General Motors’s efforts at providing reduced sized motoring during the early 60’s delivered an engineering 1-2-3 punch. For 1960, ’61 and ’62, three different compact models from America’s premiere manufacturer took home the coveted Motor Trend Car of The Year award.
1961 belonged to the Pontiac Tempest. Where would Pontiac go for the encore season of 1962? Perhaps a little bit more sport, as par for the course in recent tradition in the scope of offerings from the “Tin Indian.” Have a coupe, have a convertible! All stripes of fun were in as the littlest Pontiac tried to offer the virtues of GM’s “excitement” brand in a more tidy, better handling package.
The Tempest shared quite a bit with its award winning siblings that shared the quirky for American audiences Y-Body Uni-body platform. Both the Tempes-Torque transaxle and bones of the sometimes sinister at the limit swing axle set up were inherited and modified from the 1960 winner, the Chevrolet Corvair. The basic body shell was shared with future winner the 1962 Buick Special and more or less shared most exterior sheet metal save the front and rear ends with sister ship the Oldsmobile F-85.
Nonetheless, stylists were able to massage the face and the butt into presentable tie ins with the rest of the Pontiac brand. Although it featured a split grille in 1961, it was replaced with an undivided affair with a prominent center section. That recalled the concept used by the 1960 Full sized Pontiac face. The ’62 models now included the LeMans Club Coupe, and Convertibles in base and LeMans trim.
Not only were there new models to enjoy, there were tangible improvements all around Tempest Territory for ’62. Refinements to the 3.2 Liter “Trophy Four” brought top output in the realm of 166 horsepower for the high compression, 4 barrel Carb version. The big four, half of a 389 V8, nevertheless developed a reputation for being a less-than-smooth compromise engine. Optional in the second year was the Buick Aluminum 215 V8 with its output raised to 190 horsepower to justify the purchase cost over any of the varieties of the Trophy Four. Sales for that engine remained at a take rate around 1% for 1962.
Nevertheless, as the cheapest of GM’s “Senior Compacts” the Tempest saw a robust increase in sales for 1962, helped, decidedly by the expansion of models including the new Convertible. However, this base Convertible was the rarer of the two trim levels. The Tempest LeMans Convertible saw a take rate 3 times higher than the base Tempest Convertible.
The following year would bring more emphasis towards the mid-sized Muscle Car Maternity Ward that Pontiac would become in 1964. A slightly larger Tempest with an in-house Pontiac V8 would debut for 1963, leaving the delicate details of the first two years of the Tempest ever so slightly in the past. General Motors didn’t stick long with its innovative smaller cars of the Early 60’s, some say to their future detriment. High of quality, packed with technology and just needing a little more time and refinement to become silkier satisfactions to customer wants, the Y-Body compacts including the Pontiac Tempest reflect a path not pursued by the one of America’s great industrial giants. Perhaps, had they continued to innovate, they’d still be at the top of the market 50 years later.