What Is It?

The photo last week finally moved out of the 1950s, which we had been featuring in previous quizzes. It skipped all the way to the 1970s, where we saw a section of a 1977 Pontiac Firebird Formula.


That was all the information we asked for: year, make and specific model. Because the 1978 was little changed, also gave credit for that guess.

Chosen randomly from the correct entries was the name of Jeff Brown, of Evans, who wrote:

“It’s kind of hard to tell from that picture, but it looks to be a 1978 Pontiac Firebird Formula. The question is whether its the Formula model or just the plain Firebird. I’m thinking with the aluminum snowflake wheels that it should be the Formula. Might be a 1977 as well, since those two years were virtually identical.”

Here are all the other readers who submitted entries to the What Is It? weekly quiz:

AUGUSTA: Gerald Byrd said: “You have picked out one of my favorite automobiles of the ’70s. I had a ’75 Firebird. The 1977 Formula came with a 400-cubic-inch engine and either a Turbo 400 transmission or a four-speed behind that. I think depending on what part of the country you were in the 400 engine might have been different. California had the smog controls, while the East Coast didn’t have the controls. One bad little car. Loved them in the day. Still do.”

John Hayes said: “I think today’s car is a Pontiac Firebird but I can’t decide whether it’s a ’77 or a ’78. I’ll think I’ll stick with a 1977 model.”

Walker Mobley Jr. wrote: “This week’s photo appears to be that of a 1978 Pontiac Formula Firebird. This version was the middle model with the simulated hood air scoops with the 5-liter V-8. I don’t remember the engine size.

“The model right above this one was the Trans Am with the ‘hood bird’ decal that covered the entire hood.

“There was a less expensive model also but I don’t remember any details about this one. I think this model (Formula) was the only one with the simulated hood scoops.”

Gary Engen said: “It is a 1977 or a 1978 Pontiac Firebird Formula edition. In the portion of the car shown in the photo there was very little difference in the two-year models. A distinctive, slant-nose facelift occurred in 1977, and the Firebird started using the four square head lamps.

“If your photo showed more of the grille then it would be easier to ID the year because there was a different grille insert design in 1978. The Formula edition was introduced in 1977, so I’ll guess that it is a 1977 Pontiac Firebird Formula.

“Also, the picture shows the popular snowflake alloy wheels that were first made as an option on the Firebird in 1977. Another version of the1977 Pontiac Firebird was the Trans Am Special Edition, which became famous after being featured in the movie Smokey and the Bandit.

Loy Butler said 1978 Firebird Formula.

Tom Turner: “I think the car in the photo is a 1978 Pontiac Firebird.”

J.C. Scarborough guessed 1976 Firebird Formula.

Willie Thomas said: “I know it’s the Firebird Formula or Trans Am, but I think it’s the 1978 Trans Am.”

Sammy Whitfield said 1972 Chevrolet Camaro Z-28.

Robin Kitchens said 1978 Pontiac Formula.

CANTON, GA.: David Anderson said: “We seem to have skipped forward a couple of decades this week, but are still being presented with easily recognizable teaser shots that at the same time are sometimes difficult to exactly identify. While this front angle shot makes it difficult to tell the exact model year, 1977 or 1978, the hood scoops definitely identify it as a Pontiac Firebird Formula. I am going to go with a 1977 model for two reasons.

“First, 1977 is the first year of the quad rectangular headlights on the Firebird; and second, that would make this week’s What Is It? a stable mate to a Firebird that is just a little bit famous – the 1977 Firebird Special Edition Trans Am driven by Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit. That black-and-gold Trans Am is yet another iconic piece of American cinema that today is simply referred to as the Bandit Trans Am.

“What Bullit and Gone in 60 Seconds did for the Mustang, Smokey and the Bandit did for the Firebird in general, but mostly the Trans Am. Sales had already improved in 1977 from just five years earlier, when the Firebird was already teetering on the edge of extinction, and this movie helped to bolster sales of the Firebird even more. It also bolstered Pontiac’s image as a performance company and certainly highlighted the Firebird as an exceptional performance choice in an otherwise bland 1970s lineup.

“Though the Trans Am got the monster 400-cubic-inch V-8, the Formula made do with either a 301 V-8 or Californians received a 305 V-8 to counteract the stricter emissions requirements. However, this was the ’70s, and this engine pumped out only about 135 horsepower while that 400 V-8 could muster just 200 – but only when paired with the four-speed manual transmission.

“Today, this generation of Firebirds is a common sight at most any car show or cruise-in. I enjoy seeing them, but I must admit that back in the day I pretty much thumbed my nose at them. The ’70s was an abysmal time for car styling and performance as more and more safety, emissions and performance-limiting federal mandates were laid on the doorsteps of the manufacturers.

“The cars of the mid- to late ’70s certainly show the signs in design and performance of these too-hastily applied mandates, and my ’71 GTO with its 300-horsepower 400 V-8 could run circles around any of them!

“However, by the middle of 1978, my wife and I found out she was pregnant with our first child and I soon joined that lethargic late-’70s crowd by trading that GTO for a first-generation Oldsmobile diesel. Pardon me while I give myself yet another dope slap for that!”

COOSAWHATCHIE, S.C.: Chris Jeselnik said: “The car in today’s picture is a 1977 or 1978 Pontiac Firebird Formula. I had a 1973 Firebird Formula 400 and a 1981 Firebird Formula.

