The Pre GTO? 1963 Pontiac LeMans 326

It’s easy to understand how some assume that the Pontiac LeMans (and Tempest) got their start in 1964. Both are closely associated with the famous GTO, a Pontiac nameplate that tends to dominate discussions. But prior to ’64, there was a LeMans and we have uncovered a previous year’s 1963 example for review today. And there is a world of difference in design architecture between the two years! This LeMans is located in Fortuna, California and is available, here on eBay for a current bid of $7,088, reserve not yet met. Thanks to Larry D for this discovery!

The year 1960 was a significant one for domestic automakers as the chrome-laden excesses of the ’50s were being tempered by the counterbalance of compact cars. It was evident that VW was not going away. GM countered the Volkswagen Bug with the Chevrolet Corvair and Ford introduced its very successful Falcon. Meanwhile, Plymouth brought on the Valiant- Exner styling and all, and even Studebaker had gotten in on the game the 1959 introduction of the Lark. GM’s more buttoned-down BOP division (Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac) presented their vision of what a compact car should be in ’61 with the “Y” body models, Special/Skylark, F85, and Tempest/Lemans, respectively. But Pontiac’s entry took a completely different drivetrain tack than their corporate cousins – more on that to follow.

Our subject car, being an upscale LeMans, puts it up a level over the base Tempest model and was only available as a two-door coupe or convertible – four-doors and station wagons were left to the more dowdy Tempest version. Defined by its typical Pontiac “beak”, this example still shows pretty well. It’s not the original finish, but rust has been mostly limited to some surface spots. The seller adds, “It is NOT perfect. It has its assorted scratches, dings, and bumps“. OK, so it has a few “beauty marks”, most 58 year-olds do. There are some body panel alignment issues too. This Pontiac is a California car, having been built at GM’s Southgate (L.A.) assembly plant and then residing in the area most of its life. It spent a few years in Oregon, after being freed from 20+ years in a storage container, and then, more recently, was returned to CA. A west coast residence has been kind to this Poncho.

The interior is fair, though the mismatch between the front buckets and the rear bench seat is what one will immediately notice. Also, look skyward and you’ll see that the headliner has been removed. That said, the interior is really pretty fair but things like the upholstery panels will need some help. One notable feature is the factory A/C unit, an option that is probably not too common on this vintage Tempest or LeMans. Unfortunately, it is non-operational. The original Delco radio is MIA as well.

Under the hood is a 260 gross HP, 326 CI V8 engine, and the seller claims, “Engine runs great with no smoke“. It has had quite a bit of maintenance and repairs performed, mostly things related to the fuel system and brakes, though the power brake booster is apparently on the fritz. Where things get interesting is in the gear changing department as this LeMans is outfitted with a rear-mounted, two-speed automatic transaxle, connected to the back of the engine via a “rope drive” operating through a torque tube. The Tempest/LeMans relatives, the Olds and Buick versions of the Y-body, elected to go with a more traditional engine-transmission-driveshaft-rear axle/differential arrangement. This unique get-up would be replaced in ’64 when the Tempest/LeMans migrated to the new A-Body platform. BTW, the seller states that the “Transmission shifts as it should“.

The seller posits, “These cars are really hard to find“. That could be true, but it’s probably more of a question as to who’s really looking. The succeeding A-Body models are where the real collectibility and value are, though this is certainly a nice example of GM’s early stab at building a compact. The Tempest/LeMans version is even that much more notable due to its unique drivetrain. This is a nice Y-Body example, with some effort, it could move up from note-worthy to desirable, wouldn’t you agree?

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Comments

  1. alphasud Member

    I would have to say the top bid of 7K is more than this car is worth. There is a lot of work to be done to make this car nice again. Better to find a nicer example. Granted they are few and far between but these just aren’t worth that much.

    Like 9
    • Racer-X

      A car is worth what it sells for. Free market price discovery is what made the USA great.

