Pontiac Tempest: Tempest to GTO
When the Pontiac division of General Motors closed a few years ago, car buffs could not believe the brand that changed the face of automotive history would no longer be in existence. The automaker had been in dire straits before, but pulled out of it to become one of the most popular car makers in the world. Many were frustrated that Pontiac was not given the chance to do it again.
Despite the fact that Pontiac had been making cars for decades, the company remained one of the least popular General Motors labels all the way through the 1950s. Pontiac tried to invigorate its image in 1957 with a series of cars that could compete on the NASCAR circuit. Powerhouse car guys John DeLorean, Bunkie Knudsen, and Pete Estes put the high-performance Tri-Power engine in a hot Pontiac and that engine helped them win a NASCAR race. This was their first step towards greatness.
It seemed like the success would be short lived. Shortly after the NASCAR success, the AMA (Automobile Manufacturers Association) decided that car manufacturers could not compete in auto races. Since Pontiac was using the racing circuit to build its reputation, this ruling could have closed Pontiac 50 years earlier. Despite GM making the racing rule corporate policy, the threesome ignored it and kept Pontiacs active on the circuit. Ignoring the rules paid off as Pontiac won 32 races in 1961 and 21 in 1962. DeLorean, Knudsen, and Estes were still involved, but they remained on the sidelines as private teams ran the cars for them.
In 1961, the tables turned for Pontiac. After that series wins on the NASCAR circuit, the three designers pushed for the Pontiac Tempest to set the stage for a new line of attractive automobiles with impressive powertrains. The big wigs at Pontiac wanted the first Tempest to be like the popular Corvair, but DeLorean, Knudsen, and Estes argued that the Tempest should not be a copycat. Fortunately, Pontiac brass and the threesome compromised and the 1961 Tempest brought the eyes of world to Pontiac.
The Pontiac Tempest earned accolades from popular car magazines, but sales did not live up to expectations – fortunately. Due to the lack of sales, Pontiac decided to ditch the “compact” car idea and turn to cars that would perform – and perform they did! The three brilliant minds took the compact design and stretched it into the Tempest LeMans, then the Super Tempest, and then the car that made Pontiac a household name, the Pontiac GTO.