1969-1970 Ram Air III 400 – a Tiger of an Engine

The Pontiac 400 cubic-inch V8 engine was a big hit with Pontiac buyers when it was released for the 1967 model year. It was based on the familiar Pontiac V8 family architecture which made it reliable along with providing very good horsepower and torque numbers. Not to mention performance parts from other Pontiac V8s could be easily be bolted on or used. Though there were many iterations of the Pontiac 400 V8 found in many different Pontiac cars from 1967 to 1979, the 1969-1970 Ram Air III 400 was one of Pontiac’s best high performance V8s. Unfortunately for the Ram Air III, it played second fiddle to the 1969-1970 Ram Air IV 400 which got most of the limelight and press attention during the 1969 and 1970 model years.

The Ram Air III 400 just like all other Pontiac 400 V8s, had a 4.120 inch bore and a 3.75 inch stroke and D-port heads. The only production Pontiac 400 V8s to have round-port heads were the Ram Air II 400 and Ram Air IV 400. The Ram Air III was available with the 1969-1970 Pontiac GTO , 1969 Firebird, and 1970 Pontiac Firebird Formula when RPO code L74 was selected on the order sheet. The Ram Air III was the standard engine in the 1969-1970 Pontiac GTO Judge and the 1969-1970 Pontiac Trans Am.

The Ram Air III was rated at 335 gross horsepower and 430 lb-ft of torque in the 1969 Firebird, 1970 Firebird Formula, and 1969-1970 Trans Am and rated at 366 gross horsepower and 445 lb-ft of torque in the 1969-1970 GTO and GTO Judge. The horsepower and torque differences were on paper only, the horsepower and torque figures were the same no matter which of these vehicles the Ram Air III V8 was found. The cold hard truth was the Ram Air III’s horsepower was underrated, its actual horsepower output approached 400 gross horsepower territory. The Ram Air IV’s output was also underrated, it was factory rated at 345 horsepower and 430 lb-ft torque when found in the 1969 Firebird and 1969-1970 Trans Am. It also had a factory rating of 370 horsepower and 445 lb-ft of torque when found in the 1969-1970 GTO and the 1969-1970 GTO Judge. The Ram Air IV’s true horsepower output was a little over 400 gross horsepower. Hot Rod magazine back in 1970 test drove a Ram Air III 1970 Firebird Formula which went 0-60 mph in 6.0 seconds and the quarter mile in 14.2 seconds. As a comparison Hot Rod magazine back in 1970 obtained 13.9 seconds in the quarter mile with a Ram Air IV equipped 1970 Trans Am. These were considered great performance times for factory stock muscle cars back in the day. Pontiac had planned for an even more powerful Ram Air V 400 to be a factory option, but unfortunately this engine never made it into a Pontiac production car. However it is estimated that as many as 200 Ram Air V 400 V8 engines were produced to be sold through the Pontiac dealership network, most of these were installed by Pontiac dealers and Pontiac owners into different Pontiac models.

Since it had a cast iron intake and D-port heads the Ram Air III was much more economical for Pontiac to produce than the Ram Air IV which had an aluminum intake manifold and round-port heads. The Ram Air III was the smart choice since it was less expensive for buyers yet produced about 95% of the power of a Ram Air IV. This is why so few Ram Air IV V8s were produced. The Ram Air III like all the other Pontiac V8 engines produced from 1966-1970 was painted in Pontiac Light Blue Metallic, one of the best looking colors to grace an engine block. The Ram Air III also had chrome valve covers and a mandatory hood sourced cold air induction system just like Pontiac’s other Ram Air 400 V8s. The Ram Air III had a high-performance Quadrajet 4-barrel carburetor, free flow cast iron exhaust manifolds, a dual exhaust system, a high performance cam, a 10.5:1 compression ratio, and high-performance D-port heads.

The high-compression Ram Air III would have probably had a much longer production life had it not been for the U.S. Government unleaded fuel mandate which forced GM to lower compression ratios for the 1971 model year. The Ram Air III powered some of the most legendary muscle cars. These Ram Air powered cars may have great styling, but never would have been a big hit with muscle car buyers if they didn’t have true muscle car power under the hood. And that’s exactly what owners of these Ram Air III Pontiac muscle cars got, was a lot of performance out of their Ram Air III Pontiac muscle cars. This is the reason why today, Ram Air III equipped GTOs, GTO Judges, Firebirds, and Trans Ams are overall commanding high prices with the highest priced being excellent conditioned Ram Air III 1969 Trans Ams which currently sell for low six figure prices. Not bad considering a Ram Air III equipped Pontiac muscle car back in the day, brand new, had a sticker price of less than $4,000 unless a buyer went crazy adding on the extra factory options. Worth noting Ram Air IV equipped Pontiacs have even higher values today than Ram Air III equipped Pontiacs. As far as future collectability, factory equipped Ram Air III cars can expect to continue to rise in price. But the real fun from one of these cars isn’t the dollars it may put someday put into your bank account but the fun you will have driving a Ram Air III equipped car and listening to the beautiful sounds it makes.


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