(first posted 5/29/2016) In 1967 Annie and I had the 1961 Comet and the 1964 VW Beetle that I shared with my father as a commuter car to the NYC subway system. We also had a baby son, Chris, who seemed to travel with more luggage and accessories than his parents combined.
It was time for Annie to get a car that she wanted. She never really warmed to the Comet. I know, that’s hard to believe. Annie wanted a car with a better measure of reliability, more safety features, more room (especially in the trunk), an automatic transmission, and power steering.
There were a lot of cars back then that fit Annie’s requirements. The one we liked best looked good and acted well.
I perused the usual suspect car magazines of the day and all the gurus were waxing eloquent about Pontiac’s overhead cam 6 that had been introduced in model year 1966. They proclaimed V8 power in a six. Sounded good, but most car savvy people took this to be more a case of GM marketing than an end user reality.
Still, the benefits of an overhead cam straight six were tantalizing.
The hot ticket Tempest was the one that came with the OHC-6 Sprint option. This version was a performance machine with a four-barrel carburetor, hot cam, high compression ratio, large valves, stiffer valve springs, and a split exhaust manifold.
But we were married folks with a child, and it was the base version of the Tempest and its still esoteric but more modest engine that we liked.
The base Tempest OHC-6 sounded like a neat “European-style” car with an engine that would be smooth, quiet, maybe a bit rev-happy, but also practical.
It had a big trunk and impressive safety options such as collapsible steering column, seat belts, lane changing directional signals, 4-way hazard lights, dual circuit brake lines, and locks that kept the front seat backs from folding forward unintentionally.
It was a sensible car for sensible people with just a subtle touch of élan.
When one becomes a parent, one’s priorities change.
Remember those child seats you hung over the back of the front seat. You know what I mean; they came with a little plastic seat belt and steering wheel? Depending on your age, you might remember them or you might have sat in them.
The front seat back locks of the two door Tempest made these child seats “more secure”.
Sometimes I’m surprised that any of us survived the pre-safety revolution period of motoring.
To this day, when I have to make an unexpected quick stop I throw my right arm out to protect a car-seated child who isn’t there. Where is he? In Ohio; he’s 50 years old.
The Tempest was also attractive to our 1967 eyes. It still looks good to me in 2016.
Paul did a write up on this Pontiac A-body Here and JPCavanaugh did one There. But these two CC articles were looking at the top or near top models. Annie and I were looking at the lowest level of the Tempest hierarchy.
The Tempest had that signature Pontiac split grill, the vertically stacked headlights, and a sleek rear window treatment that some people called a flying buttress.
The base 1967 Tempest OHC-6 had 230 cu. in., generated 165 hp at 4,700 rpm, and was fed by a one barrel carburetor. This A body was 206 inches long and weighed just a bit over 3,000 pounds.
Note-1: 206 inches! That only 15 inches shorter than my current 18.5 foot long 2013 Toyota Tacoma double cab long bed and that Tacoma’s length continues to intimidate me in crowded parking lots and some other places as well. Funny, I never thought of the Tempest as “big”. After all, it was the “compact” Pontiac.
Our Tempest came with a two speed automatic transmission and a 2.56 rear axle.
That two speed automatic transmission felt like Powerglide and the shift quadrant looked like Powerglide, but it wasn’t called Powerglide. Pontiac called it “two speed automatic transmission”.
Maybe Powerglide sounded too Chevy-ish.
With all the fancy names given to automobile transmissions over the years one would think that GM could spend seven minutes thinking up a name for the Tempest two speed unit.
Perhaps they did. Hey Boss, how about calling this “The Tempest Two-speed”. People like alliteration, right?
Or maybe GM’s Tempest transmission terminology team (sorry) was a bit like the Waco kid in Blazing Saddles:
Or maybe they just named the transmission the way Holly Golightly named her cat.
I’ll stop now.
The transmission and axle combination meant that it long legs, good for low engine RPMs at highway speeds, but not very quick off the line. One day that lack of acceleration would be very important to this writer.
I never tested how fast it would go in first gear. It did seem like it could accelerate forever without shifting, like a 1950 Buick straight 8 with Dynaflow. But, as the owner and payer of any subsequent auto repair bills, I didn’t want to find out.
Interesting features of the Pontiac OHC-6 included an oil pump, distributor gearing, and mechanical fuel pump drive that were located along the outside the right (passenger) side of the block and driven by the OHC fiber-glass reinforced cogged rubber timing belt.
