Pontiac’s legendary Ram-Air V program was perhaps the most celebrated engine that almost was. From its inception in the late ’60s, the engine was seen by both engineers and fans as the design that could have put Pontiac back on the top of the musclecar performance heap. With the 426 Hemi, 440 Six-Pak, Boss 429 Ford, and 427-454 Chevys providing serious competition to the top-dog 400 Ram-Air IV, engineers knew that something had to be done.

Taking a page from the FE Ford 427 Tunnel Port engine design, Pontiac en-–gineers adapted the general intake-port design and coupled it with the existing Ram-Air IV exhaust port and a new wedge-type combustion chamber. Dimensionally, the Ford and Pontiac V-8s were quite similar, so the adaptation was not too difficult for Pontiac engineers.

The first thing one notices when inspecting a Ram-Air V head is the size and shape of the intake ports. In a word, they are huge. Port volumes are in the 350cc range and their oval shape is so large that the pushrods go right through the centers of the intake ports—there is nowhere else for them to go. This shoehorning of the ports requires a revised valve placement. Instead of the familiar EIIEEIIE design, engineers used an EIEIIEIE pattern, which spaces both intake and exhaust valves equally—no more paired intake ports and siamesed exhaust ports here. While it didn’t change the firing order, it did necessitate the use of a specific camshaft with a corresponding lobe placement.

The intention was to build a total of four different versions of the Ram-Air V, including a 303ci short-deck version for SCCA Trans Am, a 366ci version for NASCAR, a 400 for street use, and a 428 for drag racing. With horsepower estimated at approximately 475 for the 400 and about 525 for the 428 versions, the Ram-Air V would have literally rewritten musclecar history, if of course, buyers didn’t mind a cold intake manifold, a complete loss of bottom end torque, and single-digit gas mileage. The truth was, the ports were too large for street use in anything smaller than about 480 ci.

In fact, a variety of factors killed it off, including the ’70 Clean Air Act and rapidly rising insurance rates. And with the departure of General Manager John Z. DeLorean, the engine no longer had a champion in upper management. The complete engines that were built—as well as the various parts, such as heads, intakes, camshafts, and other items—were sent into the parts network. It’s estimated that somewhere between 80 to 200 complete engines were built, as well as an unknown number of heads and intakes.

As one would imagine, the supply of Ram-Air V hardware quickly dried up, driving up prices to a near stratospheric level. As it stands right now, there aren’t enough loose original parts in existence to make up more than perhaps 8-10 Ram-Air V-headed engines. This is not even counting the use of ultra-rare Ram-Air V-specific blocks, distributors, harmonic balancers, or exhaust manifolds.

Today, though, unobtanium is now readily available. Thanks to the efforts of veteran NHRA racer Lynn McCarty, the Ram-Air V’s tunnel-ported heart is once again beating. He has spent the last five years developing a reproduction aluminum Ram-Air V cylinder head, as well as two different intake manifolds. These new parts are not only a financially viable option for a Pontiac-engine builder looking for something different, they also feature 21st-century design enhancements.

“I’ve been a fan of the Ram-Air Vs since the early ’80s,” McCarty recalled. “My brother Stacy and I built a ’69 Trans Am clone for A/MP with a 440ci tunnel-port Ram-Air V that clocked 9.40s at 146 mph in the quarter at 3,450 pounds and shifted at 9,000-plus rpm.”