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Tempest in sheep’s clothing

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012, at 6:30 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, March 27, 2012, at 9:33 a.m.

When Dan Loveland found his 1963 Tempest coupe for sale four years ago in Lebo, there was no question that he was not going to miss out again.

"The ’63 is a car I always wanted," he said. "When I was a kid, I had a chance to buy an aluminum Pontiac race car … we had it pushed out the door before I had to stop. My parents got in the way on that one."

He tries not to think about what that car would be worth today.

His little Tempest, stunning in understated white, helps keep those bothersome thoughts at bay.

At first glance, it appears to be a beautifully restored, only slightly modified early ’60s Pontiac in street clothing. But it is, in fact, a killer car, packing a 535 cubic inch Pontiac race-built, 800-horsepower plus engine between its fender wells.

The car, originally sold to an elderly couple, began its life much more modestly, with a tiny 194 cubic inch 4-cylinder engine under the hood and Pontiac’s generally unimpressive rear-mounted transaxle behind the back seat. "It was basically half of a 389 V-8," Loveland said.

That power train was long gone by the time Loveland, the third owner of the car, bought it. The previous owner had done a complete rotisserie restoration of the car and installed a big V-8, complete with a 6-speed manual transmission.

"He was a Pontiac lover. He didn’t drive it a whole lot … just took it to a few car shows," Loveland said.

The car didn’t receive a lot of attention for a couple of years, but Loveland had plans for it. He didn’t like the 6-speed, so he had Rick Bills build a heavy duty Turbo-Hydramatic 400 automatic for the car.

Allan Patterson of Patterson Racing was given the task of bringing the 535 cubic inch Pontiac Drag Racing motor up to snuff, with Loveland, Mike Schill and Monty Griggs assisting.

That involved installing a set of high-flowing aluminum All Pontiac Racing heads, having a custom Hogan tunnel ram intake manifold hand-built and adding a low-profile Big Stuff fuel injection unit to the package.

Put on Chris Lovett’s engine dynamometer at Wichita Dyno, the engine recorded an impressive 802 horsepower and 776 foot pounds of torque. "And that was before we put the good headers on it," Loveland noted.

The "good headers" were designed and built by the late Herb Gebler of Beltsville, Md., using a special process that left the insides of each tube absolutely smooth. Gebler built headers for such racing notables as NASCAR’s Richard Petty and Mike Edwards of NHRA pro-stock fame.

"This is the next-to-last set of headers he built," Loveland said.

Using Gebler’s exhaust system design, he and Griggs built a set of stainless steel mufflers to match the 3 1/2 inch pipes.

To put all that power to the ground, the little Pontiac was outfitted with a 4-link racing rear suspension fitted to a heavy duty Ford 9-inch Detroit Locker differential. For street duty, the rear end is equipped with a set of 3.0:1 gears.

The front suspension is a Mustang II setup with coilovers by Tim Hachinski, with Wilwood 4-wheel disc brakes. Hachinski installed subframe connectors to join the front and rear suspensions, with an NHRA-certified roll cage also helping to stiffen the car’s chassis.

Billet Specialties wheels are used all around, with the rear rims mounting massive Mickey Thompson 325/50R/15 tires, tucked up inside factory-appearing wheel tubs, again the handiwork of Hachinski.

Inside, the interior is done in bright red vinyl and looks amazingly stock, aside from the ’67 Pontiac bucket seats. And the roll bar fitted with Simpson racing harnesses … and the Hurst floor shifter … and the aluminum dash insert filled with white-faced Auto Meter gauges … and the ultra-rare Pontiac 4-spoke, wood-rimmed steering wheel.

Outside, the body is pristine, save for a hood-mounted tachometer. The grille features ram-air aluminum funnels substituted for the inner headlights, with ductwork connecting them to the intake manifold. Factory-style badging has been retained.

So obviously, this car was built for the drag strip, right? Wrong.

"I wanted it to be really streetable," Loveland said. "It could be raced tomorrow, but the thought of it going sideways at 120 mph is too much for me. It’s way too nice to race," he added.

Mostly, Loveland cruises to an occasional evening car show and enjoys the satisfying rumble that drowns out the sound of his stereo — and the thoughts of that factory race car that was almost his.

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