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Strange Cars from the past...

isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,923
edited March 7 in Pontiac
Last Sunday, I attended a neighborhood old car show as I usually do when something REALLY caught my attention. It was like a time capsule had been opened!

A 40,000 mile MINT, TOTALLY ORIGINAL 1962 Pontiac Le Mans Convertable!

It had the oddball 4 cyl engine with the automatic transmission in the rear!

Those used a "rope drive" driveshaft that was only about an inch around! Talk about a one off, STRANGE car! Those 4 cyls were a 389 cut in half, literally!

The trunk was open and the original decals instructing how to check the auto trans fluid were intact. You checked the fluid by removing a half dozen sheet metal screws and pullin ogg a small metal plate.

The car was beautiful and almost too nice to drive on the streets!

Talk about rare!
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Comments

  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,952
    You could get them as a stickshift, too, either a 3-speed or 4 -speed manual. The little driveshaft made an excellent pry bar and was much coveted by mechanics after the car self-destructed. Pretty quick for a 4 cylinder car, by 1962 standards at any rate. Not the smoothest engine, however, as you might imagine.

    GM was certainly innovative at this time...with the Tempest and the Corvair of course, and the turbocharging they did in the Corvair and the Oldsmobile.

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  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,140
    was also one of the few cars at that time to run on 15" rims. I think the VW Bug did, too. Just about every full-sized car by that time, except maybe the Cadillac limos and Imperials, ran on 14" rims, and many cars in the Tempest's range were on tiny 13" rims!
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,923
    Funny you would mention the "other use" for that driveshaft.

    Yes, thse made the BEST prybars EVER! I remember when I was in the tool business, once in awhile, I would see one in a shop. The old timers were surprised when I knew what it was!

    The following year, they actually put some 326's in those. I always wondered how that "rope" could transfer that much power? They wer, no doubt, thicker on the V-8's.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,923
    I haden't thought of that but you're absoultly right! My 1962 Buick Special had the 13" rims.

    The only thing I could see that wasn't correct on that Le Mans were the tires. The originals had been replaced with wide whitewalls. 1962 was the year everyone went to the 1" whitewalls. Still, the car was beautiful. Black with a red interior and white convertable top.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,140
    I dunno if this is true or not, but according to the Wikipedia article, the Tempest "326" was actually a 336 CID unit that first year! Evidently, there was some ruling that it couldn't be any larger than the Corvette's 327 CID engine, so in advertising and on the car, it was listed as a 326. Then supposedly it was adjusted to really be 326 CID for 1964. Is this true or just some kind of lore?
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,923
    I think that's a misprint. At least I've nevr heard of that one.

    Anyone ever heard of Chevy's "Mystery Engine"? I think that turned out to be the 427 in the end.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,952
    That makes no sense. There were plenty of other GM engines that were bigger than 327, and the Tempest certainly didn't compete with the Corvette any more than a Cadillac did. Besides, the books don't show a 336 anything ever.

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  • omarmanomarman Posts: 723
    Pontiac apparently built a 336 V-8 for GMC trucks from 1955 to 1958, but maybe not using the Wiki-claimed 3.78 inch bore and 3.75 stroke (336.662 CID).

    The GMC 336 truck engine bore was 3.875 and 3.563 stroke for 336 CID. Pic is from a 1958 GMC Suburban.

    image

    The Pontiac 350 engine which appeared in 1968 did have a bore of 3.875 and the 1957 347 V-8 had a 3.563 stroke so these weren't unfamiliar dimensions for Pontiac.

    Never heard the 336/Tempest story before, but I knew a guy who had one of the strange "rope drive" Tempests with a 195 4-cyl engine.

    So, that was a Corvair transaxle lurking in the back of the Tempest - swing axles and all?
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,140
    That makes no sense. There were plenty of other GM engines that were bigger than 327, and the Tempest certainly didn't compete with the Corvette any more than a Cadillac did. Besides, the books don't show a 336 anything ever.

    Yeah, but I think there was a ruling in 1964 on the intermediates that none of them could have an engine displacement larger than 400 cubic inches. Maybe there was a similar 327 rule for the 1963 compacts? I don't think the '63 Buick/Olds compacts got anything bigger than that little Buick 215 V-8, and the Chevy II wouldn't get a V-8 until 1964, and then it was just a 283.

    Even though a Tempest wouldn't compete directly with a Corvette, I could understand GM's concern if it got engines that were too big and powerful. Back then, people put a lot (too much, perhaps) emphasis on engine displacement and advertised horsepower, a figure that was often the whim of a marketing manager's mood that day rather than any actual testing. The Corvette was all-new for 1963, so I could also see GM not wanting anything else out there that would steal its thunder.

