Curbside Classic: 1964 Pontiac Tempest Custom – You Bet It Hauls!


That so many people curl their nose at the sight of a four-door sedan is, among other things, rather unfortunate.

Here’s one example:  Back in the mid-90s, I purchased a 1955 Chevrolet 210 sedan, in its original two-tone green paint, and equipped with the 235 cu in six and a three-speed manual.  It was a solid and profoundly original car.  Sadly, I recognized my utter inability to care properly for it at the time and attempted to sell it.  Despite my advertising it in a well-known international publication as a four-door sedan, numerous people called and asked if it was a two-door.  Despite telling (reminding?) them what my ad stated, they were generally turned off by the car.  And why?  It had twice as many doors as anyone in the United States cared to possess.  I eventually sold it to a buyer in Sweden who  appreciated it for what it was.

This ’64 Tempest reminds me a lot of that ’55 Chevrolet I had.  Why? Had it been born with two fewer doors, it could have been a–well, a Great Tempest Overload: a chariot able to create salivation in even the non-enthusiast. Once past the unfortunate perception of over-endowment among some audiences, how many people truly appreciate this Tempest sedan for what it is?


It’s a tough and fairly subjective call; however, consider this:  At a car show, which do you find more captivating and refreshing–a nice original sedan, an example of which you haven’t seen in years, or yet another, well, Great Tempest Overload?

That’s what I suspected.  I know this because you are here at, and not over at

When Pontiac introduced the Tempest in 1961, it certainly was different from any Pontiac that came before. Equipped with a four-cylinder engine (a bisected Pontiac 389 cu in V8), it was the first Pontiac powered by anything with fewer than six pistons.  It’s rear-mounted transaxle was also much different than what people were accustomed to, as was its nearly 50/50 weight distribution.  General Motors was likely at its most creative and adventurous during the early 1960s; nobody else in Detroit cared (or was able) to compete with the company that brought us the Corvair for 1960 and the Tempest for 1961.  Such remarkable creativity from General Motors certainly hasn’t happened with such frequency and magnitude since.

An excellent article on the ’63 Tempest can be found here.

1964 Pontiac Tempest-07

Demonstrating such creativity as GM did in the 1960s can be wrought with pitfalls.  Sometimes its fruits can fail to resonate with others, or it simply grows stale over time.  In the case of sales numbers for the ’61-’63 models, either could have been true. At 100,783, Tempest sales for ’61 were strong for a new model, and climbed to 143,193 for 1962. However, model year 1963 saw sales plunge to 69,832.  For whatever the reason, model year 1964 brought a new Tempest that was far more traditional than its predecessor.

Don’t interpret “traditional” as “bad”: That Tempest is what helped propel Pontiac to third place in United States auto sales during much of the 1960s.

1964 Pontiac Tempest-12

For 1964, the Tempest hit a kind of automotive puberty, as all sorts of things suddenly changed, grew or sprouted.

The wheelbase was stretched two inches, to 115″, thus prompting the Tempest to be reclassified by some sources as an “intermediate” and no longer a “compact”.  Gone was the unibody; the Tempest body was now bolted to a full-perimeter frame.  The Trophy 4 engine was consigned to the dustbin of history and replaced with an inline six-cylinder engine.  Even the rear-mounted transaxle was retired.

The Tempest generation that started with our ’64 subject car was a revival of the GM A-body that had been dormant since 1958.  The ’64 Tempest helped set a sort of General Motors A-body template for many years: a base six-cylinder engine and optional V8 power, all mated to a variety of transmissions, in a mid-sized coupe, sedan or wagon body.


If you are new to CC, there is a lot of discussion around here of the GM A-body in all its various iterations (two of which are presented for your viewing pleasure).

This particular A-body Tempest could be considered unusual, perhaps even an anomaly.  However, it can’t be considered as such from a production standpoint–this Tempest Custom sedan is one of 187,276 (non-GTO) Tempests made that year in the third most-popular Tempest body style, of which just under 30,000 were produced.


It’s hard to say if a three-speed manual transmission is unusual among remaining ’64 Tempest sedans.  It’s equally hard to say how many of them are left, since even the Pontiac Registry database doesn’t contain any ’64 Tempest sedans.  Still, the transmission is not what is being considered here.


So what makes this Tempest an unusual critter?

Look at what’s sticking out beneath the license plate.  Yes, you’ve seen these before–but when was the last time you saw one on a Tempest?

The owner of this Pontiac appreciates his Tempest for what it is, and possibly then some.

I became reacquainted with this Tempest last October when I went to check on my house, in Hannibal, Missouri (I also found this most infrequently seen Mopar the next morning).  I saw this Tempest periodically during the five years I lived in Hannibal, and it was always hooked up to a trailer.  Is there a load of tree branches and yard waste to haul to the dump?  No sweat.  Need to transport the riding mower to Aunt Betty’s house to cut her grass?  That’s no challenge.  Actually, this was the first time I’d ever seen this Tempest without a utility trailer behind it.

Why am I skeptical about anyone using their ’64 GTO in such a way at any time during the last quarter-century?


In 1964, Pontiac created a firestorm with its GTO. However, many people seem quick to forget that the GTO wasn’t the only car Pontiac made that year.  Were it not for bread-and-butter sedans such as this, there would have been no way to rationalize a GTO.  So isn’t it great to know that the true foundation is alive and well–and still working for its owner, just the way Pontiac intended. P9170057