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1979 Formula 255 Liberator Restoration Summary.

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1979 Formula 255 Liberator Restoration Summary.

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Old 08-18-2013, 05:55 PM
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Default 1979 Formula 255 Liberator Restoration Summary.

I have chronicled the restoration of this boat on the Formula Owners Forum...this will serve as a summary of the journey to date.

I have owned 3: Formulas prior to this one with the last being a '86 272 LS with twin 320 EFI SBC's on Alpha SS drives. I originally wanted to find and restore a '84-'86 272 but never could find the "right" boat. I have always admired the lines of the 255 Liberator so when this one became available I bought it.

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The project boat is a 1979 Formula 255 Liberator that was built in the Decatur, IN plant …a fact revealed by its HN prefix having the “SGN” designation vs. “TNR” which is the Miami plant designation for that decade. Signa Boat Co. was Vic Porters old Company that he merged with Thunderbird Formula when Fuqua industries took control in the ‘70’s and Porter was president. Formula Deep V boats were built in Miami, Decatur, IL and Palo Alto, CA. The boat came to Ft. Lauderdale via Traverse City, MC around 2008 and I bought it in December 2010.. Some time in the early to mid ‘90’s the engines were replaced with what I later found out were automotive long blocks…more on that later.

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I bought the boat “running with a very heavy home made steel trailer for $3500. After I purchased the boat I discovered that it had a bad gimbal bearing and transom assembly on the starboard side. I replaced the starboard TA with a good used one and ran the boat for about 6 months. It ran well enough…high 50’s..low 60’s depending on the load with 21” Stainless Cleavers. One afternoon I was cruising thru Pompano Beach in the ICW when I noticed the bilge pump running constantly…the water was hot!! I opened the hatch to find 4”-6” of hot water in the bilge and later found out that the port engine freeze plug above the starter had rusted through. That told me that I had automotive engines. Knowing that I was going to need to change all freeze plugs to brass and head gaskets to stainless on both engines, I pulled them both.

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As things go sometimes with boats…I considered repowering while I had them both out. I kept my eye out for a pair of engines all the while educating myself as to the possibilities. I considered building 383 strokers from what I had but they were 2: bolt car blocks and lo flow truck heads. One night before bed I came across an ad in Craigslist for two 355 Vortec Roller Cam 4 bolt motors that were built by a reputable High Performance engine builder in Pompano Beach. These engines had been dynamometer tested at over 400 horsepower and were built for a client that never picked them up!!! I got up early and called the seller at 6 AM and met him at his shop at 9 AM. I saw the two engines and the parts list that went in them. These were long blocks with Marine Brass Lined intakes and no external accessories. They had built them under contract for an attorney for $10000…took a $5000 deposit and were asking $5K. I took them away for $4000 cash!!

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OK…now I had two brand new 400 plus horse motors that none of my old accessories would fit…I had old “Log” style exhaust that was used that I wasn’t going to put on these engines and my flywheels wouldn’t fit the new one piece rear main cranks. This meant that my pre Alpha bell housings wouldn’t work and I was looking at up grading everything to new style Alpha. After consulting with many different people in the business…I figured Alpha’s wouldn’t hold up to the power and torque these engines were making…so I decided…got to go Bravo!!

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That was a HUGE decision…which meant that EVERYTHING related to power and propulsion changed. Not just for one engine but TWI N ENGINES/TWIN BRAVO upgrade!! Everything from the prop forward was new or near new. The cooling system had to be re –engineered …Bravo Drives have no water pump…so I decided to simplify things by going with crank mounted raw water pumps pulling through the drives. This saved a ton of time and money with brackets, hoses and pulleys for the traditional Mercruiser belt driven raw water pumps. This was a good decision and I must say the system works great!!

About this same time the steel trailer that I bought with the boat literally was falling apart. I was “Sucking up the seat covers” every time I left the driveway. The day I saw one of my trailer wheels pass me going down the highway I decided to call Willie at All American and have him build a custom 10,200 GTWR twin torsion axle aluminum bunk trailer with 4: wheel disc brakes for this boat….add $4500.



