(first posted at CC on 11/30/2012) In the thirties and forties, GM pioneered and brought to market some of the most innovative, successful and lasting new technologies: Diesel-electric locomotives; the modern diesel bus; automatic transmissions; refrigeration and air conditioning systems; high-compression engines; independent front suspension; and many more. But GM’s technological prowess was just one facet of its constantly-at-war multiple personalities. Planned obsolescence, chrome, fins and financial rationalization were the real moneymakers, especially during the technologically conservative fifties.
Nonetheless, from 1960 to 1966 GM built three production cars that attempted to upend the traditional format: The rear-engined 1960 Corvair, the front-wheel drive 1966 Toronado and the 1961 Tempest. Although the Corvair and the Toronado tend to get the lion’s share of attention, the Tempest’s format was by far the most enduring; essentially, the Tempest was a BMW before BMW built one of their own. If only Pontiac had stuck with it.
Consider its high-performance, four-cylinder engine with four-venturi carburetion; four-wheel independent suspension; four-speed stick shift; perfect 50-50 weight distribution; a light, compact, yet fairly roomy body; decent manual steering; and neutral- to over-steering handling: Those specs parallel those of the all-new 1962 BMW 1500/1800–or perhaps even a Mercedes or Rover 2000? But there was one thing none of those cars had: A rear transaxle and a totally revolutionary flexible drive shaft. When GM gave its engineering talent the freedom to innovate, the results were often extraordinary. But in true GM fashion, penny-pinching resulted in a 1961 Tempest that, like the Corvair, was flawed from the day of its introduction. Sadly, and unlike the Corvair, the Tempest was never given a chance to sort out its easily fixable blemishes; if it had been, the result could have been even more remarkable than the ’65 Corvair.
John DeLorean’s tenure at Pontiac may be more remembered for the ’59 Wide-Tracks, the GTO, the Pontiac OHC six, and the ’69 Grand Prix, but in my opinion the 1961-1963 Tempest stands as his most ambitious and creative engineering effort. He was as aware as anyone of the limitations of Detroit’s big-car formula: What it produced was invariably too big, too thirsty, front-heavy and dull-handling. Now, with the 1960 Corvair waiting in the wings, DeLorean’s longstanding plans to build a truly advanced and practical car would finally come to (not quite ripe) fruition.
DeLorean was particularly interested in the benefits of independent rear suspension, which so many European cars, including VW, Porsche and Mercedes, had been using since the thirties. In the mid-fifties, his engineering team had developed an even more radical evolution of Mercedes’ approach for the 1959 full-sized Pontiacs: A rear transaxle (to balance weight distribution) connected to the engine by a flexible-shaft drive inside a rigid torque tube. That innovation was DeLorean’s alone, and he received a patent on it. And please, don’t call it “rope drive”– if you try to send power through anything resembling a rope, good luck. This was a single flexible piece of steel, more akin to a torsion bar or speedometer drive shaft.
The big 1959 Pontiacs arrived with their ad-friendly wide tracks, but otherwise were utterly conventional. Actually, GM wanted to foist the new rear-engine Corvair on Pontiac in order to spread around its high development and production costs. The prototype Pontiac Polaris (above) was classic badge-engineering, with a ’59 Pontiac-ish front end grafted onto an otherwise unaltered Corvair. But the Pontiac brass, Bill Knudsen, Pete Estes and DeLorean, weren’t buying it, partly because DeLorean was aware of the Corvair’s tricky handling and nasty habit of spinning, or even flipping, when pushed too far.
Initially, DeLorean’a plans envisioned a front-engined car that used the Corvair body and kept the entire Corvair rear suspension and its transaxle as originally placed, not even turning it around to face the motor. Utilizing a hollow shaft, the Corvair transmission would actually be “driven” from the rear of the car; as a result, the torque converter would hang from the back of the differential, where normally it would have mated up to the Corvair’s rear engine.
Very creative indeed, and it’s rather bizarre to see the torque converter out there in the open, like an appendage (as pictured above). The drive shaft had three inches of deflection (curvature), and two intermediate bearings to help smooth out the vibrations.
The benefits of the rigid torque tube went well beyond producing a nearly flat floor. For instance, it was a key adaptation to the four cylinder engine that helped reduce inherent vibration. In theory, a four-cylinder has perfect primary balance, but with only two power impulses per crankshaft rotation, second order and torsional vibrations can be quite significant, especially as displacement increases. Traditionally, the Europeans kept their fours at or below two liters for just that reason. In 1975, Mitsubishi reintroduced the balance shaft in its 2.6-liter four; it proved highly effective, and is now very commonly used to smooth out large fours.
That’s why Detroit shunned fours like the plague: In order to provide American-style torque and power, American fours had almost always been large. At low engine speeds, as in Ford’s Models T and A, they were not too bothersome. A suitable six might have been perfect, but Pontiac had little choice but to create a compact, low-cost four the quick and dirty way: By eliminating one bank of its 389 CID V8. It was a very cost-effective solution because it not only used a high percentage of the V8′s parts, but could also be machined on the same lines as the V8.
Rigidly mounting the four to the front end of the torque tube eliminated the need for the engine mounts to control its front-to-back movements, so it was possible to isolate it and its vibrations from the body to a much greater degree than if had been mounted in the usual fashion. The mounts on the four only had to control its vertical movements, so they could be very soft. That does result in an impressive display of vertical “jumping” when the throttle is opened from idle.
That’s not to say that the 195 cubic inch (3.2 L) four’s noise, vibration and harshness issues were all miraculously solved by DeLorean’s innovative mounting solutions. It’s a very big four, for better or for worse. It does have a fatter torque curve than a comparable six or eight for its displacement, and therefore is very responsive. And thanks to Pontiac’s high performance experience, it could be quite powerful; output started at 110 hp, and went up to 165 hp with the optional four barrel carburetor. That overshadows the 1961 Corvair’s 98 hp optional engine.
As it turned out, Pontiac didn’t have to use the actual 108″ wheelbase Corvair body after all; GM relented and let them share the Corvair-based but slightly larger 112″ wheelbase Y Body that Buick and Oldsmobile were preparing for their 1961 compacts. But Pontiac was given a very tiny budget to adapt it, so the 1961 Tempest (above) used most of the Olds F85 sheetmetal with a ’59 Pontiac-derived front end and a new rear end grafted on. But the four cylinder, flex-drive and Corvair transaxle and its rear suspension were retained, for better or for worse.
The worst was that it was a simple swing axle: rigid half-axles jointed only at each side of the rigidly mounted differential. This was the hot new thing in Europe back in the thirties, but its tendency to jack up in fast corners and create snap oversteer and flipping had become all-too well known.
That’s why Mercedes developed its innovative single low-pivot rear axle (above) with an anti-jacking compensating spring in the early fifties, a temporary step before it adopted a double-jointed irs in 1968. BMW’s “Neue Klasse” 1500/1800/2000 sedans first arrived in 1962 with a double-jointed rear suspension. As did the Jaguar S sedan. Europe was moving on, and GM would quickly learn this painful lesson in penny-pinching. The 1963 Corvette Sting Ray had a new double-jointed rear axle, which the 1965 Corvair also adopted to great effect.
