Pontiac Tempest

Pontiac Tempest
1963 Pontiac LeMans coupe.jpg
1963 Pontiac LeMans sport coupe
ManufacturerGeneral Motors

The Pontiac Tempest is an automobile that was produced by Pontiac from 1960 to 1970, and again from 1987 to 1991.

The Tempest was introduced as an entry-level compact in September 1960 for the 1961 model year. A highly innovative design, it shared the new unibody Y platform, GM's first, with the Buick Special/Skylark and Oldsmobile F-85/Cutlass, came with a standard four-cylinder engine, and offered a two-speed rear-mounted transaxle automatic tranmission.

The line offered the optional LeMans trim upgrade, beginning with a few 1961 LeMans coupes and adding a performance aspect in MY 1962. In 1963, the Tempest was redesigned as a mid-size built on the new GM A-body platform, with its LeMans version spawning the industry-changing signature muscle car, the GTO. Originally options, both the LeMans and GTO were subsequently split off as their own model lines, the LeMans in 1969 and the GTO in 1965.

In Canada, Pontiac also marketed a rebadged version of the compact L-body Chevrolet Corsica under the name Tempest from 1987 to 1991.

First generation (1961–1963)

First generation
Pontiac 2119 Tempest 1961.jpg
AssemblySouth Gate Assembly South Gate, California
Body and chassis
Body style4-door station wagon
4-door sedan
2-door coupe
2-door convertible
LayoutFR layout
RelatedOldsmobile F-85
Buick Special
Chevrolet Corvair
Engine196 cu in (3.2 L) I4
215 cu in (3.5 L) Buick V8
326 cu in (5.3 L) V8
389 cu in (6.4 L) V8
Transmission2-speed automatic
3-speed manual
3-speed automatic
4-speed manual
Wheelbase112 in (2,845 mm)
Length189.3 in (4,808 mm)[1]
Width72.2 in (1,834 mm)[2]
Height53.5 in (1,359 mm) (sedan)
54.3 in (1,379 mm) (station wagon)[2]

Despite sharing some sheet metal with the Oldsmobile F-85, the first-generation Tempest had several unique features that made it stand apart from the other compact GM cars. Power came from a ground breaking 195 cubic inch (3.2 L) straight-4[3] engine, marketed as the "Trophy 4," derived from the right cylinder bank of Pontiac's 389 cubic inch "Trophy 8" V8 engine.[4] The other part of the pioneering Tempest drivetrain was a rear-mounted transaxle[5] that was coupled to a torque shaft arcing in a 3 in (76 mm) downward bow within a longitudinal tunnel. This joined the forward engine and the rear transaxle into a single unit, helping to reduce vibration.[6] The design, known as "rope drive," had only been seen previously on General Motors' 1951 Le Sabre concept car.[7]

The combination of a rear-mounted transaxle and front-mounted engine very nearly gave the car an ideal 50/50 front/rear weight distribution. This, along with a four-wheel independent suspension, helped make the Tempest a nimble-handling car for the era. The front engine/rear transaxle design also eliminated the driveshaft/transmission tunnel in the front of the passenger compartment, while lowering the driveshaft tunnel in the rear compared with a conventional front engine/front transmission layout.[8]

The Tempest's designer, auto industry icon John Z. DeLorean, was Pontiac's chief engineer at the time of its introduction. He wanted the Tempest to be more than just a compact,[9] and he apparently convinced the American motoring press of that: The Tempest was Motor Trend magazine's 1961 Car of the Year. Road & Track praised the Tempest as "exceptionally roomy" and "one of the very best utility cars since the Ford Model A."

The Trophy 4 four-cylinder engine was promoted for its economy, but Pontiac also saved money on its assembly: Because it was based on the right cylinder bank of the Pontiac 389 V8 engine, both engines could be built on the same assembly line. There were three versions of the Trophy 4: An economy version with a relatively low 8.6:1 compression ratio and a single-barrel carburetor; a hotter version with a 10.25:1 compression ratio and a single-barrel carburetor; and the most powerful Trophy 4 engine, which had a 10.25:1 compression ratio and a four-barrel carburetor. While both Trophy 4 engines (low and high compression) equipped with single-barrel carburetors produced 110–140 hp (82–104 kW; 112–142 PS), the high-compression, four-barrel Trophy 4 engine produced 166 hp (124 kW; 168 PS) at 4,800 RPM and 215 lb⋅ft (292 N⋅m) of torque at 2,800 RPM (all ratings are SAE Gross). The three Trophy 4 engine versions offered fuel economy ratings ranging from 18-22 MPG. Popular Mechanics reported fuel economy of 21.3 MPG at 60 MPH.[10]

The Trophy 4 engine was generally reliable, but could be harsh when it was out of tune, due to its inherent lack of secondary balance and absence of balancer shafts.

The Tempest was offered with quite a few options such as air conditioning, transistor radios, windshield washers, a parking brake warning light, padded safety dash, child-proof door locks, and dealer-installed seat belts, as such restraints were not yet Federally required at the Tempest's introduction.[11]

195.5 cu in (3.2 L) Trophy 4 engine in a 1962 Pontiac Tempest LeMans

Another departure from the other Y-body cars was the Tempest's 9 in (23 cm) drum, which used five studs on the same bolt circle ("five-on-four-and-a-half") and 15 in (38 cm) wheels - a configuration unique among General Motors cars. Both Buick and Oldsmobile had standardized their Y-body cars on an odd 9.5 in (24 cm) brake drum with four lug studs on a 4.5 in (11 cm)-diameter circle (a "four-on-four-and-a-half" bolt pattern), with 14 in (36 cm) wheels. This arrangement was also not used by other General Motors cars at the time.

