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1970 PONTIAC GTO Ram Air III- Bill PDF Print E-mail
Written by Double Dragon
Sunday, 31 July 2016 16:07

1970 PONTIAC GTO Ram Air III- Bill


Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown

70 GTO RA III Bill logo

The common perception that 1970 is the pinnacle year of the original musclecar era has a lot of weight behind it. 1970 Musclecars were stuffed with big block high compression engines and adorned with wings and stripes and painted in vibrant outrageous color schemes. The 1971 offerings were just as wild looking and most of the engines were just as large but the compression ratio and sales took a steep drop from the 1970 peak.

1972 saw another drop in sales when a switch to net horsepower ratings confused people as to the true power of the cars and the insurance squeeze tightened. 1973 engines were plagued with EGR hassles and bodies were blighted by big 5 MPH impact bumpers.  Muscle car nameplates were being phased out. In hindsight 1970 is seen as the 'last stand' of the musclecars and it's commonly believed that all of them were in peak form that year.

70 pontiac GTO Ram Air III Bill driv front

Today the 1970 Pontiac GTO is often the favorite of fans when polls are conducted. Its front end seems to flow better than 1971 and 1972 front noses which have a slightly awkward look from certain angles. 1970 was the last GTO with high compression engines. So many musclecars reached their ultimate state in 1970 that is assumed that the GTO similarly was at it's heights in 1970. The fact is that 1970 was a time of chaos at Pontiac that resulted in certain aspects of the GTO lagging behind the competitors.

General Manager John DeLorean departed Pontiac to head up Chevrolet which derailed some of the potential of the 1970 GTO. First, the good news. Many GTO enthusiasts believe that the looks of the GTO were never better than the 1970 version. The 1970 design is a refinement of the 1968 GTO which was so far ahead of its time that it won the Motor Trend magazine "Car of the Year" award based partly due to it's fantastic looks. 1969 left the body intact. The 1970 revision looks so good it leaves a GTO fan hard pressed to choose between the 1968-9 smooth version with hidden headlights and the 1970 muscular redo with exposed headlights. Both variations on the theme work perfectly.

70 pontiac GTO Ram Air III Bill nose

Handling was improved on the 1970 GTO because at long last the GTO received a rear sway bar. John DeLorean didn't believe in rear sway bars and hence the GTO handling prior to 1970 never measured up to their corporate 'twin' Oldsmobile 4-4-2. In 1966 the 4-4-2 was praised by Car & Driver magazine as the best handling musclecar in a comparison test with GTO among others.

Pontiac got the rear sway bar issue fixed for 1970 but dropped the ball by making standard GTO wheels measly 14 x 6 Rally IIs that looked great but didn't put enough tire on the ground. Ford, Chrysler and other GM divisions had jumped to 15 inch wheels that were usually 7 inches wide. That made a huge difference in handling.

When DeLorean left to take over at Chevrolet the GTO was at the forefront of the musclecar scene not just because it created the market but because it led in style and performance and image. DeLorean was a hard driving man who couldn't accept anything less than the best.

Without DeLorean pounding the limits of corporate policy, Pontiac was the only General Motors division caught unprepared when GM lifted its 400 cubic inch ceiling on engine sizes for 1970 intermediate cars.

70 pontiac GTO Ram Air III Bill dr side

Chevrolet released the 1970 Chevelle SS with solid lifter LS6 454 engine rated at an incredible 450 HP. Chevy had been building COPO 427 Chevelles in the past prior to this and had been engineering some crazy power for the Corvette engines. Chevy was already well placed to leap when the big block ban ended, but DeLorean's presence certainly didn't hinder this process.

Oldsmobile had managed to get some monstrous engines into 4-4-2s in the past by putting the blame on Hurst for the Hurst/ Olds 455 intermediates of 1968- 9. Oldsmobile battered the competitors by stuffing their 1970 4-4-2 with an incredible performance 455 W-30 powerplant. The big shocker was Buick. They came on stronger than just about anyone with a 455 Stage 1 that was a genuine Hemi fighter. Buick wrapped it all up in a wild package that merged integral stripes and spoilers and named it GSX. The 1970 GSX also had fantastic handling with 15 inch wheels.