I showed you the odd Tempest automatic transaxle earlier, but here’s the (leaky) four speed in the featured convertible. That round bolted cover on the end is where the Corvair bellhousing would have attached.
And here’s the front of the same unit, showing the shift linkage which the Tempest conveniently shared with Corvair too. It wasn’t a model of precision and quickness, but Porsche had to have something left to improve when it adopted a highly similar torque tube rear transaxle for their 928 and 924/944/968. The 968′s three liter four was only slightly smaller than the Tempest 3.2, and its ferocious torque showed to best advantage the benefits of a large displacement four with balance shafts. If John Z. had remembered about the 1904 Lanchester’s patented balance shafts and adapted them, the Tempest would really have been a milestone car.
Speaking of Porsche, here’s their false claim about their “pioneering”:
The ’61 and ’62 Tempests did also offer a version of the aluminum Buick 215 CID V8 optionally, but only 1-2% of them were built with it, and only a tiny handful with a stick. Theoretically, the combination of the light and smooth V8 with a four speed and the Tempest’s independent suspension and perfect weight balance would have potentially made a very appealing package. But the V8 was troublesome from the beginning, and Pontiac had to “buy” it from Buick, so the four was pushed heavily. And the hi-po four did make almost as much horsepower as the V8.
The Tempest was widely (and rightfully) hailed when it arrived. It won Motor Trend’s COTY, and accolades from the press: “a breakthrough for Detroit”…”a wonderfully refreshing automobile”…”a significant coup of major import”…”may be the forerunner of a new generation”…”unquestionably a prototype American car for the sixties”.
Testers praised its 50-50 front-rear balance, which resulted in lighter steering, less understeer, better traction and braking, and a good ride. But its ability to create the dreaded snap oversteer in the wet or on quickly driven curves was not totally left behind with the Corvair’s rear engine. The Tempest’s handling could also be tricky at the limit, and its agricultural sounding four could not be fully tamed, even if some of its shaking was mitigated. Consumer Reports was not so enthralled.
The Tempest met its sales expectations, selling 100k in 1961, 140k in ’62, and 130k in ’63. That helped Pontiac clinch third place in the sales stats. But it suffered the same problem as the Corvair: profitability was not up to snuff. The extra costs in converting the Olds body and the drive shaft and rear transaxle bit into the already slim margins on compact cars. The whole ambitious Corvair/Tempest/Olds F85/Buick Special Y-body experiments left GM with a bad aftertaste, especially since Ford was doing so well with its utterly conventional Falcon and Comet. The dull 1962 Chevy II was the effective replacement for the Corvair, and the B-O-P compacts became highly conventional mid-sized cars in 1964.
Our next door neighbor in Iowa City, a Russian professor, drove a white ’62 LeMans convertible like the one above. I vividly remember the throb of the big four as I rode with her to Sears to get her lawnmower fixed. But the open top was even more effective than DeLorean’s other efforts to drown out its agricultural sounds, at least above thirty or so. And I once briefly drove a co-worker’s base ’61 sedan in LA: despite being elderly, its intrinsic balance (which could be all-too easily upset for amusing purposes) and decent steering for an American car was downright un-American. If only its engine ran sweetly like my Peugeot 404′s. But the trade-off was the torque: very American indeed.
Our featured car is a 1963 LeMans, which was the sporty/upscale variant analogous to the Corvair’s Monza with the same bucket seats and higher trim. The ’63s were restyled to make them appear bigger, wider and longer, but the inside was no larger. This convertible has all the right options, at least for those that have a soft spot for the four. I found it in front of this shop where it had just been converted to the factory 165 hp four barrel setup. And it also has the four-speed stick. Not surprisingly, its owner turns out to be a ’63 Tempest junkie; it was the car he always wanted in high school.
Norman has over half a dozen ’63s in and a round his shop and back yard, including this sedan still on the trailer that he just picked up. And he has another convertible (below) with the optional 326 V8 that replaced the aluminum V8 for 1963. This was a prescient move by DeLorean, and foreshadowed the 1964 GTO.
The 326 is a 389 with smaller bores (and actually displaced 336 cubic inches), and although no lightweight, it still results in a quite decent 54/46 weight distribution because of the rear transaxle. With a two barrel carb, the 326 made a fairly modest 260 hp, but the Tempest was light (2800-3000lbs) so with the V8 it scoots right along. Because of limited funds, the four speed was not upgraded to handle the V8′s torque, so as far as is known, all the 326s came with the three speed stick or the two-speed Powerglide/aka: TempesTorque automatic. Norman says his fours get 18 – 20 mpg, and the 326 around 16 – 18 mpg.
To mitigate its handling rep, the 1963 Tempest’s rear suspension was revised with a modified control arm geometry and other tricks. But it was still a swing axle, and the Tempest’s end was already in sight, to be replaced by live-axle conformity.
But in my imagination, I see an update of DeLorean’s original Tempest idea: a 1965 Tempest coupe based on the stunningly beautiful ’65 Corvair body, with the 230 hp Sprint OHC six under a lengthened front end and sharing that Corvair’s new Corvette-based rear suspension.
What a genuine American BMW that would have been, right down to the dash (the BMW’s Tempest look-alike dash appeared on the ’66 1602). In my oft-repeated GM coulda-shoulda-woulda dreams.
Ate Up With Motor has a very in-depth article on the 1961-1963 “Rope Drive” Tempest here.
I keep learning new things this week. I had never paid enough attention to these to realize that the 1963 Tempest and LeMans had two completely different rear end treatments. The LeMans was very predictive of the 64 car, while the Tempest was a one-year-only treatment with the twin over and under round taillights. This adds to the revelation from earlier this week that these were the only Pontiacs through most or all of the 60s to use 15 inch wheels. Nor did I recall how massive the Trophy 4 was in the world of 4 cylinder engines.
Our next door neighbors, the Bordners, had a series of Ponchos. The first one I remember that had any flair to it was a baby blue 63 Tempest convertible. I now know that it was not a LeMans, because it had the round taillights. I cannot recall what replaced it, it was either a beige VW with a sunroof (1965 or so) or the 66 GTO with the 4 speed that Mrs. Bordner drove. Through the 60s, that driveway was an odd combination of hot Pontiacs and VWs.
Those big wheels and tires really transform the look of this car. In reading DeLorean’s book, I recall that he was for years (at both Pontiac and Chevrolet) at war with beancounters who kept insisting on dinky tires. Delorean always thought that big tires made the car look better, even forgetting the safety and performance aspects. I wonder if this was the car that lit that fuse?
Those 15″ wheels on these are a bit of a mystery, because they weren’t used on any other Pontiacs, even the big performance cars like the 2+2, GP, and GTO.
I very strongly suspect that it was done to try to mitigate some aspect of the swing axle rear suspension. I can’t think of any other reason…I know DeLorean had a thing about undersized tires, but this goes a bit overboard. Maybe there was a clearance issue under the transaxle/driveshaft.
Frankly, they looked a bit odd at the time, and really stuck out. I was aware of them as a kid, before I knew about the Tempest’s irs, and couldn’t figure out why they jammed those tall 15s under the fender cutouts obviously designed for the F85’s 13″ wheels.