“These did not have the ‘screaming chicken’ on the hood, did not have the cutout shaker air cleaner or the holes in the front fenders. I liked them over the Trans Am for that reason; also, no front air dam to scrape over every parking lot entrance, either.

“I sure wish I had kept the two I owned. The ’73 was super fast, downright scary; the 400 would spin the tires from first to second and chirp the tires shifting from second to drive at 100 mph. The ’81 had the anemic 301 engine; while not fast it was fun to drive and fairly good on gas.”

EVANS: PJ Rodgers said 1978 Firebird Trans Am.

Jerry Paul said 1977 Firebird Trans Am.

Larry Heath said 1977 Pontiac Firebird Formula: “The front end styling was changed for 1977 to include rectangular headlights, and the 1978 model is the same. The Formula was a high-performance version of the Firebird, with the top model being the Trans Am.

“The photo shows the new for 1977 ‘snowflake’ wheel in size 15x7. This same wheel was available in a 15x8 size for 1978-81 as part of a WS6 performance package. Pontiac carried on the muscle car tradition in the 1970s with little competition from other brands.

“I still have a 1981 Trans Am Bandit version, which I have owned for 33 years. Thanks for reminding us there were some interesting cars available during the ’70s.”

Bill Harding said 1977 Pontiac Firebird.

HEPHZIBAH: German Keith knew it was the 1977 Formula “with honeycomb rims.”

KEYSVILLE, GA.: Glenn Widner said: “1977 Pontiac Formula, not to be confused with the Trans Am. You could get up to a 400-cubic-inch engine, and in some cases a 403 Buick was substituted at the factory. I had a black one with four-speed.”

LOUISVILLE, GA.: Bob Holbert said: “I believe the car is a 1977 Pontiac Firebird Formula. The fake hood scoops tell me it is not the Trans Am model, which featured the huge Firebird decal on the hood and left no room for anything else.

“This was the first year for the square quad headlights. It was a virtual twin to the Chevy Camaro, although slightly bigger and heavier. A nice-looking car made popular by the Smokey movies.”

MARTINEZ: Cheryl Cook said: “This week’s car is a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, 1978? I wanted it to be the Bandit Trans Am, but, to me, it had subtle differences. We gave one of our sons a 1977 Trans Am, just like the Bandit. Love the Firebirds!”

Jim Muraski wrote: “This week’s vehicle is a 1978 Pontiac Firebird Formula LT Sport Edition. This one-year special edition came with a raised-compression Chevy 305 V-8 engine mated to a Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed manual transmission.”

Lloyd Schnuck said: “I think it’s a 1978 Pontiac Firebird Formula 400. A variety of engines from V-6 to 455-cubic-inch V-8s. Real muscle cars, but overshadowed and outsold by a factor of four by the Trans Am, made even more popular by the movies such as Smokey and the Bandit and TV series Knight Rider.

“The last production of the fourth-generation Firebird was in 2002.”

NORTH AUGUSTA: Bob Blake wrote: “The car this week is a 1977 Firebird Formula 400. It might be a ’78 since the design of the front end stayed the same for both years, but the 1977 Formula had a honeycomb grill while the 1978 version sported a crosshatched grille design.

“When buyers selected the Formula option, they got a nice spoiler in the rear but could not have the front spoiler that was on the Trans Am. The Formula came with stiffer springs, bigger anti-roll bars and 15-inch wheels.

“The legendary WS6 package could not be ordered on the Formula versions until 1979. 1977 is also the year when the sought-after ‘snowflake’ design 15x7 aluminum wheels were introduced – some had the recesses painted gold.

“The Formula 400 could be optioned to deliver performance equal to its more showy sibling, Trans Am, without the visual effects and giant bird decal on the hood.”

Stevie Huff guessed the 1977 Trans Am.

PERRY, FLA.: Larry Anderson said: “I had a hard time deciding if the car was a ’77 or ’78 Pontiac Firebird Formula because they look alike. But I’m going with a 1977 Firebird Formula because it was the first year of the “snowflake” wheels, which became synonmous with the Firebird and the Trans Am in the late ’70s.”

THOMSON: Chris Adams said 1977 Pontiac Trans Am Formula: “I had Trans Ams before.”

WAYNESBORO, GA.: Ken Huff said: “I think this is a 1997 Pontiac Firebird Formula. While the T/A’s star had risen through the ’70s, the Formula was in the background. If you were shopping for muscle cars, you heard a lot about the Trans Am and even the reborn Z-28, but not much about the Firebird Formula.

“I purchased a new Z-28 350 in 1978 and looked at the Trans Am, but never considered the Pontiac Formula.”

NO CITY LISTED: Bob Wallo said: “I think it is a 1978 Pontiac Firebird.”

Anthony Killings said: 1977 Formula 400 Special Edition.


Do you know the year and make of the popular car shown in this artistic rendering? For instance, you might answer 1977 Pontiac.

E-mail glynn.moore@augustachronicle.com or leave a call at (706) 823-3419.

Please tell us your name and city. If you call, spell your name so we can properly identify you. The deadline is Tuesday night, and we’ll print your name next Friday. A name will be chosen randomly and highlighted.

– Glynn Moore, staff writer


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