Arriving late to the pony car party, four-plus months behind the Chevrolet Camaro and the Mercury Cougar, Pontiac’s Firebird faced the potential of an identity crisis. To ensure that the Firebird remained memorable to performance-oriented consumers, Pontiac offered five distinct versions, including the range-topping (for 1967 ½) Firebird 400, available with the optional Ram Air induction package. In 1968, Pontiac improved the performance of this package, introducing the L-67 Ram Air II as a mid-year option. Now a sought-after collectible, a 1968 Pontiac Firebird 400 Ram Air II with a four-owner history and less than 63,000 miles on the odometer will cross the block on November 19, at Mecum’s Anaheim, California, sale.
When Pontiac rolled out the Ram Air package for the first-year Firebird, it was rated at 325 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque. Astute Pontiac devotees will point out that a same-year GTO ordered with the 400-cu.in. Ram Air engine received a rating of 350 horsepower from the same engine. Was the Firebird just deliberately under-rated?
Not exactly. Thanks to a GM corporate edict that restricted weight and horsepower to a 10:1 ratio, the 3,250-pound Firebird couldn’t produce more than 325 horsepower, while the 3,600-pound GTO was allowed 360. Both Ram Air 400 engines were largely the same, except that the Firebird’s throttle linkage contained a tab that restricted movement, allowing the carburetor’s secondaries to open no more than 90-percent. Changing the linkage, or cutting off the tab, resulted in a net gain of roughly 35 horsepower, a trick that didn’t take long for buyers to learn.
For 1968, Pontiac improved the Ram Air package by revising the cylinder heads with round exhaust ports; adding new exhaust manifolds; installing a hotter cam (in four-speed cars); stiffening the valve springs; enlarging the pushrods; adding forged pistons and a stronger crankshaft; and modifying the distributor curve. Debuting in June 1968, the Ram Air II package increased rated output to 340 horsepower and 430 pound-feet of torque. As with previous-year cars, a few minutes with a cutting wheel would result in a higher output, this time reaching 366 horsepower.
Most Firebird 400s, particularly those with the four-speed Muncie M21 transmission, were ordered with bucket seats. Savvy shoppers knew that the front bench weighed a few pounds less, so the hot setup was to order the bench with the highest-output engine. As Tom DeMauro explained in an April 2015 Hemmings Muscle Machines article, those preferring the automatic for drag racing also chose the column-mounted shifter, as it was lighter than the console version. Deleting the radio saved a further nine pounds.
The 1968 Pontiac Firebird 400 Ram Air II to be sold in Anaheim, VIN 223378L107568, was said to have been extensively restored (including removal of the subframe) in 2004, and has been driven a mere 600 miles since (though it isn’t clear how many of these miles were added in 1/4 mile increments). The car is said to retain its original L-67 V-8, Code 96 cylinder heads and exhaust manifolds, while the Safe-T-Track differential with 3.90:1 gearing is said to be correct for the car.
Mecum isn’t providing a pre-auction estimate for the Firebird, but the auction house handled the car the last time it traded hands in 2014. At that year’s Indianapolis sale, the rare Ram Air II Pontiac was sold for a hammer price of $150,000 ($162,000 with buyer’s fees), against a pre-auction estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. We’d expect at least a similar performance this time around.
Mecum’s Anaheim sale will take place from November 17-19 at the Anaheim Convention Center. For additional information, visit Mecum.com.
Article courtesy of Hemmings Daily, written by Kurt Ernst.