1961-1963 Pontiac Tempest

For a time, it was expected Pontiac's compact car would be a variation of the air-cooled, rear-engine Chevy Corvair. This mockup from April 6, 1959, wears the name Ventura; Polaris was also considered. See more classic car pictures.
©2007 Publications International Ltd.

In the space between the orthodoxy of the Ford Falcon and the nontraditionalism of the Chevrolet Corvair, Pontiac staked out its own territory when it created the compact 1961-1963 Pontiac Tempest.

With the established success of the Volkswagen in America and the economic recession of 1958, the Big Three American carmakers began thinking beyond the credo of "longer, lower, wider" to develop compact cars to meet the demands of this burgeoning market. While Ford's answer to the call, the 1960 Falcon, was the runaway success in sales, Chrysler's Valiant was also very popular, owing to its European-influenced styling and sturdy Slant Six engine. Even Studebaker and AMC were in the game, and had been before any of the Big Three brought their downsized vehicles to market.


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General Motors offered the most diverse line of compact cars, from the radical, rear-engined 1960 Corvair to the completely conventional Chevy II that debuted two years later. In between these two Chevrolets, in terms of chronology and technology, were the "B-O-P" compacts: Buick Special, Oldsmobile F-85, and Pontiac Tempest.

The fraternal triplets were based on a 112-inch-wheelbase platform featuring unitized construction and the same basic Fisher body. Mechanically, though, there were significant differences between them. Without a doubt, the Tempest featured the most unusual drivetrain of the trio, one of the most technologically advanced systems offered in an American car up to that time.

The story behind the development of the Tempest is one of divisional defiance and cost-conscious innovation. Perhaps the strongest motivation for its development was the Corvair, or more specifically, Pontiac's desire to not get a badge-engineered version of it.

Corporate management was looking to extend the platform's reach into other divisions, increasing sales volume to offset the development costs of the unique rear-engined compact. Pontiac, being next up the ladder from Chevrolet in the GM lineup, was the most logical choice, but Oldsmobile and Buick were under consideration for their own versions as well.

Pontiac's general manager at the time, Semon E. "Bunkie" Knudsen, did not want a tarted-up Corvair (to be named Polaris) as a Pontiac. In a 1994 interview with Thomas A. DeMauro, then-technical editor for High Performance Pontiac magazine, Knudsen explained why: "'First, if a dealer tells people that this is a new, more-advanced design, then how will the salesman justify the traditional drivetrain layouts found in Pontiac's other lines? Second, the Corvair is a rear-engine, air-cooled car. How do I make it different? There is no grille to be restyled and the engine can't be exchanged for a Pontiac powerplant. Therefore, how do I justify the extra $500 to $1,000 added to the price to sell it with a Pontiac nameplate?'"

Though Pontiac knew what they did not want to do, they needed to pick a direction for their new compact car. On the next page, learn how John Z. DeLorean helped shape the Pontiac Tempest.

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DeLorean and the Pontiac Tempest

By September 1959, full-size clay models were well along for a Pontiac version of a front-engine Y-body car to be shared with Buick and Oldsmobile.
©2007 Publications International Ltd.

Despite the need for a compact, the fate of the fledging Pontiac Tempest seemed bleak. With Corvair variants finding no champions at Pontiac, Buick, or Olds, a new vehicle was needed. Pontiac took the lead in an interdivisional project known as the X-100 program, developing a larger and substantially modified version of the Corvair's Y-body platform.

The wheelbase was increased from 108 to 112 inches and provisions were made for a front-engine layout since Buick and Pontiac were developing engines for it. The basic bodies would be shared, though each division would get unique styling and none would look at all like the Corvair.


Pontiac's director of advanced engineering, John Z. DeLorean, was anxious to put his stamp on the "Wide Track" portion of the project. In order to come in at a competitive price, the compact Pontiac would have to make as much use of existing technology and production facilities as possible. The solutions that DeLorean and his team implemented demonstrated their expertise at working creatively within a clearly defined set of boundaries.

DeLorean wanted a car that was more than just a compact. In addition to offering lower purchase and running costs, the new design needed to possess a "big-car" ride and offer comfortable seating for six adults. The smaller size also suggested an inherent sportiness and DeLorean believed he could meet these objectives, as well as achieve the ideal 50/50 weight distribution by using a flat floor, a rear-mounted transaxle, and, of all things, a flexible driveshaft. Buick and Oldsmobile, however, were not planning on using any such exotica on their small cars, preferring to stick with conventional drivetrain layouts.