The GTO was always the leader but now without DeLorean Pontiac was floundering. Aside from small 14 inch standard wheels Pontiac kept their performance development focused on the 'small' 400 cube engine. Only 6 years earlier when the Pontiac GTO debuted in 1964 with a 389 cubic inch engine it was considered a monstrous engine to put into an intermediate. By 1970 the bar had been raised an additional 50 cubic inches. Pontiac's potent 400 RA III and 400 RA IV engines packed an incredible punch but the 400 was now a 'small' engine. Ford had transformed their street image with the monster hi po 428 and 429 engines while Chrysler was cleaning the streets with the 440 6 barrels and 426 Hemis. In 1970 you needed performance heads on a gigantic big block or you were behind the curve.

70 Pontiac GTO Ram Air III Bill pass front

Since they were allowed to have an engine over 400 cubes and the other GM divisions were doing it, Pontiac offered a 455. This was not the set up to smoke Hemis. Although Chevy, Olds and Buick offered wild big blocks with radical cams and monster sized valves Pontiac's 455 was mainly regarded as a torque workhorse. If a guy wanted to load his GTO down with A/C and power accessories and still have some grunt off the line he could order a 455.

The confusion underlying Pontiac was crystallized when an advertisement was released featuring a white 1970 GTO Judge. After the screaming Carousel Red eyeball burning Judge of 1969 nothing Pontiac was doing in 1970 made much sense to people who had been following the division's upwards trajectory through the musclecar years under the helm of DeLorean.

The Judge issue was remedied mid year with a new color named Orbit Orange which is a scorching color that is actually better looking than the Carousel Red of the 1969 Judge. It was too late to release a high performance 455 so GTO sat out 1970 without a big block thumper. Pontiac got the 455 right for 1971 model year with the stellar 455 H.O. but it was tarnished by the GM 1971 decision to drop compression ratios.

Why did Pontiac sell so many GTOs in 1970 if it was flawed when compared to the competition? Because simply put the 1970 GTO is one of the best musclecars ever made and it was still relevant for many buyers in 1970. It is true that GTO had fallen behind some of it's direct competition this year but the musclecar wars were waning and a large number of GTO owners were older and stable. They wanted a complete car on all levels. They wanted an image car that was still strong but also refined. And GTO delivered.

From  a kamikaze all out performance perspective the street nuts shied away from the 1970 GTO. Many street racing kids had migrated over to Chrysler when Ma Mopar finally started packaging their viciously fast muscelcars in appealing visual packages. Most of the kids couldn't afford a GTO anyways as the price had slowly crept up over the years. They were looking for stripped bare bones clattering rattling Mopars with taxicab interiors and 440s or if they had extra money they would spring for a Hemi. In 1970 only a monster big block screamer could cut it at the stoplight drags.

The GTO relied on image. The performance image of the GTO had been carefully built up over the years. The average layperson knew what it was; it looked great and was still very fast and that was good enough for many people. The GTO was now heavier and more expensive. But it was an exceptionally comfortable and well built car. Mopars of this era were notorious for loose build quality, leaving the factory as a heap of rattling, barely assembled buckets of bolts. Chrysler dealers were left to pick up the pieces. Mopars were also cheaper by design with fixed rear windows or hinged windows, plain bench seats and spartan stark looking interiors. Fords were a bit better and had gotten it together to build shockingly fast cars at last but lacked the finesse of GTO and its instantly recognizable image.

Image, and brand loyalty and power played a role in the decision to buy this particular 1970 GTO. William was a Pontiac man from way back. He was a 40 year old professional family man in 1970 and fit the 1970 GTO buyer profile. He wasn't a kid looking for the absolute fastest E.T. and damn the torpedoes. He wanted speed but also quality, comfort and looks. Like everyone else he knew the GTO's reputation and he loved the looks of the car. William was an engineer and getting older. It was time for him to satiate his need for a powerful, stylish and comfortable car.

William had endured 5 years with his unsatisfying current car. His 1965 Chevrolet Impala 4 door hardtop was equipped with a 283. The salesman had convinced William that the small block was adequate motivation for the large Impala.