    FWIW, the '63 Corvette's base engine was a 327 with 250 hp. The Tempest 326 V-8 had 260. So, for people who are just into bragging rights and "Mine's bigger", the Tempest might have put some pressure on the Corvette.

    Sure, nothing like a Cadillac or other full-sized car would cmpete with a Corvette, but for somebody wanting something smaller, youthful, and sporty, a 326 Tempest certainly could have put some pressure on it. And the 326 Tempest was pretty popular that year...that engine accounted for just over half of all Tempest sales. It showed that there was definitely a demand for a big-engined, small car, and no doubt helped pave the way for the likes of the '64 GTO.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,923
    You know, I think that was a Corvair transaxle. Sure looked the same.

    I always wondered why they just didn't have a conventional transmission bolted up the the engine?

    These really must have been strange on the ones that had manuals. Imagine trying to adjust all of that shift linkage etc?
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,140
    I always wondered why they just didn't have a conventional transmission bolted up the the engine?

    One reason that Pontiac tried that was for better weight distribution. with the "slant four", I think weight distribution was a perfect 50/50. The 326 V-8 shifted it to something like 54/46.

    Also, back then, they were starting to make attempts at improved space efficiency, and experimenting around with different things. There was a minor wave of downsizing that hit Detroit in the early 60's. Not nearly as major as the late 70's, but the early 60's did see the advent of compact and midsized cars, as well as a slight reduction in size of some of the larger cars. Fords and Chevies got bigger but for a brief moment, cars like Chrysler, Buick, Olds, and Mercury, and even Cadillac and Lincoln, got smaller. However, a lot of people still wanted a roomy car, and scoffed at the smaller offerings. Moving the transaxle to the rear of the Tempest eliminated the transmission hump up front and since the rope drive shaft had some flex to it, it hung down a bit and allowed for a smaller driveshaft hump.

    GM also played around with space efficiency with its full-sized cars. That dreaded "Slim Jim" hydramatic that went into '61-64 Oldsmobiles and Pontiac Catalinas and Grand Prixes was a smaller unit than the old 4-speed Hydramatic that was still used in Cadillacs and Bonnevilles and Star Chiefs. You can really tell the difference when you look inside the cars, as the tranny hump is much smaller with the Slim Jim.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,952
    Well I was alive when that Tempest came out and I can tell you emphatically that the Tempest was in no way, no how, an object of desire or similar to a Corvette in image. Totally different universe. My recollection is that the Tempest was another one of those budget "foreign car fighters" like Valiant, etc., that were built to counter the encroaching (and considerable) sales of the VW and Renault and Fiat.

    Of course, the Tempest did morph into the GTO later on (a tip 'o the hat to John Delorean) and then the Pontiac did become a serious competitor to the Corvette. The GTO was an option on the Tempest for a year or two and then became its own distinct make. So even GM was anxious to shed the lame Tempest image.



    Pontiac 336 TRUCK ENGINE: -- live and learn. Thanks for posting that info!

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  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,140
    So even GM was anxious to shed the lame Tempest image.

    Maybe not so anxious...my grandparents had a '67 Tempest and then a '71 Tempest. I think the Tempest name was used up through '72, so I guess its name wasn't TOO lame. It was just used as a broad model designation for the entire compact, and then midsized, Pontiac lineup. Pontiac would just stick additional names on like LeMans, GTO, GT37, etc, to demote nicer models. Essentially what Chevy did with the Chevelle designation, which eventually became the Malibu.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,952
    Not just "nicer" models, but sexier, more powerful. Tempest was a "compact" in the mind's eye. I don't think ANYBODY who drove a GTO thought they were in a Tempest.

    Interestingly, the Chevelle nameplate came to mean more than the Malibu one, even though the 2nd one was supposed to upgrade the first.

    You just never know how the public is going to perceive your product.

    The appeal of the Tempest to me, at least in the beginning, was the technical innovation.

    But GM quickly retreated into the old front engine/RWD ladder-frame formula that has worked so well since the days of the crank handle.

    The original Tempest could have been the American Alfa and the Corvair the American Porsche, but alas....

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  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,140
    I'd imagine that if Chevy had offered a variant of GM's upscale compact for '61-63 and called it Chevelle, that name would have stayed associated with lower-end cars, like F-85, Tempest, and Special did. But by debuting in 1964, when that platform became an intermediate, that might have given it a bit of status since it was never on a compact platform to begin with.

    It seems like the domestics almost always demote their nameplates over the years, but never take them upscale. For instance, Bel Air, Impala, Fairlane, Galaxie, etc, started off as top-shelf names, but were gradually demoted as new names came in (Caprice, LTD, etc).

