The quote in the title of our story has been stated by Keith to curious onlookers more times than he can count, as some have mistaken his Tempest for a project car. Little did they realize that what they were looking at was not a tired Tempest ripe for resto, but rather a living, breathing, and fully operational slice of Pontiac history.
Their confusion stems from its first impression. What they see is an old Pontiac with faded and checked paint. What Keith sees is a rare ’61 Tempest coupe (the two-door arrived in the last few months of production) with mostly original, 50-year-old, two-tone Cherrywood Bronze/Shelltone Ivory paint—a combo that he has never seen on another ’61 Tempest.
They see dents and dinged bumpers; he sees life experience. Just about every chink in its armor has a story, and they all represent a half-century of existence.
Keith is a Phoenix, Arizona-based diesel mechanic with deep automotive knowledge. He freely admits, however, that keeping his Pontiac on the road is not rocket science, but simply good maintenance and stocking up on tough-to-find parts (like wheel bearings) whenever the situation presents itself.
He purchased his Tempest at auction in 1997. Keith recalls: “I had an old Toyota for a driver and was looking for a car for my daughters to drive to and from school. This Tempest came across the block and I bid $600 for it—I was the only bidder.”
Here’s a built-in speed minder....
Here’s a built-in speed minder. Hit 70-75 mph and the fender starts flappin’ to tell Keith to slow down.
He later learned that the family of the original owner donated it to a Christian ministry to auction off as a fundraiser. A woman named Beulah Speissegger bought the Tempest in October of 1961 in Charleston, South Carolina, at Ray Waits Motors Pontiac Vauxhall. It was factory-equipped with Soft Ray for glass all windows; deluxe interior; Decor group, which added the chrome trim on top and in the side coves of the fenders; bumper guards; full wheel covers; and an AM radio. After decades of ownership, she gave the compact to her son, Charles, who later took it with him when he moved to Arizona. Its family nickname was “Betsy,” and she had been sitting for 10 years after accruing 172,000 miles when Keith won the auction.
From this side it looks like...
From this side it looks like a Pontiac V-8 with three-tube Blackjack headers ...
He got the Tempest running and driveable—and drive he did for a few years, despite the onset of a rod knock. At about 200,000 miles, Keith rebuilt the original 194.5ci four-cylinder engine. Since this is the 140hp, 10.25:1-compression version that was designed to run on premium fuel, after boring the block 0.030-over, he decided to install the dished replacement pistons to lower the compression to 8.6:1. He retained the high-compression cam, however, which was reground by Egge Machine to the stock specs of 273/282 duration with 0.410/0.410 lift.
The four-cylinder shares much of its design with the 389 V-8. Its bore and stroke match at 4.06/3.75 (bore now 4.09), and the cylinder head is the same and features 1.88/1.60 valves. Its induction system is, of course, different with a single-barrel carb feeding the powerplant air and fuel through a specific intake manifold. A Delco points distributor provides the spark, and Keith swapped in a V-8 oil pump with its heavier relief spring for more oil pressure.