Nautilus Blue 4 Speed: 1977 Pontiac Firebird Formula

Even before John DeLorean took over Pontiac as its general manager, the Pontiac Motor Division sought to stand out by offering something special to the car enthusiast. Pontiac didn’t produce the most cars and not every car was a success but looking back at some of the things that Pontiac did makes one appreciate their effort. Whether it was developing a more powerful engine (HO455, SD 455 or the W72 400), special handling packages (RTS and WS6) or exceptional design (GTO, Can Am, Trans Am), Pontiac was at least trying into the 1970’s when other car manufacturers had thrown in the towel. What originally attracted to me to Pontiacs happened when I was 14 years old. My older brother, Paul, drove home one day in a super clean 1976 Pontiac Trans Am. It was Cameo White with a black interior. The car was equipped with the base L78 400 engine and automatic transmission. It was bone stock but just sitting in the passenger seat watching the shaker hood at idle hooked me instantly. The car that is the subject of this article is a 1977 Pontiac Firebird Formula that I just purchased from Nevada. Pontiac introduced the Formula as an option of the Firebird in 1970. A buyer could go into a Pontiac dealership and order the base Firebird, Esprit, Formula or Trans Am. The Formula could be optioned with all the performance options that came standard on a Trans Am but the Formula looked more reserved and not as flashy. According to John Schinella, Bill Davis and Herb Adams who attend the Trans Am Nationals in Dayton, Ohio annually, Pontiac originally wanted to use the dual scoop hood for the Trans Am. However, due to the popularity of the shaker scoop, Pontiac decided to offer two performance models. The Formula would have dual scoops and the Trans Am would have a single rear facing shaker scoop. The Trans Am was the more popular car  in terms of sales but the Formula was not limited on external colors and provided a bigger canvas that could be customized by the buyer with multiple performance and luxury options.

There are several things special about this car. The most obvious is that it was painted Code 29 Nautilus Blue from the factory. The data tag on the cowl indicates that the upper and lower colors were Code 29. To many, Nautilus Blue is one of the most beautiful colors ever developed by GM. It is a dark blue that is close to Nocturne blue but does not have as much metallic flake or green in it. John Schinella was a big proponent of Nautilus Blue and fought GM to introduce Nautilus Blue on the Firebird in the mid 1970’s. This paint color was initially approved for 1977 but was canceled by GM brass as production started. According to John Schinella, only 6 Firebirds left the factory in this color and they were all Formulas. Each car was also fitted with a special Deluxe Lombardi Blue interior that was the prototype for the Sky Bird. The Pontiac Sky Bird was an unique Esprit model and introduced 6 months later in 1977. The interior of my car is shown below in original condition. It has some fading from the sun on the plastic parts but is in good condition. The larger deluxe seats are very comfortable.

Another unique feature of the car is that it was optioned with the new W72 400 performance engine that was introduced in 1977. Pontiac phased out the 455 cubic inch V8 engine in 1976. To replace it, Pontiac designed a new performance engine using the 400 cubic inch V8. It was rated at 200 horsepower in 1977 and Pontiac upped the horsepower to 220 horsepower in 1978 and 1979 by adding dual turbo mufflers. The W72 engine was built with a 800 cfm 4 barrel Rochester carburetor, high capacity 60 psi oil pump, special cam, baffled oil pan, special piston rings, and 8:1 compression heads. This engine made Pontiac the king of the streets in the late 1970’s because it produced loads of low end torque and was one of the highest horsepower rated cars in the late 1970’s. The NRA dyno’d a production W72 engine and reported a net power rating of 265 horsepower rating so maybe it was underrated by Pontiac. Hot Rod Magazine tested the W72 400 4 speed equipped Trans Am in 1978 and published a 14.7 second quarter mile time. The 1977 version was about 0.5 seconds slower depending on what rear end they came with from the factory. The powerplant in this Nautilus Blue Formula is backed by a Borg Warner T-10 4 speed transmission and probably a 3.42:1 rear end. To date, I have located 2 other Nautilus Blue Formulas and they were both automatic cars. Might this be the only 4 speed Nautilus Blue Formula built?

I ordered the PHS build sheet to verify the car’s original options including a D58 Rear Console, G80 Safe-T-Track Rear Differential, QBX Rally handling package, V02 Super Cooling Package and N98 Rally II Wheels. The prior owner replaced the Rally II wheels with 15×8 aluminum snowflake wheels that were used with WS6 suspensions from 1978-1981. In 1977, the snowflake wheel was available as an option but it was only offered as a 15×7 inch configuration. There were 155,736 Firebirds built in 1977 and, of those, 21,801 were Formulas and 68,745 were Trans Ams. I have owned Trans Ams and Formulas since high school and enjoying collecting rare models. They may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I think Pontiac produced some of the best looking, best handling, best performance cars of the 1970’s.

