How Pontiac Works

By: the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide

1960, 1961, 1962, 1963 Pontiac Tempest

Pontiac met with success in the 1960s, finishing among the top-threeautomakers for most of the decade. The 1962 Pontiac Catalina is shown here.See more pictures of Pontiac cars.

From mostly "also-ran" in the '50s, Pontiac became a consistent front-runner in the '60s, finishing third in the industry race every year from 1962 to 1970. Much of this was owed to three enthusiastic general managers: Knudsen through 1961, then Elliot M. "Pete" Estes (GM president in 1974-81), and finally John Z. DeLorean in 1965-69.

These and numerous other "car guys" made Pontiac synonymous with high performance, great looks, superb roadability, innovation, and tasteful, comfortable luxury. No wonder Pontiac did so well.


A minor exception to that was the compact 1961-63 Tempest, significant for having GM's first postwar four-cylinder engine, a flexible driveshaft, and a rear transaxle (transmission in unit with the differential) allied to independent link-type suspension. One enthusiast magazine called Tempest "a prototype of the American car for the '60s," but no other U.S. make would have a rear transaxle and independent rear suspension until the Chevrolet Corvette and Plymouth Prowler of '97.

The original Tempests were fairly popular, but Pontiac felt a more orthodox design would sell far better. This appeared for 1964, and it did sell better -- much better. At that point, the original Tempest's 195-cid four, basically half of a 389 V-8, was abandoned for an inline six -- sensibly cost-effective, but hardly daring.

Like a speedometer cable, the 1961-63 Tempest's "rope" drive­shaft carried rotary motion through a long, gently curved bar beneath the floor. Thin, but lightly stressed within a steel case, it was mounted on bearings and permanently lubed. The driveshaft's slight sag allowed a lower transmission tunnel in front, though not in back; it also eliminated the need for U-joints and permitted softer engine mounts for better interior isolation.

The rear transaxle, a first for Detroit (but not the world), made Tempest less nose-heavy than conventional cousins Olds F-85 and Buick Special. But though its independent rear suspension was ostensibly superior, it was prone to sudden oversteer that could be alarming, especially on wet roads. Still, the Tempest handled well -- more so than Chevy's rear-engine Corvair, even though both used simple but tricky swing axles in back.

The initial 112-inch-wheelbase Pontiac Tempests used a unitized Y-body structure adapted from the first Corvairs, as did the F-85 and Special. The standard slant-four teamed with manual and automatic transaxles, and was offered in tunes to suit regular or premium gas. By 1963, horsepower was 115-166 (versus 110/130 in '61).

Optionally available for 1961-62 was the Special's 215-cid aluminum V-8 with 155/185 bhp. This gave way for '63 to a debored 326-cid version of the Pontiac 389 packing 260 bhp. So equipped, a Tempest could scale 0-60 mph in 9.5 seconds and reach 115 mph.

Tempest bowed with a single series listing standard- and Custom-trim four-door notchback sedans and four-door Safari wagons with one-piece rear "liftgate." Coupes arrived at midseason with bench- or bucket-seat interiors, the latter christened LeMans. Custom and LeMans convertibles were added for '62 and proved quite popular, prompting a separate LeMans series for '63.

Styling didn't change much. A twin-oval grille was used for '61, a full-width three-section affair for '62, a different split grille and squared-up body lines for '63. Prices also didn't change much, with most models in the $2200-$2500 region.

For more on the amazing Pontiac, old and new, see:

For more on the amazing Pontiac, old and new, see:

  • Pontiac New Car Reviews and Prices
  • Pontiac Used Car Reviews and Prices