Tool Shed Find: 1963 Pontiac Tempest

This 1963 Pontiac Tempest has literally been sitting in a tool shed for the last 30 years. The current owner is ready to part with it and has it listed for sale here on craigslist, near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, asking $4,500.

“Tempest” is another word for “Tornado” or “Cyclone” They were produced from 1960 to 1970, then resurrected for  Canada and Israel as a re-badged Chevy Corsica from 1987-1991. The first three generations rode on the then-new Y-platform, which was an early Unibody design. First-generation Tempests like this one could be had with your choice of three different 3.2-liter inline “Trophy 4” engines, column-shift 3-speed or 2-speed rear-mount transaxle, and a host of options – in coupe, convertible, sedan, or station wagon form.

This particular one has definitely seen better days, as the seller’s pictures from 30 years ago clearly show, but it might not necessarily be a basket case. We’re not told a whole lot in the way of details, but our astute readers can surmise and/or presume a few things right off the bat. It doesn’t run, the windshield is broken, there are signs of body rust, it has 82,000 miles and floor-shifted gearbox attached to one of the 4-cylinder engines. The seller says that it turns over but they can’t get the hood or trunk open… which would explain a lack of underhood pictures.

All in all, it seems like an okay deal. I don’t know if I personally would pay the full asking price for it, but that’s just my opinion. If it’s as complete as the seller says, and if parts aren’t made of unobtainium, it might make a decent restoration candidate. I’m not really familiar with old Ponchos, so can one of you good Pontiac people out there fill me in here? For the rest of you, what would you do with this car, given the opportunity?


  1. TimS Member

    Don’t know what I’d do with it, but I know what I’d do *for it*. Smack its current owner upside the head for letting it degrade like this.

    Like 8
    • GCS Member

      Interesting but the 4 banger wouldn’t get out of it’s own way. That would have to go…

      • MorganW Morgan Winter

        GCS: This four banger looks like it can get out of its’ own way, ha ha!

      • ACZ

        Nunzi is one of the best Pontiac builders ever!

    • charles

      I had a 63 tempest in 1965 , it had been hit in left rear quarter. So my brothers and I put a 1957 ponitac rear end in it plus a gm 4 speed and a 421 pontiac engine in it . All this was a simple operation to do. Too bad we didn’t keep it.

  2. DayDreamBeliever DayDreamBeliever

    Likely a bit crusty underneath from sitting on the dirt.

    But really, it appears to be pretty solid. Not surprised about the rusty areas behind the front wheels, the windshield drains headed there, and debris could accumulate and stay wet.

    “It has three on the tree manual transmission.” Eh, only if the tree is growing flat on the floor. Obviously the hood is open, as there is a single engine photo. The 4-cylinder shown is likely the “half of a V-8” which Pontiac used. Maybe 163 C.I.?

    These used the “Rope Drive” setup, a flexible driveshaft to get power to the rear transaxle. That was a Corvair-sourced unit. I *thought* that the 4-speed could also be selected, but apparently this one has the three and not the 2-speed Powerglide.

    The car should be light enough, if a bit underpowered, but well -balanced and fun to drive. I don’t think that the seller’s asking price is out of line, unless the frame is shot. Yes, there can’t be many original cars around with the 4’s. I’d be tempted to slip in the 215 aluminum 8 and a 4-speed if the driveshaft could handle it.

    Then there is this option….. :-D

    Like 4
    • Ralph

      The 4 in these is a 194 cid, basically a half of a 389. The 3.5 Buick/Olds V8 was an option on these 1961-1962, but it was hardly ever seen, the 1963 models actually got an available Pontiac 326 which could have been combined with the 4 speed to sort of create a “proto-GTO” but with an independent suspension.

      “unless the frame is shot.”

      That would be hard since there isn’t one…….

      Like 2
      • Dave

        The transaxle was the weak link in these cars as it was unable to handle the power of the 326. The only reason this car has survived is because of the 4 cylinder engine. Try to horse it up and you’ll kill it. For a point of reference as to how few of these still exist the last one I saw was a convertible in Columbus Ohio in 1974.

        Like 6
      • Mountainwoodie

        @Dave and Ralph…..closer to a Rover Buick block…..I had the 326.never had a problem with the transaxle. There was a Poncho guy back in the late nineties in San Diego who had the mid drive supports and bearings . I swapped in new ones and drove the heck out of mine. Traded it on an early ’66 911S Targa (!!!!!!) lol to a small storefront operation in Pacific Beach and from there to my late ’70 911.

        Now..when they invent a time machine………I’m playing this all differently!

        Like 2
      • Ralph

        Rover had nothing to do with the design of the 3.5 V8, they lucked out later by buying it from GM, but the original is Buick/Olds, each version had different heads.

        Like 4
    • Russell Glantz Staff

      Wow, the seller must have gotten the hood to open. When I saw and wrote this, it had not been opened yet.

