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First Year Rope Drive: 1961 Pontiac Tempest

This first-year 1961 Pontiac Tempest has had just one repaint many years ago, according to the seller. They have it listed on Craigslist in Horicon, Wisconsin with an asking price of $7,500. The photos and text can be found here when the listing goes away.

“Very nice, very solid. Mostly unrestored minus a paintjob many years ago. Paint is a 7/10 I would say, with a few chips and a ding or two here and there.” The front clip is a shade off so I don’t know if that has been painted after the other paint work that they mention? This car doesn’t look rusty or wavy at all, hopefully it’s a solid one. This is such a fun, dare I say cute, little body style.

The Volkswagen Beetle hit the U.S. market hard, causing somewhat of a rush to make small cars which hadn’t been popular here in the past. The Tempest was one of GM’s attempts at making a small car to at least be in the ballpark with the VW Beetle. The Corvair was first, of course, being a rear-engine rear-drive car, whereas the Tempest was a front-engine car with a rear-transaxle and rear-drive. The drive system was referred to by some as “rope-drive” due to its flexible nature. The first-generation Tempests were made from 1961 to 1963 and they were related to the Buick Special and Oldsmobile F-85.

The interior looks great in this Tempest. What can be seen of the seats looks promising, they look perfect. The seller mentions that the “interior is in excellent shape. The headliner has a few separations and sags towards the rear though.” The trunk looks good with a bit of surface rust around the edges. NADA lists the average value of a 1961 Pontiac Tempest as being $8,600.

Upon first glance these “slant-four” engines always fool me, they look like a V8 from this angle. And, in fact this “Trophy 4”, Pontiac’s 194.5 cubic-inch inline-four, or slant-four, is half of a 389 V8. It had between 110 hp and 155 hp depending on the carburetor, compression ratio, and cam. The seller says that it “Runs pretty healthy still. Has a fresh tune-up and oil change. Tires and brakes all have good life left on them.” I love the look of the first-generation Pontiac Tempest, have any of you owned one?


  1. Rube Goldberg Member

    All right, Horicon, Wis., 2nd home ( almost) as a kid. Home of John Deere riding tractors, ( the best there is) and once home of John Deere snowmobiles. Wow, just wow. What a time capsule. Not much of a car really, it was marketed as the cheap of the cheap transportation but the fact we’re even looking at this, makes it worth it. Heater core bypassed, they can be fixed, and amazes me, if money was tight and you needed a car, this is probably what dad, who more than likely looked at the Corvair, but brought home the trusty Tempest..

    Like 7
  2. Rodney

    Love this odd little car but Wisconsin cars worry me for the rust. This looks good but is the driver’s side rocker weird or is that a trick of the light?

    Like 5
  3. TR

    I was born in 63 and shortly after that my dad bought my mom a white top red body Tempest with this drive drain. It was a very sporty looking car and got us around Cedar Rapids Iowa quite well. He had a chance to buy a deceased aunts 65 Lesabre about 3 years later and sold the Tempest to a neighbor kid. He grenaded the trans axle the first week, never saw the car again. Wish I still had the Buick, big 2 door fastback, I still like that body style

    Like 2
  4. RichS

    My FIL owns a ’62 convertible with the 194.5 (makes me chuckle every time) and the 4 barrel carb. He’s owned it since my wife was a pup, but I’ve never seen it in running condition. He keeps saying he’ll get to it and now that he’s retired, hopefully he will. Neat car, interesting drivetrain.

    Like 2
  5. Jack M.

    Early second generation Camaro that can be seen in the garage also looks interesting.

    Like 3
    • Mike R

      Also an old pickup and a Tri-Chevy? next to it. Quite a setup the seller has.

      Like 0
  6. darrun

    Is the Shifter Missing? …If I remember correctly, these had dash mounted shifters.

    Like 0
    • Beatnik Bedouin

      The selector sits under the dash, to the right of the steering column. The quadrant is in the dash, which can be seen in one of the seller’s images.

      Like 2
  7. jw454

    Nobody is going to comment on the bead board door panels? They’re painted wood. Jus’ sayn’

    Like 0
    • darrun

      You just did…Good Catch!

      Like 1
    • BSherm

      Those are the vinyl pattern GM used in these cars, it’s not painted wood (though I can see why you’d think it was).

