Hindsight Classic: 1962 Pontiac Tempest LeMans Convertible – This Is What I Should Have Driven Back From Last Summer’s Meet-Up

As the days grow cooler and the nights grow cold, ones thoughts sometimes turn introspective.  This evening I found myself scanning through older photos and I came across these two that I snapped at last summer’s St. Louis meetup at Country Classic Cars in Staunton, IL.  As we were there and perusing their inventory a new shipment was being dropped off.  We stood there and watched as they marked prices on the vehicles and wheeled them onto the forecourt, absolutely zero time was wasted before they were available to the public.  Somehow this little beauty in Mandalay Red caught my eye and I gazed at it appreciatively, looked at everything, but didn’t really know anything about it.  The others didn’t seem at all interested in it and so we soon wandered off as a group as there was plenty more to see. 

A couple of days later as my flight home was cancelled, I ended up renting a Corolla to drive back instead and thought back to the little Pontiac.  And then once back home, I looked into the car further and was surprised that it was a hot little number indeed, sort of a future BMW of Pontiacs at the time.  While it had a 4-cylinder engine, it was a firecracker, churning out plenty of power (with various outputs of between 110 and 166hp available depending on configuration along with loads of torque.)

In addition, with a rear transaxle borrowed from the Corvair it was considered very well balanced with a perfect 50/50 weight distribution as well as being available with a 4-speed manual (although the one for sale was an automatic), independent suspension, and a light, compact yet fairly spacious unibody (yes, not body on frame).  In short, this as a package was precisely what American cars were not supposed to be able to be.

GM didn’t let it live long enough to sort out the issues that it had, the biggest of which at the time was the “flexible” driveshaft inside a torque tube.  The rear swing arm suspension was probably the other main point of contention along with the fact that it was a fairly big four (3.2liters worth), resulting in good power and excellent torque but perhaps more vibration than optimal; balance shafts would have helped a lot.  Other makers such as Porsche figured out the torque tube issues later (and falsely claimed it as their own invention), GM could have done the same.

Paul wrote an excellent full CC on the Tempest here and it goes much deeper into everything.  As for me, I just really liked the little red car with the black top and interior.  It wasn’t perfect, there was a small bodywork issue at one corner which was probably the biggest thing stopping me from probing it deeper at the time, but this is the car that I still think about on that trip.  Sure, the blue Ford wagon that we’ve all talked about a lot (and somehow forgot to take any pictures of) was wonderful too, but this one I could see the whole family really enjoying.  There also is something about that shade of (off-)red that just worked for me on that particular car on that day.  And the brochure car in the picture above even has Colorado plates!  Perhaps this is really the one that got away…