The Pontiac OHC six is a perfect example of the pitfalls of how GM was organized and run back in the day. The divisions had a fair amount of leeway in certain technical areas, such as engines, but they all had to conform to certain body sizes. That allowed John DeLorean and Pontiac to push the limits of that with two intermediate sized cars: the 1964 GTO and the 1966 OHC Sprint. The first was a runaway success; the second mostly a dud.
That’s not to say the OHC six didn’t have merit per se, or that the Sprint, which was either a Tempest or LeMans with the high-output four barrel version didn’t have positive qualities. But there just wasn’t any significant market interest in a none-too light mid-sized car with a high-output six, not when an equally powerful V8 was available for about the same or less, and it didn’t require an optional four speed manual and high revs to make it perform about the same.
The Pontiac OHC six would have needed a substantially smaller and lighter car to really shine, but in the mid-sixties, that was not about to happen.
There was a lot of hoopla at the time about the first OHC mass production passenger car engine (Jeep’s short-lived Tornado six came out in 1963). Overhead cams were seen as the essential ingredient to a truly modern engine, and in Europe they were becoming more common by the day. The high rpm environment there that the small engines had to deal with made that more expedient. In the US, not so much so. Gas was getting cheaper (in adjusted dollars) every year, and by the time the Pontiac OHC six arrived, it was all about V8s. If Pontiac had been ably to put something like this in their 1961 Tempest, instead of the rough half-a-V8 four, now that would have been something.
Pontiac should at least have had a version of the light Chevy II with the OHC six. That would have been a better pairing.
The Sprint OHC Six, despite all it stripes, was a bit short in several key metrics: handling, brakes and transmission. The suspension settings were the same as the base Tempest six, with a slightly larger front sway bar and somewhat stiffer front shocks. Combined with the numb power steering, it was classic Detroit understeer: squealing front tires were the only real feedback mechanism.
The power assisted brakes were typical of the times: grossly oversensitive to pedal pressure, but yielding scary emergency braking loss of control. And the standard three-speed manual would have been a less-than satisfying match with the six.
R&T assumed that the OHC was just the first step in applying overhead cams to their V8s. Not so. It wasn’t needed, and might have created issues fitting a wider and taller engine under the hoods. And experience would prove that overhead cams just aren’t needed, as the Big Three’s high performance pushrod V8s would prove in coming years and decades.