The design was truly revolutionary, though not always understood by the public. It soon earned the nickname "rope drive," which was not an accurate depiction of the driveshaft. The shaft was actually a forged-steel torsion bar, which featured high nickel, chrome, and molybdenum content. Tempests with manual transmissions featured a shaft diameter of '75 inches, while automatics received a '65-inch-diameter unit. Since the shafts were transmitting engine torque that was not multiplied by the transmission, they were understressed and could easily afford to be as small in diameter as they were compared to a conventional driveshaft.

The shafts were surface ground and magnafluxed for imperfections before shot-peening and final straightening procedures. The manufacturing process was finished with a rust-inhibiting coating. Obviously, quite a bit of expense went into the development and manufacture of the flexible driveshaft. Its intended benefits to the Tempest will be explained in a bit.

See how Pontiac Tempest revolutionized the compact car with its four-cylinder engine on the next page.

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The Pontiac Tempest and the Four-Cylinder Engine

The 1961 Pontiac Tempest was powered by an innovative four-cylinder engine that separated it from the competition.
©2007 Publications International Ltd.

One of the many innovative decision John Z. DeLorean brought to the Pontiac Tempest was the four-cylinder engine. Though the Buick and Olds Y-bodies would be powered by a choice of newly designed V-6 or aluminum V-8 powerplants, DeLorean's engine of choice for the related Pontiac was going to be an inline four. It would have to be more powerful than competitive sixes and be inexpensive to develop and manufacture.

Indeed, Pontiac was truly up against the wall with respect to cost. With the majority of developmental funds tied up in the unique drive-shaft system, the rest of the driveline would have to consist of as many off-the-shelf pieces as possible. DeLorean and his team determined that a four-cylinder based on the production Pontiac V-8 would make the most sense.


In order to prove that the concept was valid, engineers took a production 389-cid Pontiac V-8 engine, put holes in the left bank of pistons, disabled the valve-train for the same cylinders, and reinstalled it in a full-sized Pontiac. Even with the extra drag of the deactivated cylinders, the cobbled-up test engine had enough steam to propel the 4,000-plus-pound sedan to a top speed of 92 mph and still give satisfactory gas mileage.

Later, the left banks of several production 389 engines were removed. A series of specialized parts were then developed for production, including a specific crankshaft, camshaft, two different intake manifolds, a four-cylinder ignition system, and various downsized accessories. The production 195-cid ohv "slant-four" block came a bit later. It was heavy, weighing about two-thirds as much as the V-8 because the 389's crankcase was retained almost unchanged.

The good news was that interchange-ability with the 389 abounded. The two engines shared pistons, rings, pins, connecting rods, bearings, cylinder heads, oil pan and pump, water pump, crank pulley, and harmonic balancer. The four also used the same machine tooling and traveled down the same assembly line as the V-8, greatly reducing manufacturing cost.

All told, there were three basic versions of the "Trophy 4" engine for the 1961 model year. The first was a regular-fuel engine with an 8.6:1 compression ratio and a one-barrel carburetor. It was rated at 110 bhp at 3,800 rpm, with 190 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 revs. For automatic-transmission cars, this engine was rated at 130 horses at 4,400 and 195 pound-feet of torque at 2,200, thanks to a hotter camshaft than that used in the stickshift cars.

The second version retained the single-throat carb, but compression was raised to 10.25:1, necessitating the use of premium fuel. The manual transmission version was rated at 120 bhp at 3,800 rpm and 202 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 spins; the automatic version made 140 bhp at 4,400 rpm and 207 pound-feet at 2,200.

The raciest iteration of the four was equipped with a Rochester four-barrel carburetor and an even hotter camshaft. Both sticks and automatics were rated at 155 bhp at 4800 rpm, generating 215 pound-feet of torque at 2,800 revolutions. Buick's 215-cid V-8 was also available. Fitted with a two-barrel carb, it also was rated at 155 bhp, but generated slightly more torque at 400 fewer rpm than the meatiest four.

Though the Tempest had plenty of power, the engineers at Pontiac had to next consider how the car handled. On the next page, learn what made the Pontiac Tempest such a smooth ride.