It wasn't.

William felt like he was just marking time with that car while the excitement of the GTO was being thrust in his face in media and on the streets.

William was ready for a wild and fast musclecar. He had his sights set on a 1970 Orbit Orange GTO Judge with 4 speed. He wasn't out to street race but he knew that the step up Ram Air III engine that came standard in the GTO Judge option was plenty stout and strong. He wanted a fast car and the base GTO engine wasn't sufficient to his mind. No more compromise cars. Time to trade in his sedate Impala on an Orbit Orange GTO Judge with a 4 speed.

Well, not so fast. William's wife, Lois had a thing or two to say about all this!

Lois was going to be driving the car; too, and no way was she going to be caught dead in the garish day glow painted Judge with the wings and stripes. Interestingly, below is a shot of William's car beside an Orbit Orange GTO so you can compare the two colors.

70 pontiac GTO Ram Air III Bill w orbit orange gto

Lois also insisted on an automatic transmission. The TH400 3 speed automatic in the GTO was a great transmission so this wasn't a huge problem for William. Where William prevailed was in the engine choice. He wanted the same powerplant that came standard in the GTO Judge: the Ram Air III. The Ram Air III was the middle range 'performance' choice of the optional engines in 1970. The base 400 was a fast ride already but the Ram Air III really got it on. The Ram Air IV was an exotic all out racing engine but still streetable. The optional 455 was not perceived to be a step in the performance ascent but rather a side step for handling a GTO carrying a heavy option load. The photo below is of the under dash hood scoop control for the Ram Air system.

70 Pontiac GTO Ram Air III Bill ram air knob

William's GTO was ordered with a mix of performance and comfort in mind. The Ram Air III engine, Rally gauges with tachometer, Safe-T-Track 3.23:1 rear axle, ride and handling optional springs and shocks, and Power front disc brakes all made this a solid performer. The performance image was enhanced with Raised white letter tires, Sport custom steering wheel, and console. Note that the Rally II wheels were kept but stored.

Like many 'Day Two' cars this GTO still has the chrome mags that were mounted on it soon after purchase. The optional chrome wheel opening molding complements the chrome mag wheels which William knew were destined to be mounted on the car as soon as he got it home. The rear aftermarket Cragar S/S wheels are 15 x 8 inches and the fronts are 15 x 7 inches.

The GTO was already comfortable because the GTO option provided a higher level of comfort above the basic Tempest. GTO had hidden windshield wipers, plusher interior with nice touches such as pedal dress up chrome, custom carpets and interior lighting for glove box, ashtray etc.

William's GTO amplifies the comfort factor with wife friendly options such as automatic transmission, variable ratio power steering, AM/FM radio with windshield antenna, Soft Ray tinted glass and air conditioning. There are some nice convenience items such as a trunk light mounted beside the driver side hinge. Note the original paint covering part of the hinge.


70 Pontiac GTO Ram Air III Bill trunk light

William wanted 2 tone paint and it was rewritten on the order to become a white cordova top to complement the Baja Gold paint job. Cars were still being built at this time without vinyl tops but the vinyl top had definitely overtaken the previously popular 2 tone paint job. For many years it was common for the roof to be painted a different color than the lower body of the car.

Below is the original order form written up March 30, 1970 at Block Pontiac Inc, Philadelphia, PA. William's last name, and old address and phone number are removed for internet privacy.

70 Pontiac GTO RA III Bill order form

Losing the spoilers, stripes and Orbit Orange paint was tough for William but Lois selected a really gorgeous color for their GTO. She deserves some kudos for choosing the tasteful Baja Gold color which is rarely encountered nowadays in the sea of Resale Red cars out there. The Gold is also eye catching; although certainly not as intense as the Judge Orbit Orange, but definitely a dazzling color. I personally love Gold cars and yet rarely see any on the road.

William bought his GTO from Block Pontiac, Inc. See a story about this dealer in the DEALERSHIPS section of this website filed under PENNSYLVANIA DEALERS. Even with a trade in and two people financing this GTO it cost a pretty penny by 1970 wage standards. Below is the detailed summary from the bank.

