MUSCLE CAR REWIND
Ram-air pair of 400-inchers!
It took a couple of months and two issues to pull it off, but the Ram-Air GTOFirebird comparison that Hot Rod magazine promoted on the cover of its Feb. 1968 issue did finally take place.
Back in those days, covers and other color pages went to press ahead of the rest of the magazine. That meant editors were often best-guessing their cover blurbs, hoping all those stories would actually wind up in the issue. In this case (as explained in an “Editor’s Note” in that issue), the “god of the road test schedule . . . nailed us in the eyes” and delayed the arrival of the Firebird. So Eric Dahlquist evaluated the GTO in that issue (“Class With a Capital GTO”) and followed up with a Firebird review in the March issue (“On the Tiger’s Tail”).
The totally redesigned GTO was “what used to be called an automobile,” Dahlquist wrote, “a lithe, fun-to-drive machine to zoom along lonely, twisting roads with. To come down to Hollywood Boulevard with on Friday nights. Or to the drags with and be competitive because the GTO runs—even burdened by the smog package.”
In a conversation with a Chevelle SS396 owner he encounters cruising Van Nuys Boulevard, Dahlquist says the GTO turns “ninety-nine at Irwindale.”
“Boss,” says the Chevelle owner, idling away. Turn the page and the spec chart confirms that the 400-inch, 350hp/445–lb-ft ram-air engine, running through a four-speed manual, hit 99 mph in 14.25 seconds. Dahlquist was fudging a bit with the Chevy owner, though, as in the story he admits to adding 7-inch-wide Casler cheater slicks to get the car quicker than mid-14s. But the motor was “stock” in that
“The GTO runs—even burdened by the smog package” “The Firebird has a lot to say for itself— especially as a racer”
the smog equipment was still attached, even if the power steering belt and alternator weren’t.
That was in December 1967. He was back at Irwindale a month later with the Firebird, its ram-air 400 rated at 330 hp and 430 lb-ft. A quick scan of the chart turns up a 13.62-second/106.38-mph quarter-mile.
Some of that could be attributed to the car’s 4.11 gears, though Dahlquist figured the Firebird’s 200-pound weight advantage made that even.
The Firebird likely did get some launch assist from the aftermarket Mr. Gasket traction bars Dahlquist is pictured installing.
But it sounded like the big difference was underhood. Per a Pontiac service bulletin, a vacuum line on the right side of the carburetor “that renders ineffective a retard device on the distributor” was removed from both the GTO and Firebird. “Doing this immediately gave the engine a shot in the arm,” said Dahlquist of the GTO, which saw its trap speed rise to 101.12.
For the Firebird, Royal Pontiac’s Milt Schornack offered timing advice; and a “small tab on the throttle shaft which actuates the secondaries” was bent back so they could open completely.
“Both cars are the soul of consistency, making run after run, never overheating, no theatrics—just even tempered competition machines you don’t have to spend hours flogging to keep tuned,” said Dahlquist.
Did he have a favorite? “The GTO would probably win out but more on family considerations than anything else. For a young stud or the guy with two machines, the Firebird has a lot to say for itself—especially as a racer. The average drive-in honcho wants nothing to do with it. You know the only way out of this is to have both—then you can run yourself for the trophy.”