The 15″ wheels were to clear the tie rod ends 14″ work fine on rear axel
Hi Norman. But I assume the F-85 and Buick Special used the same front suspension components, yet they used 13″ wheels.
different parts do not interchange also only G M car I know of with 5 x 4.5 inch wheel bolt pattern front suspension platform different because of uni-body construction with motor torque tube connection to rear axel assembly separate from body frame unit.
My first car was a ’62 Buick Special station wagon. It only had 3 options. Radio, limited slip, and 15 inch wheels.
As a kid, I loved seeing all the different late 50’s to 70’s tail designs and can still name them on sight. I knew the Tempest vs. LeMans looks since I was 5.
I kind of like the Tempest’s round lights more, but the LeMans’ rear previews the ’64 GTO. I’m glad to see resurgence of 1st generation Tempests, there is a cult following [like the owner in pics] on the Performance Years Pontiac website. Also, more are featured in magazine articles.
It’s too bad that GM couldn’t keep the Buick/Olds/Pontiac Y body going through the 60’s along [as done with Corvairs] with the BOF A bodies. Could have Tempest companion model to the LeMans series. But V8’s ruled and we know the rest of the story.
Paul, you echoed my thoughts exactly: What if the OHC 6 had been mated to the rear transaxle platform, with the updated IRS of the second-generation Corvair?
And even better, what would the automotive landscape look like today if this combination had sold like hotcakes?
Unfortunately, I’m afraid that the inexpensive gasoline of the time – and the popularity of V8s – means that these will remain unanswered questions…
Knowing the American buyer, the plain-jane, mechanically boring Ford would have outsold it and been more profitable per unit. As much as I hate the way GM left the technologically rich 59-63 period, there is a reason. Profit. Profit, profit, profit.
All the parts were there to make something really outstanding but GM knew its customers and a great handling car wasnt wanted it took un til BMW copied a Triumph 2000 for decent driving sedans to gain a foothold on the US market.
The BMW 1500 hit the market before the Triumph 2000. I doubt there was any copying going on in either direction. BMW also had debuted semi-trailing-arm IRS years earlier on the BMW 600.
I suspect that the success of the Ford Mustang in 1964 played as big a role in the death of Detroit innovation as any other factor. Why spend money on engineering and tooling when you can just make a prettier version of the feeblest of the 1960 compacts and then print money?
Very interesting article. I knew exactly none of this before, yet it is fascinating: a Pontiac with a modifed Corvair base under an Olds skin with an optional Buick/Land Rover power plant.
The rear suspension I was already aware of, courtesy of Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei’s detailed description in My Cousin Vinny.
Can you say Positraction?
Very interesting article that brings back some memories! Our neighbors were Pontiac people, and, in the late 1960s, they owned a 1965 Pontiac Catalina four-door sedan and a 1963 Pontiac Tempest sedan. I remember being fascinated by the four round taillights on the Tempest. Their Tempest was beige with a light brown top, while their Catalina was the same color as the 1963 sedan on the trailer.
Unfortunately, the first-generation Tempest/LeMans are comparatively rare sights at car shows. Everyone wants to show GTOs.
Looking at the 1963 Tempest sedan and convertible, I’d say that they are the perfect size for a modern-day family car.
Terrific article Paul! When I was about 6 years old our next door neighbor bought one of these used for their 20-something daughter. I would watch her start it up and back out of the driveway. The car made a very unusual howling sound that seemed to be coming from the rear. I wonder if it was the torque converter.
Fascinating article, you learn something new here every day.
My best friend’s mother bought this very car (although the hardtop version) new as we were entering high school, so a year later we were screaming around L.A. in it as newly minted drivers. It was all black, with the 4-banger and the 4-speed on the floor, and I remember it sounding like a jet engine winding up as he would thrash it through the gears. He would really flog it, being so testosterone driven as only 16-year olds can be, and I would hang on for dear life as we tore around. He would never miss a chance to coerce his mother to let him have the car. It was truly the BMW sports coupe of its day.
This car set the stage for my own first car, a ’64 LeMans, which I have chronicled here before, all red, 326 V-8 with the two-speed automatic. Although it grew to mid-size that year, it was the perfect size for me, being a six-footer-plus, and was arguably one of the best cars I ever had. Didn’t realize the 326 was a derivative of the big 389, it was a very competent engine for the LeMans, and I remember it being powerful enough for my tastes. And relatively economical, too, it would regularly deliver around 14 mpg, not bad in the days of 29-cent per gallon gasoline. I drove it for seven years all through college, and was happy to see it find new life in the hands of yet another younger college guy when I moved on to my second car, a ’70 Cougar XR-7. But that’s another story.
New neighbors moved in down the street from us around 1962 with a new Tempest wagon. Even at the age of 6 I knew it was unlike most other American cars with it’s 4 cylinder engine. I don’t know if it was troublesome or they just didn’t like it, but I think it was replaced with a Fairlane wagon. New buyers moved in about 1973 with a Honda 600Z coupe, and despite a few more changes of ownership there have been only Japanese cars in that driveway for almost 40 years.
It looks like it’s going 111mph even when standing still …
Love these cars. The 215 V8 was highly sought after for Vega engine swaps, but I was unable to locate one and ended up with a Buick 3.8l instead. My Tempest connection (besides having once owned a 1966 Sprint 6 four door) was that I used the radiator out of a Tempest that had once had the 215 (long gone when I got to it) to cool my Vega.
OK, there’s the converter; where is the clutch?
The stick version has the clutch in the more usual location behind the engine. I’m not exactly sure why the automatic has the TQ back there; probably because of the way the Corvair transaxle was laid out.
What I don’t understand is how the torque converter is retained. On conventional set ups it’s bolted to the flex plate and just engages splines or tangs in the transmission but on this I just don’t know how they keep it in there.
Could be bolted to the inner coaxial shaft from the engine
Nope the shaft ends at the front of the transmission. I stripped one of these for a customer once.
Wouldn’t there be a shaft that runs through the gearbox input shaft to drive the torque converter or clutch though? That would have to have a bearing that could take an axial load before it went inside the input shaft, the other end is a bit harder to visualise, but I expect the output side of the clutch/converter was the main locating support.
The pump shaft goes all the way through the transaxle into the converter, where it splines to the torus cover hub. There’s a retaining ring at the end so the torus housing can’t slide off the end of the shaft and a bolt-on cap over that to keep the converter sealed. The shop manual illustrates it pretty well:
To clarify, the driveshaft terminates at the front of the transmission, where it splines to a coupling that allows it to drive the pump shaft. In a Corvair Powerglide, the pump shaft runs forward through the transaxle (passing through the hollow differential pinion shaft) to allow the torus cover to drive the transmission’s front oil pump. In the Tempest version, the pump shaft drives the torque converter torus cover instead.
It’s very clever — the Corvair transaxle was already kind of convoluted in terms of power flow because of the front and rear pumps, so adapting it to take power from the opposite end wasn’t too difficult.
A question for all you guys here- does anyone else see a lot of Mustang in the general proportions and overall style of the soft top pictured here? Not saying the ‘Stang is a copy or anything, but there is a bit of an sense the Pontiac could almost be an imaginary 1963 Mustang!
