Although a 1969 GTO convertible ignited my love for General Motors products at the tender age of 20 or 21, GTOs mostly escape my notice anymore. In my sleepy little town of 33,000 or so, a summer GTO sighting is almost as ubiquitous, if not as annoying, as all night drunken fireworks displays or shirtless middle-aged dudes (of whom I am sadly now sometimes one). It’s not that I dislike GTOs, it’s just that I’m around old cars too much to appreciate their appeal. But this Tempest reminded me, if I at all needed the nudge, that the 1960s were the decade of Pontiac.
Somewhat ratty, somewhat forgotten, somewhat nontraditional old cars are typically the magnet to my steel, and this bottom-of-the-line two-door Tempest is almost hipster ironic in its “look at me” invisibility, but that same chic mousiness is what makes it the winner with which I was instantly enamored. Because it’s NOT shiny, and it IS lived in, I noticed it, and since I noticed a ’67 Pontiac A-Body for the first time in what seems like eons, it all became clear why people love ’67 GTOs. They are the fortunate recipients of a beautiful bodystyle, Bill Mitchell and Jack Humbert having waved their magic wands and creating a carriage that lasted long after midnight.
While Buick owned most of the 1950s and Oldsmobile the 1970s, Pontiac raced to number three in the 1960s based on the strength of their superior styling and innovative marketing, rendering even the most basic of Tempests lifestyle-machines. Even with a basic 326 and basic wheel covers, the Tempest oozes a GTO-like ready to strike persona, a sheep in wolf’s clothing. What makes this particular car so exciting, however, is that nobody seems to want a base Tempest, or even a LeMans. Everybody goes for the GTO, or much worse, a clone. Therefore, seeing a lowly Tempest at an average summer get-together is exciting.
While I understand why men and women of a certain age want to finally purchase the car they couldn’t afford back in the day, the worst thing that could happen to this Tempest is a for sale sign, or for the current owner to have a change of heart. Aside from some surface rust and a little Walmart rash, this poor Tempest would be the faux-GTO clean slate that some baby boomer has been searching for, and that’s a shame.
After all, Van Kaufman and Art Fitzpatrick sold the Tempest lifestyle well enough for any owner to appreciate the feature car based on its own numerous merits. It’s a driveable example of why owning an old car is so much fun. With a stock 326, it will likely be as reliable as any old car, will cruise easily at freeway speed, and won’t require race gas. Its old paint liberates an owner from waxing instead of driving and worrying instead of smiling. Any new stone chip will only add to the well-used mosaic instead of instigating heart palpitations.
In The Tempest, Prospero mused that “we are such stuff that dreams are made on,” an existential salute to the impermanence of life and all its accouterments, but if Shakespeare loved cars, a basic old Tempest might brighten his protagonist’s day just a little. So “be cheerful,” Curbside readers, and smile a little smile for the underdog, the Malibu that hasn’t morphed into a fake Chevelle SS, or a base Camaro without Z/28 stripes, and behold the joys of the simple and humble, yet beautiful, classic car.
For further consideration: