Greg Teeters' 1970 1/2 Trans Am makes good use of its available 530 horsepower, thanks to a one-of-a-kind 488 cubic-inch, aluminum block, Ram Air V engine. To say this one is rare is a gigantic understatement.
Unobtainium: (Noun) A facetious term used in automotive circles to describe any part that is almost impossible to obtain.
It seems that in the 40-plus years since the legendary Pontiac Ram
Air V came and went, more of these mythical beasts have been sighted recently than at any time in the past. We find that fact amazing, considering that the engine never went into series production and was only available through the dealer parts network. Somewhere between 80 and 200 engines were built and a good share of them were destroyed in racing or unceremoniously scrapped by the factory.
With the odds very much against them, a handful of very dedicated enthusiasts have pooled the very limited supply of available parts together and actually succeeded in the difficult, time-consuming, and expensive pursuit of building complete, running Ram Air Vs. We have even chronicled several tunnel-port-powered machines in the past few years, including Tom Schlauch's '69 Trans Am 303 R/A-V short-deck stroker, Chuck Henley's "Ray Faro Pontiac" '69 Ram Air V Judge, and Jim Pickett's Ram Air V-powered '61 Tempest wagon, to name just a few.
Greg Teeters' 1970 1/2 Ram Air V Trans Am is a little different, a rarity among rarities, if you will. Greg is a guy who likes a challenge, and after several GTO Judge restoration projects, he was looking for a new one. Most people embark on easier pursuits, like atom-splitting or climbing Mount Everest, but Greg decided that a Ram Air V project would be perfect.
As most of you know, the Ram Air V program was a stillborn effort by Pontiac to work around GM's anti-racing ban, offering privateer racers an engine competitive with Chevy's Mark IV V-8 and Chrysler's infamous Hemi. The plan was to introduce a high-revving, ultra-heavy-duty Pontiac V-8 with a forged bottom end and a set of heads copied largely from the 427 Tunnel Port Ford. Using such huge ports necessitated several changes, such as a revised valve layout, pushrod tubes going through the middle of the ports, and of course, a specific camshaft, as well as intake and exhaust manifolds.
The plan was a success, and though it wasn't a great street engine, those few that were raced did very well, putting full-bodied GTOs into the low 12s-not bad for a 400 cubic-incher. Though it was supposed to result in production Ram Air V GTOs and Firebirds, ultimately management killed off the project because of the tightening emission and safety regulations, as well as backlash from the insurance companies. The engines that were built ended up going through the parts network for dealer installation. Yet another opportunity to put Pontiac at the top of the heap in the horsepower wars was crushed.
Going On A Diet
In Greg's case, it wasn't enough to build a Ram Air V engine that would resemble a factory installation. It's been done, so he wanted something a bit different. The recipe for his project included a very special piece from a later Pontiac development program, namely the 455 Super-Duty.
In 1972, Pontiac Special Projects worked with Reynolds Metals and Sevakis Industries, a Detroit-area firm that did the machining on the aluminum Chevy Can Am 430 program. Using a high-silicon Reynolds 390 aluminum, the block was cast from a special mold and featured a beefed-up lifter-bore area, siamesed cylinder bores, 3-inch mains with splayed bolt caps and dry-sump provisions. Like the Chevys, they were designed to run sleeveless-the pistons rode directly on the aluminum.
The block was intended to put Pontiac back on the map in the gas, dragster, and Funny Car classes, most likely topped off by modified 455 Super-Duty or Ram Air V heads. With a stock 4.21-inch Pontiac 455 crank, the displacement could reach 507 cubic inches, using the maximum-recommended bore size of 4.375 inches. Even with the beefy iron main caps, the total unit weight comes in at just 94 pounds, more than 100 pounds lighter than a factory iron block.
Here's what all the commotion is about: 488 cubic inches of aluminum-blocked Ram Air V pow
With the shaker scoop off, one gets a clearer view of the Ram Air V engine. Most obvious c
The machine work and distribution was to be handled by Sevakis, technically keeping Pontiac out of the crosshairs of the GM Corporate brass. Chevrolet could, of course, run its own Sevakis-machined block through its parts network, but that's another story altogether.
With a price tag of $2,000 for a complete block with main caps back in '72-'73, they were far too expensive to be commercially viable. That was a serious chunk of change back then, about $10,000 in today's money, according to the Consumer Price Index inflation calendar.
About 10 blocks made it out of the factory before the program ended. According to Alex Hiller, a former Pontiac prototype technician, approximately 100 of these blocks were cast at the factory, though most were scrapped due to cracking of bores and mains during testing. Head sealing was also a problem, particularly with the larger bore sizes. A racing boat engine he built using the same block came apart in a similar fashion. Former Pontiac Special Projects Engineer Tom Nell confirmed that 10 blocks made their way to Sevakis before Special Projects was closed down. He lost track of them after that and ended up leaving Pontiac altogether, opening a successful bike shop in the suburban Detroit area.
It doesn't appear that Sevakis actually delivered more than one or two finished blocks to customers, as at least six unmachined units have popped up over the years. A fully-prepped block was pictured in an Aug. '72 Car Craft article, however.