70 Pontiac GTO RA III Bill finance

The window sticker below is intact except that the final digits of the VIN have been removed for internet privacy. Final price is $4,849.94. That price includes a hefty option load costing $1,498.26.

70 GTO RA III Bill window sticker

The invoice Block Pontiac presented on May 6, 1970 presents a succinct list of all the options on the car at the time of delivery and summary of the trade in. Note that the salesman's name was Shervin. With tax and license the final price has swelled out to $5,106.54.

70 Pontiac GTO RA III Bill invoice

William timed the purchase of his GTO quite well. When he took delivery May 6, 1970 he knew his young son Bill was slated to enter military service so there was no danger of him racing the car and cracking it up. Bill has since become the second owner and caretaker of the car. Bill has been just as meticulous and thorough in his maintenance of the GTO as his father was.

70 Pontiac GTO RA III Bill warranty

The warranty on the car was in effect May 6, 1970 and was used once at 15,000 miles for a repair to a broken rear gear.

Below is the first temporary registration transfer paper filed on May 6, 1970. This allowed William to drive his new GTO off the lot immediately using the old license plates off his Impala.

70 Pontiac GTO RA III Bill registration

A few days later the actual title was formalized. The final digits of VIN and title number as well as some personal data have been edited out. Despite trade in allowance and money down the bank was owed $3,103.56 at time of purchase. It took William and Lois 3 years to pay down the balance. The car was paid off May 10, 1973.

70 Pontiac GTO RA III Bill title

William took exceptional care of his car. He saved all his paperwork and original owner's manual, consumer information pamphlet and Protect-O-Plate. Consumer information gave real world acceleration in passing situations involving a long tractor trailer truck and then stopping distances with full braking power and with emergency braking power.

70 Pontiac GTO RA III Bill Protect O Plate

Engineers like to fiddle with things. My father was an engineer. He and his buddies reworked the warning buzzers in friends cars to deliver pre recorded insults: "Fasten your seatbelt, idiot!"; but they also reworked parts of their cars that didn't flow well enough in daily use. William was a typical engineer He made some small modifications to his GTO which son Bill has left intact on the car to this day. William welded in a steel platform in the trunk to hold a took box in place behind the spare tire so it wouldn't slide around during turns.

70 Pontiac GTO Ram Air III Bill toolbox

William also found the loose front lap seatbelts to be untidy. He installed two small pieces of metal that the loose end of the belts could be plugged into when not in use. He painted the metal to match the interior color.

70 Pontiac GTO Ram Air III Bill seat belt loose

The seatbelt just snaps over the metal and is held in place out of the way when not in use.

70 Pontiac GTO Ram Air III Bill seat belt retained

William's engineer mind also ensured that he tracked his maintenance, repairs and his gas mileage. To see the complete record of this Ram Air III's efficiency look at the story in the GAS LOGS section of the TRAVEL STORIES on this website. William's overall average MPG calculations came to 15.8 MPG. Currently the GTO runs on a mix of 60% leaded 110 octane and 40% unleaded 91 octane gasoline.

William also did a thorough examination of the car and brought it into Block Pontiac early in it's life to have warranty work done July 1, 1970 at 2,168 miles. William just wanted some tidying up done to factory goof ups and oversights such as missing molding on the rear window and an off center steering wheel.  Note that the mechanics said that it was normal for the turn signal lever to cancel itself early when turning the wheel. Some models of cars seem to have an oversensitiveness to do this. Windshield molding was loose at the front and was tightened down. The rubber stop was missing at the right front door and was causing a slight rattle when driving. William's last name, and address is removed from the bill below.

70 pontiac gto bill first warranty bill

William was back Oct 7, 1970 at 3,452 miles again to have the rear window molding dealt with once more. On Feb 3, 1971 there is yet another bill for work once more involving that rear window molding when the car was brought in for state inspection. The mileage has now accumulated to 9,040 miles. That is almost precisely 1,000 miles per month average since new. By Sep 29, 1971 the mileage was 15,474 miles when the car was brought into Block for state inspection and an LOF. Also noted on the bill was an oil leak.