      Like 3
      • darrun

        That’s what I thought too, but enlarge the Pics and look at the corners. It sure looks like bead board. Also the screws holding the panels in place sure doesn’t look right.

        Like 1
  8. Will Fox

    A very rare and unusual find. First-year GM compacts are nearly non-existent today in any kind of decent shape. These cars were rode hard and replaced quick when the larger versions of same appeared in `64. The only one of these I’ve seen in close condition is the production #1 Tempest sedan that GM still owns. It’s never left the company.

    Like 1
    • duaney Member

      You must live in the East. They’re fairly common still in the West.

      Like 0
  9. ccrvtt

    My first car was a 1962 Cutlass convertible, same body style as this, but a whole lot higher trim level & 185 hp V8. There were two librarians who lived at the end of our street who had twins of this car, one brown & one tan. I found it remarkable that “alternative lifestyles” were tolerated in the early ’60’s. But good neighbors were valued then more than they are now.

    Nice find, but I’d prefer the Cutlass or the Buick version. Until 1963 when you could get a 326 in the LeMans.

    Like 1
  10. BSherm

    Not sure if it’s an optical illusion, but the front passenger quarter panel doesn’t seem to match the door. I’d downgrade the paint rating a couple notches if that’s true. Still a great find.

    Like 0
  11. aminfla

    Those are the proper vinyl door panels. I had the 1962 Tempest convert in maroon with maroon and white interior. slant 4 with 4 brl carb. 2 spd powerglide. Real HUMMER of an engine. My brother had the 4 door 2 brl carb powerglide in maroon again.

    Like 3
  12. glenn

    what a cool way to change gears for that era of car. everything os is new again all the new cars have that

    Like 0
  13. Tort Member

    A friend had one that he got from his brother who worked for Pontiac in the design department. The half of a 389 with a factory four barrel, four speed and light weight made it a surprisingly quick little car.

    Like 0
  14. Terry J

    This car was one of the General’s experiments. Rear transaxle, a kinda of a cable for a driveline, slant 4. Olds was doing the aluminium V8 thing, Chevy chopping 2 cylinders off their 6 banger, also here and there were rear air cooled cars, turbo chargers, fuel injection and other fun stuff. For sure some of these test beds became the cars of the future, which was really their purpose. :-) Terry J

    Like 0
  15. John L

    I’m surprised at all the favorable comments from people who owned 2 or 4 barrel 4s running through the 2 speed. The bigger carbs must have made a huge difference,
    I had a good number of occasion to drive several different cars with the 1 barrel and the 2 speed automatic and I found them dangerously slow to accelerate. I seem to recall 0 to 60 taking 21 seconds with only a driver on board.
    If I’ve had to drive one any place other than in a rural settings, I’d look into what mass transit options were available.
    Did anyone else drive any 1 barrel, 2 speed combos??
    Did they find these cars anything but suicidal??
    I believed then, and still do now, that they should not have been licensed for use on public roads; and, I’m not some sort of wild man about speed.
    Before someone buys this, they need to test drive it.
    Based upon my experience, the rig on offer is not suitable for driving in normal traffic any more than is a gulf cart!

    Like 0
    • Rube Goldberg Member

      You have to remember, in 1961, the pace of life was a lot slower. There were very few 4 lanes, and 90% of driving was in cities, and these were adequate. I’ve long said, these cars can’t keep pace with modern highways, they cruised at 55-60, no problem, more than adequate for 1961, 2 lanes, but today, 70-75 all day, which I think it could do, would kill this car in short order. It just wasn’t designed for that.

      Like 0
  16. Garfon

    Pontiac’s 194, aka the “hay baler”

    Like 1
  17. John

    All the thrills of racing without exceeding the speed limit! My parents bought a ’62 with this drive train and I was 17. Nader should have driven one of these before he trashed Corvairs.
    It was fun except for the left front suspension breaking (twice) and sliding across the road, once on the way to picking up my prom date. Ah, the good old days…

    Like 0
  18. dweezilaz

    Nice flat floor. No transmission hump. That used to be a selling point.

    It used to be a selling point with FWD until the industry went crazy with supersize extreme edition consoles.

    The rear mounted transaxle was said to give the Tempest 50-50 weight distribution.

    Like 1
    • John

      Ha ha. Corvair transaxle in the rear and an unbalanced 1/2 of a V8 in the front. It may indeed have been 50/50 but that didn’t make it handle!

      Like 0

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