With the tail of the LeMans chopped off a bit, yes. The Mustang wasn’t that radically different, by any means. It had its unique styling aspects, but its overall configuration was fairly conventional, except for the passenger cabin being pushed back a bit, and the tail being bobbed.
I agree that if you look at the soft top by itself it does look a lot like the Mustang’s.
The designers of the first Mustang said that they lifted the rear window and roof treatment directly from the 1963 Tempest/LeMans hardtop.
I am saddened yet again by the failure to espy a single curb feeler upon any of the pictured vehicles.
There has always been one mystery for me about the ’63. I’ve read elsewhere that the rear suspension was revised, even one instance where it said semi-trailing arms replaced the swing axles. I was not aware that the swing axles were retained even with the revisions.
I guess, then, the Corvette/Corvair rear end was GM’s first double-jointed IRS.
Also, all these posts and no mention of “My Cousin Vinny?”
Looks like trailing arms not swing axles to me
The Tempest irs did have trailing arms,as did the Corvair too. But they could only partly offset the reality that a swing axle is only jointed at the center (differential), and thus the camber changes were still very much there. It takes double-jointed rear drive shafts to get rid of that.
There were some minor revisions for 1963, but I’m not exactly certain of what exactly they were.
The 63 Corvette has double-jointed axles
The 1961 and 1962 Tempest, like the early Corvair, had a semi-trailing arm on each side that carried the coil spring and transmitted acceleration and braking forces. The ’63 Tempest replaced this with a wider L-shaped lower control arm. In principle, this induced a bit more understeer, although its bigger advantage was that it made adjusting the rear alignment somewhat less cumbersome.
There are a number of sources that assert the ’63 Tempest had a double-jointed rear axle, which is incorrect; there’s still just one U-joint on each side.
I winder what one of these would be like with a 4-speed stick, and a Pontiac OHC 6 or Pontiac Sprint OHC 6 from the (then)-future
It was available with a four-speed sometime after launch, the one used in the Corvair. The four-speed was not available with the V-8s, and Pontiac ended up being stuck with the initial Corvair four-speed ratios (3.65/2.35/1.44/1.00), but it had a synchronized low gear.
The OHC six would have been vastly smoother, although the base 1V OHC six had about the same power and torque as the ’63 4V four-cylinder and weighed about the same, so it wouldn’t have been a dramatic difference in performance. The Sprint version of the OHC six had an extra 42 hp, but only a little more torque, so it would have probably been a little slower than a ’63 Tempest V-8 (which had even more power and an advantage of over 100 lb-ft in torque).
” I see an update of DeLorean’s original Tempest idea: a 1965 Tempest coupe based on the stunningly beautiful ’65 Corvair body, with the 230 hp Sprint OHC six under a lengthened front end and sharing that Corvair’s new Corvette-based rear suspension.”
If only that had come to fruition. An American 635CSi, 10 years before the real deal.
Pity that GM decided to pull a GM and stick with low-revving OHV boat anchors well into the 80’s.
Paul’s idea of a 1965 Corvair-based Tempest doesn’t sound to me like merely a gearhead’s wet dream — it also makes a certain amount of business sense. By creating a Pontiac variant, the considerable cost of restyling the Corvair’s body could have been better amortized.
Indeed, GM presumably could have come out with a direct competitor to the Mustang much more quickly if it had gone this route.
All of which leads to a question: Didn’t the 1967 Camaro pull from the Corvair parts bin, e.g., sharing windshields and such? If so, then the Camaro could be viewed as a decontented 1963 Tempest in key respects. If DeLorean hadn’t been captured by big block mania he might have pressed for the Firebird to incorporate higher-end technology such as the Corvair’s IRS and an improved version of the Tempest’s old transaxle.
A guy I served in the Army Reserve with bought a cute new 74 Plymouth Duster with the lizard grain half roof. The car was repossessed a few months after purchase, even though the guy was single and had a good paying job. Shortly after, he bought for $ 200 a 63 Pontiac coupe with over a 100K miles and definitely in very poor condition. He drove me for a ride in it while extolling its virtues.
I told the guy the car had a lot of miles on it, and had some kind of unusual drive train. I wished him luck. A couple months later he told me about the inevitable breakdown and the towing to the junkyard.
He ended up getting married to a girl who had a Mustang 2, about a 1974 or 1975. He always used her car after that.
The guy was a real derelect. Haven’t seen him since 1977, so I don’t know how he turned out.
I’m a bit late getting here, but just wanted to say thank you Paul, for yet another fascinating article. Your writing style flows so nicely. 🙂
Let me be the even later guy.
I had a ’79 Alfa Sprint Veloce coupe/fastback with a rear transaxle by DeDion.
The car handled like a dream. Escpecially well because the earlier ones like mine had a four and not the V-6, and beides the 928, it’s the only other RTA I can think of.
Super write up, I learned a lot!
Great article that sums up the technology of the Tempest, with great pictures, too!
GM really tried some wild and bizarre things in the 1960’s. But by the 1970’s, it seems like the 350 V-8 and THM 350 package were becoming pretty standard across the line. Perhaps part of this was emissions. Perhaps part of it was the ‘bean counters’ desire to standardize parts (according to DeLorean’s book).
It seems the Motor Trend “Car of the Year” award is a curse to nearly every car that has won it. Not only the Tempest, but the Vega, the Citation, the American-built Golfs, the 2-seater t-birds, etc.
Thanks again for a great and well-researched article!
Thank you for making this article.
I have a better understanding of the transaxle now. I never knew DeLorean had designed this, nor that it originally came with a large 4 cylinder.
A good friend of my father had a white tempest that just sat around most of the time. He always told me that it had a 215 8 cylinder in it which I found fascinating as a teenager. Everytime he told that it had a 2 speed in it I would say “a powerglide?” He would say “no, it was a pontiac transmission made for the tempest” I wanted him to sell me that car so bad, and I couldn’t really explain why.
Thank you again for sharing this information.
I have a 1962 Tempest Safari wagon with the Trophy, 2 speed powerglide. I’ve had it now for about 12 years and drive it almost daily. I work from home and live in a very small town so some days I don’t drive anywhere. Getting parts for this stylish eye-catcher has been the biggest hassle. Try to find a U-joint for the rear axles. (If you know of one, call me). I’ve been lucky to find good items at East-West Auto Parts. But what I love the most is the comments I get from people “Hey, nice car”. And when I took it to an auto appraiser a few years ago, he had never seen one before in his 25 years. Some people say I should not paint it, leave it original – a “survivor”. So far, that’s how she rolls. Thanks for the article. I’ll have to find Delorean’s book. P.S. I never let anyone else drive this car for fear they will kill themselves. It can do some weird things in tight turns at even modest speeds. On the highway, in a straight line or booting up hills, its a comfy ride. Looks awesome standing still too. At car shows, she gets a lot of attention. Thanks for sharing. \ken
Reading the part about Mercedes-Benz’s swing axle design and anti-jacking compensating spring design, I had to ask why GM didn’t use that with the Corvair and Tempest? That would’ve made for safer handling, and saved countless lives.
