Curbside Classic 1963 Tempest LeMans Pontiac Tries To Build …

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Curbside Classic: 1963 LeMans- Pontiac Tries To A BMW Before BMW Built Theirs And Succeeds

In the thirties and forties, GM and brought to market some of the innovative, successful and lasting new diesel-electric locomotives, the modern bus. automatic transmissions. and air conditioning systems, high engines, independent front and many more. But GM s technology was just one facet of its endlessly multiple personalities. Planned chrome, fins and financial were the real moneymakers, during the technically conservative

But in the period from 1960 to GM built three production that tried to upend the format: the rear engined Corvair, the front-wheel drive Toronado, and the 1961 Tempest. And the Corvair and Toronado tend to get the of the attention, the Tempest s format was by far the enduring one: it was a BMW before BMW theirs. If only they had with it.

A high performance cylinder engine with carburetion, four-wheel independent four speed stick perfect 50-50 weight a light, compact yet fairly body; decent manual and neutral to over-steering handling sounds just like the for the all-new 1962 BMW 1500/1800. Or a or a Rover 2000 perhaps? But of them had this: a rear and a totally revolutionary flexible shaft.

  When GM gave its talent the freedom to innovate, the were often extraordinary. But in GM fashion, penny-pinching resulted in the Tempest arriving flawed, the Corvair. But unlike the Corvair, The never got a second chance to out its readily fixable blemishes. If so, the would have been more remarkable than the Corvair .

John DeLorean may be famous for the 59 Wide-Tracks, the GTO, the OHC six, and the 69 Grand Prix his tenure at Pontiac, but in my opinion, the Tempest is his most ambitious and engineering effort. He was aware as of the limitations of the Detroit big car formula: too thirsty, front-heavy and dull-handling. the 1960 Corvair in the wings, s lingering plans to build a advanced and practical car finally to (not quite ripe)

DeLorean was particularly interested in the of independent rear suspension so many European cars the VW, Porsche and Mercedes had been since the thirties. In the mid fifties, his team developed an even radical evolution of the Mercedes for the 1959 full-sized Pontiacs: a transaxle to balance weight and connected to the engine with a shaft drive inside a torque tube. That was his alone, and he received a patent on it.

And don t call it rope drive; luck trying to send through anything resembling a It was a single flexible piece of more akin to a torsion bar or a drive shaft.

The big 1959 arrived with their wide tracks. but were utterly conventional. But GM wanted to the new rear-engine Corvair on Pontiac, in to spread its high development and costs. The prototype Pontiac (above) was classic badge-engineering: a 59 front end grafted on an otherwise Corvair.

But the Pontiac brass Knudsen, Pete Estes and weren t buying it, in part DeLorean was already familiar the Corvair s tricky handling and habit of spinning or even when it got pushed too far.

s initial plan was to use the Corvair but turn it into a front-engined car leaving the whole Corvair suspension and its transaxle in place, not turning it around to face the By using a hollow shaft, the transmission would actually be from the rear of the car, in the torque converter hanging off the of the differential, where it would have mated up to the Corvair s engine.

Very creative and rather bizarre to see the torque just sitting there in the like an appendage (above).  The shaft had three inches of (curvature), and that curvature was induced by applying the appropriate on each end; there no intermediate bearings necessary to it within the torque tube.

The rigid torque tube s went well beyond in an almost-flat floor. It was a key component to the four cylinder engine and tame its vibrations. A four theoretically has perfect primary

But because it has only two power per crankshaft rotation, second and torsional vibrations can be quite especially in a larger displacement Traditionally, Europeans kept to two liters or less for that Mitsubishi reintroduced the balance with its 2.6 liter four in and it is highly effective and now very in smoothing large fours.

is why Detroit shunned fours the plague; in order to provide torque and power, American had almost always been At low engine speeds, like in the Model T and A, this was not too bothersome. A six might have been but Pontiac had little choice but a compact and low-cost four by it the quick and dirty way: one of the banks of its 389 CID V8.

This was very effective, because it used a percentage of the V8 s parts, and could be on the same lines as the V8.

Rigidly the four to the front end of the torque eliminated the need for the engine to control its front-to-back movements, so it was to isolate it and its vibrations from the to a much greater degree if had been mounted in the usual The mounts on the four only had to its vertical movements, so they be very soft. That result in an impressive display of jumping when the throttle is from idle.

That s not to say the 195 cubic inch (3.2 L) s noise, vibration and harshness were all miraculously solved by s innovative mounting solutions. It s a big four, for better or for worse. It have a fatter torque than a comparable six or eight for its and therefore is very responsive.

And thanks to Pontiac s high experience, it could be quite output started at 110 hp, and went up to 165 hp the optional four barrel That overshadows the 1961 s 98 hp optional engine.

As it turned Pontiac didn t have to use the 108 wheelbase Corvair body all; GM relented and let them the Corvair-based but slightly larger 112 Y Body that Buick and were preparing for their compacts. But Pontiac was given a tiny budget to adapt it, so the Tempest (above) used of the Olds F85 sheetmetal with a 59 front end and a new rear end grafted on. But the cylinder, flex-drive and Corvair and its rear suspension were for better or for worse.

