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Pre-GTO Muscle: 1963 Pontiac Le Mans

1963 Pontiac Le Mans 326

Just one year before Pontiac released the GTO, they built a high performance version of the Le Mans. It’s high compression engine might have said 326 cui, but it was actually a 336 that churned out 260 horsepower and an impressive 352 pounds of torque! While these weren’t quite as powerful or fast as the GTO that was to come, they were still impressive machines with an interesting history. You can find this Le Mans project here on eBay in Cullman, Alabama with an opening bid of $3,500.

1963 Pontiac Le Mans 326 Engine

The story of how the Le Mans 326 came to be is a good one. John DeLorean and his team at Pontiac knew the young people were looking for something fast and affordable to drive, but GM had put strict rules on building performance cars at the time. The story goes that no GM brand could build a sporty car with an engine larger than the Corvette’s 327. So they took one of their existing big block engines and had the cylinders bored to a smaller diameter, they called it a 326, but it was really a 336. Since it was said to be one cubic inch smaller than the 327, GM Brass let it through.

1963 Pontiac Le Mans Interior

While this new 326 didn’t have big horsepower numbers, it made up for it with torque. By late ’60s standards, 352 foot pounds wasn’t all that impressive, but for ’63 that was a brutal amount of grunt for a mid sized car. Especially a car with a rope type drive line and a transaxle! They proved to be extremely quick cars and Pontiac went on to sale quite a few of them. They had plenty of mechanical issues though and handling suffered from all the added weight of the overbuilt engine block. In ’64, the 326 became an actual 326 and a new high output version was introduced with more horsepower.

1963 Pontiac Le Mans Papers


This seller claims that this car has an H.O. engine, if that’s the case than it is a very rare car. They provide photos of the engine numbers and of documentation showing that the car was ordered with the 4 barrel 326 H.O. If that is correct, that this car just got a lot more interesting! The jump in horsepower wouldn’t put it on par with the late ’60s GTO, but it gets it’s real close. What do you think? Is this a 326 H.O. and is is correct to the car?

1963 Pontiac Le Mans

These early ’60s Pontiacs have really been growing on me lately. The transaxle is a very novel idea, but I think I would rather have a traditional transmission upfront and solid driveshaft in the middle. It was a great way to improve balance with the 4 cylinder cars, but this V8 generates more power than I would want to push through the tired old rope driveline and transaxle. Does anyone know which transmission and rear end would mount in this Le Mans? Would you convert it to a more conventional drivetrain or would you just leave it alone and get it back on the road as is?


  1. Cody

    The rope drive gives the car independent rear suspension and better weight distribution. It’s also unique in that an American car maker from in the 60s utilized such a design. That makes it pretty cool. I’d try pretty hard to keep it as it is. Cool car.

    • Rocco Member

      Especially if it still has the 326(336)HO eng.
      I new these cars had the trans-axle, but how did it get the moniker “rope drive”? Were there auto’s and stick shift’s with the 336HO? I always liked the ’64 GTO’s from high school days ’64-’67. This ’63 LeMans looks very similar to the ’64. I think it’s pretty cool also.
      Remember “My Cousin Vinny”?

      • Richard Gaskill

        While this car is said to have an original 4 speed,a new version of the automatic transmission (now officially stamped “TempesTorque” on the case) was designed with beefier internals to handle the torque, the four-speed was not, so few, if any, V8 cars were built with four speeds (the three-speed remained for both motors, however). I checked several websites and the information on the 4 speed was confirmed.

      • Rob

        Two utes. Nuff said.

        Like 1
    • Ted Loizides

      Ted ,Sept. 19, 2018. In Feb. of 1963 I ordered a Tempest Lemans coupe with the 326HO package which was a 4barrel and dual exhaust. I ordered the 3 speed floor shift since the only transmission choices were either the 3 speed stick or a 2 speed auto, there was a 4 speed available which was the Corvair trans and was only available with the 4 cylinder. I ordered it with the heavy duty suspension, and a 3.56 posi-traction rear. I surprised many cars with that car, it was a lot faster the most people realized. Only problem was the transaxle which I destroyed twice in the 2 years I owned it, fortunately it was under warranty, but the dealer said he was glad I was the only one that ordered the car that way, it was the only HO tempest he sold. Now that I’m retired I wish I had that car, it certainly was special.