So now the hunt started for twin Bravo Transom Assemblies and Bravo I drives. Long story short…I got all of the stuff together in March of this year and started building everything. Once the motors were set up and running, Transom assemblies were in place…my team and I looked at the wiring in this 35 year old boat and decided “RE WIRE EVERYTHING”. So the boat got new engine harnesses and new helm to bilge harnesses along with all new gauges and switch panels. A new sending unit was required for the tank to match the new fuel gauge. A new steering cable was required to match up with the new steering ram (now on the port motor). There was then no way to have an internal tiller tie bar so the drive tie bar is really “THE TIE BAR”!!

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I had along the way picked up a pair of McLeod Drop Out Bolsters from a 1992 Formula 292 SR-1 donor boat. I am slowly re working the cockpit and cabin with up grades.
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This old Thunderbird Formula has literally been through a TOTAL MAKE OVER. It is a 1979 Formula Liberator hull being pushed through the water with a new modern propulsion system and new engines. The engines made 425 Horsepower at 5600 RPM on the dyno and we figure as installed we have close to 800 Horsepower in the water and 850 Ft Lbs of Torque.

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So the question that gets asked all the time is “How does it run?”

Before the upgrade it struggled to get past 60 with no load. Now it will run 55-60 at 4500 RPM and pushes 75 GPS at 5400 RPM. This is with 23” Mirage props. It will run 27 MPH at 2000 RPM on plane!! This power package equals the Torque and produces 150 more total Horsepower than twin 330 horse 454’s will and weighs about 500 lbs less!! These engine are about 250 lbs lighter that the ones they replaced due to the difference in the exhaust manifolds. I have at this writing only put about 4-5 hours on it so I think it has room for improvement.

The question I ask my self is “Was it worth it?” In smiles per mile and the rush of acceleration when I push the throttles forward…a definite yes. In terms of economic feasibility…probably not. Including the original purchase price and the trailer I am right at $30K in to it. After interior and electronics it will push $35K. Consider though…it’s basically a new boat mechanically and with good care the propulsion system could easily find a home within a year or two in say a powerless Formula 292 FasTech or something similar. If I bought a entry level sport boat that performs as well as this one does I would easily spend more than twice what I have in this one and loose half of that value in the first two years.

I have met some great friends here on OSO and continue to enjoy the friends that I meet on the water. This project to me represents the core of the sport and serves as a reminder that anything can be done with good planning and attention to detail..
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Old 08-18-2013, 07:04 PM
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John,

Job well done ! Time to enjoy it now!
congrats!!!!
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Old 08-18-2013, 07:35 PM
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Looks great!! You do some great work!! And those are some real nice speed numbers!! I have been following your thread in the Formula section.
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Old 08-18-2013, 09:54 PM
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Enjoy it! Really liked how you documented the entire process. I read every post on this build. Good stuff!
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Old 08-18-2013, 10:24 PM
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beautiful boat ! looks great!
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Old 08-18-2013, 10:52 PM
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Thanks for the positive feedback guys....it means a lot. There are so many little things that just bog a project like this down...especially parts acquisition. When you deal with people that you don't know you take a chance. when you depend on a man's character and integrity sometimes you get burned. That happened to me during this project costing me money and time. I also lost the two original Transom Assemblies that I found here on the swap shop to thieves. I had friends step up and help and for that I am for ever grateful.

We have a great sport and hobby here with our performance boats...we also have a super fraternity of people who are quick to offer help and advice based upon their knowledge and experience. Many of the parts that I bought were from the Swap Shop here on OSO. Had I not had the resource of knowledge and experience that many of you offer freely I would still be floundering around in the depths of this project. We have accomplished much together and we have a bit more to do on this one.

It is my hope that when some one out there in the Boating Community Googles.."Formula 255 Liberator Upgrade" or "Alpha/Pre-Alpha to Bravo upgrade" it brings them to this site and maybe some of their questions will be answered.
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