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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.”

“What gear?”


“Pure stock?”


“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.”

By Drew Hardin Photos: Eric Rick­man, Petersen Pub­lish­ing Co. Ar­chive

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