What does it take to build up a base level, four-cylinder ’61 Tempest wagon into a head-turning Super-Duty style nostalgia racer? Gary Beemer, a 62-year-old retired sheetmetal worker, knows the answer because he’s done it.
From a rear view, the wagon looks like a sleeper. That is, until you notice the skinnies u
“I like Pontiacs, especially Tempests,” he says. “I currently race a ’63 Tempest coupe with an SD-421 engine. When a good friend offered me a ’61 Tempest wagon, I decided to bring it back to life as a one-of-none ’61 Tempest Super-Duty wagon.”
Model-year ’61 was the debut for Pontiac’s radical new compact Tempest. A total of 100,783 were built that year, and it won Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award.
At NASCAR tracks and on dragstrips, racers were getting the most out of 389-powered Catalinas, and taking home plenty of wins to prove it. Although General Motors wanted Pontiac to bring out a version of the Corvair, which would be called the Polaris, Pontiac management was not interested. Instead the division designed and manufactured the Tempest, which became the first compact model in Pontiac’s lineup.
Here’s a look back in time at this Tempest, circa 2007, before its transformation into a S
It was hailed by automotive journalists for its engineering advancements, such as the “half-a-V-8” 195ci Indy 4 engine, a rope drive (first seen in the ’51 Buick LeSabre concept car), a torque tube, a rear-mounted transaxle, and independent rear suspension. The unique powertrain arrangement did more than minimize the transmission hump, which American car owners were accustomed to in the cabin. It also gave the vehicle an ideal 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution.
The new Tempest was marketed not only for its advanced engineering, but for its sporty looks and good fuel economy, too. An 8.6:1 low-compression Indy 4 topped with a one-barrel carburetor came standard. It was rated at 110 hp. For an extra cost, buyers could opt for a 10.25:1 compression Indy 4 with a one-barrel (120hp manual/140hp automatic) or a four-barrel carb (155 hp). All three engines had a fuel economy ranging from 18 to 22 mpg. (Buyers could also order a 215ci/155hp aluminum Buick V-8 in the car.)
The back seat folds down for added cargo capacity. When open, the hatch area shown here re
Sedans and wagons were the first Tempest models to roll off of Pontiac’s assembly line. That brings us to Beemer’s Tempest wagon’s birth, which took place on December 22, 1960. Its Fernando Beige exterior, Indy 4/1-barrel engine, and economy axle made it the epitome of low performance.
All that was about to change when Beemer got his hands on it in 2007. “The body was rough, and I already knew that I’d pull its original drivetrain for a Super-Duty conversion,” he says. “There was one aspect of the car I wasn’t going to mess with. That was its most striking feature—a Tri-tone red, burgundy, and ivory vinyl interior in nearly flawless condition.”
Beemer performed all of the Tempest’s restoration work himself. “After disassembly, and removing glass, undercoating, and caulking, I sent the body, hood, fenders, doors, and other body pieces out to be media-blasted,” he says. “That’s when I discovered an older fender bender with a body-shop repair and some rust issues in the fenders. Other than that, the Tempest was mostly rust-free.”
The interior is original except for a new carpet, stick shift, vintage Stewart Warner 8,00
“Immediately after the wagon was blasted, I sealed the body pieces with PPG DP40 epoxy primer,” he continues. “Then I got to work with PPG K36 high-build primer and began the laborious task of blocking the metal’s imperfections. I followed with PPG DP90 sealer and allowed my prep work to cure. Afterwards, I applied three coats of PPG DMD1683 Tuxedo Black, followed by three coats of PPG DCU2002 clear. I wet-sanded up to 2,000-grit and wheeled it out with 3M Perfect-it Rubbing compound.”
David Hillard of Hillard Performance in Donnelsville, Ohio, built the Tempest’s new short-block. Starting with a ’64 421 block, he filled its bottom half with HardBlok Water Jacket Filler, line-honed and zero-decked it, and over-bored it to 4.16. Once the block was prepped, he stuffed it with a polished Pontiac “N” 4.00-inch crank, Tomahawk 4340 forged I-beam connecting rods (6.625-in length), and BRC custom flat-top pistons. The resulting displacement is 435 cubic inches.
Owner Gary Beemer, shown here, has been known to have this Tempest points judged on one da
Beemer assembled the long-block, adding “127” Super-Duty heads, which he upgraded with Manley stainless-steel valves (2.02/1.76), Lunati double springs, a Lunati sold-roller cam (289/286-degree duration, 0.582/0/582-inch lift, 109-degree LSA), and Harland Sharp 1.5-ratio rockers. He bolted on an “859” Super-Duty dual-quad intake, and topped it with two Edelbrock “1411” 750-cfm, square-bore carburetors.
Other engine buildup components include a Melling M54D oil pump and Milodon 8-quart pan to keep the mill well lubricated, and a Pontiac points distributor (upgraded to breakerless), stock-replacement coil, reproduction Packard 8mm wires, and ACDelco R45S plugs to comprise the ignition path.
Exhaust is exhumed through ceramic-coated Hooker Competition full-length headers, featuring 1.625 primaries and 3-inch collectors, and then down through custom-fabricated 2½-inch aluminized pipes, dual Flowmaster Delta Flow mufflers, and 2½-inch turn-downs.
Here’s where all the action is. A 435ci Pure Pontiac engine, featuring a ’64 421 block, ’6
Aft of the block, a McLeod Racing 11-inch clutch housed in a Lakewood scattershield, a Richmond Super Street 5-Speed [manual] with overdrive, a custom-length Dynotech driveshaft, and a Ford 9-inch rear stuffed with a Detroit Locker, 4.11 gears, and custom-length Moser 31-spline axles complete the driveline. “I had to enlarge the area around the firewall, tunnel, and floorpan to make a traditional Pontiac setup fit,” Beemer says.
This self-described “Tempest lover” chose the classic route for the vehicle’s ride and handling. Up front, the chassis retains stock control arms and springs, and stock replacement shocks, which he painted grey to look like the GM originals. The rear hunkers down with a Chassis Engineering ladder-bar setup with coilovers and a homemade Panhard bar.
Braking is actuated by way of a Wilwood Forged Dynalite Rear Drag Brake Kit in the front, with four-piston calipers and 11.44-inch rotors, and stock Ford 11-inch drums in the rear. How did he bolt the Wilwood rear kit to the front of the Tempest? “I fabricated brackets to make them work,” he says.
The owner added a Super-Duty hoodscoop during the restoration.
The exterior appears stock except for a Pontiac Super-Duty hoodscoop, and polished Torq Thrust II wheels (15x4/15x8) wrapped in Pro Trac 550-15 bias plys and M/T 235/60R15 ET Street Radials, front and rear respectively.
Beemer debuted his Super-Duty Tempest tribute at the 2009 POCI Co-vention and won Second Place in Popular Vote. He returned to the POCI Convention in 2011, entered concours judging, and took home a Gold. After receiving his award, he drove the Tempest to Beech Bend Raceway and made it to the final four in bracket racing. A month later, he brought the Tempest to the 50th Anniversary Tempest Celebration at the 2011 Ames Performance Tri-Power Pontiac Nationals, where Smoke Signals’ head honcho (or should we say Poncho?) Don Keefe gave it an Editor’s Choice Award.
“The accolades it has been awarded are sweet, but I get the best thrill from driving it,” Beemer laughs. “It’s seems everybody else is bragging about my wagon.”
Yes, we are, Mr. Beemer. Yes, we are.