Curbside Classic: 1967 Pontiac Tempest Custom – A GTO By Any Other Name

How could I resist stopping for this? It called out so compellingly, like a bright red Christmas ornament on a steely gray winter’s afternoon. I generally stay clear of the restoration shops, in hopes finding a battered original relic on the street. Good luck with a Tempest or Le Mans of this vintage, never mind a GTO. Anyway, contrary to what I may perpetuate about my love for patina, I can appreciate a shiny paint job as well as the next owner of this Tempest coupe. Which there will be, probably sooner than later. The tunnel back GM A-body coupes of 1966 -1967 are exceptionally handsome for the genre, and none more so than the Pontiac. And just how did it come by its good looks?

OK, I’m not going to get totally wobbly-kneed over a mass produced Detroit coupe, but let’s face it, this one isn’t a exactly the typical gruel, or a Dodge Royal Monaco.  So where did the inspiration come from? A little deconstruction is in order. The Bill Mitchell era was certainly a high point for American design, but we all know that he cast his eyes broadly, particularly to Europe. Fair enough.

Pininfarina’s seminal 1961 Ferrari 250 GTO, not uncommonly called the greatest car ever – at least post war – was undoubtedly an influence with more than its name. Were its swollen rear hips and fastback the origin and inspiration for the whole GM Coke-bottle look that revolutionized GM styling for 1965?

The Series I GTO had a smooth fastback,

not completely unlike the 1965 GM full-sized cars four years later.

But the very rare Series II GTO, of which only some seven were built, appeared in 1964 with a rather unusual tunnel-back roof line. Like so many things Pininfarina, that would soon spill over into other models,

most dramatically in the Dino Berlinetta Especiale of 1965, which was the genesis of the long line of Pininfarina mid-engined Ferrari cars all the way to today’s Italia.

We’ll have to pay homage once again to Pininfarina’s 1955 Florida coupe, which as we detailed here, had a profound affect on all sorts of cars. And most particularly so on the new coupe rooflines in the US starting with the 1958 T-Bird, and the 1963 Grand Prix. It already sports the vestigial version of the tunnel back.

You can be the judge, and for all I know, I may be out to lunch. Maybe I missed something that the GM designers were working on earlier.

Or maybe there’s a reason Bill calls him the ‘Maestro’ in this signed photograph. Back to red cars…

It’s not like I’m trying to take anything away from the superb job the Pontiac Design Studio was doing at the time. It was absolutely the envy of the rest of the industry. And the very peak years were from 1963 (full-size cars) through perhaps the 1969 Grand Prix. This 1966 Tempest coupe falls very nicely in the middle of that era, and I’m sure it has its fans that think it’s the best of the bunch.

Undoubtedly, the big Pontiacs for 1965 were dramatic, especially compared to the still-rectilinear ’64-’65 A-Bodies, but their heft was a bit intimidating. The center of gravity was shifting quickly to the intermediate sized cars anyway, thanks to the muscle-car versions like the GTO, as well as just because they were more youthful and reasonably-sized. The full-sized Pontiacs quickly morphed into true bulge-mobiles.

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The ’66-’67 Tempest/Le Mans/GTO carried itself with considerable more levity, tightness, and clarity of line. That’s not to say it was exactly tidy; at 206″ overall length, it’s decidedly full-size in today’s parameters. But a base Tempest Coupe was quoted as weighing 3,110 lbs, almost a featherweight. Of course, these cars were lightly equipped, and that base model also included the OHC six.

How I wish this one had one, the 215 hp four-barrel Sprint backed up by a four speed. GeeTO Jr.! I would have walked in and asked to pop the hood for sure. For a 326, it wasn’t worth disturbing them from their labors.

The 165 hp base version was advertised in terms that might be a bit of a stretch. Especially when teamed up with the two-speed automatic. Maybe a late-seventies 262 cubic inch Chevy V8 or such.

Anyway, there’s nothing wrong with a 326 that a 389 or 421 can’t fix.On the other hand, that gets one dangerously close to a GTO clone, as so many Tempest and Le Mans coupes have already given up their badges for. Nice just to see one unmolested.

That goes for the interior. Straightforward, in the fashion of the times. Not much Pininfarina influence here.

So just for curiosity’s sake, what’s the asking price? Hmmm. Compared to a Ferrari GTO, that’s well less than 1%. Does that help? Just put a Pininfarina badge on it; maybe that’ll help a bit more.