|1969 : The Mysterious Firebird Ram Air Emblems
|Pontiac's Ram Air Rarities
By 1969, Pontiac's "Ram Air" package had a very positive image on the street, and the setup was indeed proven to produce more horsepower. Nearly every
manufacturer in America had followed Pontiac in producing their own fresh air intake system. Names like Cowl Induction, Outside Air Induction, Air
Grabber, every manufacturer had realized that having a name for their cold air setup was an effective tool for selling their performance cars. While Pontiac
had coined the term "Ram Air", and the term had since become synonymous with Pontiac performance, as of 1968 there were no exterior markings or
emblems announcing that a Pontiac had a Ram Air package. Sitting at a stoplight, a standard 1968 Firebird 400 would appear the same as a 1968 Firebird
Ram Air II model, the only visible difference (from outside the car) being open hood scoops. Pontiac decided to remedy that situation in 1969 by installing
"Ram Air" (or "Ram Air IV") stickers on the hood scoops of all their Ram Air and Ram Air IV equipped models. On the 1969 GTO, applying these stickers
would be quite easy, as the hood scoop nacelles on the GTO were bare. But on the 1969 Firebird 400, applying these stickers would be a chore, because all
1967-1969 Firebird 400's used die-cast "400" emblems on the side of each hood scoop.
For the 1969 Firebird, Pontiac decided that all Ram Air equipped Birds (except the Trans Am) would have their die-cast "400" hood emblems eliminated,
and "Ram Air" or "Ram Air IV" stickers would grace the hood scoops. Unfortunately, this simple alteration required a production line change. A hood slated
to be installed on a Ram Air Firebird would not have holes punched for the "400" emblems, and Pontiac had to do some manual cutting (via a reciprocating
saw) of the underhood bracing on the passenger side of each Firebird Ram Air hood in order to allow the upper foam seal to mate properly against the hood.
With "Ram Air" or "Ram Air IV" stickers applied to the hoods of Ram Air equipped 1969 GTO's and Firebird 400's, owners could proudly proclaim their
Pontiac had Ram Air.
But before Pontiac had the idea of using sticker callouts on the hood to announce their Ram Air setup, there was a little known experiment that Pontiac
Engineers and the Pontiac Styling Department came up with that not many people know about....
Back in 2006, an E-Bay ad appeared listing strange die-cast "Ram Air" emblems. These emblems appeared to be in the
same font and style as the "400" hood emblems used on the 1967-1969 Firebird 400's, yet no one seemed to know
anything about them. Pontiac website forums were quickly buzzing with all sorts of theories. It was suggested these
emblems were made by an enthusiast back in the 1970's, others thought that perhaps an aftermarket company made
these emblems in the late 1960's. No one knew for sure, and the emblems remained a mystery. But one gentlemen
named Mike Ornellas thought otherwise, and bought the emblems off the E-Bay seller. The seller claimed to have had
an uncle who worked in Pontiac Research & Development back around 1968, and claimed that the engineers made a
few sets of die-cast Ram Air emblems for the upcoming 1969 Firebird. When Pontiac opted to use Ram Air stickers
instead of die-cast emblems, this gentlemen simply bagged up the die-cast Ram Air emblems and took them home. As
with many other discarded Pontiac projects (such as the ill-fated 1972 GTO ducktail spoiler), the emblems that had
been produced were simply thrown into the parts bin. It sounded like a sea story, but then these emblems appeared
again, and even the experts were stumped.....
High Performance Pontiac Magazine ran an article on a 1968 Firebird Ram Air I wearing these same mysterious "Ram
Air" hood emblems, and noted Pontiac expert and author Thomas DeMauro remarked, "Then there were the "Ram
Air 400" emblems on the hood that we had never laid eyes on, yet looked eerily familiar. They had the
correct font and size for a Pontiac emblem, but why hadn't we seen them on other Ram Air Birds? The
owner, Don Happe of Flower Mound, Texas is researching it but after speaking with Pontiac historian
Jim Mattison, it appears that the emblem is most likely an aftermarket piece since he was unable to locate
any factory information to prove its existence."
