Is this rare Ram Air IV four-speed the finest of first-gen Firebirds?
Pontiac established itself as a performance brand in the early 1960s, kicked off the muscle car era with the 1964 GTO, and fed the pony car frenzy when it offered the Firebird’s “Trans Am performance and appearance package” starting in 1969. Fewer than 700 1969 Trans Ams were built, and this sterling WS4 example, one of just a handful known to exist with its original and desirable drivetrain, is set to cross the stage at Mecum’s Kissimmee sale this month.
The WS4 option code for the Trans Am included unique fender trim that mimicked heat extractors, a decklid wing, a front spoiler, a dual-scoop ram air hood, and Cameo Ivory paint highlighted with Tyrol Blue stripes and tail panel. Those cosmetic and aerodynamic upgrades were met with a limited-slip differential, a heavy-duty suspension with a 1-inch diameter sway bar, and front disc brakes, just to name a few of the standard performance bits.
Pontiac buyers had several performance engine options to choose from in 1969, including several V-8s and a spicy version of the 250 overhead-cam inline-six, the latter good for 230 hp.
The Trans Am, however, brought the heat. It came standard with a 400-cubic-inch Ram Air III V-8 that produced 335 hp. The only engine option was an upgrade to the Ram Air IV V-8, with an identical displacement.
While the Ram Air III V-8 was nothing to sneeze at, the Ram Air IV V-8 took the power to the next level with improved intake ports matched to a four-barrel aluminum intake manifold. It used round exhaust ports like the Ram Air II heads, while the standard 335-hp engine employed the more common D-ports that crowded the exhaust routing a bit. The Ram Air III and IV used the same performance camshaft, but the Ram Air IV took better advantage of it thanks to an increase in rocker arm ratio—1.65:1 compared to 1.5:1—that netted higher valve lift. Pontiac claimed those improvements in airflow were good for 345 hp in the Trans Am and 370 hp in the GTO, but it seems that those numbers were sandbagged a bit.
Just fifty-five Trans Ams were produced with Ram Air IV power in 1969, forty-six of which were equipped with a four-speed manual, as is the case with this recently restored beauty that retains its original interior.
Low production numbers mean that it’s rare to have one come up for sale. Mecum has noted an estimated sale price of $375,000 – $450,000. That closely follows the current #2 (Excellent) to #1 (Concours) value for a Ram Air IV 1969 Trans Am, which saw a big increase in the summer of 2022.
We’ve noted some ho-hum results for muscle cars in the last few months, perhaps this rare and beautiful piece of Poncho power will wake bidders up at what has become one of the top locations for big muscle car sales. We’re not going to place too much import on just one Trans Am transaction, but it could be an interesting barometer for the muscle market going into 2023.