      Like 32
      • alphasud Member

        I couldn’t agree more. Obviously my comments are made based on personal opinion and not what the market reflects. I love capitalism and hope this guys reserve is met and the new owner loves one of DeLorean’s cool designs. The rope drive is a brilliant idea to keep the driveshaft from oscillation by placing it under tension.

        Like 8
    • Steve R

      Bidding isn’t likely finished. It’s relatively inexpensive for a unique car that’s ready to be enjoyed as it sits. Finding an affordable 2dr rust free turn key project isn’t easy, especially one that only needs a relatively minor amount interior work. The AC is a plus, if complete, even though it’s not operational few cars in this class of cars came with it during this time period so it’s current operating status isn’t much of a negative.

      If the reserve isn’t set too high someone will be getting what appears to be a nice cars at a reasonable price.

      Steve R

      Like 8
      • Ignatius J. Reilly

        Looks like reserve was met at $9k.

        Like 1
    • Mike

      $7000 seems a fair price for this Tempest, but at that price I wouldn’t have anything left to fix the car up with. I’ll keep looking, but it was nice looking at it!

      Like 2
  2. Ben McLaughlin

    I liken it to a Porsche 928. Front mount V8, rear transaxle, 4 wheel independent suspension, 2+2 seating. I think it’s a cool car.

    Like 9
    • Alan Brase

      Sorta like a Porsche 928 but only with a Corvair trans and SWING AXLES. No Weissach tech on this offering from GM.

      Like 3
  3. Tiberius1701

    Would love to see a shot of the underside!

    Like 2
    • Steve R

      Taking pictures of the undercarriage doesn’t occur to many sellers that lice in California since undercarriage rust isn’t an issue. It probably never occurred to him to take any. Typically when looking at a car that’s spent it’s life here, you stick your head underneath the rocker for a quick look and your done.

      Steve R

      Like 6
    • Rick

      I owned a ’63 Tempest wagon with the slant four in 1975 and the underside of that car was pretty well shot.

  4. Johnny

    Nice car. If it was mine. First thing I would do is replace the trans axle .With a 4 speed and regular posi rear-end. I had a 64 rag top. . The trans axle caused me to flip it near Black Horse (Ravenna) Ohio in 1972. It was a great running little car. I,d like to have this.Wished it was closer. I got mine off my uncle.Who bought it at Miller,s Pontiac in Ravenna. Someone put a 421 in it. It would run good.

    Like 1
    • Pete W.

      The ’64 Tempest didn’t have a transaxle. The last year for that set up was ’63. From then on it was beam axle, driveshaft, trans, and engine, in that order.

      Like 8
      • Johnny

        It was titled a 64,but it could have been a late 63. Mine did have a trans-axle. Things do happen on the assembly line to use up what they have left over from another year. You see and hear about it all the time.

        Like 3
      • David Frank David Member

        Just like Jim said…” This unique get-up would be replaced in ’64 when the Tempest/LeMans migrated to the new A-Body platform.”

  5. Stan Kaminski

    A unique quirk of the rope drive shaft: it never stopped spinning as it was bolted to the crankshaft. Some owners complained about a vibration at red lights because of the spinning. The torque converter was at the back of the transaxle and it was not enclosed. I had a 63 and while it was running I laid under the trunk to check something. It wasn’t a windy day but I had wind in my face. I looked up and there was the torque converter spinning in all of its glory. Mine was an automatic. To check the trans fluid you had to open the trunk, lift up the floormat, remove two screws to an access plate to gain access to a traditional dipstick.

    Like 11
    • Mountainwoodie

      Yup. I had a ’63 LeMans convertible automatic with a/c.

      Bought it sight unseen from a guy in Oklahoma in the early pre Ebay internet days of typing to each other. Of course when it arrived in Fontana on 4 crp tires and not at all as it was represented I was hopping mad.

      Didnt want to pay to ship it back to the lying liar so I kept it. Black on black and no one had another. This was 1998 or so. There was a guy in San Diego who had a stash of rope drive parts and other transaxle odds and ends and he came in handy when inevitably the rubber ? u joints and other parts fell apart. Actually traded it in part for a ’66-67 maybe S P car targa as I’ve said before.

