PTM Highlight Vehicle for November:   1970 Firebird Formula 400


We receive some surprising calls at the museum; and some can quickly change your day.   One such call came in 2016, the message was about a 1970 Firebird Formula with just 433 original miles on it!

Attorney John “Steve” Suess, in Butler, Pennsylvania had recently passed away – the executors of his estate were working on clearing everything up. One of the items in the estate was a 1970 Formula Firebird which was purchased new at his local Pontiac dealership, Mikan Motors, and upon his passing he requested it go to a museum. The car was stored in a heated garage that he had built directly behind his house/office, along with other “toys” of his.

Starting with a copy of the car’s build history – the car appeared exactly as it left the factory, but covered with years of dust. Why? – our investigative work had only just begun! As we reconstructed its story – Steve received the car as a gift from his mother at high school graduation (insurance and title were in her name).  He lived with mother and grandmother, and had no siblings.   Shortly after purchase, the Firebird sat for a long, long period of time as Steve went to undergraduate, then law school, then worked out of state.

But, with initial inspection we found the car had been repainted, but why with so few miles? The interior was, well… like new.  Was the odometer reading real? The engine has its original carb, alternator, spark plugs and wires, and even the fan belt appears to be from 1970. But, while all those components are original, many of the painted parts (including the engine itself) curiously looked like they had been repainted.   All components were mint, including original part tags, yet again, many of the painted parts had been repainted, including the undercarriage.


Turns out, 20 years ago Russell’s Body and Frame had been asked to restore the car.   During the extended time the car sat, the battery had exploded, spraying acid throughout the engine compartment. Starting, in 1989, the car emerged from its long term sleep for this work – but they also pulled the 400 plus miles motor out and apart. Hmmm – apparently it had a bent pushrod and rod/pin damage. We’ll never know, but maybe the new high school grad had too much “green” engine fun with the V8 400 cid 4 speed after graduation?

But then more bad luck – in initial attempts to restore the car to original condition (taking off aftermarket undercoating and the battery acid damage) chemicals had run onto the side of the car, damaging its paint.   After yet another 3 years of storage, Russell’s was asked to restore the car to perfection (completed in 1997). The Firebird went back to the heated garage behind his office and it never moved again!

Viewed today, you would think the restoration was done last week, not 20 years ago. The single stage urethane paint is flawless, and all of the work done at Russell’s shop was of a very high quality. After all our sleuth work: yep, it’s an original 433-mile car that has been fully restored!