Posted by Kim Klimas from On All Cylinders, an Automotive Blog
In 1977, 18-year-old Jim Elick needed a car for his first shore duty with the U.S. Navy. Inspired by the recent release of “Smokey and the Bandit” and the flashy gold and black Pontiac Firebird Trans Am cruising across the big screen, the Indianapolis, Indiana native headed to Don Sisk Pontiac with his dad to try his luck securing his own getaway car.
“I kind of knew what I wanted, but could never afford a $5,000 car at 18-years-old,” Elick said. “With my motocross bike to trade and $300 in hand, I somehow landed a Nautilus Blue Firebird Formula for $98 dollars a month, and off to California I went.” His dad co-signed for the deal with neither of them knowing just how significant the car would become.
“I bought the 1977 Formula with all the Trans Am equipment—no birds, no stickers, no fluff, no snap-on plastic air dams—just a straight, raw, very rare Firebird,” Elick said.
Affectionately nicknamed “Blue Goose,” the Formula proved a pricey ride for the novice sailor. Elick spent all but a few dollars of his military stipend on the monthly payment, gas, and insurance.
“There were times I had no idea how I got home, it was almost like she had autopilot,” Elick said. The car accompanied him on every adventure, even serving as the “escape vehicle” at his wedding, he said.
Elick returned home in 1980, working for ATA, Delta Air Lines, UPS Air, Gulfstream Aerospace, and later the FAA, while the car sat idle. “I literally threw a blanket over the car for the next 35 years. I towed Blue Goose from garage to garage, starting her only occasionally to pressurize the lubrication system,” he said.
Then five years ago, Elick and his wife Sabrina, made the decision to “restore-the-roar” and get the road-worthy car into show-ready condition.” She was already in great shape, mind you—with matching numbers, no corrosion, and an abundance of factory equipment installed,” Elick said.
“After quite humbly winning so many local car shows and watching people’s reactions, you can imagine my confusion—because this Pontiac was so familiar to me I never thought of it as anything but normal,” Elick says with a grin.
Confused, but enjoying the growing list of victories, Elick decided to up the stakes. He entered the GM F-Body Southern Regional against 200 competitors and won “Best Bird.”
At the Trans Am Dayton Nationals the Blue Goose placed second in its class (five modifications or less) against 490 Firebirds—385 of them Trans Ams. It was an exciting win, but the bigger thrill of Dayton was a chance meeting with the original General Motors engineers who developed the Pontiac Formula in the 1970s—Herb Adams, John Shinwell, and Bill Davis.
Shinwell, Adams, and Davis were the Chief Engineers of Product Development and Design on Project Firebird/Trans Am at General Motors in the late-1960s, and it was Shinwell that fought GM to get Nautilus Blue approved and onto the assembly line.
The color was nixed before production began, but a few Formulas snuck through unnoticed—one of them Elick’s Blue Goose. “[Shinwell] actually sought us out after spotting the vehicle on the show field, recalling the negotiations for this type of paint (29L – Nautilus Blue), and the prototype interior seating intended for the Sky Bird introduced six months later,” Elick said. “The paint was cancelled just after production began in 1977, but the Blue Goose somehow slipped through—just the way she always has.”
“They all agreed it was probably one of no more than six existing VIN numbers and cowl plates. Who knew that at 18-years old?!” Elick said.
Elick had them sign his trunk lid and walked them through the modifications—all done to preserve and restore the car’s authenticity. He and his team of enthusiasts rebuilt the car, focusing on the important stuff.
“This was the first Pontiac production car ever in history to offer square headlights. To accommodate those, they made a Endura bumper for the front end but it doesn’t fit the metal doghouses of the car, it just doesn’t,” he said.
Elick finished restoring the 1977 Pontiac Firebird Formula 400 in November of 2016. Still new to the show arena, but more than able to hold its own, Elick’s Formula 400 is the recipient of over two dozen awards and trophies, with six Best of Shows earned.
Special thanks to: In special honor of Elick’s father, who passed away a few years after helping his son purchase the Formula. He is a man much missed and the reason for Elick’s ongoing reluctance to part with the car. Additional thanks to Sabrina Elick, Brian Trevena, Brian’s Paint & Body Shop staff, Jodie, Johnny, Chris, and Tim and Scottie at Coweta Car Care.