Tempest Put the Performance in Pontiac: Muscle Car Monday
The Pontiac Tempest will forever go down in history as the car that jump started the GTO. While that’s certainly a big mark in the annals of muscle car-dom, it merely highlights the revolutionary design of Pontiac’s neat little compact. Back in 1960, amidst pressure from the strong-selling Volkswagen Beetle and the Ford Falcon and Chrysler Valiant compacts – GM decided its competing Chevrolet Corvair needed some stablemates. And the easiest way to remedy that would be to retool said Corvair for the Pontiac, Buick and Oldsmobile brands. PHOTOS: Did you know that Bertone made a custom 1963 Chevrolet Corvair?
Thankfully, Pontiac’s upper management had other plans. With John DeLorean at the helm (Pontiac’s director of advanced engineering), the marque spearheaded a joint program to turn the Corvair’s Y-body platform into three new cars for 1961. The Tempest would be the most memorable.
Underneath the hood, the Tempest sourced an inline-four engine contrived from one-half of a production 389-cubic-inch Pontiac V8. The resulting slant-four boasted an impressive 166 horsepower by 1962 and was joined by Pontiac’s optional 215-cubic-inch V8, though a 260-horsepower, 326-cubic-inch V8 would replace the aluminum eight-cylinder.
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Its raciest mill would come in the form of the 1963 Pontiac Tempest Super Duty, a series of only a dozen cars (six LeMans Coupes and six wagons) built to dominate on the drag strip. Preemptively shuttered due to a GM racing ban in 1963, the resultant handful of Tempest Super Duties sported the burly 421ci V8, rated at 405 horsepower, and command an equally massive price tag.
But in all cases, the transmission wasn’t exactly where you’d expect it. Like the Corvair, the Tempest chucked its gearbox in the back of the car, accompanied by an unorthodox curved driveshaft to send the power from the engine to the rear, as well as a coil-sprung independent suspension at all corners. Two- and three-speed automatics complemented a pair of three- and four-speed manuals during the first generation.
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All in all, this setup provided the Tempest with a balanced front-and-rear weight distribution, impressive fuel efficiency, and solid performance even down to the throaty slant-fours. Though, all-out muscle car speed would have to wait until ’64 and the advent of the ‘GTO.’ Still, a benchmark nonetheless.
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