Frugal Four: 1962 Pontiac Tempest Convertible – Sold?

by | Jul 2022 | Craigslist ClassiFINDS, Topless Thursday

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August 11, 2022, Update – We just confirmed the listing for this “Classifind” expired, so with no replacement found we’re assuming this ride “Sold?” While this one got away, please reach out either by email or call us directly if you’d like to be informed when we come across something similar.

Project Risky Business, our 1985 Porsche 928S, features a rear-axle-mounted Mercedes four-speed automatic transaxle connected to the front-mounted V8 engine connected via a torque tube. While Porsche’s “Transaxle” cars (think 924/944/928) of the late 1970s were heralded as innovative for this power train design, General Motors introduced the concept in 1961 on its new “Y-Body” compact cars offered by Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and Buick. These compact offerings by GM’s more upmarket brands have long been overlooked by classic car enthusiasts. However, with gas prices soaring, a four-cylinder-powered, four-place convertible might be a more economical alternative.  This red over black 1962 Pontiac Tempest Lemans convertible, originally listed in July 2021 on Craigslist in Monroe, Louisiana, offers a four-cylinder economy, especially given that it offers a floor-shifted three-speed manual transmission.

Currently offered for $20,000, Classic.com, the analytics and search engine for the collector car market, confirms the ask is well above this guide’s five-year rolling average for first-generation Pontiac Tempest Lemans produced between 1962 and 1963.  By clicking on the green dots in the graph below, you can navigate to each comparable car sold as a way to help you evaluate the price of the truck featured here:

As a second data point, the  Collector Car Market Review Online Tool reveals the seller’s ask is one thousand dollars higher than this guide’s #1 “Excellent” appraisal of $19,000.

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 resulted from 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.   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. In 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.

The Mac’s Motor City Garage YouTube Channel features this 1962 Pontiac Tempest LeMans commercial:

Far from perfect, this driver-quality 1962 Pontiac Tempest LeMans convertible is an economical classic car that provides decent fuel economy that you can enjoy immediately while upgrading as your time and budget permit.

Here’s the seller’s description:

1962 ✨ Convertible ✨ Pontiac Tempest LeMans. All numbers match, all original. Brand new convertible soft top and white walls, new fitted car cover.
• New electric fuel pump
• 3 speed manual
• 83,186 original miles
• Manual transmission
• LeMans Trim Package
• Power Soft Top

Classic car
Vintage

Show or go: What would you do with this 1962 Pontiac Tempest Lemans convertible?  Please comment below and let us know!

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