Cheap Entry: 1961 Pontiac Tempest

061116 Barn Finds - 1961 Pontiac Tempest - 1

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What a crisp little car. This 1961 Pontiac Tempest is located in Wickliffe, Ohio and is listed on eBay with heavy bidding and a current bid price of $1,500 and no reserve. I know, I know, “heavy bidding” could just mean two or three people going back and forth, but that’s still considered heavy bidding. This car would be a heck of a cheap way for someone to get into the vintage car hobby.

061116 Barn Finds - 1961 Pontiac Tempest - 2

A quick disclaimer: this car has been repainted and the seats have been reupholstered at some point in the last 55 years. But, with that being said, it’s still a great way to get into the vintage vehicle hobby for the price of a dozen or two tickers to an NFL game in almost any stadium in the US. Guess which one I’d rather have?

061116 Barn Finds - 1961 Pontiac Tempest - 3

1961 was the first year for the Pontiac Tempest and they were made until 1970; but were brought back briefly, from 1987 to 1991, as a rebadged Chevy Corsica for our friends in Canada. This particular car was in the same family since it was new and was bought by the seller at an estate sale. I can’t tell if there has been any bodywork done or not, it sure looks straight.

061116 Barn Finds - 1961 Pontiac Tempest - 4

The interior looks great in this car, this four-door car! I can’t even get into the four-door vs. two-door debate here, this is too nice of a car. A couple of the interior photos are blurry, unfortunately, but you can sort of see what great shape it’s in. Is that an aftermarket turn signal on the left side of the steering wheel? Not that anyone uses them anymore anyway, but that seems unusual that there wouldn’t have been a factory turn signal stalk on this car. In that last photo, you can also see the automatic shifter lever on the dash next to the right of the key, pretty cool. The seat fabric is pretty fun, much better than the standard, solid-color fuzzy, velour-like fabric that most people redo their interiors with, in my opinion.

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This is a 3.2L, 194.5 cubic inch slant-four engine, literally half of a 389 V8. No, really! I’m guessing that this is the base engine, the “Trophy Four” with between 110 and 140 hp depending on the configuration of carburetor, cam, etc. To say that the engine/flexible-driveshaft/transmission combo was ground-breaking is an understatement. This car has the TempesTorque 2-speed transmission which is mounted in the back! I think this is a great car for someone who wants a small, inexpensive car to just have fun with on the weekends, or even to drive to work a couple of days a week. Are any of you in the same camp or do small, four door automatic transmission cars just not interest you in the least?

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  1. Eric

    I would love to have this as a cruiser… going to the A&W… or Dog n Sudz

    Like 1
  2. Norb

    Had one of these, but the convertible model with the 3 speed stick. Great little cars. Drove the wheels off it. The heater is by passed on this car as was mine, they are almost impossible to find. Had to have one custom made for mine. The turn signal set up on these is another weak link also impossible to find, hence the aftermarket switch. Great little car no matter how many doors. Sure is a conversation starter when people see it is a “slant 4″…

    Like 0
  3. Bob S

    Simple is so beautiful. Great car, no idea what they drive like.

    Like 0
  4. Jim L

    I had a ’62. The transaxle was made up of mostly Corvair parts and was flipped around so it was driven from the front. Mine even had the cheesy Corvair shifter on the dashboard. I think the steering column might have been a Corvair part too, simply because we also had a ’62 Monza and the streeing column looked and felt the same. It also had the same disadvantages the Corvair had, like the swing axle suspension.

    Like 0
  5. Alan

    My Mom had one of these back in the day. It was easily the worst car I’d ever driven (and that includes her Corvair, Rover 2000, BMW700, etc.). The big four shook like crazy, mad no power. Worse was the handling. The heavy front end would plow into a corner, then the unweighted swing axles would tuck and the rear would fly around. The early Corvair didn’t handle much better but at least was entertaining. Later Tempests with conventional suspension are cheap enough that I would not bother with one of these.

    Like 0
    • Todd J. Ikey HeymanMember

      My Mom had one too, the station wagon model. She hated driving it and for some reason the battery was always going dead. She had a number of wagons over the years and she always said the Tempest was the worst and the best was a ’54 Ford Ranch Wagon!

      Like 0
      • Alan Brase

        Well, a 54 Ford would have been a lot bigger car. If you had a family and took it on trips, it would have been quite nice, especially the 4 door 54 Ford wagon. And that smooth 239 V8 might have been a nice power plant also. I drove a 272 V8 as my first car.
        The Tempest was more of a compact car and a unibody as well.
        I’ll take one of each.

        Like 1
  6. JW454

    I had a ’63 LeMans convertible with the 4 cyl. and automatic. It was a great first car. It rode, and drove well and it took a beating from a 16 year old and kept on going. Here in Ohio we have cold, snowy winters and it always started when most other cars on the street wouldn’t. Therefore, I was elected to drive my buddies to school. That was fine with me but the catch was, I had to put the top down. It was a blast playing “Freeze Out”! Here’s what it looked like except, mine had a white top.