The worst was it was a simple swing axle: half-axles jointed only at side of the rigidly mounted This was the hot new thing in Europe in the thirties, but its tendency to jack up in corners and create snap and flipping had become all-too known.

That s why Mercedes its innovative single low-pivot axle (above) with an compensating spring in the early a temporary step before it a double-jointed irs in 1968. BMW s Neue 1500/1800/2000 sedans first in 1962 with a double-jointed suspension. As did the Jaguar S sedan.

was moving on, and GM would quickly this painful lesson in The 1963 Corvette Sting Ray had a new rear axle, which the Corvair also adopted to effect.

I showed you the odd Tempest transaxle earlier, but here s the four speed in the featured That round bolted on the end is where the Corvair bellhousing have attached.

And here s the of the same unit, showing the linkage which the Tempest shared with Corvair It wasn t a model of precision and but Porsche had to have something to improve when it adopted a similar torque tube transaxle for their 928 and 924/944/968. The 968 s liter four was only smaller than the Tempest and its ferocious torque showed to advantage the benefits of a large four with balance

If John Z. had remembered about the Lanchester s patented balance and adapted them, the Tempest really have been a car.

Speaking of Porsche s about their pioneering:

a error in the text

The 61 and 62 Tempests did offer a version of the aluminum 215 CID V8 optionally, but only 1-2% of were built with it, and a tiny handful with a Theoretically, the combination of the light and V8 with a four speed and the s independent suspension and perfect balance would have made a very appealing But the V8 was troublesome from the beginning, and had to buy it from Buick, so the four was heavily.

And the hi-po four did almost as much horsepower as the V8.

The was widely (and rightfully) when it arrived. It won Motor s COTY, and accolades from the a breakthrough for Detroit a wonderfully automobile a significant coup of import may be the forerunner of a new generation a prototype American car for the sixties . praised its 50-50 front-rear which resulted in lighter less understeer, better and braking, and a good ride. But its to create the dreaded snap in the wet or on quickly driven curves was not behind with the Corvair s engine. The Tempest s handling also be tricky, and its agricultural four could not be fully even if some of its shaking was

Consumer Reports was not so enthralled.

Tempest LeMans

The Tempest met its expectations, selling 100k in 140k in 62, and 130k in 63. That Pontiac clinch third in the sales stats. But it suffered the problem as the Corvair: profitability was not up to

The extra costs in converting the body and the drive shaft and transaxle bit into the already margins on compact cars. The ambitious Corvair/Tempest/Olds F85/Buick Y-body experiments left GM a bad aftertaste, especially since was doing so well with its conventional Falcon and Comet. The 1962 Chevy II was the effective for the Corvair, and the B-O-P compacts highly conventional mid-sized in 1964.


Our next door in Iowa City, a Russian drove a white 62 LeMans like the one above. I vividly the throb of the big four as I rode her to Sears to get her lawnmower fixed. But the top was even more effective DeLorean s other efforts to out its agricultural sounds, at least thirty or so. And I once briefly a co-worker s base 61 sedan in LA: being elderly, its intrinsic (which could be all-too upset for amusing purposes) and steering for an American car was downright If only its engine ran sweetly my Peugeot 404 s.

But the trade-off was the torque: American indeed.

Our featured car is a LeMans, which was the sporty/upscale analogous to the Corvair s Monza the same bucket seats and trim. The 63s were restyled to them appear bigger, and longer. This convertible has all the options, at least for those have a soft spot for the I found it in front of this where it had just been to the factory 165 hp four barrel

And it also has the four-speed stick. Not its owner turns out to be a 63 Tempest it was the car he always wanted in high

Norman has over half a 63s in and a round his shop and back including this sedan on the trailer that he just up. And he has another convertible (below) the optional 326 V8 that replaced the V8 for 1963. This was a prescient by DeLorean, and foreshadowed the 1964

The 326 is a 389 with smaller bores actually displaced 336 cubic and although no lightweight, it still in a quite decent 54/46 distribution because of the rear With a two barrel carb, the 326 a fairly modest 260 hp, but the Tempest was (2800-3000lbs) so with the V8 it scoots along.  Because of limited the four speed was not upgraded to the V8 s torque, so as far as is known, all the 326s with the three speed or the two-speed Powerglide/aka: TempesTorque

Norman says his fours get 18 20 and the 326 around 16 18 mpg.

To mitigate its rep, the 1963 Tempest s suspension was revised with a control arm geometry and other But it was still a swing axle, and the s end was already in sight, to be replaced by conformity.

But in my imagination, I see a 1965 coupe based on the stunningly 65 Corvair body, with the 230 hp OHC six under a lengthened front end and that Corvair s new Corvette-based suspension. What a genuine BMW that would have right down to the dash BMW s Tempest look-alike dash on the 66 1602). In my oft-repeated GM coulda-shoulda

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