Ah, good question Jason! The short answer is this: It wasn’t technically feasible.
The design of the Mercedes “low pivot” swing axle has only one universal joint, so one axle shaft is articulated and the other isn’t. (Take a look at the diagram above.)
The axle shaft that isn’t articulated is fixed to the differential so, as the wheel on the end of that shaft bounces up and down, it forces that axle shaft and the differential to rotate, much like a solid axle. This is fine for a rear wheel drive front engine / front transmission car.
But in the case of the Corvair, the differential, transaxle, and engine are all bolted together as one unit, so the whole powertrain would have to rotate whenever that wheel bounced up and down.
Aside from all the jostling, this would result in a huge amount of unsprung weight which would have made the handling worse, if anything. In the case of the “rope drive” Tempest, the engine isn’t connected to the diff, but the transmission is, so the problem would be the same to a lesser degree.
With regard to the compensating spring, yes, Chevrolet eventually did equip Corvairs with an auxiliary transverse spring for model year 1964, which did basically the same thing as the Mercedes compensating spring.
By the way, “countless lives” is a bit of an exaggeration! People may argue, but NHTSA studies conducted on Corvairs and similar cars proved that, for the most part, 1960-63 Corvairs didn’t handle worse than other compact cars of that time.
To reply to an old thread, the early Jeep Wagoneer used a similar setup for the optional independent front suspension on 4WD models. It had a split axle with a single pivot (though not placed low) and the differential moved with one of the wheels. Handling must have been kind of ‘interesting’ on these.
The Wagoneer IFS was not a swing axle in any way; it had upper control arms, and the driveshafts functioned as the lower control arms. It had the classic SLA geometry of most IFS, and its handling was deemed very good; excellent, actually, given that there was nothing like it on the market, in terms of an 4WD utility wagon.
DeLorean designed a simulated low-pivot swing axle suspension with a transverse leaf spring and telescoping U-joints, but it wasn’t adopted, presumably for cost reasons. Interestingly, though, the telescoping joints WERE later adopted for the Toronado, albeit at the opposite end of the car.
The suspension is U.S. Patent 3,011,578 and the telescoping universal joints are U.S. Patent 2,898,750
A great article! I’ve had my 63 Lemans convertible Tempest since 1990. Love this car and the way it handles. I have the 326V8 with the auto trans and have plenty of power. I just finished restoring her (again) and can’t wait to get back in the drivers seat and attend car shows, nobody has seen these cars and I’m in So Cal.
There is a club for these cars, the Little Indians club, a chapter of POCI. I’m a proud member. If you have one please consider joining. http://www.littleindians.com
This Little Indians website has an interesting article on the difference between the ’61-’62 and redesigned ’63 rear swing axle suspension and modifications made to improve handling. Some cut the wheel centers out of the 15 inch wheels and welded them into 13 inch Corvair wheels, and they fit.
The stock tire was a VW size 6.00 X 15!
Great article, I’m on board with a ’65 Corvair rear and 6 OHC engine upgrade that would have been interesting.
http://littleindians.com/files/197.PDF (suspension link)
That’s a lot of trouble to go through to tame the car’s oversteer! I’d have to really like other things about the car to think it was worth the trouble.
Thank you 67. That pdf, as fuzzy as it is, clarified the rear axle changes greatly. The text also makes clear the shortcomings of the swing axle. GM could have done much better if they had established higher standards for more expensive cars.
Awesome article! I’ve always liked Pontiac cars of the early (1961-63) sixties. My favourites are the Tempest and LeMans. It’s a shame they abandoned the rear independent suspension when they did. I believe they had a great idea, and should’ve improved on it.
Reading this again reminds me that when this was first posted, I had not done my research into the 1962 Buick V6. It is interesting that both Divisions made a smaller engine by cutting on the bigger V8 – Pontiac cut lengthwise to make a big 4 and Buick cut crosswise to make a V6. Both of which suffered from a lot of vibration due to the compromises necessitated by costs. And that big-assed 4 was only 3 cubic inches shy of the displacement of Buick’s initial 198 cid V6. Two very different solutions to the same problem. Neither of which was all that satisfactory.
With models proliferating as they were, there was no way that each of GM’s 6 consumer-grade vehicle Divisions could design their own unique assortment of 4s, 6s and 8s. If every Division was going to get multiple lines, the sharing of engines that would result a few years down the pike was inevitable.
Buick actually came very close to following Pontiac’s lead and creating a slant four as a cheaper base engine for the Special, but Joe Turlay, the senior engineer who did most of the development of the aluminum V-8, convinced Buick management that a 90-degree V-6 based on it would work better while accomplishing the same goal.
The car of my senior-college year dreams .. around the corner from my apartment, in a residence geared towards the elderly, a beautiful ’62 Tempest used to come and go with regularity driven by its original owner …. then stopped showing up. I never knew who had left the building.
Tia Leoni gave a great soliloqui on the differences between the 63 Pontiac LeMans and the Tempest (and the Olds F85?) in “My Cousin Vinnie”.
Well, I love Tia Leoni, but I also love Marisa Tomei, and she was the one who was the mechanical genius in “My Cousin Vinnie”.
Tia is USA Secretary of State, and Marisa (Mona Lisa Vito) knows how positraction works.
Good catch and correction!
I will watch the movie clip again.
I never saw that. Great scene, great writing. But the script should have said that both cars shared most of the same body including rooflines, not just lxwxh, so they actually looked quite similar and could be easily confused with each other.
But the logic about Positraction and IRS is awesome. Obviously the writer was a gearhead.
Except it’s all not true. The ’64 Skylark was a totally new car, as were the other ’64 GM A bodies. No one who knows cars would confuse a ’64 A Body with a ’63 Y body (Tempest). And the ’64 Skylark was available with Positraction,
But it does come off quite well, and rather plausible, except to…me. 🙂
I like the bit about a car with an IRS and limited-slip leaving different tire marks coming off a curb as opposed to a live-axle car with limited-slip on the same uneven surfaces. I can’t imagine the two leaving different enough marks to be useful in a court of law (although it’s probably true that the tires would have slightly different angles on the curb), but it is entertaining.
And Marisa Tomei talking such automotive esoterica is kind of hot.
kind of fully hot
Did it come in Mint Green Metallic?
Sorry, but it was Marisa Tomei, not Ms. Leoni, who starred in that film.
The post states that the curved driveshaft didn’t need any bearings. That a curved torsion bar-like shaft could have torque applied and stay in a curve with no bearings does not make engineering sense, and I remembered it having two bearings along the way.
The cutaway drawing shows two bearings.
I rode in one of these once, back then so low mileage. The whole car seemed kind of crude, but it was a stripper model, which in those days meant really stripped. The driveshaft made an obvious whining noise, no doubt one or both of those bearings. It’s hard to see the point of the curved driveshaft.
You’re quite right. I’m not sure now where I got that misinformation; it’s been several years. The text has been amended.
The point of the curved driveshaft was simply to create a flatter floor.
So why were flexible driveshafts (to my knowledge) never used again? It seems like a great idea, allowing a flat or almost-flat floor in a front-engine rear-drive car.
