Trophy 4 Wagon: 1961 Pontiac Tempest

This 1961 Pontiac Tempest Wagon has been off of the road since 1996 and it’s rarely good for humans or machines to be inactive for that long. For sure, it’s bad for humans, and also for cars if they’ve been stored outside which hopefully this one hasn’t been. The seller has it listed here on eBay in Cheney, Washington and the current bid price is $1,225 but the reserve isn’t met yet.

Pontiac made the Tempest beginning in 1960 for the 1961 model year and not that anyone is interested in my questionable car collecting tips, but I always like a first or last-year vehicle as far as collectibility goes. A first-year wagon, even better. A wagon that looks this good and one with a manual transmission? No-brainer. The body of this car looks great from what I can see in the photos.

The first-generation Tempest was made for only three years, 1961 through 1963, and they were considered compact cars, at least for that era – this wagon is less than 16-feet long. They were Y-body cars and they shared DNA with the Oldsmobile F-85 and Buick’s Special. They were unibody or unit-body cars and they were the brainchild of John DeLorean, then the head of Pontiac’s engineering department.

Here’s where you start your plan of attack as far as welding goes. The seats look good both in the front and in the back and the back seat appears to be original. Is there anything cooler than a manual transmission with a floor shifter in a Pontiac wagon? Not in my world, there isn’t. The interior and floors seem to be the place that the next owner will spend the bulk of their time, but it looks better inside than I thought it would after seeing this car sitting in a field. Even the rear cargo compartment looks solid. It’s just those floors.

Many of you know about the rear-mounted transaxle in the Tempest with a flexible driveshaft that became known as a “rope drive”, even though it wasn’t that flexible. It was very unique and just as unique is the engine in this car. This is Pontiac’s 194.55 cubic-inch slant-four known as the Trophy 4, which is basically half of a 389 V8. It would have had 120 horsepower. This one hasn’t run in at least 2.5 decades now so plan on some work here, too. Any thoughts on this Tempest wagon? I won’t ask if it’s worth saving because it’s 100% worth saving!

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  1. William William

    I really like the style of this Tempest wagon and the fact that’s its a stick.
    Even with the 4 Cyl. it would be a blast to cruise around in.

    Like 21
  2. FordGuy1972 FordGuy1972 Member

    That’s a nice looking wagon and well worth restoring. Like Scotty said, the body looks good and all the external trim seems to be present. If the mileage is correct, I would imagine the engine could be coaxed to life assuming it’s sound. Sure, it needs floors and a lot of interior work but what a cool car to get back on the road!

    Like 14
  3. alphasud Member

    This car was listed in my local CL and I was trying to get out there to look at it. Seems the new buyer didn’t want to take on the project. I think it was the higher output trophy engine with the 4bbl. Carb. The rope drive as it was Knick named got its name because they put the special spring steel shaft 3/4” for the stick cars on a slight arc to keep the shaft from oscillating. Those clever GM engineers. I have too many irons in the fire otherwise I would go look at tit again.

    Like 4
  4. Bill the Engineer

    I’m a little concerned about that thermostat gasket lying there by the hood latch. This one may have more issues than are initially apparent. Fortunately Ames has lots of parts for these.

    Like 4
  5. George Zarecki

    I owned one of these, it was a POS. That engine was a real winner, half of a V8 . The right bank of cycliners was not bored out, so all the weight of a V8, but not the power.

    Like 3
    • Rick

      I owned a ’63 wagon and it also was a POS. However, it’s the car that led me to conclude that the worst cars offer the best opportunities to hone your skills. I learned a lot of good diagnosing and wrenching tricks with that monstrosity.

      Like 6
  6. bone

    Its got a standard trans because this was a low option base model car ; many of the compact cars from all makers were equipped that way as they were supposed to be economy cars . I would almost think a good majority were manuals. Because they were economy cars few were taken care of . This wagon is definitely a survivor and I hope it gets a good home !

    Like 7
    • Eric

      I bought this one. I hope to keep it original

      Like 1
  7. S

    Tis is so unusual. Very few of these Pontiac Tempests around from this time period, but a station wagon version?? Very unusual. There’s a lot of work to do here though – namely the rusted out floors!

    Like 3
  8. Steve Clinton

    I see looking at the interior, it has ‘flow-thru’ ventilation.

    Like 2
  9. Allen Member

    OMG, I had one of these! But for the manual transmission, this could have been my old one. This was my first second-car. Rope drive four-cylinder two-speed slush-box – a real dog. Almost worth the $200 I paid for it. In this case it is not demeaning to call it a POS; I was knowingly buying an old POS and that’s what I got. It was reliable for the few months I owned it. But now, when I think of it, a nostalgic plume of crankcase fumes seems to waft past my nostrils.

    Like 3
  10. 3Deuces

    Grocery Getter makeover candidate?

  11. Jetfire88

    The left inner rear u-joint looks really wonky, like the yoke is broken and it’s hanging down and resting on the control arm.

    A friend has a complete driveline from an old Tempest show car.
    Everything is chrome, 4 cyl and 4-speed.

    I was tempted to get the trans and put it in my ’61 F85 wagon, but never got there.

    Like 3
    • Jetfire88

      and no gas tank, good luck finding one. Maybe it’s laying in the yard somewhere.

      Like 2
  12. Mike

    4 speed and only 2 pedals? How does that work?

    • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Mike, if you click on the red words “The interior” in the fourth paragraph you’ll see the clutch pedal down on the floor.

  13. Vince H

    Greenhouse was also used on the Corvair.

    Like 1
  14. chrlsful

    boy, this one has got it all, in one package – tq tube, this 4 cyl, a wagon. I’d have as much fun w/this as my much sought out Tanus (bent4 motor). Just not sure how sourceable the prts are?

  15. Gary Rhodes

    Just do what the racers did with the 421 cars, solid rear axle and a LS with a turbo, be a lotta fun!

    Like 1
  16. Eric

    I just bought this tempest. I hope it’s not a POS like most of you say. Wish me luck.

    Like 4
    • Claudio

      I do wish you all the luck
      You will be all alone at the cars and coffee
      And will get ALL the attention driving this car that has long been forgotten
      Hope you do not encounter too many major hurdles and that you don’t have to farm out too much work as that can get quite expensive

    • Frank

      I have had several 63 Tempest/Lemans. If restored properly and taken care of, definitely not a POS! They are a lot of fun and the stick shift is less common than a previous comment suggested. Nice start to a great, rare wagon. Good luck, might want to join the Pontiac club (POCI), and the specialty chapter Little Indians. Lots of great people and support.

      Like 1

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