Small Safari: 1962 Pontiac Tempest Wagon – SOLD!

by | Aug 2022 | Classifinds, Wagon Wednesday

(To stop the slideshow and expand the pictures, click on the current photograph below)

August 31, 2022, Update – We confirmed the seller of this “Classifind” deleted their listing, so we’re now able to call this one “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.

August 10, 2022, Update – The private seller just lowered their asking price from the original request of $21,500 to $18,500.

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.  One example is this 1962 Pontiac Tempest four-door Safari wagon originally listed in August 2022 on Craigslist in Franklin, New Jersey. This example features TempestTorque, which is a dashboard-controlled, two-speed automatic transaxle.

Currently offered for $21,500, Classic.com, the analytics and search engine for the collector car market, confirms the ask is well above the five-year rolling average of this guide’s summary for Pontiac Tempests of all body styles produced between 1961 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 wagon featured here:

As a second data point, the  Collector Car Market Review Online Tool reveals the seller’s ask is currently well above this guide’s #1 “Excellent” appraisal of only $15,200.

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, Pontiac offered four Tempest models: 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 Kelly’s Cars YouTube Channel features this video that provides a modern look back at the innovative rear transaxle removed from a similar ’61-’63 Pontiac Tempest:

This 1962 Pontiac Tempest Safari appears to be a very solid and well-preserved survivor that is ready for the next caretaker to enjoy as is for the balance of the summer cruising season.

Here’s the seller’s description:

“Original 73,983 miles, has been serviced with new Rotor Cap and Points, Wires and Spark Plugs, Oil Change/Filters.
Starts right up and runs as it did back in the early 60s.
This is a very clean vehicle with a new Exhaust, and the tires are in very good condition.
The interior is near mint. The Radio, Cigarette Lighter, and Rear Power Wagon Window all work as if new. The windows crank down as smoothly as they did back in 62′.
The exterior is very clean (Mandalay Red) with some normal wear.
Has a Trophy 4 engine.
All the glass is in mint condition. No rot in the undercarriage. Asking $21,500 OBO​

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

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