- By Mike Noun
|1969 : The Pontiac Ram Air IV - What's In A Name?
In 1965, Pontiac offered a Ram Air system as an over-the-counter item through their Parts Department (Part # 984716, for $29.65).
The over-the-counter setup was continued into 1966 with a minor change to the center carb hole in the pan, and by mid-year 1966,
Pontiac would offer their first "Ram Air" engine straight from the factory. By mid-year 1968, a new option called the Ram Air II would
debut, with newly designed high flow "round port" (on the exhaust side) cylinder heads. By 1969, the entire Musclecar market had
become saturated with "Ram Air". Every manufacturer offered their own version of a fresh air intake system. Since Pontiac was the
first to market their setup back in 1965, and their term "Ram Air" had become so popular, other manufacturers struggled to come
with their own catchy name for their own fresh air systems. But no matter how hard they tried, whether a vehicle used a hood scoop,
a ducted plenum back to the firewall, or flexible hoses to bring air from the front of the car back to the air cleaner, enthusiasts
seemed to use the term "Ram Air" more than anything else.
Back at Pontiac, the next generation of "Ram Air Engines" was about to debut for 1969. After the 1968-1/2 Ram Air II, the next
engine designation would naturally use the next sequence in roman numerals, hence "Ram Air III". While the engineers would use
the dual hood scoops for Ram Air on the Firebird and GTO, they also liked the 1966-1969 Oldsmobile W-30 and W-31 setup, which
utilized two large flexible hoses to grab air from the front of the vehicle. In a somewhat bizarre move, the Pontiac engineers decided
to trump everyone by combining these two cold air setups, using both hood scoops and flexible hoses. An elaborate baseplate
was created, and the engineers loved the idea that there were now four inlets. To exploit this feature, Pontiac decided to skip the
Ram Air III designation and go straight to Ram Air IV, as in "four ways to get Ram Air".
The prototype Ram Air IV fresh air system used a variation of the 1967-1968 Ram Air bathtub design, but with significant
differences. The 1969 Ram Air IV baseplate had heat risers to allow faster warm ups, and a new driver-controlled foul weather valve
to allow the driver to close off the hood scoops in bad weather. Attached to the baseplate were two huge 4" hoses routed up to an
area behind the grille, somewhat similar to the Olds 442 W-30 and W-31 system, although the Pontiac setup did not use external
"entry scoops", making it a bit more discrete than the Oldsmobile setup. The prototype air cleaner was installed on a 1969 GTO,
and it made a few appearances in magazine road tests. Pontiac even came up with a drawing showing how the system would draw
air from 4 sources. However, the system proved to be too costly, and Pontiac Engineers decided to drop the setup, but the name
"Ram Air IV" stuck.
Pontiac stylists also decided that for 1969, all Ram Air equipped GTO's and Firebird's would use "hood callouts", stickers affixed to
the hood scoops announcing to the world that you had a Ram Air equipped car. The decision to use hood callouts in 1969 also
factored into the decision to skip the Ram Air III designation and go straight to Ram Air IV, as engineers and stylists thought that
"Ram Air IV" simply looked better in roman numerals than "Ram Air III".
Heading into 1970, Pontiac soon realized that buyers (even their own dealers) were confused with the Ram Air numbering system.
To recap, 1969 Pontiac Ram Air engines were simply called 'Ram Air' or 'Ram Air IV'. The Ram Air II had been discontinued, and
there was no Ram Air III. To eliminate some of this confusion, enthusiasts would later dub the 1969 Ram Air engine "Ram Air III",
which would become the standard engine for the 1969-1970 Trans Am and GTO Judge (optional for the Firebird 400 and GTO), but
Pontiac never used the term "Ram Air III" in any of their advertising or promotions.
The prototype 1969 Ram Air IV setup, using 4 ways to draw air into the
carburetor, was the reason for the name "Ram Air IV". While this air cleaner
arrangement was dropped before production of the Ram Air IV, the name stuck.
It would be interesting to see how these huge 4" hoses would have been routed
around the radiator within the tight 1969 Firebird compartment. In this example
showing a 1969 GTO engine compartment, the hoses were routed through holes
cut in the core support on each side of the radiator.