I was never aware of any restrictions regarding the life of the timing belt as I would be later with my Honda and Mazda COALs. Perhaps I just forgot or missed that section of the owner’s manual. The Tempest engine was not an interference design, so even if the belt broke, the valves would not impact the pistons. Fortunately in its 100,000 plus miles life, the timing belt never broke or needed any adjustments.
The interior was GM neo-spartan. Functional, hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and easy to clean after little Chris’ bottle of formula came back up.
No A/C. When I said spartan, I meant spartan.
Lap belts only, but that was good enough for me. The lap belts I installed in the ill-fated 1959 Ford wedding gift had served me very well.
Note-2: Looking back at that time frame from 2016, I am amazed that the US auto industry, with all of its engineers and millions in development dollars, could not come up with the simple concept of retractable three point seat belts. I mean, this was not exactly rocket science. Or heart surgery. Indeed, the first heart transplant took place in late 1967, but design effective and easy to use seat belts? That was too hard!
Our regular runs from Long Island to Binghamton NY where Annie’s mother lived were a breeze in the Tempest. It was quiet, comfortable, and the engine had a surprisingly nice touch of thrust (with no down shifts) when pulling out to pass slower traffic at speed. Once the OHC-6 got its RPMs and ground speed up a bit, it went like a gazelle.
Chris sat in that hang-on-the-seat-back car seat and steered it like he stole it.
After driving the 53 Chrysler, the 57 Olds, the 59 Ford, the 61 Comet, and the 64 Beetle, this was definitely a nice step up in comfort, perceived safety (it still had drum brakes), reliability, and lightness of being. I could and did drive this car all day long and never feel fatigued. Nice work Pontiac!
And Annie loved it. That was important.
Back in the 1960’s buying a new car was to many people riskier than getting a used one. Most new cars had to go through a shake down phase where defects were identified and rectified (sometimes reluctantly) by the dealer’s service department. What was normal then would be unacceptable now.
The Tempest had two issues. First, the energy absorbing steering column had a kink in it. Turning the wheel in either direction would result in a vague clicking sound and a kinking sensation. I felt it; Annie did not. It took one visit to get the dealer’s service department to fix it. Once fixed, it stayed fixed.
The second issue was more problematic; the engine had a knock. Not loud, but definitely there. It sounded like one of the pistons was a tad too loose in the cylinder. It did not seem like a minor issue. The dealer was reluctant to address it the first time. On second visit we insisted that this was serious and our complaint was elevated up the ladder to the “area rep”. I even wrote a letter to Pontiac’s Division Head John Z Delorean asking for assistance and suggesting that GM’s “Mark of Excellence” was in danger of losing its luster.
I do not think JZD intervened, but the dealer did call us and ask us to bring the car in. They would need it for “a while” and we were given a 1965 Tempest 4 door sedan as a loaner.
Note-3: In the early 1990’s I worked for Digital Equipment Corporation (which would become Compaq and then HP, long story – another COAL) in technical sales support and was meeting a customer in a fancy French restaurant in Bernardsville NJ. While we waited I realized that John Z. Delorean was sitting alone at a table for two near a window and had placed a single red rose on the plate opposite his. He waited a long time at that table. While our customer and the DEC sales rep were talking, JZD finally got up and left the restaurant alone, red rose still on the opposite plate. He looked terrible, beaten down and now stood up. I felt bad for him. He died in 2005 at age 80. No matter what the world thought of his late life business dealings, he was one heck of a good car guy.
We had that 1965 loaner four door for five weeks. One Sunday Annie, Chris, and I went to the closed dealership to see if “our” car was there. We did not see the car itself but there was a big blue motor on the service workbench. Not sure if it was ours, but I bet it was.
When we got the car back it was fine. I was a bit troubled that a new car needed a five week repair, but we were both happy to have it back, and even if they offered us a replacement, how much trouble would the new replacement be? Not exactly a Catch-22, but not too far from it either.
- a situation in which a person is frustrated by a paradoxical rule or set of circumstances that preclude any attempt to escape from them
- a situation in which any move that a person can make will lead to trouble
I comforted myself by saying I had car with a hand built motor.
When we got the Tempest I was still at Shell Oil. The change to Grumman in 1969 was traumatic in many ways. Where Shell was a wood desk hushed carpeted office 9 to 5 work place, Grumman was steel desk bull penned chaos, where 12 hour days were not unusual. Every minute of work had to be accounted for and applied to either a Navy contract or overhead. And each Navy contract had officials who made sure any time charged to their projects was verifiable and needed.
