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History of the 1961-1963 Pontiac Tempest
A year after the Corvair, the BOP (Buick-Oldsmobile-Pontiac) triplets arrived in the form of the Pontiac Tempest, Oldsmobile F-85 and Buick Special. The Tempest was actually a very advanced car for the day with all-independent suspension, a rear transaxle, and a “bent-torsion-bar” enclosed driveshaft to increase interior room. Its massive four-cylinder engine made 155 horsepower with a high compression ratio and four barrel carburetor, and this was up to 166 horsepower by 1963). An available option was an aluminum 215 cid V-8, as were V-8s of 326 or 389 cid.
DeLorean noted when the car was introduced that “… the whole car was designed around the engine mounting.” This is because the standard 194.5 cubic inch four-cylinder engine was, quite literally, the right half of a Pontiac 389 V8 engine. Naturally, a massive four cylinder engine shakes, so the enormous and extravagant rubberized mountings throughout the driveline tempered the Tempest. In fact, this was Pontiac’s first ever four-cylinder engine.
Belatedly, the 1963 Tempest featured a strengthened rear suspension with improved geometry. It needed it, as Pontiac engineers decided to drop the Buick-built aluminum V-8 and put a small-bore version of their own 389 between the front wheels. This engine displaced 336 cubic inches, but was advertised as a 326. The “rope drive” torsion bar had to be increased to 0.75” diameter, too, in an attempt to handle the enormous increase in torque. The 1963 cars were also reskinned and were longer, wider and heavier. The four-cylinder engine was still standard equipment.
The big news actually came in 1962 with the introduction of the Tempest Custom LeMans option, which involved adding some trim and front bucket seats. Body styles included two-door convertible and two-door sports coupe with sales of 15,599 and 39,662 respectively, making the car an immediate hit. By 1963, LeMans sales made up a full half of all compact Pontiac sales.
The best news for Pontiac Division was that, unlike the Tempest’s two Divisional siblings, the Tempest (and LeMans) actually succeeded in the marketplace.
For 1963, the LeMans became its own sub-series, supplanting the Custom. The 1963 LeMans with 326 V-8 engines was a precursor to the 1964 LeMans GTO, which had an even bigger V-8 engine and which essentially started the muscle-car craze. You might say that ’63 was the father of the GTO.
There were also 14 Super Duty cars built in 1963 with huge 421 cubic inch Super Duty engines in order to compete in the NHRA “Factory Experimental” class. These cars were built just prior to Christmas 1962 in order to get under the wire of the impending G.M. ban on factory racing, and are highly coveted among Pontiac fans.
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