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The Pontiac Tempest's Smooth Ride

To compensate for the weight of the engine, Pontiac engineers had to reinforce the Pontiac Tempest to make it driver-friendly.
©2007 Publications International Ltd.

Though the engine was in place, the Pontiac Tempest faced some additional challenges. With competitive power levels, low development cost, and the wide range of commonality with the 389 V-8, the slant-four program was deemed a success. About the only drawbacks were the engine's 557-pound weight and its inherent secondary vertical shaking force.

In a phone interview, retired Pontiac engineer Malcolm R. "Mac" McKellar, who was deeply immersed in the development of the slant-four, recalled that vibration was pretty significant. "The bottom line is that at 195 cubic inches, it was too large a four-cylinder to be built without a balance shaft...We often referred to it as a 'traveling fatigue machine.'"


Indeed, almost all of the engine's accessory mounts had to be reinforced to deal with the constant shaking. Yet, amazingly, nearly all road tests of the day noted how smooth the car was to drive and how it was impossible to tell the engine was a four when driving it.

The secret was a combination of curved driveshaft, torque tube, and special motor mounts. The curved drive-shaft actually served two purposes. In addition to allowing for a nearly flat floor, it would not need the normal balancing procedures of a conventional rigid unit. The shaft's curvature and a pair of rubber bushings inside the torque-tube enclosure worked together to quell vibration. The last part of the equation was the use of special rubber "doughnut" motor mounts located at the front. They were constructed of soft rubber and were large enough to absorb much of the engine's vibration. The rear of the engine was located by the mounts of the transaxle and the torque tube.

"The four-cylinder Tempest was a smooth-driving car, but if a plug became fouled, as they sometimes would with leaded fuel, the mounts could not absorb the additional vibration," said McKellar. "You might not notice so much with a V-8, but with the slant-four, it would really vibrate."

Directly behind the engine was a bellhousing that was connected to the front of the torque tube. Manual-shift cars had the clutch located in the normal position. Both transaxles and the coil-spring, swing-axle rear suspension came from the Corvair and were modified to mate with the torque tube. A three-speed manual was standard; a Powerglide-based two-speed automatic -- "TempesTorque" -- was optional.

The front of the engine was tilted upward to meet the driveshaft and sat on a large box-section subframe, which also held the front suspension. The suspension itself was an independent design with coil springs, unequal-length upper and lower control arms, and ball joints, as well as a recirculating-ball steering box.

The drivetrain and suspension formed an integral, stand-alone unit. This feature allowed the Tempest to be built on the same assembly lines as the full-sized Pontiac, which used a "body-drop" assembly method to mate the Fisher body to the completed perimeter-frame chassis.

Of course, Pontiac engineers put just as much thought into the look of the Tempest as they did the design. On the next page, find out more about the look of the Pontiac Tempest.

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1961 Pontiac Tempest Design

The 1961 Pontiac Tempest Custom was quickly identified by its wrapped read roor quarters that gave it the look of a convertible.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The 1961 Pontiac Tempest was both an engineering and a styling achievement. The Tempest, with its distinctive split grill and prominent Pontiac hood crest, was penned by Jack Humbert. The front-end treatment, which recalled the 1959 Pontiac, featured quad headlamps and a bright horizontal-bar grille treatment.

Like its Y-body cousins, the Tempest featured a fell-length bodyside wind-split at the beltline and a deeply contoured accent line that began in the front fenders, extended through the doors, and ended in the rear quarters. (The doors were the same in all three cars.) In the Tempest, the accent line was sculpted to form a body cove that encompassed the rear wheel wells. The beltline windsplit formed a small fin at the top of the rear quarter, ending just above the small oval taillamps. Simple blade bumpers were used front and rear.


Overall dimensions of the Tempest put it at the upper end of the small-car category, making it one of the so-called "senior compacts." In addition to the aforementioned 112-inch wheelbase, it boasted an overall length of 189.3 inches, a width of 72.2 inches, and overall height of 56.8 inches (57.1 for wagons). Front and rear tread width was 56.8 inches.

Inside, the Tempest was pleasant looking and remarkably roomy, with large expanses of glass for a light, airy environment and 360-degree visibility. The basic dash panel was shared with the related Buick and Olds, though details were unique to each car. The Tempest used a strip speedometer housed in an upright horizontal housing. The dash had the usual array of "idiot lights" and automatic-transmission cars had the gear selector mounted on the dash, to the right of the driver.