Greg managed to hunt down one of those unmachined blocks (casting date January 7, 1972) and purchased it from Pontiac Heaven's Steve Barcak. It was in exactly the same shape as when it was popped out of the mold, so it was sent to Kauffman Racing Equipment, who fully machined the block, which was then treated to a special salt bath to preserve the aluminum. The bores were sleeved to a final bore size of 4.155 inches. The sleeves actually correct the majority of the cracking problems originally experienced during testing, as the cracks generally originated in the bore area and quickly spread.
Meanwhile, Greg found a Ram Air V-headed 455 Super-Duty originally built by Bill Foder. It was on eBay and coincidentally, just a few miles from his house. It was complete, and in lieu of a factory intake, was topped off with a steel tubing Wenzler Ram Air V tunnel ram.
The interior remains factory, down to the low-back bucket seats and Formula wheel. Metalli
DS 1001 casting number identifies it as a late prototype piece-a factory casting number wo
He won the auction, brought it home, and disassembled it. The SD block and intake went back on eBay and the aluminum block, Ram Air V heads, and the rest of the componentry liberated from the eBay engine were sent to noted Chicago-area Pontiac racer Rick "No Sponsor" Johnson, who handled the
building of this unique Pontiac powerplant.
The engine that emerged from Rick's shop is a true one-of-a-kind, featuring some of the rarest castings ever to come from Pontiac. The block was filled with a set of Diamond custom 4.155-inch, 10:1 forged pistons with a 24cc dish. Total Seal rings were used, file-fit to each piston. They swing on Eagle H-Beam 6.700-inch 4340 rods with 2.200-inch rod journals and a Crower billet 4.5-inch stroker crankshaft with 3-inch main journals.
Federal Mogul bearings were used throughout. Additionally, a 60psi Melling oil pump and a Canton street/strip oil pan keep the lubricant under control. Total displacement checks in at 488 ci.
The casting No. 44 Ram Air V heads are unported, as they flow almost too much in stock form. They were rebuilt by Rick, using 11/32-inch stem REV tuliped, stainless steel valves, measuring 2.19 inches for the intake and 1.73 inches for the exhaust, the stock Ram Air V valve diameters.
These valves are actuated by a Comp Cams solid-lifter camshaft with 274/274 degrees duration at 0.050-inch lift and 0.675-inch lift with Crane Gold 1.65:1 rocker arms. It is ground on a 112-degree lobe separation.
Lunati roller rockers and Comp Cams springs, retainers, and locks are used in conjunction with custom-made Trend 3/8-inch, 0.080-inch wall, 9.500-inch pushrods. Rick admits that the cam is a little too big for the lower-compression ratio, but Greg had the camshaft already and he loves the racy idle.
As mentioned, the Wenzler tunnel ram was sold off, as it wasn't right for the engine build. The heads are now topped off by a factory Ram Air V dual-plane intake, which Greg purchased from The Parts Place.
With the insane level of rarity and prices for some of the original Ram Air V accessories, such as carburetors, distributors, and exhaust manifolds, Greg wisely turned to the aftermarket for more up-to-date and better-performing componentry. For example, a box-stock 780 Holley works just as well as the original, albeit, without the correct Ram Air V stampings. Rather than spend enough money for a new Kia on a factory Ram Air V distributor, Greg opted for a more accurate MSD Pro-Billet ignition system with a 6AL box.
He also passed on trying to find a set of factory Ram Air V manifolds for his engine, wisely choosing to go with a set of custom headers, fabricated by Mike Maddox. They feature 2-inch primaries and 3-inch collectors and feed a custom 2.5-inch dual exhaust system featuring Flowmaster mufflers.
The resulting power level is very impressive-530 horses at 6,200 rpm, with 523 lb-ft of torque at 3,500. Sure, it's possible to come out with that level of power with a less exotic engine, but that wow factor is what makes an engine like this so special.
When it came time to find a car for this unique powerplant, the decision to move away from the GTO Judges he was so familiar with was bolstered by the handling advantage that having 100 pounds less on the nose would bring to a Trans Am. After searching for an early Second-Generation Firebird, he happened on this 68,000-mile original example in December 2008 on, you guessed it, eBay. It was in very good original condition, but the factory-installed engine was long-gone, making it a perfect recipient for this exotic piece of Pontiac history. It did still have its original Muncie M20 four-speed and 12-bolt rearend with 3.55 Safe-T-Track gearing. The winning bid came in at $22,000 and Greg was an owner.
The engine was subsequently swapped in, along with a Centerforce II 11-inch clutch, and the Trans Am was repainted in its original Polar White with reproduction stripes from Stencils and Stripes. Its interior was still in very good original condition so it was left alone.
Greg Teeters' '70 1/2 Trans Am is yet another one of those vehicles that gives us a glimpse of what might have been. It also shows the level of determination that Pontiac's engineers had back then, pushing against a seemingly endless gauntlet of corporate red tape and politics to achieve excellence for Pontiac in spite of itself. Forty years later, the end result of GM's corporate gauntlet came home to roost big time-and Greg Teeters keeps on driving . . .
The author wishes to thank Ken Crocie, Alex Hiller, Rick Johnson, Tom Nell, and Tom Schlauch for their help with the preparation of this article.
The classic lines of the '70-'81 Firebird remain one of GM's most iconic shapes. Then, as
This view of the lifter galley shows the liberal amount of reinforcement around the bores
Unobtanium times two: Greg holds up his second aluminum Pontiac-Sevakis block, which weigh