Factory Pontiac drawing showing the way the Ram Air IV was to operate. The
foul weather valve would see production on the 1969 GTO and Firebird Ram Air
cars, as well as the 1970 GTO. If you look closely at this drawing, you can see
there was no method for closing off the large 4" hoses in bad weather. The
complexity and cost of this system, and the possibility of drawing a lot of water
spray through those hoses in poor weather, ended this proposal before it ever
By 1969, the term "Ram Air" had now become a fixture on nearly every high
performance model coming out of Detroit. A true high performance car just
wasn't taken seriously unless it had some sort of cold air induction setup.
Being the innovators and creators of "Ram Air", Pontiac engineers and
designers began looking at adding Ram Air to other high performance
models in their lineup, such as the Lemans and Firebird models equipped
with the impressive 350 H.O. engine. However, neither the base Lemans or
Firebird were equipped with hood scoops. Adding a scooped hood, and an
entire Ram Air setup, would have been very cost prohibitive. After all, the
350 H.O. powered models were supposed to be the low cost alternatives to
the GTO and Firebird 400, so a different plan was devised. The 1969
Lemans and Firebird 350 H.O. models used a single snorkel, enclosed air
cleaner assembly. Pontiac Engineers would try using a slightly different
version of this air cleaner (the snorkel had a much larger inlet), and rotate
the assembly so that the snorkel faced the passenger side (rear) of the
engine bay. They then attached a flexible 4" hose to the snorkel. Now while
it seems logical that this 4" hose would be routed back into the firewall to
grab air from the cowl (like the 1963 Chevrolet Z-11 cars and Milt
Schornack's 1964 GTO), Pontiac Engineers decided to make this setup a
bit more visible from the outside of the car.
|1969 : The Rejected "Hood Tach" Ram Air Setup
The 1969 Pontiac brochure featured a couple photos of the Ram Air setup as
it would be have been used on a car without factory hood scoops. Although it
would have looked rather odd seeing what would appear to be double hood
tachs on the hood of this Firebird, the system would have been fairly effective
at supplying the engine with cool outside air. The photo on the left is a little
misleading, as it appears there are two 4" hoses, one for each nacelle, but in
fact the driver's side is a hood tach.
Another photo from the 1969 Pontiac brochure shows a pair of 350 H.O cars at
speed. The Firebird in the foreground uses the "double hood tach" look, with the
driver's side being a real hood tach, the passenger side being the Ram Air. The
Lemans 350 H.O. shown in the background does not have a hood tach, just the Ram
Air nacelle on the passenger side.
This photo is from an original road test of a 1969 Firebird 350 H.O.
Note the odd arrangement of the passenger side heat riser pipe.
|Pontiac's Ram Air Rarities (page 2)
Inspired by the popularity of their hood mounted tachometer, the Pontiac engineers installed an empty hood tach shell on the
passenger side of the hood, positioned opposite of where a factory hood tachometer would be located for the driver, and then
connected the 4" hose from the air cleaner snorkel. Unfortunately, the end result was not very appealing with the hood open,
certainly nothing as impressive as a standard Ram Air setup, and the whole setup seemed like an afterthought. The "350 H.O. Ram
Air" setup was never released. Apparently this setup did in fact pass all the preliminary tests, and photos were included in the 1969
Pontiac brochure. One can only guess as to why the "350 H.O. Ram Air" was never produced, but one of the reasons may have
been the awkward way the 4" hose was connected, and how the hose may have been crushed on occasion when the hood was
closed. This setup was obviously a quick, low cost system that the Pontiac Engineers concocted in lieu of attaching an expensive
Ram Air hood and all the necessary Ram Air parts.
Granted, a 1969 Lemans or Firebird equipped with a driver's side hood tach may not have looked too bad with a second hood tach
nacelle mounted on the passenger side, but the cars not equipped with a hood tach may have appeared a bit strange! With only a
single scoop mounted in front of the passenger, at first glance it may have appeared Pontiac mounted a hood tach for the
passenger! At any rate, without any sort of throttle or solenoid activated trap door for the Ram Air scoop, one wonders what a
carburetor backfire would have looked like to someone in the passenger seat...
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