’s probably more period correct than an engine swap.

    Like 4
  10. PRA4SNW

    I wonder how much, if any, internal engine modifications Pontiac made to accommodate the turbo. Maybe you could just bolt one on and add instant HP.

    Like 1
    • Stan

      I thought they really beefed them up, but could 🤷 be totally wrong.

      Like 2
    • Big C

      The 1980 Turbo 301 T/A’s were stone slugs, too. Grandma motors aren’t made to run.

      Like 0
  11. Elwood

    I don’t think the 305 chevy was available when I ordered my 1979 Trans-Am, maybe in Cailfornia. To be honest I wanted a Pontiac engine in my car and the 301 promised a well balanced good handling car. I had a 305 in my 1978 Camaro and it was a nice running car that had the F41 handling package that also handled well but not like my Tran-Am.

    Like 0

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