  2. Blindmarc

    I found one in the same color last year with three two barrels and a 4 speed. It would crank over but we couldn’t get it to start. Someone offered me 10 k for it and I let it go….


    I had one with the 326, and a 3 speed on the floor. Mine was tired, REALLY tired. I only drove it a few times, and it sounded like every bearing on earth was ready to explode. I always loved the body style, they look like a small 64 GTO. I kept it for a number of years and gave it to my son. He then gave it to a coworker at the prominent chassis shop he worked at.
    My son and I are promised rides if the current owner ever gets it going. Engine builders Nelson racing engines have a You Tube video of one of these with a mega horsepower engine. Beautiful car.
    Again, I feel they have beautiful lines, and lots of us swap out rear end setup’s so the transaxle setup is not the end of the world.


      I never heard of an HO 326. I had heard they were 336 cubes though. Not saying a HO 326 doesn’t exist, just never heard of one.

      • Josh Staff

        Yeah I couldn’t find any record of a 326 HO in ’63. I know in ’64 they came out with a high compression 4 barrel, but it seems unlikely that this ’63 would have one of those engines. The 326 was a high compression motor in ’63, so at first I thought that they were just confused, but the build sheet shows it was ordered with an HO 326 with 4 barrel carb. Any thoughts?

        Like 1
      • BRAKTRCR

        My motor was blue… I think all Poncho motors of that era were blue… but maybe a HO 326 was red? Just strikes me as odd. Not throwing rocks at anyone, just trying to get educated. But, a “Matching Numbers” HO 326… that is red… who would paint a Pontiac engine red…

      • Richard Gaskill

        The actual displacement was 336 in³, but according to lore, since no GM division compact was allowed to have a motor larger than the Corvette’s 327, the advertised number was 326. The 326 sold in the 1963 cars is a one year-only motor; the next year the displacement was adjusted so that it was actually 326 in³.

        Like 1
      • Rocco Member

        I just looked in my “Motors” manual for the bore&stroke for the Pont. 326. If you do the math, it comes out 336ci. for all years.

        The formula is: bore x bore x stroke x number of cyl. (8) x .7854 = ?
        3.78 x 3.78 x 3.75 x 8 x .7854 = 336.66328
        It doesn’t show any other 326 bore & stroke for any other year.

        Like 1
  4. Car Guy

    This car is about the same size as a 16 Camaro. Both have independent rear suspension. On big difference is that you can actually sit in the back seat of the Le Mans! This Le Mans and same year Skylark were great looking cars.

    • boxdin

      The Olds F85 was a good looker too.

      Like 2
  5. paul

    Didnt the Tempest model in 63 have a 326 HO? thanks

  6. Richard Gaskill

    Hagerty lists a value for the car with this engine. In #4 condition it’s worth $4,000

  7. scottymac

    The transaxle had a lot of carryover Corvair parts, not sure how well they would survive a hot V8. Transplant a Corvette transaxle and a built 455?

  8. Ken

    Had a ’63 LeMans in high school in the late ’60s, 326 3-speed gold with cream top and gold interior. Being a teenager, had to try my hand at street racing and friends would tell me that my rear wheels were folding under on launch, and soon I had to replace the U-joints in the rear axles to the tune of $200, which was a huge amount when you were making a dollar an hour pumping gas. A month later I rolled it and became a pedestrian again.

  9. Frank

    I had one years ago that was rescued from the junk yard.326 with badging on the fender and a three speed on the floor.that engine blew 2transmissions,the engine was blue it was a fast car but did not handle all that great.

  10. ccrvtt

    Daytona SpeedWeeks 1963 – Paul Goldsmith had a ’63 Tempest with a 421 stuffed in it. He won a 250 mile race by 5 miles. Lapped the field, including 427 Corvette and Ferrari GTOs. The rulesmakers caught up to him pretty quickly, however…

  11. Tony S

    The 326 was based on the 389 as was the 400. The “big blocks” were 421, 428 and 455.

