Cars

Chevy guy enjoys his time behind wheel of a '64 Pontiac Tempest

Ron Cummings is the proud third owner of a 1964 Tempest  Custom that has logged only 66,000 miles since it was sold new. Although it looks like its big brother, the GTO, this one is equipped with an inline 6-cylinder engine and an old-school three on the tree manual transmission.
Ron Cummings is the proud third owner of a 1964 Tempest Custom that has logged only 66,000 miles since it was sold new. Although it looks like its big brother, the GTO, this one is equipped with an inline 6-cylinder engine and an old-school three on the tree manual transmission. Wichita Eagle

You might think there would be no choice to be made when Ron and Donna Cummings get ready to go cruising: their big block ’69 Camaro or their 1964 6-cylinder Tempest Custom. But more often than not, it’s the two-tone blue Tempest that is wheeled out.

“My wife loves to go to car shows with me,” says Ron. But she’s the one behind the wheel of the Camaro because it’s equipped with an automatic transmission. He mans the controls of the Tempest because it still has the factory “three on the tree” manual transmission.

“Most people who have these cars have turned them into GTO clones, but why?” he asks. “I do have a Pontiac 350 V-8 with an automatic transmission I guess could put in it and then I could let my wife drive it.” But he has no plans to modify the car beyond its basic stock form

Cummings is the third owner of the Tempest, which shows only 66,000 original miles on the odometer. He got the car from his father-in-law, Herb McGreevy, in 2005 and has put about 2,000 miles on it since then.

The early 1960s were a time of experimentation with smaller cars, especially for Pontiac, which produced the earliest Tempest with an economy-minded 4-cylinder engine achieved by slicing a V-8 in half. As if that wasn’t radical enough, the compact unibody Tempest received a rear transaxle, which combined the transmission with the differential into a single unit at the rear of the car.

That all changed in 1964 when the Tempest was redesigned as a mid-sized car with a conventional full frame. The 215 cubic inch inline 6-cylinder producing 140 horsepower was a more common overhead valve engine, not the 230 cubic inch Pontiac overhead cam 6-cylinder power plant that would be introduced two years later.

The A-bodied Tempest was also used by John DeLorean, then the head of Pontiac, to launch the muscle car era with the iconic GTO.

Cummings’s Tempest had received one repaint in basically stock colors before he took possession of it. The interior was in remarkably good condition, although a tear in the front bench seat meant that upholstery had to be replaced with factory blue vinyl material installed by Morgan-Burleigh.

This particular Tempest walks the line between basic economy car and something a little nicer. The bone-stock dashboard is unpadded and there are “idiot lights” where a sportier model would have received analog gauges. The ignition switch is mounted way to the left and high up on the dashboard.

The car has an original, working AM-only radio, but came equipped with both power steering and in-dash factory air conditioning, both of which were restored to original working condition, including R-12 refrigerant.

Cummings did upgrade from bias-ply tires, opting for a set of blackwall 195/75R14 radial tires, but stuck with the hard-to-find domed factory hubcaps. The car still runs a single exhaust system, making it an unusually quiet ride.

“I’ve always loved cars since I was a kid,” Ron Cummings says. “I was really not a Pontiac man, I’ve always been more of a Chevy guy.”

But he couldn’t pass up the chance to own, and drive, this Pontiac.

“I had a guy who wanted to buy the Tempest as a parts car for a GTO he was building, but after he saw it, he said it was too nice a car to tear up.

“ They’re meant to be driven and it sure rides nice… we get a lot of comments when we take it out, especially from older people who remember them,” Cummings said.

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