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Written by Double Dragon
Saturday, 05 April 2014 23:32

1967 PONTIAC LeMans OHC- California

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Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown

67 LeMans OHC 6 nameplate

Here is a nice 1967 LeMans 4 door with the OHC (overhead camshaft) six cylinder engine. This is a fairly special car when taken in context of the usual pushrod valve engines used in 1960s domestic vehicles.

67 lemans ohc 6 logo

The 'ordinary' OHC 6 is pretty cool. It is overshadowed by the spectacular performance version named The Sprint. In the case of the Sprint, the OHC badge on the front fender had the word Sprint written beneath the OHC letters. Seeing OHC on any domestic vehicle was pretty revolutionary for the 1960s.

67 LeMans OHC 6 side

Although Overhead Cam engines were standard fare in Europe, the domestic scene was behind the curve when it came to high efficiency. With a booming economy and gigantic spaces to cover there was no need in USA for space efficient high strung vehicles. Use as much steel as you wish and drop in a slow revving torque monster engine and cheap gas takes care of the rest of it.

No foreign car covered those long stretches of straight flat interstate highways like the US built domestics. Soft suspensions, bias ply tires, solid rear axles, 2 speed automatic 1:1 final ratio transmissions, drum brakes and pushrod large cubic capacity engines were the norm. The things that made Europe cutting edge like independent rear suspension, overdrive 5 speed gearboxes, radial tires, four wheel disc brakes and rack and pinion steering were decades away from becoming mainstream in USA vehicles.

67 LeMans OHC 6 d side r

Pontiac Motor Division General Manager John DeLorean tried to change all that. He held an astonishing number of patents from his time as Pontiac's chief engineer and he was always trying to mine the mystique of European machines. Pontiac cars had a tradition of being named in honor of high performance events before John ascended to leadership. For instance, the Pontiac Bonneville was named after the salt flat racing venue in Utah. During DeLorean's ascent to division manager the tradition of naming cars after high performance events shifted to Europe's sacred events such as LeMans and Grand Prix. DeLorean named the all American big cube Pontiac Tempest the GTO which infuriated Ferrari faithful the world over.

67 LeMans OHC 6 d f

But DeLorean wasn't just ripping off names. He was intent on creating advanced Pontiacs. He pursued his 2 seat Banshee dream car to the point of becoming dangerously imperiled by GM leaders. DeLorean demanded radial tires for Pontiacs despite strong opposition from USA tire suppliers who hadn't perfected radial tires and blocked the use of imported Michelin tires as OEM on domestic cars.

DeLorean arranged to ship a four door LeMans OHC 6 prototype over to Europe for magazine evaluation. He wanted to prove his new LeMans on the winding mountain roads of Europe. Unfortunately the testers quickly discovered that the LeMans was a 'boat' when attempts were made to traverse typical narrow ancient European city streets. The 4 speed shifter also received some criticism. 

DeLorean found he had made a car with no audience when it was tested in USA alongside a V8 LeMans for comparison. The testers felt the extra expense and work involved in driving the 4 speed Sprint didn't provide enough real world effectiveness to make it all worthwhile. The V8 did everything more easily and the gas mileage gap between the two cars wasn't large enough to justify the OHC 6. Some of the smaller magazines saw the OHC 6 for what it was: a niche market very interesting car. DeLorean had given USA customers what the enthusiast magazines always wailed about (or at least some of what they put on their wish list) and no one bought it. This may explain John's famous statement a few years later when he shot down a 350 engine in a 'budget GTO':

"This is a 400 cubic inch world!"

This nice black 4 door Lemans OHC 6 has a gold interior with fold down split front bench seat.

67 LeMans OHC 6 split bench seat

Once DeLorean had left Pontiac to run Chevrolet the OHC six cylinder ceased production and Pontiac returned to using the Chevrolet built pushrod six cylinder engine. Many of the innovations of the 1960s came back soon enough when the gas crisis hit. Buick bought back the V6 they had pioneered in the 1960s and dropped due to consumer indifference. Once high efficiency was necessary to fight the gas and pollution wars it became evident that the European inspired technology of the 1960s was ahead of its time. Sadly; although DeLorean was proved right by the test of time the tooling for his OHC 6 was long gone by the time everyone realized they needed an efficient engine at Pontiac. Under the gun to whip something together, Pontiac churned out the V8 301 which never inspired a similar following the way the OHC 6 did which is treasured by collectors.

67 LeMans OHC 6 r

Last Updated ( Saturday, 10 September 2016 10:39 )