In early 1970 Grumman created Grumman Data Systems (GDS). The office building at 1111 Stewart Ave in Bethpage Long Island was built for GDS and named Plant 35 in the parlance of Grumman facilities. Today, it is the home of Cablevision. Letters from Cablevision with the return address of 1111 Stewart Avenue Bethpage NY still make me smile.
It was hoped that GDS would go after and win non-Navy information technology (IT) contracts and add to Grumman Aerospace’s revenue much as MacDonald Douglas Automation had done for its parent company.
While the Navy provided most of GDS’ initial business, we developed a proposal team to go after government and private sector RFPs (requests for proposals). This required long hours working on the detailed and complex RFP responses. We often worked all night and multiple days in a row to complete these proposal responses by their deadlines.
When completed, the responses had to be delivered to the requester in Washington DC.
GDS management played it safe. We made twice as many copies of the proposal response as needed. One set was taken to Washington by the project team leader on Grumman’s corporate Gulfstream 1, a turbo-prop version of what would later become the famous Gulfstream corporate jet line. Nice plane. The G1 had a flight attendant who served snacks.
Another set of proposal responses were given to a low level employee (that was usually me) to take to Washington on the Eastern Airlines shuttle. This was the plan in case one of the planes crashed. These proposals responses were valuable; a lot of time and money had been spent developing them.
Apparently, low level employees were expendable.
I would drive the 64 VW Beetle to LaGuardia, buy a ticket at the little EAL shuttle booth, and then walk out to the waiting three tone silver and blue plane, usually an old 727. I didn’t mind doing this; flying to and from Washington was time well spent looking out of windows. The plane itself was kind of worn out and shabby. Shuttle duty was rough on flight attendants and some of them took it out on the passengers. No food was served.
I was also showing my management how many programming feats I could perform using the Mark IV file management system. GDS management liked what they saw and invested in additional Mark IV features that made the system more powerful and a greater challenge to the then dominant Cobol cabal at Grumman.
But all of this business excitement and long hours took my eyes off family life. Computers are easy to work with; people are much more complex. And spouses are more complex still.
Annie was a mother, worked at a church school, was working on one or more masters degrees, and was married to a man who was rarely home. This all was taking a toll on her that I might have seen had I not been so consumed with my own work. Or maybe I saw it and could not, would not, or didn’t know how to, deal with it. Like I said, computers are easy; people are hard.
There were arguments, bouts of temper, and then quiet but ultimately temporary resolutions. I think my refusal to engage in arguments with Annie made things worse. Perhaps if I had argued back it would have provided some cathartic relief for her. But my nature was to withdraw. Our marriage was not going well.
Maybe the little cottage was giving us cabin fever. We bought a small two bedroom house built in 1918 in Rockville Center for a very low price. We took over the low rate mortgage and got a second loan for much of the balance. It was a handyman’s special and on top of that also needed termite remediation work. We set about to fix it up.
The kitchen was 1930’s or so and the stove was mounted on a bed of bricks that went along the floor and up the wall. We ripped out the kitchen and the bricks and put in a nicer kitchen. I cut wood to replace the termite eaten areas and got a gallon of liquid chlordane. It was legal then.
I soaked the cut wood in the chlordane and brushed the strong smelling thin white liquid onto areas I could not soak. There was a lot of splashing and spills. No gloves. No masks. No eye protection. I guess no brains either. When I was done replacing the bad wood with the chlordane soaked pieces, I poured the rest of the poison around the foundation where the termite tunnels were seen.
I carved my initials into those chlordane soak wood pieces with the date “1970”. I wonder if they are still there.
I’m not exactly sure what the following means, but it doesn’t sound good:
ACUTE/CHRONIC HAZARDS: Chlordane may be toxic by ingestion, inhalation or skin absorption ,. It is an irritant and may be absorbed through the skin ,,,. Effects at higher dosage levels may be cumulative . When heated to decomposition it emits toxic fumes of carbon monoxide, hydrogen chloride gas, chlorine and phosgene ,,,.
I did wash my hands afterward. I’m not a complete idiot.
The house didn’t solve our relationship issues. If anything, the constant tasks the house demanded of us made those issues worse. Annie and I continued to grow apart with little Chris in the middle. The more we dove into our respective worlds, the worse it became.
What has this dreary tale about marital strife and homeowner woes have to do with Curbside Classic COALs?
It will all come together.
(That’s Cuba Gooding Sr.)