What is a "WS6"?

1978 WS6 wheels

The letters 'WS6' represent a great deal of history when it comes to Pontiac and Firebirds. These three alphanumeric symbols represent a Regular Production Order number (or RPO) which is what General Motors has used since the early 70's to denote an option or option package. Anything you can specify (from paint to radios to tires to engine) when you order your new GM vehicle is represented by three letters and/or numbers.

In the case of 'WS6', this fabled option code was introduced in the Firebird option list for the model year of 1978, available specifically on the Formula and Trans Am models. At that time, the option code WS6 represented a state-of-the-art ride and handling package that took high performance driving to new heights. Consisting of substantial suspension, steering, and tire upgrades, the WS6 package gave Pontiac a world-class handling champion that was untouched by any other North American car (including the Corvette in many cases) and matching the best of what European sports cars could provide. You could spot a WS6 Trans Am back then by the special 8 inch wide "snowflake" wheels shown above.

The WS6 suspension and handling package remained on the option lists from its inception until the introduction of the 4th generation F-body (Firebird and Camaro). Throughout these years (1978-1992), the WS6 package was reserved for the Firebird (Trans Am or Formula) owner who wanted the sharpest handling sports coupe. With the entire chassis redesign for the 4th generation Firebird for 1993, Pontiac opted to simplify the order process by including the top level suspension offerings as standard on the V8 Firebirds (also simplified to two models and 1 engine: Formula and Trans Am both equipped with the then-new LT1 350 V8). Thus, there was no need for a separate high-end 'WS6'-type option.

What is 'Ram Air'?

Another fabled name from Pontiac's long history of performance vehicles is the term "Ram Air". While Pontiac certainly did not coin the term, it made the most of it through clever marketing and exposure during the 1960s when the musclecar wars ran rampant. This term (introduced on the 1966 GTO as a dealer-installed package) denoted the use of fresh-air ducting to the engine's air intake as a means of increasing engine performance. The theory was that at speed, the fresh-air intakes would create a 'ram' effect, in a sense force-feeding the engine with cool outside air. While aerodynamics theory can argue that there is little 'ram' effect present given the very subtle air scoops used (not to mention their location) as implemented by Pontiac, no one can deny that the simple fact of feeding the engine cooler denser exterior air was certainly worth some performance gain. Over the years, the Ram Air mystique grew to insane proportions, with almost all manufacturers offering some sort of fresh-air intake package on their high performance models.

1969 Trans Am

RAM AIR is back

A company called Street Legal Performance (SLP) had been marketing a hopped-up Firebird since 1992, calling it the Firehawk. Beginning with the 4th generation, the Firehawk included a fresh-air (forced-air?) induction hood with two nostrils at the leading edge. For 1996 Pontiac decided to make an in-house version of the hotter Firebird (even though the cosmetic upgrades were still outsourced to SLP) and decided to resurrect the 'Ram Air' script for the hood-mounted air intakes. Taking the marketing ball and running with it, Pontiac decided to incorporate the engine AND suspension upgrades under the option code letters 'WS6'. Thus, the WS6 option package was reborn for the 90s, this time comprising of:

Note that the Firehawk model still continued to be produced by SLP as a side item although always in limited quantities (with a hiatus for the 1998 model year) whereas the WS6 model was usually much more readily available for purchase (with the exception of the 1998 model year, as will be discussed later, when WS6 modifications were outsourced to a company called ASC for the remainder of the fourth generation Firebird).

1998 WS6 wheels