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Thread: Ram Air three -- and that's all!

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Jul 2006
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    Ram Air three -- and that's all!

    Ram Air three -- and that's all
    By Eric Peters
    for immediate release

    Jack Loria of McLean, Va. is one of those lucky car guys. He doesn't find ZL-1s or Yenko Super Camaros in some old farmer's barn -- but it's pretty close. One of Jack's finds is an all-original, never molested (or rusted out) 1970 Firebird Formula in Coronado Gold. He happened upon it in the classifieds, two weeks before Christmas a few years back -- and paid a used Corolla price for a piece of history.

    Because this is not just any 1970 Formula. But first, some background on the 1970 'Birds.

    The inaugural year for the second generation Firebird is considered especially desirable because the shape was clean, the power high and the total production relatively low -- especially of the two performance version of the Firebird, the Formula and the Trans-Am. According to Pontiac authority Michael Lamm, just 7,708 Formulas were made during the entire 1970 model run.

    But Jack's car is just a bit more uncommon than that.

    After getting it home and running the VIN through Pontiac Historic Services -- which authenticates classic-era Pontiacs and helps owners to verify/break down production codes and so forth -- Jack discovered his Formula was one of exactly 15 ever built with the following equipment:

    * 10.75:1 compression Ram Air III 400 V-8 (an upgrade over the standard Formula's lower compression 400)
    * 12-bolt HD axle with limited slip
    * Functional Ram Air scoop/air cleaner assembly
    * three-speed close ratio manual transmission

    And that's all.

    This car doesn't even have the 15-inch steel Rally II wheels that just about every Formula and Trans-Am came with. After all, what performance enthusiast would not want the larger wheel/tire combo? Well, apparently not the guy who ordered this car. It has the base model's 14-inch stamped steel wheels -- and dog dish trim caps. The same combo you'd find on a straight-six base model Esprit -- certainly not what you'd expect to find on a 335-hp RA III Formula.

    It gets more interesting.

    The stripped-down 'Bird doesn't have the 4-speed gearbox, either -- another key to its incredible rarity. Quite literally almost every Formula (and all Trans-Ams) built in 1970 was fitted with either the 4-speed Muncie (wide or close ratio) manual transmission or the heavy-duty THM400 three-speed automatic. Jack's car is one of only 15 to come with the three-speed manual. It's on the Pontiac list of standard equipment for the Formula, but pretty much everyone spent a few extra buck to get the 4-speed. Especially buyers who ordered the optional Ram Air III engine.

    There's no floor console, either -- just the long arm of the chrome Hurst shifter standing tall on the driveshaft hump.

    Also absent: The Rally Pack gauge cluster -- so no tach, no oil pressure or water temp. gauges. Just the standard stack of idiot lights -- and a 160-mph speedo.

    The original purchaser didn't even spring for recessed wipers. There's no rear "whale tail" spoiler, either.

    Though Jack doesn't know for certain, he believes the guy who ordered the car intended to drag race it. This would explain the absence of any weight adding, expense-increasing options -- as well as the choice of the three-speed gearbox.

    The Firebird would be at the top of third by the end of the quarter mile -- so who needs the extra gear?

    And it explains why the one option (other than the hairy RA III 400) the original purchaser did spring for is the functional Ram Air induction system -- which consists of a twin-snorkle air cleaner with rubber boots on the upper side of the snorkles that seal up against the Formula's standard fiberglass twin-scoop hood. Normally, the scoops are just for looks -- but if you paid extra for the Ram Air system, these were opened up, connected to the air cleaner -- and supposedly worth an extra 5-10 horsepower compared with the standard system with nonfunctional scoops.

    The Formulas' system differed from the Trans-Am's solenoid-activated "shaker" scoop -- which had a trap door that flopped open when the accelerator was jammed to the floorboard -- but the purpose (and effect) was similar.

    Cars that had functional ram air also got "Ram Air" decals for the sides of the scoops -- and these are indeed on Jack's Formula. Still, the overall appearance of the car is so beguiling that many a hapless victim has been suckered. With those dog dish hubcaps and not even a rear spoiler, it's incredibly easy to mistake this car for a base 'Bird that someone thought would look good with a Formula hood.

    But making that assumption can be a lethal mistake.

    A 1970 Trans-Am with the same engine and more weight to carry (a result of its higher trim content) was, in the words of Car and Driver magazine, "a hard-muscled, lightning reflexed commando of a car" capable of low 14-second passes in street stock trim. Jack's all-business Formula is likely a couple tenths quicker than that. The only problem facing the pilot is keeping the beak pointed in the right direction. With 430-lbs.-ft. of torque pouring off the crank, it takes an experienced hand to keep those 14-inchers out back from breaking loose in a helpless spasm of tire-spinning fury. The key to doing it right is rolling it out easy until the speed builds a little -- then dropping the hammer hard at about 15-mph. This gives the skinny bias-belted tires a chance to bite -- at least enough that the car remains somewhat controllable.Then it's just a matter of hanging on and watching the needle rise to the land of the triple digits.

    Since acquiring the rare 'Bird about seven years ago, Jack has kept it garaged -- and stone stock. Other than degreasing/detailing the mighty Ram Air III engine -- one of the very last high-compression Pontiac V-8s -- and performing a much-needed rebuild of the stock brake system, it remains as ordered amost 35 years ago.

    If anything, it's more of a sleeper today than it was back then -- because few "Fast and Furious" types under 25 even know what a Ram Air III Formula is. And most equate a fart can hanging off the bumper of a ten-year-old Civic with "high performance" -- not the lopey rumble of a big-inch V-8.

    One look at this unassuming old car with its antique plates and skinny tires is enough to give the teenage rice rocket jockey the beer muscles.

    But watch his eyes bug out as the 'Bird does a "rolling burnout" from 20-mph -- without any help from the bottle.


  2. #2
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    Feb 2007

    Re: Ram Air three -- and that's all!

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