Vintage Motor Trend Road Test: 1962 Pontiac Tempest Le Mans Four – Half A GTO Engine Is Still Faster Than Many V8s

Given that the 1961-1963 Tempest’s four cylinder was one half of Pontiac’s 389 cubic inch V8 and that John DeLorean’s performance proclivities were well known, it’s not surprising that there was a hot version available. Thanks to a four barrel carb, 10.25:1 compression ratio and an aggressive camshaft it packed 166 hp, one-half of the top-dog 333 hp 389-A four barrel 389 V8, essentially the same engine as would be used in the 1964 GTO . Backed by a four speed manual transmission, in the relatively light (3028 lbs) Tempest the hot four made the Tempest as quick or quicker than quite a few V8s at the time. It could also be a handful thanks to its swing axle rear suspension.

Given its hot four, “rope drive”, four speed transmission and swing axle rear suspension, the Tempest was something utterly unique in America at the time — in more ways than — causing M/T to say it was “a whole bundle of fun to drive” as well as “you can scare yourself real easy.”  Sounds like something I would have liked.

Pontiac offered no less than five versions of the four. A 190 hp aluminum V8 Buick V8 was also optional, but quite expensive, rarely ordered and not available with the four speed manual. The 166 hp version had the high compression ratio, a 273/283 degree camshaft (essentially the same as the standard 1964 GTO had), and a four barrel carb.

After putting on some miles to break the engine in a bit, M/T headed to the drag strip to time its acceleration. Best shifting point was 5500 rpm. The not insignificant 215 lb.ft. of torque working through the 3.73 rear axle gears resulted in just enough wheel spin to allow maximum revs at takeoff. The results were 0-30 in 3.4 seconds; 0-45 in 6.2, and 0-60 in 10.5. That’s quicker than the typical V8s did back then; a ’64 Mercury Comet with the 260 V8 and four speed took 11.3 seconds to 60. A ’62 Lincoln Continental took 12 seconds. And it’s essentially the same as DeLorean’s next hot-not-V8: the OHC Sprint six.

The 1/4 mile came in 18.5 seconds at 80 mph. Mickey Thompson said that with a proper tune he’d been able to get the 1/4 mile numbers down to high 16s and 86 mph.

The four speed transmission (essentially the same as the Covair’s) shifted easily and quickly.

M/T points out that the rear wheels could use some negative camber to improve cornering power, and that cutting off half of a coil would do the job. Both the Corvair and Tempest had a bit of positive camber when empty in order to accommodate a full load of passengers and luggage.

The rear wheel’s camber changes are very obvious in these two shots. M?T notes that “poor or inexperienced drivers might have trouble here.” A camber compensating spring like the one added to the Corvair in ’64 would have helped. The changes to the ’63 Tempest’s rear suspension somewhat improved things, but the inherent swing axle issues, with resultant oversteer were still there.

The brakes were “hot” too, but not in a good way. They were undersized and deficient in their performance. Given the availability of large finned aluminum brake drums on the big Pontiacs, this was a serious omission.

“Cornering the Tempest can be a real thrill“. In normal driving, the swing axle IRS was ok; it simply cornered with less effort due to the lack of typical understeer. But in tight and fast corners “you can scare yourself real easy…the rear end breaks loose with little warning“. A good driver in the right gear can power through, but if not, one could easily find themselves going the wrong way.

The steering was light, and of course slow, which didn’t help with recovering from a potential spin. The Le Mans interior with bucket seats covered in the excellent GM vinyl was given the thumbs up, but the sparse instrument panel wasn’t.

Related reading:

CC 1963 Pontiac Tempest Le Mans: Pontiac Tries To Build A BMW Before BMW Built Theirs

Ate Up With Motor: “Magnificent Kludge: 1961 -1963 “Rope Drive” Pontiac Tempest