      The ’63’s Tempest/ Le Mans are well balanced and fun to drive. I love the understated stying. Amazed that this car is at 11 grand……but hey money is not worth what it used to be! :)

      Like 1
  6. MrF

    Uh, most 1964s had a conventional drive train.

    Like 4
    • Johnny

      Most–thank you.

      Like 1
      • Dave

        I for one would love to see a 1964 car with the 1963 drivetrain. Talk about a unicorn with unobtainable parts!

  7. Sam Shive
    • alphasud Member

      Awesome clip Sam👍

      Like 7
    • Johnny

      That was a really good movie and she put the FBI EXPERT in his place to. She had hands on expreience. Where the agent had school . Which are entirely different. Thanks for the memories

      Like 6
      • Dave

        Unless you’re legally blind, it’s impossible to confuse a 63 Pontiac with a 64 Buick.

    • Tom

      That’s awesome! Never seen the movie but now I have to watch it!!

      Like 1
  8. MrF

    The “326” V8 used this year was actually a 336 cubic inch GMC V8. Probably called a 326 because of some corporate mandate (e.g., 396 SS with 402). The regular Pontiac block with a 326 ci displacement, was adopted in subsequent years.

    Like 5
    • Marty Parker

      Although the 63 326 actually measured 336 cubic inches it was the same block as the 64-67 326 with a smaller bore size.

  9. 370zpp 370zpp Member

    One of the few Lemans seen here that I would consider unique enough to save.

    Like 7
  10. jerry z

    Imagine sticking a 389 tri-power in this car, wonder if the transaxle would hold up. 1963 could have been the first GTO!

    Like 3
    • Greg

      Would love to see someone drop a 389, 4 speed and posi trac in this car. I would also add a couple of GTO emblems on her just to get everyone’s attention!!

      Like 1
      • Dave

        Back in the day I knew a guy that had a 1963 F85 that dropped a 455 from a 442 into it. It was proof that if you want to do something badly enough you’ll find a way.

  11. gaspumpchas

    Good solid car, drive as is, Make a super duty clone out of it. In the glory days of the super duty program Poncho Would sell you everything you need to change over from the rope drive to a traditional trans / rear set up. IIRC, Art “the Farmer” Beswick was converting one of these and the parts didnt arrive at his shop in time for the race, so He took the rope drive car, and they delvered the parts to the dragstrip. Art did the conversion in the parking lot and raced that same weekend. Good stuff. Happy motoring!
    Cheers
    GPC

    Like 6
    • moosie moosie

      Arnie “THE FARMER” Beswick, not Artie. I can still remember seeing his cars in Hot Rod Magazine. Click on this link, https://arniebeswick.com/

  12. losgatos_dale

    I had an earlier wagon, also rope-drive, 4-banger automatic, this listing really tempted me but not 9 grand worth

    Like 1
  13. Troy s

    Pontiac was already bending the rules, I guess, as this engine displaced 336 cubes, as stated up above, but they called it a 326. For ’64 a true 326 became a available, of course more bending of the rules and the 389 was used in the optional GTO with much hoping and crossing of the fingers. You could get fired for that stuff, instantly.
    This car here would be more desirable if it had a straight forward driveline, at least in my opinion, but it is an interesting look at early sixties automotive design, research and development.

    Like 1
  14. Bill Potts

    I owned the Tempest version,not the LeMans. I loved that car,and wish I still had it. Even though it was a two door post,it still looked great. On the road, I got 20mpg. Mine had a bench seat. It was powder blue, automatic. Interior was two tone blue. Never should have traded it in!

    Like 1
  15. Glenn Hilpert

    The bidding is up to 9K by a ZERO feedback bidder playing games as usual. This car will be re-listed at some point.

