The Su­per Duty Firebird That Pon­tiac Didn’t Want to Sell

Muscle Car Review - - Contents - By Scotty Lachenauer

The Su­per Duty Firebird that Pon­tiac didn’t want to sell

Through­out the 1960s, Rick Stein kept him­self busy by get­ting his kicks with a Ger­man flair. He had be­come a con­nois­seur of mo­tor­ized ve­hi­cles from Bavaria and loved the BMW mo­tor­cy­cles he owned through­out the decade. When it hit U.S. shores, he also bought a speedy lit­tle BMW 2002 com­pact sedan.

In 1973, Rick tried to up his game with the pur­chase of a new, more pow­er­ful

2002 Tii, yet was met with a road block. The lo­cal BMW dealer wouldn’t budge from the steep $6,000 price tag. Frus­trated,

Rick de­cided to move on. Be­ing well read and ed­u­cated in the year’s new mod­els, he was in­trigued when he heard that Pon­tiac was go­ing to of­fer a Su­per Duty 455 op­tion in the new Fire­birds and Trans Ams. He thought the new Pon­tiac would be a good fit for him—and at 6 feet 8 inches and 280 pounds, a good fit was nec­es­sary!

Rick’s first at­tempts at pur­chas­ing a Su­per Duty were met with colos­sal frus­tra­tion. Con­sen­sus at his lo­cal deal­ers was the SD-455 was not go­ing to be of­fered in any model Pon­tiac any time soon. But he

re­ceived an in­side tip from a writer at a na­tional car mag­a­zine that the deal­er­ship’s in­for­ma­tion was in­cor­rect, so he made one last try at Sub­ur­ban Pon­tiac in Glen Head, New York (on Long Is­land). There he was greeted by a new­bie sales­man, Bernie Can­ner, who un­til re­cently had sold dresses at a depart­ment store.

Af­ter ini­tially try­ing to sell Rick a 455 HO, the sales­man re­luc­tantly took his or­der for a brand new 1973 Firebird Su­per Duty 455. Rick piled on enough op­tions to nearly dou­ble the price of the car. But when Pon­tiac’s New York zone man­agers got a look at the or­der, they put the ki­bosh on it. It was stated that an “ad­min­is­tra­tive hold” had been put on all Su­per Duty or­ders.

An an­gry Rick de­cided to march right back to the deal­er­ship and set­tle this thing once and for all. He un­leashed all the frus­tra­tion that had twisted his in­sides since the start of his search. He put it plainly so that Bernie and his man­ager would un­der­stand: “Tell the New York Zone to ac­cept the of­fer, or un­spec­i­fied may­hem will oc­cur right here, right now.”

To fur­ther sim­plify what was go­ing to

“I didn’t want a gussied-up TA with its ill-fit­ting plas­tic clap­trap”

hap­pen, he added, “And if call­ing for help from the shop is the al­ter­na­tive, then so be it.” With that fore­bod­ing salvo, Rick’s or­der was fi­nally put through.


In due time the deal­er­ship called Rick to tell him the car was ready. Un­for­tu­nately, they didn’t call him when the car ar­rived like he had “asked” them to, and he soon found out that one of the staff had “road tested” it.

Rick says, “The re­sult­ing shout­ing match al­most had me re­fus­ing de­liv­ery, but af­ter all the Sturm und Drang I’d en­dured for nine months, I de­cided to smarten up.”

How­ever, there were some is­sues. The car did not ar­rive with the twin-scooped For­mula hood he had or­dered, but rather the Trans Am shaker hood. Pon­tiac made

“Rick piled on enough op­tions to nearly dou­ble the price of the car”

the switch on pur­pose, ac­tu­ally. There were so few For­mula SD-455s built that, to sim­plify emis­sion cer­ti­fi­ca­tion re­quire­ments, the For­mula SD-455s got the same shaker as the Trans Am. And there were sev­eral tell­tale signs of shoddy as­sem­bly­line work. The car also came with the in­fa­mous Fire­stone 500s, which would be re­called for cars built from 1975 on. They were not re­called for this year but were on Rick’s safety radar from day one.

Those tires not­with­stand­ing, the Firebird was Rick’s daily driver from its de­liv­ery in July 1973 un­til Novem­ber. Once the New York weather changed, he tucked it away in his heated garage. He chris­tened the car Sa­markand, a name used reg­u­larly on boats and other prop­er­ties owned and cared for by his fam­ily.

The fol­low­ing spring, Rick moved to Scotts­dale, Ari­zona. Sa­markand was his trans­porta­tion. As you might imag­ine, the trip in­cluded triple-digit speeds, en­coun­ters with other “fast cars,” and the oblig­a­tory chats with lo­cal state troop­ers. But Rick and his steed made it to the Grand Canyon State with­out a ma­jor is­sue.