Along with the Trophy 4 engine line another optional engine for the Tempest in 1961 and 1962 was the innovative aluminum Buick-built 215 cubic inch (3.5 L) V8, an engine that had first appeared on the Buick LeSabre.[12] It is estimated that just 3,662 Tempests were ordered with the 215 engine, or about 1% of production. This engine produced, in its various incarnations, from 155–215 hp (116–160 kW; 157–218 PS) despite weighing just 330 lb (150 kg) installed.

The engine blocks used for 215-V8 engines installed in Tempest models were distinct from 215-V8 engine blocks used in other models because, in addition to Buick factory markings, they were also hand-stamped at the Pontiac plant with the Vehicle Identification Numbers of the individual vehicles that they were installed in. Thus, in 1961, all Pontiac 215 engine blocks begin with "161P"; for 1962 the stamping began with "162P". Further code numbers indicated the car's transmission (manual or automatic).

In 1961, the transmission choices were a three-speed column-shifted manual with a non-synchronized first gear, or a two-speed automatic transaxle controlled by a small lever to the right of the ignition switch on the instrument panel. Called TempesTorque in company literature but unmarked on the unit itself until 1963, it was similar in concept to the Chevrolet Powerglide automatic transmission used on the Chevrolet Corvair, though few parts overlapped. For 1962, a floor-mounted, fully synchronized four-speed manual transmission became available.

At its introduction, the Tempest was only available as a four-door pillared sedan and as a station wagon that, like other Pontiac station wagons of the time, had the name Safari added to it. A pair of two-door coupes (one of which was named LeMans) were added at the end of 1961, both in the 1961 body style.

1962 Pontiac Tempest convertible

For the 1962 model year there were four Tempest models available: a sedan, a coupe, a station wagon, and a convertible. Customers wanting something fancier could opt for the LeMans trim package upgrade, which featured front bucket seats. Tempest LeMans models were available with either the coupe or the convertible; there was no LeMans sedan or station wagon. And although Oldsmobile and Buick offered pillarless hardtops on the Cutlass and Skylark respectively, Pontiac did not offer a pillarless hardtop LeMans model.

In 1963, the LeMans became a separate series; its sales were nearly 50 percent of combined Tempest and Le Mans production. 1963 models, referred to as senior compacts, were slightly larger and heavier than the 1961 and 1962 models had been. These new models featured a redesigned transaxle that improved handling, as well as a high-performance option that was much more powerful than the rarely-ordered 215-V8. This new V8 option for 1963 was Pontiac's 326 cubic inch (5.3 L) V8, an engine with the same external dimensions as the venerable "Trophy 8" 389, but different internal components designed to produce more torque. A new version of the automatic transmission (now officially stamped TempesTorque on the case) was redesigned to handle the new V8's additional torque. The four-speed manual transmission had not been redesigned, and very few V8-equipped Tempest models were built with this transmission. The three-speed manual transmission remained available for all engines.

The high-compression 326 V8 engine's output was 260 hp (194 kW; 264 PS) and 352 lb⋅ft (477 N⋅m) of torque (SAE Gross). The actual displacement was 336 cubic inches, but according to lore, since General Motors management edict declared that no GM compact was allowed to have an engine that was larger than the Chevrolet Corvette 327 V8, the advertised displacement for the Tempest V8 was 326 cubic inches. However, for 1964, the engine's displacement was adjusted so that it actually was 326 cubic inches, making the 1963 "326 V8" a single-year engine.

The cast-iron V8 engine increased the Tempest's weight by 260 lb (120 kg) over the weight of a Tempest equipped with a Trophy 4 engine; front/rear weight distribution changed somewhat to 54/46. Performance with a 326 V8-powered Tempest was strong enough that Car Life magazine wrote "No one will wonder why they didn't use the 389." Fuel economy with the 326 V8 could be as high as 19 mpg. The 326-V8 option proved popular: 52 percent of the 131,490 Tempests and LeMans models sold in the 1963 model year were ordered with the 326-V8 option.

Super Duty

Perhaps the most famous of all Tempests were the 12 1963 "Super Duty" cars built to compete in the NHRA Factory Experimental class.[13] These were put together at the Pontiac plant in Michigan over Christmas 1962 with the knowledge of an impending General Motors ban on factory racing. Among those who successfully raced them was Wild Bill Shrewsberry, who turned low 12-second quarter-mile runs in the 1963 NHRA Winter Nationals driving for Mickey Thompson. Shrewsberry still owns his car and it is still equipped with Pontiac's "Powershift" transaxle as retrofitted later in the 1963 season. Developed specifically for the Super Duty model, this was essentially two Chevrolet Powerglide automatics in a single four-speed unit, allowing clutchless shifting in much the same manner as modern drag racing transmissions do.

On October 31, 2008, one of the most rare factory race cars, the missing Stan Antlocer Super Duty Tempest Le Mans Coupe, was auctioned on eBay. The seller started the auction at $500 being unaware of the car's true value. Eventually, the car was sold for $226,521.[14][15][16][17]