Quick Shift – A Beautifully Restored 1962 Pontiac Tempest LeMans Convertible

This is a Quick Shift for Wednesday, June 29th. I have done a couple of Quick Shifts with some of the more interesting cars I have come across this past weekend. This one is one of my absolute favorites; A first year Pontiac Tempest LeMans Convertible that has just been restored to better than new condition. Let’s have a look….

1962 was the first year for the LeMans Convertible, and this one looks splendid. Powered by the 195 CID slant inline four, that produced anywhere between 110 and 155 HP depending upon the carburetor chosen and the compression ratios. This was actually the left side of a Pontiac 389 CID V-8 engine, and Pontiac could save money by producing the engine in the same plant as the V-8 sibling.

This car was just as innovative as the Corvair in the fact that it was equipped with a front engine, a rear transaxle, connected by a unique torqueshaft that was dubbed “Rope Drive”. This gave the Pontiac the same floor space as the rear engined Corvair, as well as the only other GM car equipped with a fully independent rear suspension.

This particular car is equipped with the two-speed automatic transaxle, with the same shift lever used in the Corvair. The owner added an aftermarket air-conditioning system, which really isn’t a bad idea. Trivia: Many of the body panels used in the Tempest and LeMans were shared with the Oldsmobile F-85!

I love this car, and I hope you like it as well.

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  1. B72 Avatar

    It's a thing of beauty. Does the rear transaxle and independent suspension mean it handles well too, or is it just quirky?

    1. dukeisduke Avatar

      It's quirky, because they used swing axles, like the early ('60-64) Corvair. The '64 Corvair added a transverse leaf spring (a camber compensator) to tame the quirkiness – some aftermarket companies (like IECO) also sold camber compensators for Corvairs.

      1. AteUpWithMotor Avatar

        It's worth noting, though, that the 1963 Tempest rear suspension is different than the '61-'62 version, and quite a different animal.

    2. Paul_y Avatar

      This is the best image I've been able to find of a Tempest transaxle :http://members.rennlist.com/porken/TempestDriveTrain.jpg
      It looks like a swingaxle arrangement. Chances are, somebody else will come along and explain this thing better. Chances are, it's weird and fussy, but then again, Mercedes Benz made FR cars with swingaxle rear ends that were reasonably good (the 300SL springs to mind, but I believe it was Captain Slow who described it as something of a widowmaker).
      The weight distribution in the Tempest probably made it better to drive than a Corvair, at the very least.

      1. dukeisduke Avatar

        I have a magazine at home (called "High Performance Pontiacs", or something like that), that was published in the early '60s. There's an article in it on the Tempest's handling, and adding a camber compensator. From what I can remember of the article and the pictures, the stock handling could get pretty squirrelly (due to tuck-under), just like the Corvair.
        Thanks for that link. It confirms my memory of the driveshaft being 5/8" in diamater. I can't remember now if it was possible to replace the ball bearings the shaft rode in – I remember reading all about that setup in the Pontiac service manual, in the downtown public library in Dallas, but that was 30+ years ago. 😉

  2. Paul_y Avatar

    I think the only way this could have more wacky 60s gimmicks is if it were equipped with the 8-lug wheels. Lovely car, though.

    1. P161911 Avatar

      Don't forget GM was still playing with mechanical fuel injection on Corvettes in 1962 too. And aluminum engine blocks in the 215 V-8 used in the Olds and Buick versions of this car.
      (Where'd all my points go? Hoonibbles get hungry again?!)

  3. dukeisduke Avatar

    "Rope drive" consisted of a 5/8" diameter (IIRC) steel rod, that ran on a couple of ball bearings, inside a hat-section stamped box, with a cover bolted on the bottom. This forced the rod to run through a curve, hence the name "rope drive". Oldsmobile got almost the same effect on the F-85 by using a two-piece driveshaft with a double cardan joint in the middle. The F-85's "quirkiness" was the 155hp 215 aluminum V8.

  4. dukeisduke Avatar

    The biggest problem they had with the 195 in development was the tendency of the timing chain to whip itself to pieces. They added guides, and that stabilized the chain. There were even some Super Duty fours built, using a small Carter AFB and SD parts from the V8.

  5. P161911 Avatar

    When you have a 50%+ market share you can afford to compete with yourself, for a while.

    1. Paul_y Avatar

      That's very true.

  6. dukeisduke Avatar

    Yeah, that's it. The Oldsmobile's name was going to be the Sixty-Six.

  7. OA5599 Avatar

    A friend used to work at a racing engine shop and he told me that (back then, at least) the half-a-v8 engines were popular in certain classes of dirt racing because of the way the weight was offset.

  8. TurboBrick Avatar

    They didn't really shut down, they did develop some new stuff. The engine baffles in Chevy Vega that allowed it to be transported vertically, ABS brakes and airbags, EFI and the 4-6-8 variable displacement system, Oldsmobile diesels and…. yes, it's quite remarkable that they went on a nearly two-decade stretch of producing almost nothing that actually WORKED as intended.

  9. CptSevere Avatar

    Early International Scouts had a slant four engine similar to the Tempest's engine, half of a 304 V8 or half of a 390. I wonder if Pontiac stole the idea from IHC? The first Scout came out in 1960, with the 152 slant four. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Harves

    1. ptschett Avatar

      The timing is so close that I'd guess they just had the same idea at the same time. The US was coming out of a small recession and drivers were interested in smaller, cheaper cars, and using half of a V8 for an I4 is about the cheapest way to come up with a small car engine when you're making bigger cars.

  10. dustin_driver Avatar

    Dammit Jim, I JUST wrote a piece about the first-gen Tempest! It's literally in the queue to be published right now. Sheesh. Now it'll look like I ripped off your idea.
    Anyway, "great minds" and all that.

  11. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    I love the stuff they came up with, and mourn how lame things got after about '67, both styling and engineering-wise.

  12. dustin_driver Avatar

    You know, you could order these things with the 326 V8.

    1. tonyola Avatar

      Not in 1962 you couldn't. The 326 didn't come along until 1963.

    2. Jim Brennan Avatar
      Jim Brennan

      Not until 1963. But you knew that…

      1. dustin_driver Avatar

        Yes, but did you know it was actually a 336 marketed as a 326? (I didn't know until I read Wikipedia.)
        On another note,I wonder if anyone ordered the earlier 215 for a 62-62 Tempest wagon.

  13. Smells_Homeless Avatar

    Nice car, but did the two utes ever get out of jail?

  14. limousine chicago Avatar

    Wow that's really brilliant car…

  15. Harley Landis Avatar
    Harley Landis

    I had one of these little honeys back in 1965. It was a convertible with the "performance package" on the 195 cid four cylinder, which included a 4-bbl rochester carb and and four-speed. I kept the car until 1967, and really enjoyed it.

    1. Bryan Avatar

      We picked up the that same car (has lemans package ) from the estate of a local collector about 3 years back. The old girl only has 36505 miles on her I love taking it out but just can not seem to find the time Bryan PA

      1. Dave Avatar

        if you never use it would you sell it, sounds too cool with the performance package?