It's not often that you see an early Pontiac Tempest or LeMans jerking the front tires 2 feet in the air and dipping into the single digits on a dragstrip--at least, not one that looks as un-race-car-like as Pat Neveu's. The early Tempests were unique in that they featured a rear-mounted transaxle driven by a "rope" driveshaft--a flexible thing that had roughly 3 inches of up and down movement while operating. That combination isn't really keen on taking high-horsepower abuse, and replacing it with a conventional rearend and solid driveshaft is way more complex than a bolt-in affair. It's doable, as seen on Pat's car, but only if you're committed.
So why pick a '63 Tempest to build into a drag car? Because Pat has a sickness for them that began when his dad brought newborn Pat home from the hospital in a new '63 Tempest, V8, three-speed manual car. Pat drove that car through high school until it broke its flimsy driveline, at which point he decided he needed to build one that was, in his words, "more durable to my right-foot exercises."
But then life got in the way, with a wife and kids becoming more of a priority than a fast car. In 1989, he found the car you see here, courtesy of a coworker's father, who hopefully will never see this issue of the magazine. It was sitting in a field with no hood and no motor but was pretty clean overall. Pat says, "The guy thought the glass bottle that clips to the inner fenderwell to refill the windshield washer reservoir was pretty special, and he didn't want to give it up. I never told him my intentions for the car. I don't think he would have sold it to me." For $150, Pat hauled the car home and began collecting parts.
Pat made the project a present to himself and had it running in about 10 months, taking it to the strip for the first time in August 1997. To get rid of the stock drivetrain, he built a 2x3 tube framework tying into the stock front subframe and hung a 9-inch with ladder bars, which puts the spin to 29.5x13.5 Mickey Thompson slicks. The stock Tempest floorpan doesn't have a transmission hump (since the trans is in the back), so it was essentially a complete back-half job with new pans throughout. Initially the car was set up with a mild aluminum-rod, hydraulic-cam 455 and ran in the high 11s.
"I raced it like that for a year, then started on the bodywork and raced it in primer for almost eight years," Pat says. "I didn't have my own trailer, so I would throw my tools in the back, top the cell off, and drive it to the track. On a good night of racing, I would barely make it back to the nearest gas station to put gas in so I could make it home!" The 455 grenaded due to a broken rod bolt, as did the one that replaced it. So Pat threw together a low-buck 455 and let his youngest daughter, Leslie, bracket-race the car for a little while. Then he took it off the road for three years to finish the body, paint, and interior, while building a 474-incher that lasted six runs, finally expiring on a chassis dyno in a big way.
Sick of sweeping up rods and pieces of block, Pat got serious and had S-D Performance in Chilliwack, British Columbia (that's in Canada), build a real race motor, a 14:1 killer with a Kauffman block and D-port heads, a big roller and, well, you get the idea. With an ancient Holley Dominator sans spray or any other kind of adder, it makes 758 hp and propels the 3,250-pound car (without driver) to high-9s in the quarter-mile, which we witnessed many times on Pat's run to a runner-up finish in the Open Comp class at the '11 Street Car Super Nationals in Vegas.
Pat says, "This car has been the most consistent bracket car I have ever owned. It has won five season championships and 33 races in the Pro class, Pro Street, and Pontiac-only races over the years. This was the first race car I primarily built by myself, with supervision from my father. He was good about giving me direction when I got stuck but pretty much let me take the lead on the build. It's an interesting project to cut a car literally in half, then put it all back together."
Interesting. That's a good word for it.
What: '63 Pontiac Tempest
Where: Yakima, WA, Engine: After a series of engine failures, Pat did it right and had Dave Bisschop at S-D Performance build a 535ci engine using a Kauffman MR-1 block with an Eagle 4340 crankshaft and Eagle 6.700-inch H-beam rods. Ross pistons with Total Seal plasma rings help squeeze the air and fuel to a 14.0:1 ratio. The heads are also from Kauffman, D-Port 325 models that have been ported by Bisschop to flow 322 cfm on the intakes and 245 on the exhausts, through Manley 2.15/1.74 valves. S-D Performance also supplied the solid roller cam with 276/286 duration (at 0.050), 0.749-inch lift, and a 114-degree lobe-separation angle. The intake is an Edelbrock Victor Dominator unit with an ancient Holley 1,050-cfm Dominator, about which the engine builder says, "I think it came over on the Mayflower." A Holley fuel system gets the race gas from the 16-gallon plastic fuel cell to the carb, and a Canton 15-452 drag/road-race oil pan with three trap doors keeps the oil in check. Ignition is handled by an MSD Pro Billet distributor, a Blaster 2 coil, and a 6AL box. On Richmond Racing Engines' SuperFlow, the 535 grunted out 758 hp at 6,500 and 710 lb-ft at 4,800.