Comments

  1. Bo

    Wow! Love it. What a nice find. The colour is fantastic as is the plush interior. I wish you had included more photos. With the manual transmission this must be a lot of fun to drive.
    This era of Firebirds were expensive used cars when I was a kid. I have always lusted after one.
    Great write up, thanks for sharing.

    Like 18
  2. Ricky

    My best friend special ordered a 78 Formula. White exterior, light blue velour inside, 403 engine, stock steering wheel, no graphics on outside, stock white wheels, spoilers. Was quite a standout Formula in the storm of Trans Ams at the time. He applied extra black window tint to the side and back windows. But rust set in fast on the rear wheel arches, (even though the car was here in West Texas) he sold it to purchase a new Chrysler Cordova. What a transformation that was. He always regretted it.

    Like 4
  3. Mitch

    This is a beauty. As GM had their great days.

    I remember one like this was for sale in Germany at the beginning
    of internet car markets. The seller stated they have also a new full
    Trans-Am decal set if the buyer wants it. Sick

    The same rare colour could be baby blue, it looks like the 50’s
    Buick shown here. Then someone bought it and repainted it to black….

    Bruce, rear console and the rims? Have you pics?

    Like 4
    • Bruce Johnson Bruce Johnson Staff

      Here is the rear console.

      Like 9
      • KEN ZIMMERMAN

        So is it for sale or did you recently buy it ?

    • Bruce Johnson Bruce Johnson Staff

      Mitch, here are the 15×8 snowflakes.

      Like 8
  4. Stan

    Other than an aston martin, what was a better faster ride in 78 ?
    Beautiful Poncho. Love the 4spd Formulas.

    Like 4
    • Michael Berkemeier

      Actually, the better, faster ride in 1978 was the E86- 440HP equipped Plymouth Fury and Dodge Monaco. These cars produced a net “factory-rated” 255 horsepower and would crest 132 mph. They were available with a 2.71 gear ratio and a 3.21 as well.

  5. Steve Taylor Member

    What are the buying options, auction? BIN? and where located??? Thanks.

  6. PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

    Nice Formula, Bruce! Thanks for sharing it with us.
    I think the Formula stands out in a sea of T/As, which seem to be everywhere.

    Like 3
  7. $ where mouth is

    Wow.. wow, that’s a GEM
    My new favorite Firebird .
    Somebodys not gonna have buyers remorse, probably a good cure for libedo issues !

  8. Franco

    Amazing just 6 built in code 29 Nautilus Blue ,well 1 of them was purchased by a guy in my old neighborhood Bensonhurst Brooklyn NY it was a real head turner. Always admire that special car.

  9. Steve W Watson

    AWESOME FIND. I’m guessing it’s not for sale since you usually provide a link.

  10. David

    Like you my brother brought home a brand new 76 TA black on black, i was 12 and hooked.

  11. Greg Moss

    Awesome!

  12. Ed Green

    A friend of mine has one of those stashed in a barn in southern Ohio. Same blue color and a 400 with….a factory 4speed. Not nearly as clean but not rotted out.

  13. Royce Riprock

    I was blessed to have a 1974 formula 455 factory ram air Turbo 400 white custom white interior black carpet when I got it it had slotted mags which I replaced with 15 X 7 ’77 Gold Honeycombs. I tricked out the engine With 421 Rods,Higher comp pistons, Med Cam, Alum heads,stonger oil pump, baffled oil pan, & more that I cant recall. ..I let My High School Sweetheart take to College.. She let it run Hot, Cracked block & I sold it for payoff(which was in My Mothers name while parents were divorcing), About $800..I almost Miss that car as much as My parents, lol.But Dodged A bullet as far as the girl goes. She married & divorced My Best friend,…
    Last I heard She was on Husband #4! Lol!

    I came across a very similar car advertised as collector quality, but fell WAAAY short as advertised. Broke My Heart AGAIN!! Damn cars, lol!

  14. Tully Tavares

    Flash Back!@@!

    I had a 78′ Formula, brown inside and out. It came with a GM 350 from the factory, I bought it from a friend from around the corner who locked it up due to lack of regular oil changes. I rebuilt the motor with lots of cam and compression 10:1 and a high pressure oil pump.

    It remained a street car and after re-jetting the Quad’, it had the power and the mileage was great …

    I’d still have it now if I didn’t miss that bridge and make a quick right on the Interstate. Speed can make you look like a fool when you are not carefu!! If and when the money flows, either another Formula or another 66′ Chevelle Convertible… The Fun Will Always There In Memory!!!!!

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