Manual Muscle: 1981 Pontiac Firebird Formula

Finding affordable classic muscle cars isn’t an easy task these days, especially if you want a driver-quality example that won’t make you wince when driving it among the unpredictable public. Luckily, Barn Finds reader Pat L. came across this 1981 Pontiac Firebird Formula here on Craigslist that falls into that exact category.

This Firebird is available in Santa Clarita, California. Unfortunately, the vehicle has a salvage title due to an insurance claim from the previous owner, who filed an insurance claim after leaky T-Tops caused a wet interior. To the seller’s knowledge, the vehicle has never been in a major accident, and it is currently registered until April 2020.

The exterior of this Pontiac isn’t perfect, but regardless, it will turn some heads. This Firebird left the factory with a Dark Blue Metallic exterior color, but the previous owner painted the vehicle red, which nicely complements the Torque Thurst wheels and disc brakes at all four corners. Also, because the car spent its entire life in California, the undercarriage is in good shape and rust-free.

There are various dents and scratches throughout the exterior. Due to a parking lot incident, there is some damage under the rear spoiler, and the seller provides photos of where it was hit.

The seller admits that the interior will need a complete restoration. From the photos, the cabin doesn’t look too bad, but some leaky T-Tops will do a number on an interior.

Under the hood, you’ll find a numbers matching 305 cu.-in. V8 engine, which pairs to a 4-speed manual transmission to drive the rear wheels. The seller is very honest about the engine’s condition, noting that it runs and has a recently rebuilt carburetor, but should receive attention soon due to issues with burning oil and fouling spark plugs.

The asking price for this Pontiac is $5500. I think that while this example certainly needs some work, it has a lot of potential for its price. What do you think of this Firebird?


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  1. Brent

    Lordee! Lordee! Would you look at the nose on that thing!! Looks like a afterthought. ‘Well boss, we be done designing your Firebird! Oh wait, we got to put something on the front! Bo, go look in the backroom and find something we can screw on the the front of this thing!’

    Like 5
    • local_sheriff

      OK, this face isn’t quite like the ’71-’73 versions, but c’mon is it really that bad…?

      Like 4
      • Brent


        Like 10
      • Arthell64 Member

        I think the 79-81 front nose looks better than the 70-73.

        Like 7
      • FordGuy1972 FordGuy1972 Member

        The front end on this Firebird is just plain ugly. The price is cheap but it needs a fair amount of money and work. The motor probably needs a rebuild but a crate motor might be a better alternative it you want performance. You’d also probably want to refresh the interior in black. Then you’d have a pretty nice car.

        Maybe hang a better-looking nose on it too.

        Like 3
  2. RH

    Does the genius that painted it red realize he left the interior blue?

    Like 10
    • Pete

      I’d put a white racing stripe on it, God Bless America.

      Like 1
  3. 8banger Dave Mika Member

    Well, beins as it’s gonna need a new interior anyway….

    Like 2
  4. Neil G

    I’ve dyed the interior of several cars. In this case though, the new owner would need a gallon of black dye for this interior.

    Like 7
  5. Troy s

    There never was in any way shape or form a muscle car in 1981, including this 305 powered Firebird. Long gone by then, a few years down the road in a whole different body….yes, sort of.
    With that I must admit it’s a cool looking ride, wheels and tires add a lot to that…red paint only works well with black or white interior, in the case of a sporty model black works very well.
    Not blue.
    If the car had a hopped up engine and gears to back it up it would be a street machine, a fun night cruiser, or the neighborhood tire smoking menace. But never a true factory muscle car compared to the actual big inch screamers of better years. What it does offer is affordability. My own view of course.

    Like 4
  6. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    There is something about ‘a numbers matching 305 cubic inch’ that has me scratching my head.

    Like 9
  7. David G

    Loaded with all the options. My personal cutoff for these Firebirds is 1979. Engine sizes took a dump in ’80 and ’81, along with computer command control making the scene for ’81. That being said, this has an exciting drivetrain, and the 305 is the lesser of two evils compared with the 301 Pontiac engine. This car screams for a smog legal 4 bolt 350 or even a stroked 383 with a 3.31 or 3.42 posi rear gear. If it were mine, I would return it to the original paint color, and get factory styled steel wheels correct for the Formula. A little over 90 miles from me if anyone wants me to take a close up look at it in exchange for gas and lunch money. :) Would love to have it myself, except my stable is full.

    Like 3
  8. Barry L Klotz

    It were a72 bird I would love to have it.

  9. jimmy the orphan

    Everybody would love to have it if it was a 72′ Barry LOL. That’s a real knee slapper ! ………………………….JIMMY

    Like 1
  10. Little_Cars

    Resale red — with no vinyl graphics reapplied. Looks odd. Sprayed over what was probably a killer color combo of blue over moldy blue interior. It has the performance-enhancing exposed or aftermarket air filter for a hp boost, required with the factory 305. I like that it has a manual transmission. Throw some Magnaflow duals on it, buy the deluxe interior kit, and just drive it like an Arkansas redneck on a Friday night.

    Like 1
  11. JoeNYWF64

    I never seen a 2nd gen bird with optional gages but no tach. Hmmh.
    Put in white seats & u have a patriotic red white & bluebird!
    Pontiac should have used those much smaller & lighter fender-rad support connectors on ’73-76’s, instead of ridiculous leaf spring ones. lol
    At least the later ones bolt right in.
    Unlike the heavy 1st gen back seat, no need to pull the not so heavy back seat sections on a 2nd gen.

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