The all-new ’63 Pontiac Tempest was one of GM’s “senior compacts,” alongside the Chevy II, Buick Special and Olds F-85.
The other cars were more conventional than the Tempest, which retained the “rope” drive shaft and transaxle arrangement used in 1961-’62. The Tempest also offered a unique Indy Four – essentially half of a 389-cid V8, but it was Tempests with the 326 V8 that made you wonder if they were really a compact or just a shrunken big Pontiac.
The Tempest looks like a big car that someone shrunk a bit. Pontiac made it bigger by stretching the body five inches in length and two inches in width. This resulted in major styling revisions including a “Coke bottle” body shape, more angular roof lines, creased side panels, a longer trunk, a new version of Pontiac’s trademark split grille, wider wheel openings and dual vertically-stacked tail lamps.
The merchandising of the ’63 Tempest was a little confusing. Most reference books show a standard line and LeMans line, although two of the models in the standard line (Sports Coupe [two-door hardtop] and Convertible) are called Customs. The coupe (two-door sedan), four-door sedan and six-passenger Safari station wagon are called Tempests. The LeMans line had fancier versions of the Sports Coupe and convertible.
The specs and production of the ’63 Tempest models looked like this:
Model Code Body Style Retail Price Production % Pontiac Total
Standard Tempest Four
27 2d Coupe-Sedan 2188 11,338 .154
19 4d Sedan 2241 7,121 .097
35 4d Safari 2512 2,501 .034
Car Line Total 20,960 .285
Standard Tempest V8
27 2d Coupe-Sedan 2355 1,969 .027
19 4d Sedan 2408 5,687 .077
35 4d Safari 2679 1,702 .023
Car Line Total 9,358 .127
DeLuxe Tempest Four
17 2d Hardtop Coupe 2348 8,328 .113
19 4d Sedan 2378 11,991 .163
67 2d Convertible 2598 3,434 .049
35 4d Safari 2654 4,396 .060
Car Line Total 28,349 .385
DeLuxe Tempest V8
17 2d Hardtop Coupe 2515 4,829 .066
19 4d Sedan 2545 3,422 .047
67 2d Convertible 2765 1,378 .019
35 4d Safari 2821 1,536 .021
Car Line Total 11,165 .153
17 2d Hardtop Coupe 2418 23,227 .316
67 2d Convertible 2742 8,744 .119
Car Line Total 31,971 .435
17 2d Hardtop Coupe 2585 22,474 .305
67 2d Convertible 2909 7,213 .098
Car Line Total 29,687 .403
Tempest Grand Total 131,490 1.788
There were 18 engine options, which included such choices as an export version with a single-barrel carburetor, a special four with a trailer-tow clutch and heavy-duty taxicab versions. They included the 326-cid V8 which was exactly like the 389-cid V8 used in big Pontiacs, except for its smaller bore (3.71875 in. versus 4.0625 in.). It produced 352 lbs.-ft. of torque at 2,800 rpm. Car Life magazine said, “The Tempest just doesn’t need 389 cubic inches—when you can spin the rear wheels at any time.” The published performance figures included a 9.5-sec. 0-to-60 time, a 17-sec. quarter mile and an all-out top speed of 115 mph.
Pontiac engineers redesigned the Tempest-Torque automatic transmission for 1963. It shared its gearset with Powerglide Chevys, while other parts came from the Corvair parts bin. A new feature—and one used exclusively in Tempests—was an all-hydraulic torque converter, rather than the previous split-torque type. This upped torque multiplication and gave smoother shifts.
It’s too bad the ’63 Tempest was a one-year-only car, since it’s a very likeable machine—especially in the LeMans convertible format. We had one of these in our shop last year to fix a transmission leak. The nicely-restored Nocturne Blue ragtop gave you the impression of a full-sized Pontiac that someone had shrunk. The car was snappy to drive and fun to be seen in and, maybe best of all these days, it delivered almost 20 mpg if driven gently.
These cars have become collectible today. The Pontiac Oakland Club International (www.poci.org) has a “Little Indians” chapter for early Tempests.