Mike Ornellas, the gentleman that purchased the Ram Air hood emblems off E-Bay back in 2006, was kind enough to
remove one of his Ram Air emblems, and he forwarded me a few photos. The part number on the back of one of his
emblems shows 9796828. This part number does indeed exist in the 1968 Pontiac Parts Manual (printed for the new
1969 models), and is listed as a "PLATE, hood name (Ram Air)". Apparently these part numbers were only in the
1968/1969 Pontiac Parts Book, and were deleted soon after.
So yes, these truly are Pontiac emblems. It's unknown why Pontiac decided against using these hood emblems, opting
instead for Ram Air stickers, but excessive cost may have been the deciding factor.
The mysterious Ram Air emblems.
The 1968 Ram Air Firebird featured in
High Performance Pontiac Magazine
used the Ram Air hood emblems.
This 1968 Firebird appeared on E-Bay
in late 2009, wearing the controversial
"Ram Air" emblems.
Close up of the Ram Air emblem. It is unknown as to what Pontiac intended to do with
these emblems, but apparently they were intended to be used in conjunction with the
existing "400" hood emblem, as the locating pins do not line up with any factory
punched holes in the Firebird 400 hood (photo courtesy of Mike Ornellas).
On the back side of the emblem, we can see the Pontiac part number towards the left
hand side. Interesting to note that there is a third "nub" right on the "A" towards the
right hand side. It's unknown whether this was a locating pin or simply excess material
(photo courtesy of Mike Ornellas).
The Ram Air emblem installed on the hood of Mike Ornellas' 1968 Firebird (photo
courtesy of Mike Ornellas).
|1973 : The Rare 1973 GTO Ram Air System
In 1973, all GM A-body models (Chevrolet Chevelle, Buick Century, Oldsmobile Cutlass, and Pontiac Lemans) were redesigned from the ground up. While
sales were strong, not everyone liked the bigger body style. Along with the redesign, several things occurred in 1973 that seriously affected the Pontiac GTO.
Fans of open top motoring were saddened to learn that there would be no convertible A-bodies offered at all for 1973, and performance enthusiasts were
disappointed to see the GTO grow in both size and weight, yet the horsepower on the standard 455 GTO engine remained unchanged from 1972. New EPA
regulations had gone into effect for 1973 requiring new emissions devices such as the Exhaust Gas Recirculation Valve (EGR) to be installed on all passenger
vehicles to clean up the air. While the air smelled sweeter out the tailpipe, the EGR valve, along with recalibrated carburetors to lean out fuel mixtures,
hindered performance. New federal noise regulations were enacted, which not only tested vehicles at idle, but also at cruising speeds and at wide open
throttle, and new federal standards went into effect requiring a 5 mph impact-resistant front bumper, and a 2.5 mph impact-resistant rear bumper. In later
years enthusiasts would refer to the 1973 models as "the year of the bumper", as the A-bodies massive chrome bumpers appeared to "float" in front of the
nose of the car. The Firebird was now the only Pontiac left to use the revolutionary Endura bumper, a bumper that originally debuted on the 1968 GTO.
Despite all these setbacks, the new 1973 GTO still looked mean, and the new body style developed by Pontiac stood out from all the other new General
Motors A-body designs. One drawback of the GTO redesign was that the stylists could not carry over the 1971-1972 GTO style hood scoops, because the
1973 Lemans hood had an aggressive ironing board riser in the middle, tapering to a bullet point at the front. Hood scoops located at the leading edge of the
hood were not possible, so the designers resorted to a type of scoop designed back in 1945 called the "NACA" duct. The NACA duct was a low drag air
intake based on the principle that air moving across a boundary layer (in this case, the hood) would dip into the recesses of the surface area, allowing airflow
into the inlet with none of the aerodynamic losses associated with a raised hood scoop. The NACA duct had been used on cars before 1973 (most notably on
Ferrari's), but perhaps the most over-the-top application was the triple-NACA scoops used on the 1969 Shelby Mustang hood. Many automotive enthusiasts
would later refer to the 1973 GTO hood as the one with "those weird scoops that go into the hood", but in reality, the NACA scoops were (and still are) very
innovative, and are widely used in NASCAR, Formula 1, and many other forms of Motorsports today.