Cars with manual transmissions received a floor shifter. Bench seats were used front and rear, allowing six-passenger seating. Leg room was very generous, owing to the nearly flat floor, though there was still a bit of a hump in front to clear the bellhousing.

Standard features included dual sun-visors, turn signals, electric wipers, and 6.00 × 15-inch blackwall tires, which were needed to help compensate for the wide camber changes in the rear suspension's range of travel.

Comfort and convenience options ran the gamut from power steering to air conditioning, back-up lights, and a variety of interior and exterior decor groups. Power brakes were not offered, even as optional equipment.

The Tempest was initially available in four-door sedan and four-door station wagon bodystyles. Later in the model year, a Tempest coupe was introduced, as was a sporty, upscale version with bucket seats that was named LeMans.

Once the Pontiac Tempest hit the showrooms, it was an instant hit. On the next page, learn about the success of the Tempest.

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The Success of the 1961 Pontiac Tempest

The Pontiac Tempest won praise from drivers and journalists because its style and handling.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The 1961 Pontiac Tempest did not fail to impress when it was introduced along with the full-size 1961 Pontiacs on October 6, 1960. Road testers were quick to praise Pontiac for its innovation and sensible packaging. Most enjoyed the Tempest's ride quality, nimble size, and the slant-four's power output. Interestingly, the consensus was that the automatic was the better choice for all-around performance, due to its quieter operation and the extra power from the hotter cams used.

On the negative side, the power steering was seen as unnecessary, slow, and lacking in road feel. Journalists also criticized an abrupt loss of rear-wheel traction at the limit of adhesion. This was a byproduct of the softly sprung swing-axle suspension, which would put the rear wheels in a positive-camber situation and greatly decrease tread contact with the road.


Still, the positive feedback was stronger than the negative, strong enough, in fact, for Motor Trend to award its "Car of the Year" honor to the 1961 Tempest, the second such award to Pontiac in three model years. MT editor Don Werner summed it up in the March 1961 issue when he wrote, "The basic premise of the Motor Trend Award is that the progress in design recognized must be a distinct advance toward a better car. The Tempest fills this requirement fully." He concluded by saying, "The new Pontiac Tempest sets many new trends and unquestionably is a prototype for the American car for the Sixties."

Werner's comments mirrored the high hopes of many enthusiasts who believed the Tempest was the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the American automobile, one that would pay more attention to balance, efficiency, and the shedding of needless bulk.

The car-buying public responded positively, as well. A total of 100,783 Tempests were built, a respectable start, though well below the figures tallied by the Corvair, Falcon, and Valiant that year. (The Tempest drew the most orders of any of the GM Y-body trio, though.) The slant-four engine was also light-years ahead of the 215-cid V-8 in terms of popularity. Only 2004 '61 Tempests were so equipped, including just three with the manual transmission.

For the 1962 model year, changes to the Tempest were fairly minor and evolutionary. A convertible was added to the line and was available in both Tempest and LeMans trim. The front end was also given a facelift. The split-grille theme was replaced with a new tri-section design that incorporated a Pontiac "arrow-point" crest at its center. The hood was also new, with a "waterfall" design that blended into the center element of the grille.

Engines evolved as well. A new intake manifold for the four-barrel slant-four engine was good for an additional 11 bhp, up to 166 at 4800 rpm, though torque figures remained unchanged. Four-bolt mains were also added to the manual-trans "87Z" engine.

The 87Z was also the basis for a special NASCAR-sanctioned engine available through the Pontiac parts network. It consisted of the four-bolt block plus a head from the 389 Super Duty V-8, a four-cylinder version of the McKellar No. 8 mechanical-lifter camshaft, and an aluminum four-barrel intake manifold that mounted a large Carter AFB carburetor. Pontiac rated the engine at 184 bhp at 5600 rpm, but estimates pegged output somewhere closer to 240 at 6500 rpm, due in large part to the ram effect of the intake manifold.

The 215 V-8 was also more powerful, picking up 30 horses over the previous year for 185 total. On the other hand, the low-compression four with the automatic transmission was cut back to 115 bhp.

With the success of the 1961 Pontiac Tempest, a new model was sure to follow. On the next page, learn about the 1962 Pontiac Tempest.

