Pontiac Performance – Muscle Car Of The Week Episode 368
Pontiac built some serious performance machines over the years, and today, we’re taking a look at 10 cool elements that made Pontiac a high performance division of GM.
421 Engine – Antlocer Racer
Pontiac built some great factory race engines, like the Super Duty 421 in ‘62 and ‘63. This beast was a purpose-built drag race plant loaded with forged crank, forged pistons, forged rods, and a heavy duty oiling system with an 8 quart pan. A 308 / 320 intake & exhaust duration cam with solid lifters and 68 cc, 11:1 compression large valve heads moved tons of air through the dual Carter 4-barrel carbs. The result? Mid 12-second quarter mile times in race-prepped Catalinas, or high 11’s in lightweight, F/X class Tempests, like this one driven by Stan Antlocer. The SD 421 paved the way for more than a decade of Pontiac Performance V8s.
1969 Trans Am Convertible
Next up, the New for 1969 Trans Am…. a car named after the super popular road racing series with the same name. And to commemorate the series, Pontiac built an awesome Firebird loaded up with performance goodies and style for miles. But perhaps the pinnacle of Pontiac rarities are the 1969 Trans Am convertibles… as the total production can be counted on one hand with and a few toes!
Next, we’ve got a really rare option that’s a lot of fun… the Humbler exhaust! This was a remote-controlled muffler cutout factory installed on less than 140 1970 GTOs, and it gave your Goat a split personality when you wanted to turn it up, like at the burger stand, apparently. And this actual GTO from the commercial is currently being restored for an unveiling at the 2020 Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals show in Chicago… too cool!
1974 455 SD Engine
While many people believed 1973 and 1974 were on the downward spiral of Muscle Car performance, Pontiac held on with a very special engine… the 1973 and 1974 Super Duty 455. SD455s were only available in 73 and 74 Formula Firebird and Firebird Trans AMs, and featured specs normally associated with custom built race engines.
Our next cool Pontiac trait is probably the most common on this list… the limited-slip Safe-T-Track rear differential. While a differential might not seem that exciting, the Safe-T-Track was designed to provide traction to the opposite wheel if one slipped in mud or loose gravel… but it also provided for 2-legged traction when installed behind high-horsepower Pontiac V8s! It’s kind of an unsung hero at stoplight drags since its introduction in 1967.
1957 Fuel Injection
Back in 1956, Pontiac division head Bunkie Knudsen said “You can sell a young man’s car to an old man, but you can’t sell an old man’s car to a young man.” The mission was clear… turn Pontiac into a Young Mans’ car division, and do it with speed and style.
The result was the amazing machine we see here… the new for 1957 Pontiac Bonneville, and all 630 ‘57 Bonneville convertibles were powered by an advanced 347 cubic inch V8 fed by a mechanical fuel injection system similar to the Rochester unit used by Chevrolet.
We couldn’t compile a list of cool things Pontiac without mentioning 3 little letters that helped start the Muscle Car craze… G-T-O! The GTO arrived on the scene in ‘64 as a hopped up Tempest with a hot 389 and a 4-speed transmission, and people went nuts for ‘em!
Next up we’re celebrating the iconic Pontiac hood tachometer. This cool feature debuted in 1967, and allowed the driver to keep the eyes on the road while power shifting a Firebird or GTO to victory, without over-revving the beast along the way.
Rally II Wheels
Pontiac realized that buyers wanted to personalize their rides early on, and when they saw so many of their steel wheels and hubcaps getting ditched for aluminum and mag wheels, they did something about it with the introduction of the iconic Rally II wheel.
Ram Air IV 400 Engine
And finally, When it comes to legendary Muscle Car power plants, the Pontiac Ram Air IV is at the top of the pile. Starting with a 4-bolt, 10.5:1 compression 400 cube V8, the Ram Air IV featured the computer designed “041”camshaft, which boasted a long duration spec of 308 degrees on the intake side, and 320 degrees for exhaust, helping the Ram Air IV to exhale. Longer 1.65:1 rocker arms moved more even air. Ram Air IV heads were special, with taller intake ports and round exhaust, with a tighter combustion chamber designed to suck in lots of air and fuel and squeeze out tons of power. They had a sound all their own, and cranked out 370 HP and 445 lb-ft. of torque in 1970. Ahh yeah!
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