Underneath the unique 1973 GTO hood was some good news. While Pontiac had discontinued their 1971-1972 455 H.O. engine, a completely new engine
called the Super Duty 455 would replace the previous 1971-1972 455 H.O., and it would be available in the GTO, Lemans Sport Coupe, and Grand Am.
And more good news, an entirely new Ram Air setup was developed for these 3 models.
But just when production of the 1973 models began, things began to go very wrong for the GTO. The SD-455 engine failed its initial emission certification,
and would not go into production for several more months, and the new GTO Ram Air setup would also be delayed because it was initially reserved only for
the SD-455 powered cars. Then on November 30th, 1972, Pontiac management suddenly decided that the Ram Air system would not be available on any
GTO, Lemans Sport Coupe, or Grand Am models. Meanwhile, the SD-455 engine remained on hiatus throughout the winter of 1972-1973, even though
eager buyers had been placing orders for SD-455 powered GTO's. Then on March 19th, 1973 a Pontiac memo announced that the SD-455 engine would be
cancelled for the GTO, Lemans Sport Coupe, and Grand Am, without Pontiac having produced a single unit. To add insult to injury, this same memo that
killed all hopes of a SD-455 GTO or Grand Am announced that the SD-455 engine would be available for the 1973 Firebird Formula and Trans Am, as soon
as the engine passed emission certification. If this wasn't sad enough news for buyers that had waited months for an SD-455 GTO, a car that would never be
built, CARS Magazine had tested a prototype 1973 GTO SD-455, and in their April 1973 issue, awarded it the honor of "Performance Car Of The Year".
They even made direct references to the GTO's optional Ram Air setup, the SD-455 engine, and the availability of an M-20 4-speed transmission. Sadly, if
readers were to visit their local Pontiac dealer immediately after reading that CARS Magazine article, they would discover that the SD-455 had been cancelled
for the GTO, the Ram Air setup was not available as a production option, and the M-20 manual transmission would only be available on the 400 cubic inch
GTO and Grand Am.
In the end, the very few Ram Air setups that were produced for the GTO and Grand Am were released into the Pontiac Parts bins. An estimated 10-12 Ram
Air setups were reportedly sold over-the-counter through the Pontiac Parts Department.
The 1968 Pontiac Parts Manual with a highlight on the Ram Air emblems. Interesting that
these emblems were listed as a "PLATE", when "EMBLEM" appears just above it.
The 1973 GTO Ram Air setup did not resemble the previous
Ram Air setups used on the 1969-1970 GTO's, or the next
generation system that appeared on the 1971-1972 GTO's.
The 1973 Ram Air system was quite unique (photo courtesy
Viewed from underneath, the 1973 GTO Ram Air setup
appears similar to the system used on the 1970-1972
Trans Am's, but the 1973 unit used a single solenoid
(rather than the dual solenoids found on the Trans
Am) to open a trap door to allow cool outside air to
enter the air cleaner (photo courtesy Horst Fiedler).)
This is an example of a 1973 GTO with the production
non- functional hood scoops. For Ram Air, the backing
plates (lighter areas) would have been removed. An
obvious issue with this setup would have been
unnecessary water accumulation into the scoops while
the car was stationary.
In its intended form, the factory 1973 GTO Ram Air setup would have been
quite effective. On the outside of the car however, the scoops could not be
seen in the car's profile. Hood scoop bulges had been a trademark of all
GTO's since 1964 (photo courtesy Horst Fiedler).)
The 1973 GTO Ram Air setup would have used a standard 14" x 3" air filter.
Noise levels would have been very low at idle, as air would have arrived at the
carburetor via the air cleaner's single snorkel breather. Rumors have circulated
for years that the reason this setup was cancelled was due to new federal
noise standards, but in reality it was a cost issue. Functional Ram Air was
available on the 1970-1974 Firebird Formulas, and the Formulas used two
large forward facing scoops located at the leading edge of the hood, so noise
regulations were obviously not a factor in the cancellation of the 1973 GTO
Ram Air setup (photo courtesy Horst Fiedler).
From the 1974 Pontiac Parts Manual, this page shows the various pieces required to install a
1973 GTO Ram Air setup. Note that some of the 1973 parts were carried over into the 1974
shaker hood scoop design (photo courtesy Horst Fiedler).
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