    I guess you could argue that the T-bird name went upscale in '58, and kept ascending, at least through the 1976 bodystyle. And the final 2-seater, which tried to return to its roots, was more upscale than the post-1976 T-birds.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,952
    You think? Never thought of T-Bird that way. I thought the T-Bird name was pretty much dead and gone by 1965 as a credible identity.

    Talk about strange cars---the '58 T-Bird was bizarre. It's interesting isn't it how in 1958 any number of makes underwent a drastic turn for the worst, and quite suddenly. I mean, the 55-57 Birds were so clean and neat and "small" and tasteful, and then, that...that....THING in 1958......and the '57 Chevy, while a bit much in the fins, suddenly turns into a one-year-only bit of design chaos.

    Yep, '58 was a great year for strange automobiles. Was there something in the water in Detroit?

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  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,140
    You think? Never thought of T-Bird that way. I thought the T-Bird name was pretty much dead and gone by 1965 as a credible identity.

    Oh, I agree that a lot of the magic was gone by 1965 or so (personally, I like the '66 the best out of the '64-66 style though). But the car did continue to sell as it evolved to adapt to the ever changing marketplace. The '67-71 models seemed a step upscale in prestige/luxury, although they lost much of their sportiness by that time. And the '72-76 model was essentially a poor man's Mark IV, so that's about as upscale as it ever got.

    The name got moved way downscale with the '77-79 T-bird, which went on to become the best selling T-bird of all time, as more of a Monte Carlo contender than a Riviera/Toronado-class car. And from then on until the end in 1997 or so, it pretty much just remained a Monte Carlo/Grand Prix type of car. Or sort of a 2-door Taurus. Nowhere near the prestige level that the 50's, 60's, or pre-1977 models had been. But then the 2-seater that came out for 2002 or whenever (I forget now) did seem an attempt to restore some prestige to the nameplate.

    Basically, I was just referring to the price level that the T-bird was at, more than popularity. Kinda like how the Bel Air started off as a limited production hardtop, then became the top Chevy trim series. Then it got demoted when the Impala came out, and demoted again when the Caprice came out.

    Seems like domestic nameplates almost always get pushed downscale in the hierarchy, but never work their way up.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,952
    I think the T-Bird became a best seller because it lost all its identity completely...it became an upgrade rental car. Those sell well.

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  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,140
    I think the T-Bird became a best seller because it lost all its identity completely...it became an upgrade rental car. Those sell well.

    Well, at one time, those sold well. Nowadays it seems a stigma, and they only sell well to rental fleets! One of my relatives, who's also my godmother, used to have a 1978 or '79 T-bird, one of those special edition models. It was either a "Diamond Jubilee" or "Heritage" or something like that. Fully loaded, with the padded roof that blocked out the rear quarter windows, TRUNK carpeting that would probably make the interior carpeting on many modern luxury cars look pathetic in comparison, and an interior that wasn't quite what I'd call velour...more like a felt, kinda like my buddy's '78 Mark V Diamond Jubilee. It was burgundy, only had about 20-30,000 miles on it, and looked brand-new. She decided to sell it, and only wanted around $3000-3500 for it.

    Looking back, sometimes I wish I had bought it. I think she ultimately put it up for sale asking "best offer" and someone gave her $5,000 for it! It was a beautiful car, and every once in awhile I'll see a nice '77-79 T-bird for sale at one of the Carlisle swap meets for what seems a reasonable price. I've always liked that style. But I've also been more of a GM (Pontiac, specifically) or Mopar type of guy, so I wonder if I'd really like living with something like that, long-term. I've never owned a Ford product. In fact, between my uncle and Granddad on my Mom's side of the family, and my Dad, I was taught to hate them as a child! I've gotten over that, but I still wonder if I'd be happy with an F-word. :P
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,923
    The Roto-Hydramatic AKA the Slim Jim was a total piece of garbage. even worse were the Chevy Turboglides that were an "upgrade" to the rugged Powerglides. They were used from 1957-1961. Usually when they failed, the trans shops would convert them to a Powerglide. I remember you had to change the starter and some other stuff.

    In 1962, the 327 and 409's went to an aluminum Powerglide that became standard in all of them in 1963. There weren't as tough as the cast iron ones. They would start slipping between first and second.

    Of course, a Powerglide overhaul in those days was less than 200.00.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,923
    The '58 T-Birds had a one year only STRANGE rear suspension.

    These were beautiful but pretty crappy cars. They handled like a Wash State Ferry!
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,923
    Oh no, a 1965 TBird was still hot stuff!

    I think they ruined the looks on the 1966's with the wrap around roof that eliminated the rear side windows.