    • Josh Staff

      Good to know Tony! I really struggled to find detailed and accurate info about the 326. Have you ever heard if they made a 326 HO in ’63?

    • Robert Jennings

      Pontiac never made a “Big Block”. The blocks and heads were all the same size. Only the displacement was different.

      Like 2
    • Robert Hummel

      There’s no such thing as a Pontiac big block, there all the same basic block just different bore and stroke.

  12. Don E Member

    Gents, the phs docs above clearly state 326HO. Unless they were manipulated by the seller, I’ve never seen Jim’s phs records incorrect.

    Big blocks in 60s era Pontiacs is a misnomer. Blocks were pretty much the same (except for HO blocks with rear casting numbers of 157 (heavier and beefier webbing), 4 bolt mains etc. The heads interchange. Bore and strokes were different. 421, 428 & 455 had 3.25″ crank journals. 326, 350, 389 had 3.00″ journals. The 400 was a very different animal. 455 super dutys were built and fit together by hand.

    Like 3
  13. Van

    You guys are making me feel stupid.
    I’m a big Poncho fan and I’m learning a lot.
    Back in 1979 I did see a 421 super duty intake, designed for 2 four barrels and a two barrel. The carbs were gone.

  14. alabee

    Loved to drive my Dad’s gold auto 2 door with the 326. Precursor to all the muscle cars to follow. One great looking car.

    Like 1
  15. DENIS

    Back in the day, when I was going to college, a young local had a 326/3 spd that he street-raced…it was very quick even back when we had 409s, 348s, 406s, and lots of badass small blocks. Would love to have this but would lose the rope-drive…nice n’ lightweight…

    Like 1
    • Rocco Member

      Again, how did it get the moniker “rope-drive”?

  16. scottymac

    Someone with better knowledge can correct me, but there was a 3/4″ – 1″ shaft that connected the clutch at the back of the engine to the transaxle under the trunk. Compared to a regular driveshaft, looked like a rope. Something like the torque tube cars from the Thirties and Forties had. And AMC used forever. It had a slight bend to it, but allowed a lower tunnel in the passenger compartment.

  17. Wayne Thomas

    Vortec 4200 straight six with 300hp would be more than enough.

  18. Bruce

    Had a red 63 with a 326 three speed with white upholstery. Sold it to buy a brand new 72 Charger. Sold the Charger when the family came along, Loved both cars but love the kids more. Current toy is a 83 Trans Am I enjoy with my son!

    Like 1
  19. sav-a-trk

    I would like to say, I bought a new 63 pontiac tempest convertable in 1963. It came with a 326 cubic inch 2 barrel carbuerator rated at 260 HP from the pontiac dealer. This was a blue engine. It had a three speed transmision with shifter on the floor. Pontiac offered a four barrel carb with this engine, also. thank you

    Like 2
  20. Hendo

    I have had a hankering latley to get one of these 61-63 Tempests and put it on a C5 or C6 Corvette chassis and drivetrain. That would solve all it’s problems and retain it’s original front engine, torque tube, IRS and rear transaxle arrangement. The LS engine would be lighter, the rear suspension and trans axle would work properly. It would handle properly and be able to brake beyond expectation. Just need to find a solid 61-63 body and a wrecked Corvette…

    Like 1
  21. Bill O

    I had a 63 Tempest 326 with 3 speed. Red cloth interior….wish I could find another but have searched to no avail……

  22. kenneth thoman

    go to pete’s book, and there WERE little over 2000 HO TEMPEST LEMANS made in 1963, auto engine code is 50y manual engine code 70x none where built with a 4 speed manual, only 3 speed manual or 2 speed auto, the HO was 336 ci with 10 to 1 piston, a hotter cam and 4 barrel, there you have, this here that you have viewed is the the only matching number i have ever seen, i own it for 12 years a lot history work has been done, when i first bought it i did not buy it knowing it was HO until i started checking it out.

