The first Ram Air pan, created for the newly restyled 1965 GTO hood scoop, was made in
Pontiac's Engineering Department. You can see the similarity to the production unit (photo
right), but in this rough form we can see the flat piece of sheet metal used for the
baseplate verses the contoured openings of the production pan. Also note the provision to
hold the baseplate down with wing nuts, so air cleaners were not required. On the
production unit, the air cleaner lids would hold the air filter elements down (photo courtesy
of Keith Seymore).
The term "Ram Air" is synonymous with 1960's Pontiac performance. The concept was simple; route outside air to the carburetor inlet, as opposed to
ingesting hot underhood air, increasing the efficiency of an internal combustion engine. The most popular method of supplying outside air to the carburetor
inlet is by use of an air scoop. Air scoops were widely used on aircraft designs in the 1930's and 1940's, and after WWII, American automotive stylists were
influenced by new "jet age" aircraft. The addition of scoops (and various fins) in automotive designs proved quite popular, and air scoops conveyed a
"performance image". While these scoops and fins were attractive, they were (usually) non-functional.
When an automotive stylist wanted to convey the image of "performance", some sort of ornamental hood scoop was usually grafted into their design. One of
the most famous 1950's designs appeared on the 1955 Ford Thunderbird. Stylish and attractive, the T-Bird hood scoop quickly influenced American
automotive designers, and while 1955 Thunderbird hood scoop was non-functional, racers soon discovered that the scoop could be opened up to allow some
cool air to enter the engine compartment. By the early 1960's, hood scoops made their way onto many high performance cars, and several manufacturers
began offering hood scoops as an over-the-counter item for their factory sponsored drag teams. However, none of the manufacturers had yet thought of a
marketing scheme to sell an entire "fresh air intake" setup to the high performance street crowd.
Pontiac's Styling Department totally revamped the GTO for 1965, and with that redesign came a new hood, with a centrally located single hood scoop.
Pontiac Engineers quickly realized that the position of the new hood scoop, though still ornamental, was situated directly over the carburetor(s). While there
is still some controversy to this day regarding who came up with the concept of placing a bathtub shaped pan over the tri-power carburetors (Pontiac
Engineering or Milt Schornack), and using a foam seal to act as a gasket between the pan and the underside of the hood, the idea worked. Milt Schornack
spent some time at a drag strip with a Pontiac Engineer who used an elaborate series of airflow monitors and temperature probes to determine that the new
bathtub style pan garnered around 18 horsepower over the standard open element air cleaners.
What Pontiac needed was a catchy name for this setup. Whether Pontiac Engineering, Milt Schornack, or even the Marketing Department came up with the
name "Ram Air" is also a matter of debate, but the name was perfect. Ironically, there is no "ram" effect of the incoming air, as the 1965 GTO hood scoop
was situated too low on the hood, and it was much too small. But the name "Ram Air" stuck, and the rest is history.
At General Motors, a new corporate mandate was passed down in January 1963 banning the financial backing of any and all factory racing teams, and
prohibited the promotion of racing activities. The successful Chevrolet Z-11 Impala and Pontiac Super Duty 421 programs would come to an abrupt halt,
and with it came the end of the Z-11 fresh air intake system and other cold air induction systems that GM designers were working on. But when racing
activities halted, the engineering teams began looking at ways to bring cold air induction to the street. Heading into 1964, Pontiac had a surprise hit on their
hands with the new 1964 GTO. The GTO had it all; a big 389 cubic inch engine, dual exhausts, optional Tri-Power, special badging, and a pair of hood
scoops. While the GTO hood was attractive, the scoops were non-functional, and spaced far apart. Even if the scoops could be made functional, they were
too far away from the carburetor inlet to be effective. The latter point was hammered home by some automotive writers who had taken offense at Pontiac's
use of the legendary Ferrari GTO nameplate, and they claimed the Pontiac's hood scoops were a weak attempt at making the GTO appear like a serious
performance car. Well, the 1964 GTO was a serious performance car, but the phony hood scoops did not help the GTO's image much!
One of the first attempts at channeling cool air to the carburetor
was through ducting. The 1963 Chevrolet Impala Z-11 drag cars
used a large enclosed air cleaner utilizing a wide duct that
extended back to the firewall, picking up cool air from the cowl
area just in front of the windshield. This method was very effective,
and eliminated the need for an external hood scoop or any other
device that would hurt aerodynamics. Note the addition of rubber
connector between the duct and the firewall to allow for flexing
between the firewall and the engine. This setup would not be used
again by Chevrolet for several years, making an appearance on
the 1967 Z/28 prototype as well as a few production 1968 Z/28's...
