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1962 Pontiac Tempest LeMans - Junkyard Crawl

LeManster

Photography by Steve Magnante

Before 1961, Pontiac was in the business of building fullsize cars aimed at the guy who couldn't afford a Cadillac but didn't want to settle for a Chevy. When fully equipped, they were flamboyant dreamboats that made middle-class working stiffs feel a little extra special. But 1961 marked a major turning point as the growing popularity of foreign compact cars like the VW Beetle caused GM to take notice. The first offensive salvo came in the form of the Chevy Corvair in 1960. Though it was a rear-engine platform, GM designed it with an amazing level of adaptability so it could serve as the basis-with tweaks-for the new-for-'61 front-engine Pontiac Tempest, Buick Special, and Oldsmobile F-85. For the first time ever, Pontiac dealers had a small car to sell. The '62 Tempest LeMans featured here is super cool because it has the optional 166hp four-barrel power pack. Never heard of it? Read on to learn more.

Too bad the front clip has been harvested on this original paint survivor. Like Chevy's Super Sport package, the new-for-'62 LeMans package cost $123.74 and increased the Tempest's sporty car quotient with bucket seats, special trim, and a center console. Though only in its second year of production, the compact Tempest accounted for 27.4 percent of all Pontiac sales in 1962.

Crowded here by the optional $318.60 Cool-Pack air conditioning system, the 194.5-cube Trophy four is essentially half a 389 V-8. The goal was a smaller, lighter engine that could be machined on the same assembly line as the V-8. A close look at the wheelhouses, frame, front suspension, and related underskin architecture reveals many shared parts with the Corvair.

Here's why we care. For a mere $38.74, the 166hp Trophy four featured a 480-cfm Carter AFB and a high-flow cylinder head-some sources say it's shared with the 421 Super Duty. The 110hp base Trophy four had a one-barrel carburetor and 8.6:1 compression. The same one-barrel mill was also available with 10.25 compression and 120 hp. Mickey Thompson set a bunch of FIA land speed records with hopped-up Pontiac four-bangers. With the same main bearing diameters as the big Pontiac V-8, it's one tough little engine.

The nearly flat floorpan is made possible by Tempest's unique rear-mounted transaxle and flexible solid driveshaft. Too bad this one's stuck with the Tempestorque automatic transaxle instead of the optional four-speed synchro stick.

Groovy Factoids
* In 1961, Motor Trend magazine named Pontiac Tempest its Car of the Year for "outstanding progress in design."
* When the new BOP (Buick, Olds, Pontiac) compacts debuted in 1961, only the Pontiac Tempest came equipped with 15-inch rims. The Buick Special and Oldsmobile F-85 were built with 13-inch wheels-as was their cousin, the Chevy Corvair.

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