      Like 1
    • Ken Kittleson

      Bought a ’63 LeMans in that shade of gold in ’69 when I was 16, but it came with the 326 V-8, four barrel, duals, three on the floor and bucket seats. When I’d try to street race, the rear wheels would fold under thanks to the transaxle and I knocked out the axle U-joints, didn’t even know it had them up to that point. Shortly after paying a month’s pay as a gas pump jockey to replace the U-joints, I rolled it and totaled it.

      Like 4
    • Ted

      Sheesh, regardless of the performance of that Buick it has the ugliest exhaust system ever bolted to a car and to me that detracts from the package. That’s just me, no disrespect intended.

      You should have posted this video,

      Like 1
      • Mountainwoodie

        See how well that baby tracked? No wandering. It really was a well balanced design.

        On another note, the LeMans had horizontal rear lights along the top of the rear bumper The
        Tempest had 2 stacked single lights on each side above the bumper.

  3. Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

    First thought-“Is this the troublesome Tempest from ‘My Cousin Vinny’ “ but then realized there’s no WAY this one could leave “burnout” acceleration tracks….

    Like 2
    • Ralph

      You could have opted up to a 326 in these too, which would have had enough power to make those marks…….

      But this would have been the car that the real criminals were driving, except in a convertible, though I don’t think this has the same track width as a 1964 Skylark though…..

      Like 1
      • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

        So they put the 215 aluminum block in this?? That’d be a nice find-especially if it had the turbo they put on that motor for the Cutlass that year!!
        And with that, how is it GM had a fantastic small aluminum V8 that seemed indestructible in flat fender Jeeps running the Rubicon Trail and yet couldn’t get it right when it came time to build an aluminum inline 4 😱(Vega)!!??!?!
        Seriously-Thank you, Ralph for the automotive lesson today.

        Like 2
  4. Ralph

    column-shift 3-speed or 2-speed rear-mount transaxle

    There is no column shift “on the tree” on these for either manual or the automatic, the manuals are all floor shift and the automatic is a small lever on the dash just like a Corvair.

    And manual or automatic, they all had “transaxles”…….

    Here’s your free automotive info lesson for the day…….

    Like 13
    • Mountainwoodie

      I had a ’63 black convertible, black interior, maroon top with the automatic ( lever on the dash) and a V8. I only wish it had had a 4 speed !

      I think it is one of the best balanced cars with that transaxle and rope drive. With only half an eight this will be a lot slower. On the other hand, with the 4 speed you can fake it through second gear. But then you’re done lol.

      Maybe if the ‘seller’ gave it to me.

  5. Andy

    I had one these. 3 speed transaxle connected to engine via a propeller shaft in a torque tube. Only 2 small bearings midway on the propeller shaft. Harmonics caused significant whipping of the shaft which destroys the bearings and actually breaks the torque tube. After several attempts with new shafts with the same result the car went to scrap. Beware.

    Like 3
  6. A-body Fan

    My early childhood is flying back. My first experience away from my parents (adult supervision) let free to be with my female teenage camp counselors (flower power supervision) was in the backseat of a first generation Lemans being delivered back to our summer bungalow in the Catskills. I’ll never forget that early freedom, the quiet NY state roads, the coolest burgundy Lemans and those girls. Thanks for posting.

    Like 5
  7. Ted

    If I didn’t have to pay to have this car shipped to the west coast over top of the purchase price this would on it’s way to my place. Seller should have taken pics of the entire car though, pic of the shifter is nice but to say there’s rust in an area of the car and not take pics of it worries me. And there’s no excuse for it, there’s walkaround room where the car sits so why not take the photos? Aaarghh……

    Like 1
  8. 71FXSuperGlide

    “The antenna looks good.” Well, that’s a first for listings. LOL

    These cars really were ahead of their time.

    Like 4
  9. Wayne

    I saw one once where the owner kept the rope driveshaft, but replaced the early Corvair transaxle and suspension with a later (1965 and newer) Corvair transaxle and suspension. He said that it made all the difference in the world. It had the 4 barrel factory option that he swapped over a 421 head onto with a hot cam. He blew everyone away that day at the auto cross. ( fast time of day for a non race tire car) I always liked these and would be temped to do the same mods to the transaxle and suspension. I would most likely pick a lighter engine setup. Still a cool car.

    Like 1
    • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

      “Rope driveshaft”? Because it’s so sloppy? Please explain.

    • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

      Never mind- I didn’t se the earlier explanation until I posted this..🧐

      Like 1
    • Joe

      I had a coupe around 1977 with the standard 4 cyl. and automatic. I don’t remember it as being really slow, and I didn’t have any problems with it. It handled well too.

