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Low Production: 1981 Pontiac Turbo Formula

Why is this 1981 Pontiac Turbo Formula sitting so high in the front end? Well, when I first saw it, I thought it was taking off but, no, the engine has been pulled and is sitting in a garage. Some may be tempted to replace the factory engine but the 1980 and 1981 Turbo Formulas were actually low production cars and there are not many left. In 1980, there were 1,245 Turbo Formulas built and in 1981, the number dropped to somewhere between 845 to 909 cars. This project car is located in Bowling Green, Kentucky. It has been listed here on Facebook Marketplace for $4,500 for less than a week. We appreciate Chuck for bringing it to you attention.

The deluxe blue interior looks like it could be cleaned up and saved. The dash does not appear to be cracked or damaged. I cannot tell if the factory dual post radio has been replaced. The car has factory Pimlico cloth seats which were a one year only material. Additional options include air conditioning, tilt steering, T-Tops, and power windows. One distinction of the 1981 Pontiac Trans Am and Formula is that they all received a Firebird emblem on the rear tail light door to access that gas filling tube.

I well remember the magazine articles in 1979 and 1980 introducing its first turbocharged V8s in the Trans Am and Formula. This engine was available only in the 1980-1981 Firebird Trans Am and Formula and the turbocharged V8 engine was designated LU8. The turbo 301 cubic inch V8 engine (4.9 liter) was rated at 210 horsepower in 1980 and 200 horsepower in 1981. The LU8 was equipped with a Garrett TB305 turbo and a Rochester Quadrajet 4-barrel carburetor. While the horsepower and and torque were comparable on paper to prior years, the road tests showed the car was much slower. TTA Performance in Kenosha, Wisconsin makes performance parts that improve the engine output of these cars and make them respectable performers.

All turbo 301 cubic inch V8 engines were backed by a GM Turbo 350 automatic transmission and a 3.08 rear gear. This car is equipped with the WS6 Performance Handling Package which included 4 wheel disc brakes, bigger sway bars, 15×8 wheels and improved power steering turning ratios. This car is rusty and will need a lot of work but I hope it makes it back on the road.


  1. nlpnt

    I recall hearing once that at this time, the end of the secondgens’ run after the B/C-bodies had been downsized for ’77 and the Eldo-Toronado for ’79, the F-bodies were the heaviest volume production cars in the GM line exceeded only by the Caddy Series 75 limo. I’m not sure how accurate that was (heavier than all the station wagons and the regular C-bodies? How do options figure in?) but I can see where they would’ve had a challenge wringing enough performance to keep up with the much lighter Fox Mustangs until the thirdgen F was finally ready for ’82.

    Like 0
    • CCFisher

      Shipping weight for a 1979 Trans Am was about 600 lb less than the shipping weight for a 1979 Coupe de Ville.

      Like 1
  2. Gary

    I worked at a Pontiac dealer when these came out. We thought they would fly. We were wrong. Put a twin turbo 455 and a five speed in it, restomod as it’s not worth restoring.

    Like 0
  3. Big C

    My friend had an ’81. We called it the Turbo Turkey. What a weak suck that 301 was!

    Like 2
  4. Claud

    All the attention was on the trans am’s but i always enjoyed the formula look
    This one is a rare bird certainly looked great when new
    Not so much now
    I don’t think it makes a good restoration candidate as the costs will get you underwater quickly

    Like 2
  5. wesley alker

    As much as I love Pontiacs, you couldn’t give me one of these. I was still working in a Pontiac dealership in ’81, when these cars started coming in. EVERYONE complained about the performance. No bottom end and no top end. The typical “bean counter” product and you could tell.

    Like 0
  6. mjf

    Gotta Love that Fram oil filter on there , I think this car has a ton of rust underneath the body and would be very hard to make right

    Like 0

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