Exhaust: Nobody makes off-the-shelf headers for a big D-port engine in a '63 Tempest, so Pat bought a set of Hedman Husler stepped headers (1-7/8- to 2-inch) and modified the No. 1 and 2 tubes, then completely rebuilt tubes 7 and 8 from scratch to fit the chassis. The collectors are flat and lead to 3-inch Flowmaster Series 40 muffs with pipes that exit in front of the rear tires.
Transmission: It's a TH400 with a 34-element sprag built by Al Theirof of Pac Trans Corp. in Yakima. Al used a TCI manual transbrake valvebody, racing clutches with extra frictions and steels, and a Biondo adjustable transbrake switch. A JW Ultra-Bell protects Pat's feet and contains an ATI flexplate and 8-inch converter that stalls to 5,500 with this engine. The shifter is a B&M Pro Stick.
Rearend: Replacing the weak stock transaxle is a Ford 9-inch taken from a '73 LTD. Pat narrowed (48 inches flange to flange) and braced the housing and dropped in a 4.10 gearset on a spool, then slid in Moser 31-spline axles. Raceline Driveshafts built the one-piece driveshaft.
Suspension: Pat found N.O.S. GM front suspension parts on eBay and added QA1 double-adjustable coilovers with 350-pound springs. He had to slightly modify the spring cup to make them fit, and when it was done, the car was an inch and a half lower than stock. In the rear, it's all custom to mount the 9-inch. Pat fabricated it all himself, building a custom 2x3 tube back half to replace the transaxle assembly and locate the 9-inch with Art Morrison 32-inch ladder bars, Afco 130-pound springs, and Strange adjustable drag shocks.
Brakes: Nobody made brakes for a '63 Tempest either, so Pat sent the stock spindles to Aerospace Brakes, and the company built a brake kit to fit. The drag brakes use 10.5-inch rotors, four-piston calipers with Hawk Racing pads, and an aluminum master cylinder from a mid-'90s minivan. A Wilwood proportioning valve and a Biondo line-lock finish it off.
Wheels/Tires: Weld Aluma Star 2.0 wheels, 15x4 front and 15x12 rear, are wrapped in Mickey Thompson rubber. The slicks are 29.5x13.5, and the front Sportsmans will rub the Nos. 7 and 8 header tubes at full lock.
Paint/Body: Though it sat outside for quite some time, the Tempest body was in decent shape. Pat made patch panels to fix some minor rust in the rear wheelwells, then stretched them about 2 inches while he was at it. VFN built a custom, bolt-on, 6-inch cowl hood for the car, then came the countless hours of block sanding. Curtis Ellsworth and Ron Crow of Trick Shoppe Custom Paint in Yakima helped Pat, as they spent many nights and weekends getting the body straight before spraying the PPG Highland Blue Metallic paint, four coats of clear, cutting the paint with 1,500- and 2,000-grit paper, and finally buffing it with 3M cutting compound on a wool wheel and finishing it with a foam pad.
Interior: An Art Morrison 12-point 'cage was installed first, by Pat. Plastic racing buckets and five-point RJS cam-lock harnesses hold the driver and passenger in place. The seats were covered with blue tweed with custom stitch work and the Pontiac emblem was sewn into the back seat. In the dash cluster are Auto Meter gauges for oil pressure, water temperature, trans temp, fuel level, fuel pressure, and of course a speedo. A Monster Tach is mounted on the dash. Pat wired it with an Auto Rod Controls control center between the seats and put the Biondo transbrake switch in the Grant wheel.
Special thanks: Pat's good friend Mike Sharples was "very instrumental in the final outcome of this car. His attention to detail when we spent all those long nights in the garage assembling this without scratching it is unsurpassed." Pat also wants to thank his dad for storing the cut-in-half car for two years, as well as Curtis Ellsworth, Ron Crow at Trick Shoppe Custom Paint, Shawn Herbst, and Pat's girlfriend, Nel, who "never complains about the long hours spent in the shop, or the money spent."