    Like 0
    • hhaleblian

      This pic made me cry. My first car at 15 was a red 63 4 cylinder coupe front end hit. I dropped a 326 3 speed. Roasted so many tires and clutches racing the rich kids of Hinsdale Il with their daddy bought 60’s muscle cars that I damn near went broke. They beat me, but I built my first car at 15. All they did was stick a key in theirs.

      Like 0
  7. Randy—-1961-Pontiac-Tempest/3709531.html

    That one looks to be barely broke in yet compared to this.

    Designed by John Z. Delorean……..but I don’t think a flux capacitor was an available option yet.

    Like 0
  8. American_Badaz

    A friend of mine has one of these many years ago and had a problem with breaking the driveshaft in the torque tube during “spirited” driving. Still a cool little car though!

    Like 0
  9. Alan Brase

    I had one of these, a ’62 station wagon with the 4 barrel engine and automatic. I rather liked it. Yes, not as smooth as a 6 or 8, but plenty of spunk.
    The platform and many parts were shared with Corvair. The tranny was a Powerglide, not flipped but rather driven from the front thru the bowed shaft/ torque tube. I had to replace the bearings in that once. That arrangement might have been a disadvantage with the manual transmission, but good enough for Porsche to copy it for the 924, 928, 944, 968 models later.
    I think I’d rather own a Corvair, but this would be more reliable. As I remember, it was very good in the snow. (station wagon, rear transaxle probably made about 50/50 weight distribution.)
    Brochures of the day said it came with the 215 V8 as an option, but I never saw one. That motor was glorious but troublesome. The 326 would be a rocket, though.

    Like 0
  10. ben

    had a 62 skylark back in the day had the 215 v/8 alum heads if I recall right junk motor nice little bucket seats and not bad lines a friend had a tempest as well a lot of shifting problems and trans axel

    Like 0
  11. ben

    after looking at all the pics looks like a costmic resto undercoating on the engine brown dash spray can special look at the unibody rust scrape of the under coating I bet u have a lot of holes newer under coat to hide the flaws been in this bun to long to know a gem in the rough looks like a turd turned

    Like 0
    • Patrick

      Ben- I purchased a car with a cosmetic resto as you mention. I later learned the holes in the floor were stuffed with newspaper and then sprayed over with undercoating! Not cool.

      Like 0
      • Alan Brase

        Unless you buy it as a parts car, one should always do a thorough inspection, or pay someone to do it. If the car drives, get it onto a lift.
        You get what you pay for, but you ought to be able to get a pretty solid assessment for about 3 hours shop rate time.Higher end cars obviously command higher price inspections, but of course the shop rate where they restore Bugattis is a bit higher than where they restore old Pontiac Tempests.
        It would be nice if someone could set up list of private inspectors who were knowledgeable of your marque or just generally experienced in mechanical and body science and could give you professional advice from remote locations. Is there such a listing service? Opportunity for someone to make some money off the top by putting together a database?

        Like 0
  12. Roselandpete

    I like this car but I never knew these early Tempests were so troublesome.

    Like 0
  13. Fred W.

    Probably troublesome because GM elected to simply replace the troubled transaxle and 4 cyl. with ordinary engines & transmission options within a year or two, instead of improving the engineering.

    Like 0
    • Alan Brase

      Troublesome was not my experience at all. A driveshaft repair was all I did in about 3 years use and when I was in my 20’s, I did not a BIT of maintenance! Further, I think the Powerglide transaxle worked well in the Corvair. In fact Corvair’s main problem was oil leaks. And Ralph Nader.
      In 63, while Pontiac was putting together the GTO, Ford used Falcon parts and platform to make the Mustang. The Mustang was about Detroit’s best roll out ever. The technology was not that bad, the product development/ marketing was.

      Like 0
  14. Paul R

    Saw one raced on a dirt track in the hobby class. With the 4 wheel independent suspension it was a hard car to beat.

    Like 0
  15. Bill Mesker

    Holy mother haha. This car is located where I grew up as a kid. Nice to see my home town represented.

    Like 0
  16. Mike

    My Middle School Math teacher drove one of these, she had it as long as I can remember. After she died in 1991, the car was given to her nephew who destroyed it with in a couple of years. Shame it was a nice car, l she always keep it up. I got to drive it a couple of times when she would have it in at Dad’s shop for minor repairs, or Dad would service it for her whenever it needed it, something Dad did for a few friends and loyal customers.

    Like 0
  17. rj

    I had a 61 back in the day. Blew it up three times. Mine was 3 speed standard transmission.

    Like 0
  18. Keith

    My first car was a 1961 tempest with a 3 speed on the floor. Ran the wheels off it and loved it.

    Like 0

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