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1962 Pontiac Tempest

The rarest 1963 Pontiac Tempest was the base-model Safari wagon, of which 4,203 were made. A long-handled floor shifter worked the three-speed transmission.
©2007 Publications International Ltd.

The 1962 Pontiac Tempest followed the motto, "If it's not broken, don't try to fix it." Once again, this unit was borrowed from the Corvair and modified slightly to accept the torque tube and curved driveshaft.

Production figures rose sharply for 1962. A total of 143,193 Tempests and LeManses were built. The jump can most likely be attributed to series expansion and the public's growing comfort level with the leading-edge technology.


The 1963 model year was one of sweeping and significant changes to Pontiac's senior compact. All-new sheet-metal below the beltline gave the Tempest a more upscale look. The split-grille theme returned, but with an eggcrate grille mesh. The body was a bit more slab-sided, with noticeably longer rear quarters that helped contribute to the additional five inches of length. The tail treatment was new, too. Tempests received two small, round taillamps mounted vertically per side. LeMans coupes and convertibles received thin rectangular lenses with a ribbed stainless trim panel between them.

There was much to talk about under the hood as well. While the four received a new cylinder head (and the 115-bhp version became the base engine regardless of transmission), the aluminum V-8 was history. In its place was a small-bore version of the cast-iron 389 displacing 326 cubic inches. Equipped with a two-barrel carburetor, the 326 was rated at 260 bhp at 4800 rpm, with 352 pound-feet of torque at 2800 revs. Later in the model year, a high-output version appeared. With a Carter AFB four-barrel, it was good for 280 horses at 4800 rpm and 355 pound-feet of torque at 3200. The four-speed manual was not available with either 326, as it did not have sufficient torque capacity.

The automatic transaxle received some revisions as well, having specific versions for slant-four and V-8 installations. They mainly differed in torque-converter size and the number of clutch packs. A "Park" position was added and LeManses received an exclusive floor shifter.

The rear suspension was also improved. The swing-axle arrangement used on the '61 and '62 models was replaced with a new trailing-arm design similar in layout to the one used on the 1963 Chevrolet Corvette. Axles had U-joints at both ends to allow the wheel to maintain a more constant camber setting throughout its range of travel. This new design allowed the rear wheels to operate more independently of one another and reduce the Tempest's natural tendency to over-steer.

Like all good things, the run of the Pontiac Tempest eventually had to come to an end. Learn how on the next page.

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The End of the Line for the Pontiac Tempest

The Pontiac Tempest was eventually driven from the market by the LeMans.
©2007 Publications International Ltd.

The Pontiac Tempest eventually fell to the pressure of its competition with LeMans. Though the LeMans shared much with its entry-level brethren, its image was becoming more upscale, positioning it as a kind of junior Grand Prix.

Road testers gave the '63s high marks for fit and finish, interior appointments, instrumentation, and the new V-8's power. Criticisms ran the range from transaxle noise, to slow steering, to less-than-adequate brakes, especially with the V-8.


Though the Tempest family was becoming better in almost every respect and the competition was not gaining any ground technologically, buyers were not flocking to it like they did even a year before. Production was down, with 69,832 Tempests and 61,658 LeManses built, for a total of 131,490 units. Moreover, product planners believed this trend would continue, as the compact market segment was becoming quite crowded.

That reality, coupled with the relatively expensive production cost, meant the end of the line was soon coming for the transaxle Tempests. Though they were saddled with transaxle durability problems and timing chain woes on the slant-four, the most radical piece of engineering on the cars, the curved drive-shaft, hardly ever caused trouble. Still, many critics believed the transaxle Tempests were far too experimental and unproven to be released as they were.

In the end, the 1961-63 Pontiac Tempests would not be the beginning of a new trend in American cars. They did, however, become an interesting footnote, cars that did their best to bring leading-edge technology to the compact field. They were without a doubt some of the most innovative vehicles of the Sixties in terms of engineering and the utilization of existing technology and manufacturing resources. Ironically, their thoroughly conventional successor would become the trendsetter, spawning the muscle-car phenomenon with an option package known as the GTO. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.

However, the Tempest story doesn't quite end there. On the next page, you will learn about the Tempest convertible that almost was.

