Sorting through Pontiac’s Ram Air engine production


From the 421 Super Duty to the 389 High Output, Pontiac Motor Division developed some of the most infamous high-performance engine programs among the Big Three during the muscle car era.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2018/01/09/sorting-pontiac-ram-air-engines


There is a lot wrong with this article.

There never was a 389 HO, and no 1964 GTO engine was rated at 340 horsepower.

There was no 400 HO for the 1967 Firebird, and no Firebird through 1969 was rated at anything more than 345 horsepower.

And there’s more. You guys can do better.


@diegorosenberg Thanks for pointing this out and yes, we strive to get things right the first time. We’ve updated the story and I hope it’s correct now.


You say you updated the story and made corrections, but you have not. How about actually fixing mistakes before claiming that you have?

The article reads like it was written by someone with little more than a passing interest in Pontiacs. Any true Pontiac enthusiast will see multiple factual errors in the article, as Diego has mentioned. But clearly the author has no “feel” for this subject matter(Pontiacs). For example: “The term “Ram Air” first showed up in Pontiac sales brochures in 1968 as the highest-optioned engine for GTOs and were essentially the same as the 400 H.O. engine from 1967. Pontiac purists consider these to be the first Ram Air equipped cars—not Ram Air I, but simply Ram Air, with no numbers.” Garbage! Pontiac purists consider the 1966 XS block GTO as the first “factory” Ram Air cars.


The XS block equipped 389 4-speed 1966 GTO’s of late 1966, were the first factory ram air cars. In 1967 the GTO had a factory ram air engine option, that did appear in all of the sales brochures that year. The block code was also XS for the federal 4-speed cars. This was not the same engine as the 400 H.O. but the horsepower was rated the same. It had a different camshaft in it, along with better valve springs, and came with a ram air pan style air cleaner assembly, and the hood scoop was opened up. They also had higher ratio rear end gears in them. It was simply called “Ram Air” in 1967. This engine was also available as the top performance engine in the 1967 Firebird. They also had the “Ram Air” engine available as the top 400 performance engine option, for the first half of the 1968 model year. Then they came out with the “Ram Air 2” engine mid way through the 1968 model year. Also the 400 cubic inch engine block was bored .060 inches bigger than the 389.


The best thing to me here is that the article EXISTS. Part of the fun of this hobby is nit-picking and learning. A typo of 340 vs 348 is pretty easy. To me, “HO” means “HO cam” ie the “068” cam. But almost as important are the HO Exhaust manifolds (which the 389 gto did not have!). Each of these are worth nearly 10hp so it’s fair to say a true “HO” should have both, just like the big car HO engines had. IN GENERAL, that is.

In that sense the article does a decent job of covering the most often neglected aspect of these engines- at least the part I knew the least about until lately – the variety of exhaust manifolds and how much difference they made. Most dyno tests and NHRA racers go right to steel tube headers, so the performance of exhaust iron is not discussed enough. I’m getting the impression that the A-body (GTO) style HO & ram air exhaust iron are about the equal of the B/F-Body (Catalina/Firebird) HO&RA exhaust iron, but that is very subtle to sort out. The base (and 389gto) exhaust iron doesn’t seem to be nearly as good.

Then again, to me, “RA” means the “744” cam (and cold air of course). Near as I can figure, Pontiac only used the 744 cam with Ram Air. But they also used the 068 cam with Ram Air. For that matter, “HO” usually meant the 068 cam, but at times the smaller “067” cam went into an engine called “HO”. The monikers are still so confusing I tend to move past what they were “called” and just want to know, what heads and exhaust iron were on it, what cam was in there, and did it have cold air or not.

I’m actually NOT a Pontiac guy, never had one, but admire what they did in the 1960s for street combinations. But I do have more than a passing interest. I thought Ford had a lot of combinations – their stuff seems simple compared to Pontiac! Well maybe not if you consider that FoMoCo had FOUR different big blocks (Lincoln Y, MEL, FE, Lima) in the years that Pontiac had their big block, or block. Let the confusion continue!


I modified a '64 Lemans hood by putting a RA hood scoop from a 65-66 GTO on it for my '64 GTO to add air to my tri-pwr.