    They went WAY downhill after that!

    They really weren't very good cars. They had lots of electrical problems, bad window switches and vacuum operated wipers and door locks; The 390 engines and Cruisematics were OK but everything else was shoddy.

    Still, the 1965 TBirds turned heads...beautiful cars.

    The Buick Rivieras of that are were FAR superior cars in every catagory but that could be said of the whole GM line when compared to the offerings from Ford at the time.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,140
    I think they ruined the looks on the 1966's with the wrap around roof that eliminated the rear side windows.


    I agree on that wraparound roof thing. That was the model called the "Town Landau", right? Still, you could get a hardtop model that had the triangular quarter windows in back. I thought these still looked good, as did the convertible. There's just something about the grille I like on the '66, compared to the '64-65. I think most people prefer it the other way around, though!
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,140
    The Roto-Hydramatic AKA the Slim Jim was a total piece of garbage. even worse were the Chevy Turboglides that were an "upgrade" to the rugged Powerglides. They were used from 1957-1961. Usually when they failed, the trans shops would convert them to a Powerglide. I remember you had to change the starter and some other stuff.


    Can you swap in a later THM350 or THM400 in place of a Slim Jim? I know you can't swap in the older 4-speed Hydramatic, at least not easily, because the floorpan is different. I always liked the '61 Pontiacs. I dunno if I'd call them a "dream car", but it's a car I wouldn't mind having some day. Would it be feasible to get a Catalina and swap in a 350/400 tranny if the Slim-Jim went bad? Or would I just be better off getting a Bonneville or Star Chief, which would have the 4-speed Hydramatic?

    Of course, a Powerglide overhaul in those days was less than 200.00.

    I remember my old mechanic used to say that back in the day they'd get $50 to rebuild a Mopar Powerflite tranny and $75 to rebuild a Torqueflite, but I wonder if those prices were what the mechanic got, and not what the customer paid? I remember he was saying they liked the Powerflite because they could rebuild 3 a day, but they could never finish two Torqueflites in a day.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,952
    That's sadly true. Ford cars were really awful back then, the worst of the worst.

    I dunno about pushing that huge Lincoln around---gas hog, a HUGE bouncy, floaty thing, barely in control of itself...underbraked, under-suspended, under-tired, with enough body roll to captize in a storm.

    I guess driving in a straight line at 55-60 on a freeway with the stereo on wouldn't be bad at all for $3,500. You could put a piece of masking tape over the gas gauge so you don't ruin your trip!

    Talkin' about STRANGE---the '58 Lincoln comes to mind...(there's that '58 year again....). What a bizarre design...looks like it was built with a chainsaw....

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  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,140
    how was the 1958 Lincoln regarded when it was new? I remember hearing some trivia about the movie "North by Northwest", that Alfred Hitchcock intended to put in a subtext about conspicuous consumption and how all of those luxury trappings are essentially worthless when your life is on the line. So that's why they played up stuff like the expensive wardrobes, luxury hotel rooms, the Twentieth Century Limited, which I guess was still a prestigious thing to travel on back then, the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired house atop Mount Rushmore, and Eva Marie Saint's 1958 Lincoln.

    So I guess that the Lincoln must've been considered pretty prestigious, or at least, conspicuous, at the time, to be featured in that movie. At first I was thinking it was interesting that they didn't use a Cadillac or Imperial, but then it hit me...there WAS a Cadillac at the beginning of the movie, when Cary Grant first gets kidnapped. I think it was a Fleetwood 75 factory limo.

    In a twisted, vile sort of way, I kinda like the '59-60 Lincolns, but I don't like the way the '58 has the headlights in their own pods separated from a punched-in grille. I thought the '59-60, where the headlights were worked into the grille, looked much better, but then along came the '61 and made that whole previous generation look obsolete.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,952
    '61 was a great looking car. Not a great car, but great looking. :P

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  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,923
    Agree on the looks but talk about trouble and difficult cars to work on.

    Cadillacs were SO MUCH better cars, there was no comparision.

    Yesterday, I saw a 1966-1967 Lincoln convertable that was in great condition. Beautiful car but I can't think of anything more troublesome than one of those.
  • lemkolemko Posts: 15,204
    I always thought the 1964-66 T-birds looked like an evolution of the 1958-60 design and the Rocket-birds of 1961-63 as something of an anomaly.
  • lemkolemko Posts: 15,204
    You forgot the worst bird of them all - the 1980-82 design. My Dad had a 1981 Ford Thunderbird Town Landau. Good God was that car a dog. The weak 255-cid V-8 could barely get the car up a hill. Some examples came with a 250 inline six!
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