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The Pontiac Tempest Convertible

Pontiac turned a Tempest convertible prototype into the supercharged, two-seat Monte Carlo show car seen in 1961 and, with slight changes, in '62.
©2007 Publications International Ltd.

In 1961 Pontiac attempted to turn the Tempest into an eye-catching show car. Ever since the 1954 Bonneville Special fascinated showgoers at the General Motors Motorama, Pontiac longed for a production two-seat sports car to call its own. However, pressure by Chevrolet to protect its Corvette from interdivisional competition prevented that from becoming a reality.

Until the Fiero was introduced in 1984, Pontiac would be forced to satisfy its sports-car cravings by building one-off show cars. The 1961-62 Tempest Monte Carlo was an especially intriguing prototype because it was a production-based car, which, by its very nature, implied that it was indeed producible.


Starting with a prototype for the 1962 Tempest convertible (there were no '61 ragtops), engineers sliced a 15-inch section out of the unit body between the door and the rear wheels, then welded the remaining halves together. The result was a 97-inch wheelbase two-seater with an overall length of 175 inches. Custom eggcrate grilles were recessed in the stock openings and the stock windshield was removed and replaced by a Plexiglass windscreen that wrapped around to the doors. A fiberglass tonneau with twin headrest fairings replaced the stock rear deck.

The interior was functional and attractive. Twin production-style bucket seats with custom side bolsters and retracting seatbelts were finished in blue leather. A custom console housed the shifter and a manifold vacuum gauge, while a set of competition gauges were set in the stock dash opening.

The Monte Carlo's engine was a highly modified version of the 195-cid Pontiac four. It featured a Mickey Thompson supercharger system, which used a GMC 3-71 blower and was fed by a Carter AFB four-barrel carburetor adapted to the blower with a special 90-degree elbow. In the classic show-car tradition, the engine was dressed up with chrome and polished aluminum components. It was hooked to a rear-mounted four-speed trans-axle by way of the Tempest's unique curved driveshaft.

The Tempest Monte Carlo was finished in pearlescent white with twin blue racing stripes running over the hood and deck. For the 1961 show season, the roadster rode on a set of Halibrand knock-off racing wheels shod with Firestone Super Sport tires. When Pontiac showed the two-seater again in 1962, the wheels were replaced by a set of knock-off wires bearing Goodyear Blue Streak tires.

As part of its show duties, the Tempest Monte Carlo was displayed at select racetracks with Chevy's Corvair Sebring Spyder show car. After the Monte Carlo's tour schedule was completed, Pontiac had no further use for it. Rather than crushing it, as was the normal fate for most non-production cars, it was presented to former GM vice president Ed Cole. Before he took delivery however, it was sent back to Pontiac Engineering, where at his request the supercharged four-cylinder was replaced with a much tamer 215-cid aluminum V-8.

The windscreen was also replaced with a production windshield and a small convertible top was also added. The Monte Carlo was used in this configuration by the Cole family until Ed Cole's tragic death in a 1977 airplane crash. His widow donated the roadster to the San Antonio (Texas) Museum of Transportation, where it spent several years in storage.

When the Texas Science Center Automotive Collection was closed in 1994, its inventory was liquidated by auctioneer Christie's. At its prestigious Pebble Beach sale, the Monte Carlo fetched nearly $60,000. According to Christie's, the current owner wishes to remain anonymous. 

We have one more permutation of the Pontiac Tempest to show you. On the next page, you will learn about the Lightweight Super Duties.

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The 1963 Pontiac Tempest Lightweight Super Duties

Though currently modified, one of two prototype Super Duty coupes still exists.
©2007 Publications International Ltd.

Pontiac seemed determined to adapt their Tempest to fulfill just about any automotive need. Next up was the Pontiac Tempest Lightweight Super Duties, designed to compete on the drag strips of America.

By 1963, Super Stock drag racing was a solid motorsports phenomenon, capturing the attention of competitors, spectators, and manufacturers alike who wanted to be able to say definitively who made the fastest car around. Though Pontiac had started the Sixties strongly with its Super Duty parts program and factory-built SD Catalina and Grand Prix race cars, the competition was posing a major threat, particularly Dodge and Plymouth. Their powerful 426-cid wedge-head race engines and lightweight bodies were beginning to steal Pontiac's thunder.


