December 8, 2012

The 'forgotten' Pontiac

Jack Hollowell thinks of his 1963 Tempest LeMans convertible as "the forgotten Pontiac."

Jack Hollowell thinks of his 1963 Tempest LeMans convertible as "the forgotten Pontiac."

"I had a ’67 LeMans that was my high school car. My dad had a ’64 Catalina 2-door hardtop, which was the coolest car we ever owned. That’s how I got into Pontiacs," he said.

So when he began looking for a nice ’60s Pontiac a few years ago, he said, "I was looking for GTOs or a full-sized Pontiac. This car was not even on my radar at all."

Not surprisingly, the unusual ’63 Tempest had slipped his mind, surpassed by the performance cars that came immediately afterward.

Hollowell had been lurking on collector car websites during his search.

"I just stumbled onto it, and as soon as I saw this car, I remembered it. It is a great looking car," he said.

The car was being sold through the Volo Auto Museum located about 50 miles north of Chicago.

"I called a couple of times and talked to them about it," Hollowell recalled. He got busy with other things and didn’t make a move for a couple of months.

"I just kept coming back to this car. It’s a very unique car. There are not very many of them around anymore. Being a convertible was just a bonus."

When he finally checked the website again, the silver convertible was still there — and the price had been reduced.

So Hollowell flew to Chicago, rented a car and drove to the museum/dealership, where a deal was quickly struck. He had the car shipped back to Kansas and has been enjoying it ever since.

The 1963 model was the final year that the Tempest was a unibody car. But what makes it more unique is that it uses a 2-speed automatic transaxle, a combination differential/transmission mounted in the rear of the car, providing much better overall weight distribution.

"It’s probably the most intriguing thing about the car. I have more people look under the car than at it. I have had guys lie underneath it and take pictures of the transaxle," Hollowell said.

The setup employs independent rear suspension and a "rope drive" flexible drive shaft that bows downward from the engine to the rear of the car. The earlier Tempests with this setup employed either GM’s 215 cubic inch aluminum V-8 or Pontiac’s 4-cylinder engine, which essentially was half of the company’s powerful 389 V-8.

But in a hint of things to come, Pontiac offered the 1963 transaxle Tempest with a 326 V-8 producing 260 horsepower, thanks to a 4-barrel carb and dual exhausts.

"The engine and front suspension had been rebuilt," said Hollowell, lifting the hood on the well-detailed engine bay and pointing out the glass "Kleer-View" windshield washer fluid bottle mounted on the driver’s side fender. He added an electric fan to help with overheating issues.

"It’s had at least one repaint. This is a factory color, Medium Silver Metallic," Hollowell noted, adding that the power-operated black convertible top probably was also replaced at some point during the car’s 108,000 mile lifespan.

He believes the black vinyl interior, however, is original. Another compelling detail is found there: the dash-mounted gear shift, complete with built in gear display. To check transmission fluid levels, you have to unscrew an access plate in the trunk to reach the dipstick.

The option list on this car was short, with only power steering and an AM/FM radio showing up on the build sheet when it was delivered new in Mesa, Ariz.

"I would love to know more about the car," says Hollowell, who has had no luck contacting the previous owner, a Pontiac drag racer. He has debated about replacing the stock 15-inch wheels and factory wheel covers in favor of custom wheels, but everyone who looks at the Tempest tells him to keep the original wheels and hubcaps on it.

He’s also thinking about replacing the mufflers.

"It sounds a little bit too much like a hot rod to me. It just doesn’t match the car," Hollowell says.

He did have both the front and rear bumpers smoothed and rechromed, adding to the showroom-fresh appeal of the Tempest.

"It really does get a lot of attention," Hollowell said. "People either say, `I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of these before’ or `This is what became the GTO the next year.’ ”

One thing is for sure, when Jack and his wife, Mary, go cruising with the top down, this is no longer a "forgotten Pontiac."

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