In 1964, Ford released their Thunderbolt drag cars, which
used two large rubber hoses connected to an enclosed
air cleaner. Each hose ran up to a headlight bucket. Not
only did this provide plenty of cool air to the carbs, but the
setup did not have any negative impact on the car's
aerodynamics. Another benefit of this system was that
there was a mild "supercharging" effect (though
negligible) where a slight positive pressure could be
generated in the intake system at very high speeds. Drag
cars of this time period were approaching 120+ mph, so
this setup was very effective.
|Different Philosophies On Ram Air Systems
Milt Schornack, Royal Pontiac's chief mechanic, was looking for ways to increase the
performance of their 1964 Royal Pontiac GTO drag car. Schornack thought about the cold
air induction setup used on the 1963 Chevrolet Impala Z-11 race cars, where a large
rectangular hole was cut into the firewall just above the heater box, and how a sheet metal
plenum was connected from the firewall opening to the air cleaner. But the 1964 GTO did
not use an enclosed air cleaner (the 4-barrel version did, but the Tri-Power was the hot setup
for 1964), and the triple Rochester 2-bbl carbs used three small open element air cleaners.
Then one day, while working on the red 1964 GTO Royal Pontiac Team car in the Service
Department (incidentally, this was the same car used for the famous March 1964 Car &
Driver road test), Milt noticed a Tri-Power equipped full-sized Pontiac sitting in the next bay.
The big Pontiacs used a large, enclosed air cleaner that covered all three carburetors. A trip
over to the Royal Pontiac Parts Department provided Milt with one of these "big car" air
cleaners, and then a visit to a local heating and cooling supplier netted him the necessary duct
work to make his own cold air induction setup, similar to the 1963 Chevrolet Z-11 setup.
Back at the dragstrip, Milt's new cold air system proved quite effective. The 1964 GTO
picked up 1.5 mph at the end of the 1/4 mile, a very significant improvement for a highly
tuned race car. But as effective as this arrangement was, this design would remain a one-off.
Milt would take a different approach to a cold air setup when the new 1965 GTO's debuted.
The original Car And Driver 1964 survives to this day, and is in the hands
of Tenney Fairchild. This GTO is arguably one of the most valuable and
historic GTO's ever produced.
This is the section above the heater core that
Milt Schornack originally cut open for 3 individual
hoses, but later decided on the single inlet style.
The final result of the Milt Schornack style
cold air induction setup. After 1964, every
year GTO would offer some sort of cold air
The production 1965 Ram Air pan, with contoured carb openings for smooth air
entry into each carb throat. The production unit was designed to use a foam seal
(not shown) that completely surrounded the tub on the horizontal perimeter, and
the air cleaners themselves held the baseplate down. One can easily see that the
production pan was stamped out of sheet metal, whereas the prototype (left) was
welded together from various scraps of metal.
|Pontiac's Ram Air Rarities
- By Mike Noun
NASCAR and NHRA racers had different ideas on how to provide cold air to the carburetor. One of the restrictions these racers faced was whether the rules
of their sanctioning body allowed the use of a hood scoop. In the early 1960's, NASCAR had a rule stating that the hood line of a "stock car" (which were
truly production based vehicles back then) could not be altered in any way, so the addition of any type of hood scoop was strictly forbidden. But NASCAR
teams soon found innovative ways to pipe cold air to the carburetor without resorting to anything that could be seen from the outside of the car. The rules for
hood scoops were a bit looser in NHRA drag racing, and in some classes (such as Factory Experimental), the rules allowed items such as hood scoops to be
used, as long as the part was listed in the manufacturers parts book.
Chrysler used an innovative setup on their
1964/1965 Plymouth race Hemi vehicles.
Similar in design to the setup later used on
the 1967 Pontiac Firebird, Plymouth used
an upper pan sealed to a hood scoop.
Velocity stacks with fine mesh screen
covered the carbs (there were no air filters).
Obviously this was not a street setup, but it
was a very effective way to get cool outside
air to the carbs.
|1964 : Pontiac's First Factory Cold Air Intake System
As attractive as the 1964 GTO was, critics were quick to point out that
the hood scoops were phony. Fake hood scoops were nothing new to
American cars, they dated back to the 1950's, but many in the
automotive media already disliked the GTO due to the "borrowing" of
the Ferrari GTO nameplate, so they were quick to point out the that
the Ferrari used functional scoops all around, the Pontiac's were fake.
|1965 : The Debut Of Pontiac's "Ram Air"
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