Pontiac initially responded to the 200- to 300-pound weight penalty the Super Dutys suffered by offering aluminum body panels. The weight-loss program culminated in the building of Catalinas that featured large holes drilled in the frames. (Automotive journalist Roger Huntington dubbed them "Swiss Cheese" frames-for obvious reasons-and the nickname stuck.)

Unfortuately for Pontiac, these efforts weren't as successful as hoped. In addition to having frames break due to the removal of too much metal, the cars were still too heavy once the Chrysler makes responded with aluminum body parts of their own. Something drastic had to be done to keep the "Max Wedge" Mopars out of the winner's circle, so the Tempest was called upon to defend Pontiac's honor on the drag strip.

Actually, the idea of dropping Pontiac's brutal 421-cid Super Duty race engine in the compact Tempest body had been in the works since 1962, when racer Mickey Thompson, Detroit-area dealership Royal Pontiac, and even Pontiac Engineering cooked up their own versions of the swap. Though the independents relied on conventional transmissions and rear ends gleaned from the full-size line, Pontiac wanted to explore the idea of retaining a rear-mounted transaxle to put additional weight over the drive wheels. This would help compensate for the limited tire technology of the day.

The only problem was that stock transaxles were hardly strong enough to handle the 421's output. Engineers came up with a new four-speed transaxle known as the "Powershift." At the risk of oversimplification, the Powershift was essentially two Corvair Powerglide two-speed automatic transaxles mounted inline to offer four forward speeds. The actual nuts and bolts of the project was handled by combining off-the-shelf parts with more than 200 new components unique to this design and then casting a new case to hold it ail together.

Though the Powershift was by no means "bulletproof," it was quite a bit more durable than a stock production unit. The rear-mounted four-speed could use either a clutch or a torque converter, giving racers the opportunity to choose the best arrangement for their intended type of competition. The only available final-drive ratio was 3.90:1 and only 14 were built, one for each car produced. No spare cases were built.

With the transaxle situation under control, attention was turned to the engine. A lower-profile dual-quad intake manifold was cast to clear the Tempest hood. Also, the crankshaft had six extra holes drilled in the end flange to mate it to the curved drive-shaft. This version of the 421 Super Duty boasted a 12:1 compression ratio and was rated at 405 bhp, though the actual power figure was somewhere closer to 500.

To save weight, the compact Pontiacs were fitted with full aluminum noses and the doors had much of their inner bracing removed. Production of these racing specials came to two prototype Tempest coupes, six LeMans coupes, and-amazingly-six Tempest station wagons. The idea was that the wagon would put even more weight over the rear wheels than the coupe. Considering that even the big Catalinas had traction problems, these hyperactive compacts needed all the help they could get to put the power to the ground.

Unfortunately, all the effort came to naught. On January 24, 1963, General Motors, fearing an antitrust suit from the U.S. Department of Justice, announced that it was pulling out of all factory-supported racing activities. Apparently, the "Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday" marketing philosophy was working too well, pushing GM's market share dangerously close to the 60-percent figure that would trigger a federal investigation.

Pontiac's Super Duty program was halted and most teams quickly jumped ship to seek factory deals with Chrysler and Ford. Those few 1963 Super Duty cars that made it out of GM before the doors slammed shut ended up in the hands of privateer racers and collectors. They're incredibly rare and highly cherished icons of the factory racing days. Currently, only four coupes and one wagon are known to survive, and of those, just one coupe and the wagon seen here have been restored to original condition.

Originally named "Instant" and driven by Harold Ramsey, it's commonly referred to as the "Union Park wagon" (after sponsor Union Park Pontiac). It is now owned by Randy and Jean Williams of Columbia City, Indiana, and was restored by Scott Tiemann, of Supercar Specialties, in Portland, Michigan. Faithful to its factory-built configuration, the wagon is equipped with the correct 405-horse 421 Super Duty V-8 and rear-mounted four-speed Powershift trans-axle. The restoration was one of extremely high quality, painstaking research, and nearly 20 years of parts collecting.

The Union Park wagon made its post-restoration show debut at the 1999 Ames Performance Pontiac Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio, where legendary Pontiac racer Arnie "The Farmer" Beswick made a gentle 12.4-second pass at more than 112 mph-on the original tires-with Randy in the passenger seat. (Beswick estimated the car was capable of 11.5s.) The Union Park wagon now resides in the Williams' Pontiac museum in Columbia City, along with several other original Super Duty race cars.

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