In Scotts­dale, Sa­markand was his daily driver, but he cared for it with the best kid gloves a nearly 300-pound gi­ant could muster. Due to the rar­ity of the car, peo­ple often asked him if it was a real Su­per Duty. Even in the 1970s, plac­ing over-the-counter SD-455 de­cals on lesser mod­els was com­mon. But they just could not place that all-im­por­tant X in the VIN stat­ing the car was a Su­per Duty and not a wannabee HO or such.

New Home

Af­ter 13 years, Rick de­cided to sell the beloved Sa­markand, with just 13,000 miles show­ing on the odome­ter. It was sold to a col­lec­tor in Cal­i­for­nia, who or­dered his as­sis­tant to go pick up the ve­hi­cle. Dur­ing the trans­fer, the as­sis­tant de­cided to not flatbed the car like Rick in­sisted. In­stead, he drove the car to its new home, blow­ing out one of the Fire­stone 500s on the way and caus­ing mi­nor dam­age to the car.

The Firebird would stay in that col­lec­tion un­til 1991, when it was sold to a man in New Jersey. It was bought in 2013 by Steve Se­gal, who also re­sides in the Gar­den State. Steve was on the look­out for a Su­per Duty when he spot­ted this Firebird in an on­line auc­tion. See­ing it had been put up just hours be­fore, he quickly con­tacted the seller, who was just 75 miles away. Steve im­me­di­ately drove to in­spect the car, sealed the deal, and had the owner take down the on­line ad. The pur­chase was com­pleted in just hours.

Steve re­ceived all the orig­i­nal pa­per­work with the car, which prompted him to search for the orig­i­nal owner. Go­ing on just a name and pos­si­ble lo­ca­tion, Steve tracked down Rick and got a first­hand look into the car’s early life.

All these years later the Firebird shows just 19,000 miles on the odo and still wears the orig­i­nal paint. It’s so well pre­served, in fact, that when Steve en­tered it into Vin­tage Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion judg­ing at the 2016 Mus­cle Car and Corvette Na­tion­als, it was the only one that year to earn the top-tier Time Cap­sule sta­tus. Adding to Steve’s big week­end was a visit from Rick and his wife, Lenora, who came from Scotts­dale to Chicago to see their old car again (a story we shared in “Stand­ing the Test of Time,” May 2017, How well did Rick re­mem­ber the car? At a glance he spot­ted an er­ror in the VIN that was printed on the Vin­tage Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion award. Chief judge Steve Shauger im­me­di­ately cor­rected the er­ror, reprinted the form, and gave an ex­tra copy—plus an of­fi­cial Vin­tage Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion Judge T-shirt—to Rick.

n This par­tic­u­lar SD-455 Firebird For­mula is the high­est-op­tioned car known to ex­ist and still sports 100 per­cent of the orig­i­nal paint. The 1973 model year was the last with the full En­dura bumper treat­ment and stand­alone rear chrome bumper, which were not avail­able the fol­low­ing year due to Fed­eral im­pact reg­u­la­tions. A rear wing was also avail­able on Fire­birds but was one of the few op­tions not checked off by the orig­i­nal owner, Rick Stein.

n With just over 19,000 miles on the odome­ter, this SD-455 is barely bro­ken in. There have been no mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the driv­e­train, and most of the orig­i­nal mark­ings are still vis­i­ble in the en­gine bay. The 8.4:1-com­pres­sion en­gine was a stout per­former for its time, push­ing out (pos­si­bly un­der­rated) 290 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque.

The sec­ond gen­er­a­tion Pon­tiac F-Body was a thing of beauty and quite func­tional as well. Rick says, “The 1973 Firebird is so aero­dy­nam­i­cally clean that I could roll down the driver-side win­dow and not cre­ate any sig­nif­i­cant tur­bu­lence in the cock­pit, even at 100 mph.”n Fire­stone 500 tires were re­called from the 1975 model year for­ward, but they were still OE equip­ment in 1973. Steve has four of the orig­i­nal five tires; one blew out when the car was driven from Rick’s Ari­zona home to a new owner in Cal­i­for­nia.When cur­rent owner Steve en­tered the Firebird in the Vin­tage Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion area at the 2016 MCACN show, Rick and Lenora Stein trav­eled from Ari­zona to Chicago to re­unite with the car.

n The orig­i­nal in­te­rior is still in nearly mint con­di­tion. Here Rick piled on the good­ies: front con­sole, Rally gauge clus­ter, AM/FM ra­dio, tilt wheel, cus­tom seat­belts, and front and rear floor mats. The only change over the years was the ad­di­tion of a For­mula steer­ing wheel, done by the deal­er­ship shortly af­ter he took pos­ses­sion. Rick kept the orig­i­nal wheel and sent it to Steve Se­gal when they made con­tact.

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