    Like 1
  23. Rainmaker63

    There’s no such thing as a Pontiac big block or small block. There all the same casting just different bore an stroke.

  24. Joseph Melton

    I bought a new 63 Lemans just like this in gold bronze color and I could beat most small block Chevrolets and other midsized cars. I ended up trading it in on a new 65 GTO 389, 3-2’s 4Sp. I really enjoyed both cars but had about 2 or three transaxles replaced in the 63 and the dealer didn’t like the warrenty
    work. They were both fun cars to drive at that age in my life and I wish I still had both of them plus a few others I’ve had.

    Like 2
  25. Rich

    I bought a LeMans new in 1963. They called it a special order. It was a 326HO. It had a 4 barrel carb, dual exhaust, a 3:90 rear, and a 3 speed stick. They didn’t have a 4 speed at the time. Midnight Blue with a white interior. Great car , sorry I still don’t have it.

  26. Buz

    Just out of college, I bought a ’63 Tempest LEMANS in black. I ordered the 326HO. It had a Carter AFB 4 barrel, dual exhaust, 3 speed (4 wasn’t available with this engine), 3.78 rear, fast bleed down lifters and yielded an advertised 285HP. Engine was Pontiac blue. Bought from Goodwin Pontiac.
    I raced it at Martin Dragstrip till I blew 2 rear ends, the “spaghetti” drive shaft and 2 rear U-joints. C-stock at that time. Dealer only warrantied one of each.
    Spaghetti drive shaft was twisted strands of steel much like your flexible ratchet drive socket extension tool.
    I’ve had big block Camaros and Corvettes but that 63 is still my favorite.

  27. Herb Dannhauser

    There’s quite a bit of misinformation in the previous comments. I hope to set some of it right from my recollections. I purchased a 63 Tempest LeMans with the mid year introduction 326HO option. It was a 4 barrel, dual exhaust, high compression, fast bleed down lifter equipped engine rated at 280HP. Available only w/Auto trans or 3 speed stick. To the best of my memory the 2 barrel, 260HP version was available with 3:90 gears whereas the HO option which I had could only be ordered with a 3:30 rear. I ordered mine w/3 speed stick. Also ordered HD suspension & quick steering ratio. Of the many cars I’ve owned over the years, including 63, 66 & 68 Vettes, a 70 396 Nova SS among others, I miss my 63 LeMans the most. It was a blast to drive !!

    • Buz

      You are right, 280hp not 285. However I tried to order 3:90 gears but had to settle for 3:78.
      I traded it in for a 67 BB Camaro.

      • Herb Dannhauser

        Buz, 1963 was many years ago but I do recall sitting down with the salesperson & the options list & an order form. The salesman wasn’t even aware of an HO option (it was so new)& I went over the list of things I wanted in order to build my car. At that time (midyear) a 3:30 rear was the only gear ratio available with the HO – of that I’m completely positive! Also, regarding the 336 cube displacement, that’s true in the early part of 63. That was rectified later on in the year & displacement was reduced to 326 inches. Also, some have stated the 63 Tempest was available with a Posi rear Not true! It’s a pleasure reminiscing about a car that brought so much pleasure all those years ago. Only one other car that I owned even approached the Tempest in owner satisfaction. That would have been my 1988 Mustang LX, 5.0, 5 speed. Wish I’d kept that one.

  28. Buz

    Herb, you are correct about the lack of posi in the offerings but indeed I ordered 3:78 gears. They had to be replaced twice. Corvair gears couldn’t handle the H.O. power.
    Mona Lisa Vito explained the lack of posi very well in My Cousin Vinny.

  29. Ted Loizides

    I special ordered a 1963 tempest lemans 326HO, with 3 speed stick, heavy duty suspension, quick ratio steering, and “POSITRACTION REAR with ,3:30 gears. I had to tell the dealer about the HO package since he didn’t know about. Picked up the car from South Bay Pontiac in Patchogue, LI, NY in April of 1963. Ran the car at West Hampton Drag Strip and ran in high 14’s, which back in the day was quick. Engine was really tough, but blew trans axle twice.

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