Trophy 4 Equipped: 1962 Pontiac Tempest – SOLD!

Sep 2020 | Classifinds, Topless Thursday

September 23rd Update – We’re not surprised to find the private seller deleted the listing for their very nice ’61 Tempest deleted.  We love seeing great cars priced right go quickly and we’re pleased to now call this Pontiac “Sold!”

Compacts were all the rage in the early 1960s and Pontiac’s brass wanted a piece of the action.  So through some innovative part bin cannibalization, Pontiac launched their great looking compact Tempest line for the 1961 model year.  Tempests came in several body styles including a convertible such as this Silver Blue example recently listed in North Ridgeville, Ohio (Cleveland) with an asking price of $13,500.   Featuring a recently rebuilt engine and an older repaint, a comparison of the asking price against the Hagerty Insurance Online Valuation Tool confirms this private seller has his 122S priced between the #2 “Excellent” appraisal of $13,700 and the #3 “Good” estimate of $8,900.  As a second data point, the Collector Car Market Review Online Tool shows the asking price falls between their #2 estimate of $11,250 and their #1 value of $16,925 before factoring in any adjustments.

The genesis of the Tempest began when the Pontiac division wanted an entry into the compact market following the success of the Chevrolet Corvair; the division wanted to produce a clone of the Corvair but instead, GM gave Pontiac the green light to manufacture a new creation. The Tempest’s designer, auto industry icon John Z. DeLorean, Pontiac’s chief engineer and general manager, went to work on a unique car that would meld components GM already produced.  He wanted the Tempest to be more than just a compact, and he apparently convinced the American motoring press of that as the Tempest received Motor Trend magazine’s 1961 Car of the Year award while  Road & Track praised the Tempest as “exceptionally roomy” and “one of the very best utility cars since the Ford Model A.”

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 195 cubic inch inline four-cylinder engine, marketed as the “Trophy 4,” derived from the right cylinder bank of Pontiac’s 389 cubic inch “Trophy 8” V8 engine.  The other part of the pioneering Tempest drivetrain was a rear-mounted transaxle that was coupled to a torque shaft arcing in a three-inch downward bow within a longitudinal tunnel. Using the torque shaft was the result of being forced to use the Corvair underbody which, being a rear-engine platform, had no driveshaft tunnel. This joined the forward engine and the rear transaxle (therefore no transmission hump) into a single unit, helping to reduce vibration. The design, known as “rope drive,” had only been seen previously on General Motors’ 1951 Le Sabre concept car.

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.

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 between 110 and 140 horsepower, the high-compression, four-barrel Trophy 4 engine the example here features produced 166 horsepower and 215 pound-feet of torque. 2,800 RPM (all ratings are SAE Gross). The three Trophy 4 engine versions offered fuel economy ratings ranging from 18-22 MPG. While the Trophy 4 engine was generally reliable, owners found it could be harsh when it was out of tune, due to its inherent lack of secondary balance and absence of balancer shafts.

Pontiac offered the Tempest 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.

Another departure from the other Y-body cars was the Tempest’s nine-inch drum, which used five studs on the same bolt circle (“five-on-four-and-a-half”) and 15-inch wheels – a configuration unique among General Motors cars. This arrangement was also not used by other General Motors cars at the time.

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.

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.

Incorrectly labeled as a ’63 commercial, here’s Pontiac’s Tempest commercial for 1962.

It’s rare to come across an early sixties Tempest and we love the driver quality vibe this example gives off.  This is a fun and unique convertible that makes a compelling alternative to a first-generation Corvair.  Good luck with the purchase!

Here’s the seller’s description:

“1962 pontiac lemans tempest convertible. 79,000 original miles. Beautiful car! 4 cylinder 4 barrel motor, rebuilt about 4,000 miles ago by, pc automotive in oberlin, ohio. Runs perfect! Automatic with rear transaxle-rare! 1 repaint long ago . Still looks great. Has some checking in the paint. Beautiful silver blue color with white power top. Bucket seat interior. Seats were redone last year. Power steering, factory am radio. This is a sweet summer cruiser that stands out in a crowd! Super clean underneath. Asking $13,500.

Do you have a Pontiac Tempest story you’d like to share?  Comment below and let us know!

3 Comments
  1. Mike G

    I worked at Alpine Pontiac in Brooklyn in the 80’s. We had a customer named Danny who brought his 1961 black Tempest 4 door sedan in once a year for an oil change and NY State inspection. The “old timer’ Charlie always serviced the car. Charlie would call me over to show me the “half” engine. Charlie retired at age 79 around 1985. Danny missed his annual NYSI one year. After receiving a post card from us, he called to say he wasn’t well but as soon as he was up to driving again he would bring the car in. That’s the last we heard from him or saw the car.

    Reply
  2. Joe May

    Had two of these 62 LeMans in the late 60’s. The 4sp Sedan was totaled and I found a convert with automatic. Both were antique gold with Saddle interiors .Great cars, little maintenance, fun to drive..
    .

    Reply
    • Guys with Rides

      Very cool, Joe! Thank you for sharing!

      Reply

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