      Like 1
      • Ralph

        Everything on here without 500hp is slow…..except for the 25hp cars…..those are “cute and charming”……

        Like 2
  10. Wayne

    The “rope” drive shaft was actually a steel cable that had a sag in the middle when not turning. I believe that it was used just as BMW uses guibo (sp?) clutches/insulators to help “suck up” harshness that can be transmitted to the transaxle/rear diff. In most cases it was extremely reliable. ( I worked at a Pontac store in the early 70s and saw many of these in for service but never saw one in for “driveshaft” repairs. All the mechanics were quite complimentary of the reliability of that system. Even though all thought it was a goofy thing to do.) Also, these came from the factory with 15 wheels. Which actually gave the tire a lower profile. Again not the norm in the early ’60s. ( most small American cars came with 13″ wheels)

    Like 2
    • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

      Thank you, Wayne. That’s an interesting concept I’d of never imagined being used in place of a driveshaft!

      Like 3
    • Waltguy

      My father bought a 63 Tempest LeMans convertible from my cousin and kept it until the early 70s. Four cylinder, four bbl and 4 speed was a combination I’d never seen since, but that’s how it was delivered from Kelly Pontiac in Baltimore. We moved it to NY, Mass, NJ and finally to Moline IL when he sold it to his boss’s son. Last I saw it was 1972-73 when we moved back East.

      Like 2
  11. Leman

    My first new car was a 1963 Pontiac LeMans Coupe with the 4 cylinder engine that I was told by Pontiac that it was one half of the 389 making it 194.5 CI. mine had a four-barrel carb. with the transaxle and it ran great, wish I still had it.

    Like 2
  12. ACZ

    An Arnie Beswick leftover.

    Like 3
  13. Maestro1

    I agree with Ted. I’m on the Left Coast as well and besides shipping and insurance then comes resurrection. Either of us would have to buy the car for a lot less than the Seller, assuming he is in his right mind, would want to part it for.

    Like 1
    • Ted

      Amen my brother, aren’t we the whinies? ;)

      Like 1
  14. TimM

    It’s a good project for someone and the price isn’t bad the 326 would be a good swap for this car even if it isn’t original any more!! It was a good motor. The clutch peddle is already there!!! The price is right too!! It looks pretty sanitary!!

    Like 1
  15. Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

    Or Drop in a V8 from a busted RANGE ROVER….😎
    Same block as the 215 V8, right?

  16. RoughDiamond

    It’s interesting the Seller says “It has three on the tree manual transmission” when it’s obvious that it’s a factory 3-speed floor shifted manual transmission.

    Like 1
  17. DJ CHIP dj chip

    i had a 63 that from —my cuz that bought it new
    it had the crazy fast 326 v-8 n 3 on the floor with tranny in the rear
    n a buddy of his had one with a 389 v-8 from Pontiac new

    • The Breeze

      My research revealed that the proto-GTO version referenced earlier was actually a 336cid engine. Chevy complained to GM because the Corvette, the “sweetheart of GM”, only had a 327 And was supposed to GM’s big motor king. Pontiac agreed to call it a 326cid. None the less, years later, my grandfather made lots of money racing coworkers after work in their hemis, boss’ and such. Light, powerful, very fast, and fun to drive.

  18. W9BAG

    When I was in High School, a buddy was given one of these by his Grandmother. Maroon with black interior. It had the 215 aluminum engine and the automatic. It was in pristine condition, and he beamed with pride every time he drove it. It was a real looker, even in the eyes of mid 70’s High School kids. Unfortunately, as luck would have it, it was turned into scrap by an inattentive driver. He was devastated. Even with the 2 speed, it would do a nice burn out.

    Like 1
  19. Mike

    While I don’t remember it myself, before she passed, my mom bought her first car at the ripe old age of 21. It was a brand new 1963 Tempest. Being the sensible young woman that she was, hers was a “robin egg blue” (her description) 4 door sedan with the 4 cylinder and automatic transaxle. According to her, it was an excellent car that served her and her parents faithfully. I was born in 1968 and the first car I remember her driving was a 1969 Lemans which transported me to kindergarten. A few years before she died, my wife and I took mom to the local farmers market one Saturday morning. There happened to be a “cars and coffee” kind of show going on that day. Low and behold, someone had a Tempest exactly like hers in that little show! Moms face was priceless when she saw it and even more so when she and the owner got back from a quick ride around the block.

    Like 2
    • TimM

      Great story Mike!! I remember riding in my moms 62 white impala with red interior and black convertible top!! With the top down going through Cape Cod sitting my scrawny butt in the speaker cut out in the back seat!! No seat belt or child seat just feeling the wind in my face!!!! God rest their souls!!!!

  20. A-body Fan

    Thanks Mike and everyone else for sharing how these cars touched our lives.
    It rekindled my appreciation for the early Tempest.

  21. Thaniel davidson

    I purchase a 1963 Tempest three months before I got. Out of high school with a 326 stick switch, I raced it all the time, license plate said FLY 695, Love that car, I am looking for one , if anyone know any that has one, Thaniel

  22. Thaniel davidson

    I purchase a 1963 Tempest three months before I got. Out of high school with a 326 stick switch, I raced it all the time, license plate said FLY 695, Love that car, I am looking for one , if anyone know any that has one, Thaniel 562-618-9985

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