ONE TALL ORDER
The Super Duty Firebird That Pontiac Didn’t Want to Sell
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.
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, bit.ly/2vBfOCD). 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.