There are few cars that deliver a relaxing convertible experience quite as well as a long and low, V8-engined American classic. We take just such a machine, a Pontiac Tempest Le Mans that's currently for sale, for a cruise.
Words and pictures: Wilhelm Lutjeharms
It will always be interesting to experience onlookers' reactions when driving a classic car. Some oldies seem to move under the radar, being barely noticed, while others not only get people to look twice, but in some instances may also result in finger-pointing and the occasional scream. This 1967 Pontiac Le Mans is one such car that had the latter effect on pedestrians.
Before I left the premises of Creative Rides (where this car is currently on sale) in Muizenberg, we lowered the electric roof. A switch just below the dashboard allows the roof to be perfectly lowered behind the rear seats after you’ve unclipped each corner in the cabin. Clip the cover into place and you have the complete alfresco experience for you and your three passengers.
The original Pontiac Tempest was unveiled in October in 1960 at the Paris Motor Show. It was offered as a “compact” model! That might seem incorrect, but considering the size of Pontiac’s other cars at the time, this new four-door family car was indeed smaller than the rest of the range. However, soon there were coupés and convertibles on offer, too. The second generation arrived in 1964 and the size of the vehicle increased - it shared a platform with the Chevrolet Chevelle.
In this range, the Le Mans was the top model. We all remember the GTO of course, but the Le Mans slotted in just below that iconic variant, offering a large 326 cubic inch, V8 engine, translating to 5.3-litres. This engine either produced 186 kW or 213 kW – the latter fitted with a four-barrel carburettor. From 1968 onwards the third generation model was available.
Behind the wheel
Make no mistake, this is a massive car. When the wide door opens, you can easily slide onto the comfortable gold-coloured, vinyl-covered seats. The interior takes you straight back to the '60s. The gold hue is used throughout the cabin, although it seems as if some parts of the dashboard might have been repainted in the past.
The organ stop controls are large and the speedometer is easy to read. A twist of the small key starts the 5.3-litre engine and with a slight prod of the accelerator this land yacht starts moving. The moment I turn it into the main road it already starts to grab the attention of fellow road users and pedestrians, while I’m just busy settling in and trying to get to grips with this vehicle.
In front of the me the long bonnet stretches out while I head up Boyes Drive, the V8 making a lovely burbling noise that is clearly audible, even with the minor wind noise as I’ve lowered all the windows. If you are used to modern steering systems, the slow reaction from the deep-dish wood and metal steering wheel takes a while to get used to. That matters little, because this is a true cruiser that has an utterly relaxing effect on you.
With only two gears on offer in the transmission, gearchanges don’t happen often. This might seem unconventional today, but with so much torque on offer, there is a good level or performance when you press the throttle pedal even when the gearbox doesn’t change gear.
On this clear day I head to Kalk Bay and park along the main road. A number of people want to know more about the car while a lot of chin-rubbing is taking place. The relatively small 15-inch wheels are wrapped in high-profile tires that help provide a good ride quality while at the speeds I drove the brakes seem to be up to the job as well.
It is undoubtedly a car you will want to share with other passengers. There is so much interior space on offer and with the roof down you have so little metal or glass that blocks your view. There is so much fun to be had at low speeds, as every input from the throttle is accompanied by an honest burst of acceleration and then there's the deep exhaust note.
The driving experience may not conjure up ideas of racing at the famous Le Mans circuit, but it will unquestionably be an experience every time you get behind the wheel.
Although there are aspects of this particular car that need attention, it provides a good base from which to experience a classic American cruiser. The beauty is that it is so vastly different to pilot compared with a compact Japanese or European convertible, offering a drive outing that you will want to share with as many other people as possible, and as often as possible.
Many thanks to Creative Rides for making this drive possible. This car is currently part of their stock inventory. Click here to visit their website.
1967 Pontiac Tempest Le Mans V8 Convertible
Engine: 5.3-litre, V8 petrol
Power: 186 kW @ 4 600 rpm (213 kW @ 5 000 rpm – 4 barrel)
Torque: 452 Nm @ 3 800 rpm (487 Nm @ 3 200 rpm – 4 barrel)
Transmission: 2-speed automatic, RWD
Weight: 1 624 kg
0-100 km/h: 8.4 seconds
Top speed: 194 km/h