The oil leak was apparently not addressed properly because the next bill after this was from a new Pontiac dealership name Colonial Pontiac, Philadelphia, PA. Colonial Pontiac replaced the front oil pump seals which fixed the oil leak issue on Oct 14, 1971. The automatic transmission fluid was also changed at the same time. The GTO had covered 18,785 miles.

70 pontiac gto bill ram air iii oil pump colonial pot

William went back to Block Pontiac April 17, 1972 with 24,203 miles. The automatic transmission was leaking.

The GTO was a daily driver for the first 10 years of it's life. It spent its first 6 years in Pennsylvania, then 20 years in San Jose, California. Only 6 years of daily driver status occurred in a harsh climate. But it was not an easy ride for the GTO when it was in Pennsylvania. Below is a receipt for studded snow tires purchased in 1973 which were needed to deal with the harsh winters.

70 Pontiac GTO Ram Air III bill snow tires

Despite the horrible winters, a factor working in favor of preservation of this GTO was the fact that it was always garaged. The GTO actually conforms to the typical mix of use that many GTOs of the era were subjected to. During the week it was a daily commuter and on weekends it made some forays to the drag strip.

In spring William bought a new set of tires for the car on March 15, 1973. Five of the Goodyear Polyglass G70-14s cost $201.40.

The ring gear broke at 15,000 miles and was fixed under warranty. A common issue with Pontiacs is hard starting when hot. The hot running Pontiac engines seem to roast the starters prematurely. Olds and Chevy didn't seem to have the same issue. Olds and Chevy placed the starter on the passenger side while Pontiac placed it on the driver side of the block. I often wonder if there is better airflow available on the right side since the steering box and power steering unit impedes airflow to the lower driver side of the engine.

70 Pontiac GTO Ram Air III bill starter water pump

One weak link in the Pontiac motors was the use of a nylon timing gear which could strip and sometimes cause catastrophic engine failure. A service manager from a Pontiac dealership recalled the 2 biggest hassles he had in the Pontiac Performance Years of the 1960s was warranty hassles with blown up motors from stripped timing gears and tricky repeated road testing and tinkering to get the Tri-Power carb setups to run right. Bill's Ram Air III was fortunate to suffer some timing gear issues without a massive failure. But the small bits of nylon from the timing gear can clog up the oil pump. Chief Pontiac Inc, Philadelphia, PA replaced the timing gear and oil pump.

70 Pontiac GTO Ram Air III bill timing gear oil pump

William's GTO was used on the drag strip and this may have produced the symptoms noted by Bill in 1975 when it felt like the car was shifting into park when it was in drive. Investigation showed that the rear pinion needed to be replaced. The A/C compressor was dealt with at the same time.

70 Pontiac GTO Ram Air III bill pinion ac compressor

William's GTO was not just a daily driver it was also a vacation car used for some big road trips to Miami, Florida; Norfolk, Virginia; Poconos, PA; San Francisco, California; and Pebble Beach, California. Of course when the family relocated across the country in 1976 the GTO made the long trek from Pennsylvania to California.

For the first 4 years in San Jose, California the GTO remained a daily driver before being retired in 1980 to weekend cruising, vacation duty and special events. On Nov 2, 1976 William replaced all 4 shocks at Sears Roebuck and Co. Oct 26, 1981 the GTO was brought into Larry Hopkins Pontiac Honda in Sunnyvale, California to have the left rear wheel bearing replaced at 97,630 miles.

The car was brought to Hinman's Evergreen Garage Inc in San Jose California Jan 12, 1983 at 102,584 miles for a fuel pump and timing chain replacement.

70 pontiac gto ra III timing chain fuel pump

After it's long stint in San Jose, the GTO headed south in July, 1996 to San Diego where it remained for 14 years. As of Oct, 2010 the GTO now resides up in Washington State.

The 400 cubic inch Ram Air III is factory rated at 366 horsepower gross rating. That rating is achieved at optimal temperatures on an engine stand without intake air cleaner or exhaust system restrictions and measured at the flywheel. A dyno roller test of this particular car shows 268 actual rear wheel horsepower. The GTO has been run at the ATCO dragstrip, New Jersey; Suffolk-Norfolk, Virginia; Hartfield, PA; and Langhorne, PA. The quarter mile performance times average out to 14.78 seconds at 96.37 MPH.