The flat-floor benefit wasn’t worth the trade-off. There was the aforementioned bearing whine, then there was probably a limit to the power that a curved driveline would safely accept.
I’m a little unsure about that last part; there was a famous professional drag-racer named Arnie “The Farmer” Beswick who raced a couple of 1963 Tempests: an altered wheelbase 2-door and a station wagon. They had big engines (421 cid) but they might have had beefed-up rope-drive drivelines, simply to prove how stout they could be made.
In the end, though, it was just a lot simpler, cheaper, and quieter to just stick with a normal, solid driveshaft with a more intrusive driveline hump.
I think the confusion here was that the rope drive didn’t need U-joints (it had none) rather than bearings (which it did have).
The likely reason it wasn’t used again, according to Pontiac engineers interviewed by Norbye and Dunne, was that it actually cost MORE than a conventional driveshaft with U-joints. To ensure it would be durable enough, Pontiac specified an expensive alloy for the shaft, and each shaft had to be finished (heat treated and shot-peened) along its entire length and then covered with a protective coating. There also ended up being something like eight or ten different variations of the shaft over the three-year run, in part because the automatic and manual shafts were different lengths (because the manual clutch was in front while the torque converter was in back). All that turned out to be cumbersome and expensive, which basically erased any savings involved compared to a conventional open propeller shaft.
During this time GM let the different divisions work on their own tech developments. Chevy had the rear engine, air cooled Corvair. Pontiac had the half a V8 four, trans axle with IRS. Olds had the fuel injected aluminium V8 and Buick had the V6 motor. Ford shrunk a standard RWD platform and made a lot of money. That’s all it took for GM to abandon high tech for the profitable and highly salable low tech mediocrity. Most American manufacturers learned this lesson. Our loss!
The Olds aluminum V8 (actually designed by Buick) used in the F-85 Jetfire was turbocharged, but it was not fuel injected.
You may be thinking of its water-methyl alcohol injection, which was sprayed into the intake manifold to prevent predetonation. But it definitely used a carburetor.
Oldsmobile didn’t use fuel injection in their own cars until the diesels, although the original, smaller Cadillac Seville used a fuel injected Olds engine.
The 1957-59 Pontiac Bonneville used a Bendix mechanical fuel injection system, similar to the Rochester system used on the 1962-65 Corvettes equipped with the 327 V8.
BuzzDog is correct, the Olds 215 V8 is a variant of the Buick 215 V8, but the Olds used a different cylinder head with one (1) extra cylinder head bolt. Olds heads can fit on a Buick block if you omit the extra bolt, but the Buick head won’t fit on an Olds block. Source: Wikipedia.
Most of these things were more similar than they might seem at first glance:
– The Tempest transaxle and rear suspension was derived from the Corvair’s
– The Pontiac four was a derivative of the existing Pontiac 389 V-8
– The aluminum Oldsmobile V-8 used the Buick short block with different heads, although the turbocharger/water injection setup on the Jetfire was an Olds development
– The 90-degree iron V-6 was derived from the Buick aluminum V-8
The corporation had wanted all three divisions to use the same aluminum V-8, but Pontiac was reluctant to offer it at all (they had to buy it from Buick, which was expensive, and the early engines were a warranty nightmare) and Oldsmobile insisted on developing its own heads with conventional wedge combustion chambers rather than the Buick’s then-unusual slanted saucer chambers. Ironically, Oldsmobile subsequently did an about-face and adapted the latter for its subsequent iron V-8s, in part because the chamber design turned out to usefully reduce unburnt hydrocarbon emissions.
One thing not included in the above: Buick had its own unique automatic transmission for the Special! The Oldsmobile F-85 used the smaller version of the Roto Hydra-Matic, also used in some high-end Vauxhall, Opel, and Holden cars in the same period. Buick created its own two-speed automatic, a very unusual lightweight transmission with the torque converter mounted “backward” so the stator could act as a turbine in reverse.
The Polaris appears to have larger tires than the Corvair. Did DeLorean mandate these, or do they just look bigger to my eyes?
Your eyes do not deceive. The Tempest (and at least some of the Polaris models) always had 15-inch wheels rather than the 13-inch ones used on the Corvair, Special, and F-85. There still wasn’t a lot of rubber on the road: sedans and coupes had 6.00-15 tires, wagons had 6.50-15 (which were optional on sedans and coupes).
Even when it looked like they were going to have to build a rear-engine Corvair clone, Pontiac was desperate for anything that would differentiate their car from the Corvair, as the basic mechanical package wasn’t leaving them much in that regard.
Once again I have been educated about a car I know little about. These early Tempests weren’t imported up here. When I did spot one either driven by an American tourist or travelling down in the US, their styling appealed to me. And until now, I’ve never taken time to read up on the model’s unique mechanical features.
In the early ’70s A neighbor of a high school friend had a navy blue ’61 Tempest. I asked to look under the hood and was amazed to see this huge four that looked like half a V8.
I think the early International Scouts used a similar engine design.
But I only saw a Pontiac IRS and transaxle many years later, when a customer’s ’63 Tempest V8 was on the lift, with the engine running, at a shop where I worked.
It was weird seeing that naked torque converter spinning in mid air!
I think a ’63 Buick Special would’ve worked better in the movie. Maybe the prop master couldn’t find one.
I believe some ’50s Lancias had water cooled front engines with rear transaxles.
Happy Motoring, Mark
A pre-facelift Tempest sure is affordable dream car material. Innovation, style, character. The ’63 looks nice and clean, too, but there’s just less pazazz in the boxy lines.
Now for the task of getting one to Europe …
New poster here, love this website. I’m 61 and back around 1963 we got a Pontiac Tempest wagon. It had a manual transmission on the floor which I loved because my father let me shift (he’d clutch and I’d shift) and you could see the road because the rubber boot didn’t fit well or was torn. Very exciting for an 8 year old. It was dark brown and had the 4 cylinder engine. We lived in Illinois at the time and summer of ’63 we drove to California in it towing a Sears Ted Williams pop up tent camper. The tent was canvas and folded up on top of the camper body which doubled as a bed when the tent was up. The camper body was hollow and you used it to carry sleeping bags and camping supplies. I don’t think it was that heavy, but after that trip (over the Rockies), my father said no more 4 cylinder engines. He felt the Tempest wasn’t big or strong enough to pull the trailer. He worked for GM so our only car choices came from GM and our next car was a ’66 Buick Special wagon with a V8 and Powerglide 2 speed auto. Of course this was the sixties so all these cars were base models – roll up windows and no air conditioning. Later on, my older brother succeeded in backing up the Buick with the trailer attached and jackknifed it into the Buick and smashed up the rear fender and tail light, but that’s another story….
’66 Special had a Super Turbine 300, not PowerGlide – similar but not the same, in Olds called JetAway.