  16. Chuck Foster Chuck Foster

    I think it will sell big…make a Super Duty clone, well maybe not with a hardtop. One of only six 1963 Pontiac LeMans Tempest Super Duty coupes ever made had a 421 engine, was the fastest drag car in 1963, and sold on Ebay for $226,521. https://www.autoblog.com/2008/11/10/ebay-find-of-the-day-1963-lemans-tempest-sells-for-226-521/
    Maybe the same car sold for $335,500 https://www.hemmings.com/stories/2014/01/22/once-abandoned-pontiac-super-duty-lemans-coupe-sells-for-335500

    Like 3
  17. Lowell Peterson

    Very hard to find, very fair price, do it for the passion not the $$$$😁🤑
    These are kool cars trans/driveline is no problem if your not doing burnouts! I have a customer with a convertible for sale , I think its a ….4 cylinder? Is that a thing?

    • alphasud Member

      Yes, the car could be had with one of 2 4cyl. engines. Essentially 1/2 of a 389 in either a 2bbl or 4bbl configuration. I believe the rope drive was developed to smooth out the vibration of the 4cyl. engine. The shaft diameter was was also made thicker for the manual transmission cars and was apparently strong enough for the V8.

      Like 1
  18. NoRearFendersInMySideviewMirrrors

    Did the 1963 Skylark, LeMans/GTO, and Corvair share architecture, but not power plant/drive train setup?

    Like 1
    • Jim ODonnell Staff

      There was no GTO in ’63, ’64 was its first year and it featured a conventional front-engine, rear axle configuration as did all of the other GM A-Body cars (Chevelle, F85, and Special/Skylark). The Tempest/LeMans was the only “Y” body (’61-’63) that used this rope-drive, independent rear suspension.

      The Corvair is a completely different animal with a rear-mounted engine attached directly to a transaxle, more similar to a VW Bug.

      JO

      Like 2
      • NoRearFendersInMySideviewMirrors

        Jim O:

        Thanks for clarifying. I Meant to say Tempest for ’63, not Lemans – fifties dementia kicking in!

        I often confuse cars that look or seem similar in appearance or size. I was surprised to find out that the ’62-’63 Skylark & Tempest match the overall dimensions of my 2010 Honda Accord(8th Gen U.S.) pretty closely, except in two regards:

        My Accord eclipses those ‘compact’ GMs by four inches in both track(60.5″ vs 56) and height(57.6″ vs 53″). I can’t believe how long it took for engineers to finally push the wheels out to where they needed to be: as close as possible to the corners of the vehicle!

      • NoRearFendersInMySideviewMirrors

        I don’t know why my reply did not post, sighhh, here goes, again!

        I often confuse car types of similar sizes as being related.

        As for the GM Y ‘compacts’, they and my 2010(8th Gen) Honda Accord are dimensionally similar, except for track and height.

        The Accord has both four inches more track and four inches greater height from ground to roof top.

  19. PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

    SOLD for $14,099.
    There were two serious bidders duking it out at the end.

  20. Joseph Dean Melton

    This was the first new car that I bought, a 63 Lemans with a 326 and a 3-speed manual. This was a little too much power for this set up as I knocked out 2 transaxles and the dealer was not too happy with me and kept my car in the shop for several weeks and gave me an older loaner so one week I had just gotten my copy of safari magazine and it had Tom Delorems number in it so as a 21-year-old young man I called it, not really thinking I’d get through and after explaining my situation to several ladies, He came on the phone, I explained my problem to him and he was quiet for a few and said you are in the KC district aren’t you and then said your car will be ready next week, Needless to say, the dealer didn’t seem too pleased with him when I went to pick it up, can’t believe my luck to this day.

    Like 1
    • Richard White

      I bought a used 63 Le Mans with Tri-Power 326 V-8 engine used in 1965. The car appeared to be stock but it had a cast iron tri-power intake manifold on it. Ran very well and was fast. I read in a Pontiac book that 101 hi-perf 63 Leman’s were built as a prototype GTO. The Tri-power could have been added by the previous owner but where would he have gotten a cast-iron Tri-Power manifold setup that would bolt onto a 326 engine?

      • Dave

        Since all Pontiac V8s have the same dimensions bolting on a Tri-Power is easy. But without heads, a cam, and exhaust system all it will do is bog and stall out.

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