The GTO was repainted the original Baja Gold in 1996 and the Cordova top was replaced in 2006. When William passed away his son Bill kept up the GTO and has shown it at various car shows. He is a member of GTOAA, and POCI. He enjoys the shows and likes to share the history of his incredibly well documented car.

Two points that Bill has noted is that there should be a category for ONE FAMILY cars at cars shows. Maybe someone will copy my website and initiate a category. With the GTO now 50 years old more and more original owners are dying. It would be nice to convey some recognition for the continuity of a ONE FAMILY car. This would recognize a large group of cars.

Bill would also like to see a 'Day Two' category instead of a general 'Modified' category. He wishes to keep the small modifications intact that his father made to the GTO but these cost points in correctness during show judging. The changes made to this GTO are all period items from 1970 and are not modern distortions of the GTO image that is frequently seen now with "rest- mods". Bill doesn't have 20 inch wheels 4 wheel disc conversation kits which are frequent pro street type changes.

The GTO has been otherwise kept original except for the small engineering add- ons William made to the car when it was new and of course the addition of mag wheels. In the course of our discussion about the state of the hobby Bill was witness to the owner of a ONE OWNER Pontiac GTO who didn't want to be on the ONE OWNER COLLECTOR CAR website at all. This is a common reaction to my website and I get more refusals than acceptance.

This is a commentary on the very fragile state of the hobby and efforts to preserve history. Plenty of guys don't want a story of their car done even if their name or location of their car is not mentioned and the license plate and VIN information is deleted from the story.

Simply put they are just not interested at all. To me this is appallingly short sighted and narrow minded. If guys at a car show don't care about preserving the history and documenting these cars and spreading knowledge then WHO DOES?

Bill was very concerned about this issue. His kids are not interested in his beautiful Gold 1970 GTO even though it has family history back to their grandfather. Very pressing issues came to light in our talk. I have encountered my fair share of guys being negative or suspicious towards the website as if they are being imposed upon.

Bill was puzzled because it doesn't cost the owner of the car any money or time since they are already at the show anyways. Once they die the car will end up at auction and all the history will be lost to the winds.

It is tempting to postulate that the defensive personality type comprises the makeup of a typical ONE OWNER person. Someone that can keep a car intact and pristine all these years and wishes to hold onto the item despite change around him may have a very rigid personality. And yet some of the most approachable people are also ONE OWNERs. This explanation seems to apply only to a certain percentage of ONE OWNERs.

Regardless of ONE OWNER, ONE FAMILY or 20 YEARS PLUS status the personality of the owners vary widely. Unfortunately the majority is not supportive of attempts to chronicle history. Meet 100 guys at a show which is already the elite of the elite and there may still only be a solid core of 20 preservationists.

The SURVIVOR car show is gone now as a failed experiment to bring the philosophy of antique collecting and preservation standards to historic musclecars. The few guys who do care have to really pull together and start thinking strategy for legacy.

Who is left to buy these cars and what is the fate of these cars?

Bill and I moved on from the gloomy future and turned back to the sunny day and his Gold GTO which he has enjoyed so much. Bill notes that his GTO has been to 6 family weddings now. Bill has a lot of memories with the car and he can revisit the past everytime he fires up the car.

The best we can do is to chronicle the cars that we can and hope that someone else will feel the lure of history and the excitement of the gorgeous raw power of these GTOs.

Because Bill's GTO is a driver it also gained a non stock security system, CD ignition and stainless exhaust system. The exhaust tips are original factory items. In 1972 William purchased a set of original factory exhaust tips just in case, but they remain in the box they came in.

Both the alternator and starter are originals that have been rebuilt. The wiper motor has been replaced.

In 2009 the springs were replaced and KYB shocks installed. The control arm bushings were replaced, ball joints replaced and front bearings repacked.

70 Pontiac GTO Ram Air III Bill rear

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 12 May 2021 22:05 )