Great Movie!! Some people can’t tell ANY car apart. Some can. I can. Every make and model. Especially the 50’s and 60’s cars. Even in the 70’s. I looked for the differences in all makes and models. I still am very good at identifying ALL of them. 63 Corvette or 64 Corvette? 66 or 67 GTO? 61 Tempest or 62 Tempest?? … What fun i have correcting them- know it alls! Ha! I am a survivor, I own a survivor car, for 50+ yrs! A 1963 Corvette Sport Coupe. My Cousin Vinnie is right up there with the favorites. Love Marisa Tomei, and Joe Pesci. Mama Mia!! I have a 1961 Tempest SW for sale… with the 4cyl 4bbl Engine, 3sp on the floor, Survivor car- 33495 miles. Runs and drives very nice. Drive Anywhere!!
We have a 196 3.2 4 Cyl Tempest . were looking for a Factory 4 Bbl Intake . Jim 770 875 9973
I currently have a 1963 Tempest Lemans coupe for sale with the 4cyl. Solid car. Original other than paint.
The only problem with My Cousin Vinny is that they state the tires as being 75r14s the Pontiac had 6.00x15s so that’s not right. They also should have said the Buick in question didn’t have positraction but, it was available on a 64 Special. I always thought that the Trophy 4 would have been cool if it had a cross plane crankshaft like a 4-53t Detroit Diesel for smoothness and to make it sound more like a V8. My dream is to put a 61-63 Pontiac Y body on the Drivetrain/Chassis of a wrecked C5/C6/C7 Corvette, I would leave the stock length torque tube and move the front suspension forward to match the wheelbase and fit the engine under the open are under the dash with a modified firewall, possible with a doghouse for maintenance access. That would make for an insanely fast, excellent handling and braking car with all the strength, parts availability, all the electronic safety/handling features and decent fuel economy with a body style that doesn’t make me feel like I should be old, bald, fat while clad in New Balances and jean shorts. I think that if I built that creation on a C6Z Carbon and souped up the LS7 I could easily have a best street car competitor on my hands that looks amazing and different.
Well, also there’s nothing such as a “75R14” size tire. Without the missing first three digits, this is just a meaningless collection of numbers and a letter.
I’d like to have a C5 or C6 Corvette with a 4.3 in it, no joke. I think that’d be a fine driver. Like the Tempest: hot, but not too hot.
US big cars: big, front heavy thirsty, dull handling… guilty on all counts. But what we as car-nuts tend to forget is that average families then had 3-4 kids, gas was dirt cheap, and 90% of drivers were far from car enthusiasts, far from it, all they wanted was a soft ride, space, and a car every few years with some flash to impress the neighbors.
US full size cars were incredible values given their size and power, and most would not have made the cost/size/power trade-off for a Benz,or sporty trade-off for an MG Magnette or a Borgward, and even higher priced cars were low powered and smaller then. I’d wager that many Europeans would have preferred an Impala, Catalina or Galaxie if they could have afforded them and their roads would accommodate them.
Of all the dozens of families we knew, none of the men drivers were enthusiasts, except for one, our next door neighbor who bought an A-H Healey Sprite in 1960, but then he drove a VW anyway. The rest were family men who wanted a big, safe family car, period.
That said, the Tempest was a fascinating dead-end, one that I, as an enthusiast, would have loved to have sen developed to the point of fulfilling that potential!
It took this repost to remember that Pontiac wasn’t the first to eliminate a bank of cylinders from their V-8 to make an I-4. I-H beat them to the punch by a couple years. But that was only 2.5 liters and exclusive to the Scout, so it could get away with being somewhat agricultural.
I think the Scout and the Tempest appeared at around the same time, for 1961, so I don’t think the IHC engine preceded the Tempest (or vice versa) by any significant amount.
I owned a 1964 Pontiac Tempest Station Wagon with the V8 in it and a friend owned a 1964 Tempest GTO that had gotten rear ended and I bought the wreck swapped the engine and 4 speed tranny and all the name badges and spoofed people into thinking Pontiac had built a GTO wagon. I was young and dumb and full of vinegar… A sweet ride.
Thanks for the link; I had no idea it was finished and posted. I just read it; a superb article, as usual. I’ll add a link to it at the bottom of this post.
Ive read this post before but rereading it triggered a memory of one of these Tempest/Lemans cars, Ive been passenger in one and it was a very qwik car but with the big 326 V8 engine I wish now Id had a look underneath it, Im now wondering what happened to it though I suspect it met scenery at speed and was wrecked as the owner had lead feet and it was very twitchy when driven hard
The 63 with the 326 was one of my dream cars back then. If my memory is correct, they had to stick with the 2bbl/single exhaust because the “rope drive” couldn’t handle any more power and torque. Still, a pretty quick car.
The ’63 Tempest was available with the four-barrel H.O. version of the “326,” although it had too much for the four-speed and contemporary road tests suggest the three-speed stick was also living on borrowed time with that kind of torque.
The limiting factor in terms of torque was the gearbox and transaxle rather than the rope drive itself. Keep in mind, the flexible driveshaft only had to transmit engine torque, which wasn’t multiplied until it got to the gearbox. With a conventional driveline, the propeller shaft might have to carry up to about five times engine torque in the lower gears.
This article when I first read it awakened me to the lost potential of this platform. When it was withdrawn from the Pontiac line-up, it should have been assigned to Cadillac. Then, with continual development the ultimate objective to challenge the Mercedes-Benz and BMW for the younger, sport/luxury segment with a high-quality “Seville” performance sedan by the latter 1960’s. Had they perceived the potential of the platform, Cadillac might never have lost the ground it did in subsequent decades.
At the risk of sounding more than usually argumentative, I have to disagree with everyone saying that the rope-drive Tempest platform had untapped potential, unless by platform you just mean, “a completely different car that happened to share this approximate size and general mechanical layout,” rather than the Y-body Tempest as it actually existed.
The Y-body Tempest was fundamentally limited by its mechanical origins in ways that would have taken a pretty comprehensive redesign to address.
All the Y-body cars had some NVH issues, in particular with road noise. While they carried their powertrains and suspension on detachable crossmembers, those crossmembers were just bolted to the body structure, so they didn’t act as subframes to isolate NVH; there was some rubber insulation in the suspension pieces themselves (and the Tempest isolated its whole powertrain on soft rubber mounts), but that was about it.
They all had underspecified brakes, of which the Tempest was the worst: It had slightly LESS brake lining area than the Corvair, Special, and F-85, all of which were lighter. They also suffered from very slow steering, even with the faster ratio specified with power steering, something that added to the handling issues of the Tempest and Corvair.
The Trophy 4 engine was a pretty miserable thing. Even with counter-rotating balance shafts, which were not nearly developed enough at that point to be very helpful (if you read the actual Lanchester patents, it’s more a concept than a practical development — we owe Mitsubishi a lot for the sophistication of modern balance shafts), 3.2 liters is big for a four. It was also very heavy, which erased most of the weight distribution advantage of the rear transaxle.
The flexible driveshaft was expensive to manufacture and didn’t actually provide a flat floor, so there wasn’t any great advantage over a more conventional prop shaft.
Both iterations of the rear suspension had rather dire handling qualities. If Pontiac had adopted the 1964 Corvair suspension, with the transverse leaf spring, that probably would have mitigated the more alarming characteristics, but there’s only so much you can do with true swing axles.
The Corvair-derived transaxle was clever, but its input torque capacity was finite, and even with the four-speed, Pontiac never had a ratio set that suited any of the available engines. The automatic was Powerglide-derived, so it had only two forward speeds.
Of course, cars like the Lancia Aurelia and Flaminia or the later Porsche 928 and 924/944/968 handled some of these things better, but they were also a LOT more expensive. (A Flaminia sedan was a $6,000 car in the U.S. and a Valiant with the 225 and TorqueFlite would outrun it without effort.)
Pontiac never envisioned the Y-body as a high-end specialty car; it was a compact family sedan that had to sell for less than the more conventionally engineered Catalina. If they’d tried to MAKE it a high-end specialty car, it would have ended up like the Toronado, and the comments on it now, as on the Toronado, would be, “Well, that was kind of a neat exercise, but what exactly was the point?”
I like the idea of an updated Tempest with the newer IRS from the Corvair (no more swing axles) and the DeLorean OHC “Sprint” six-cylinder engine, with the four-barrel carburetor and the 10.5:1 compression ratio. God knows that this isn’t the first time that GM abandoned a promising technology because the bean counters wouldn’t let the engineers spend the money to work all of the bugs out.
The British seem to be very good at taking the ball that GM dropped and running with it (see Rover and the 215 Buick/Olds aluminum V8 or the Cosworth Chevy Vega four-cylinder).
As a modern update, I wonder how hard it would be to use a salvaged Porsche 924/944/928 drivetrain with a Chevy Vortec 4200 (LL8) straight-six, plopped onto a fully restored Tempest body?
Looks like GM had the technical ability to design new innovations back in the ’60s, but as mentioned, the bean counter accountants at the corporate office poopooed that kind of thinking. Of course, had they not, and GM went ahead and produced technologically advanced designs then, the prices of the cars themselves would have been a lot higher, with no guarantee of the public purchasing them. And like it or not, GM was in business to make money. The whole point of business is to make money, unfortunately. Money is good, but is not the end all be all of life. Shame we couldn’t have (or could still) figured out a way to balance technology, beauty and money so that all of these were able to reach their highest points or zenith. But that would be nirvana and I don’t know if that is possible on earth?
You make a compelling argument, but I can’t help but think that the accountant’s stranglehold on GM left GM woefully unprepared to deal with the import onslaught later, first by the VW Beetle, then later by the Japanese. It’s that laser focus on the next quarter at the expense of long-term planning that left the Big Three generally, and GM in particular, struggling to deal with the twin bogeys of fuel economy and exhaust emissions in the 1970’s. As an example, think of how much better a position GM would have been in if they had the DeLorean OHC “Sprint” engine available during the 1973 oil crisis. Almost the same power output as a small-block V8, but a couple of hundred pounds lighter.
The OHC six wasn’t all that light — the initial 230 cu. in. version weighed 489 lb with all accessories (but I think without flywheel), which was about 45 lb lighter than a small block Chevrolet V-8 and only a few pounds lighter than the cast iron Buick 300. (It was over 100 lb lighter than a Pontiac 326, I’ll grant you.) It also had oiling problems, although I suppose those could have been rectified eventually.
To put it another way, the Pontiac OHC six weighed about the same as a Ford 289 V-8 and about 160 lb more than the Buick aluminum V-8.
Again, the OHC six was only in production for three (3) years, 1967-69, and yes, I think that the oiling issues would have been solved eventually. The problem is, of course, that Pontiac never got the chance to try, GM pulled the plug before they could work out the bugs. That was supposed to be the first in a family of engines, with upgrades in both displacement and efficiency to follow. Not quite fifty (50) years later, GM tried again, this time with the Vortec 4200 (LL8) from 2004-09, and again, GM canceled the engine just as it was coming into its own.
I’m not convinced that there would have been any great improvements in efficiency; its displacement was of course increased to 250 cubic inches for 1968–69, like the Chevrolet six it was based on, which didn’t improve its fuel consumption and hurt its ability to rev.
The main thing the OHC six offered, which was a legitimately important innovation, was a practical approach to hydraulic valve lash adjustment for OHC engines. Had it remained in production a few more years, Pontiac would undoubtedly have made wider use of it and its oiling bugs might have been worked out, but it still wasn’t a great engine, and I can’t see it ever having the development potential of the 90-degree V-6. The latter wasn’t as neat an idea, but it had a variety of specific practical advantages, including being quite light and compact for its displacement, which the OHC six was not.
The dilemma is that there’s a significant difference between something being a cool or interesting idea and having a specific piece or set of workable technology that has worthwhile development potential. Both the Tempest and the OHC six were the former, but they really weren’t the latter, short of basically just starting over from scratch and coming up with something conceptually similar that shared little or nothing with the original product.
I think the bottom line is that from a commercial standpoint, it’s not enough for something to be a neat technological idea — it needs to have a coherent use case that translates into something you can sell.
The Tempest, for better or worse, was conceived as a cheap economy car, and it sold best as a cheapish sporty junior Pontiac. The A-body Tempest basically realigned itself in that direction, and was pretty successful. Most of the ideas people have been tossing around for improving the Y-body would involve making it more Lancia Flaminia by way of Corvette Sting Ray, which would have been technologically possible, but would obviously no longer have been either a cheap economy car or a cheapish junior Pontiac, and would have ended up in a more elevated price class. So, it would have needed to become a different kind of product with a different identity that still somehow fit into the Pontiac lineup, more a Pontiac Riviera than a senior compact. Pontiac did something like that with the A-plus Grand Prix a few years later, but that wasn’t nearly as complex or expensive to tool, so the question would have been, “Are the advantages of having a transaxle and independent rear suspension enough of a sales plus to be worth the cost?”
Though not the Pontiac, my great Aunts, spinsters, bought a new ’62 Olds F85 from Ertley Olds in Kingston, Pa …I think they bought all their cars there (last a ’69 98 bought by the surviving sister, the other having passed away the year before). My Uncle assumed ownership of the ’62 once the 98 was purchased; he described it as being “overpowered”, not what you’d expect a couple of little old ladies to own. Maybe the dealer took advantage of two elderly women and sold them the largest engine available, certainly they might have done better with the 6 since they drove mostly local roads, some modest hills, except for a yearly trip to the Poconos or Atlantic city, also a few trips to vist us (we never lived near my Grandparents nor other relatives, my Dad was in the semiconductor business since ’56 and he changed jobs frequently, plus he needed to live near the plant since he came up with the processes to make the devices and had to deal with often non-existent yields).
My Dad seemed to “copy” purchases of some of his cars with that of relatives (though he also bought some that seemed to come from left field, like the new ’68 Renault R10). The first time probably the ’65 F85 he bought at Val Preda’s after his ’63 Rambler Classic wagon was totalled in front of our motel room when we’d vacated our home having sold it in the process of moving from Catonsville to Burlington. Though, the ’65 was conventional, quite different from the ’62..it had the 330 (his first V8 car). It was as if GM didn’t quite know what it wanted to do when it came to the first compacts, it seemed they had an epiphany and went to 5/8 scale conventional cars (like when the first Chevy Nova came out). The Corvair seemed to emulate the VW Beetle, and the other compacts …well, don’t know many cars that have front engines and rear transmission…maybe FWD would have been good but not many cars had it yet.