Home Car Stories One Owner 1969 PONTIAC Tempest Custom S- Dennis & Diane
1969 PONTIAC Tempest Custom S- Dennis & Diane PDF Print E-mail
Written by Double Dragon
Friday, 29 July 2016 09:11

1969 PONTIAC Tempest Custom S- Dennis & Diane


Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown except undercarriage photos copyright Dennis.

69 pontiac tempest custom s dennis diane logo

It's been a long time coming but finally the Pontiac Tempest and LeMans have been recognized by collectors as viable cars in their own right instead of being seen as nothing but parts fodder for GTO restorations. I have always loved the GTO but also enjoyed the mystique of the lower model Tempest and LeMans. For many decades these cars were not acknowledged by anyone. Owners of this pristine Tempest Custom S Dennis and Diane kept the faith in their car and now it wins Gold and first place in concours level judging.

69 pontiac tempest custom s dennis diane f

The Tempest began as the Pontiac version of the General Motors corporate A body compact series. That first Tempest was packed with innovative features such as a V8 389 sawed in half to create a large bore 4 cylinder 195 cubic inch engine, independent rear suspension and a rope drive hooked to a rear transaxle. Radical stuff for 1961.

The Ford Falcon used conventional engineering to win the domestic compact sales race. When the USA economy picked up the compacts expanded into intermediates for 1964 model year. At the same time all the General Motors A bodies now copied Ford and relied on conventional engineering. But the Tempest was always a little racier looking than its GM 'cousins'.

The 1964 model year also marked the debut of an option package on the Tempest named the GTO. The Pontiac GTO is credited with inspiring and leading the musclecar mania of the 1960s. Pontiac had already fielded some performance imagery and muscle in the form of a LeMans model of the Tempest. The LeMans looked sporting with 2 door hardtop and bucket seats but the engine limit of 326 cubes provided only spirited performance while the 389 made the GTO into a ferocious beast.

69 pontiac tempest custom s dennis diane front

The GTO outsold many other domestic muscle cars by merging exciting performance imagery with tire shredding acceleration. Most Ford street cars were considered 'stones'. The Chrysler guys had viciously fast cars but the speed was packaged in bizarre looking bodies. Chrysler also required a magnifying glass to uravel the subtle clues indicating that this or that Chrysler was actually fast. GTO was instantly recognizable as 'The Tiger'. GTO had hood scoops that eventually had optional potential to be functional, red line tires, and dual exhaust. The excitement persisted inside the car, too. GTO didn't use the typical domestic strip speedometer and tiny gauges. GTO had round legible European style gauges, engine turned dash applique, a 'grab bar' and bucket seats.

But the basic secret of the GTO was the Tempest. The essential lines of the GTO were Tempest. The Tempest was a clean sporty fast appearing car in its own right. The Tempest had the same Euro style round dials as the GTO. All Pontiacs during the 1960s looked fast and mean from the small Tempest right up to the top rung large Bonneville.

The 1968 redesign of Tempest and LeMans had advanced to the point where these supposed grocery getter/ commuter cars looked like full on muscle cars. The Tempest had sleek lines, muscle bulges in the fenders, ponycar style proportions (long hood/ short deck) and fastback rear roofline. The major difference between the Tempest and GTO was the Endura body colored front bumper used on the GTO. Early 1968 GTOs were sold with a credit if the buyer took the Tempest chrome bumper instead. This gave the factories time to work out paint adhesion issues on the GTO nose. The psychedelic photo below of the chrome nose of the Tempest highlights the Indian arrowhead logo on top.

69 pontiac tempest custom s dennis diane nose

To the guys 'in the know' the LeMans was 'just' an inline six or perhaps a V8 350 car with 2 barrel and nothing special. But as the musclecar wars heated up and insurance rates became obstructive even Pontiac tried a 'Little Brother' theme on the Tempest body. Pontiac offered the OHC straight six with 4 barrel as well as a 350 H.O. performer. These were great looking cars, good handling with low weight up front and looked red hot.

From the 1960s right into the 1980s LeMans and Tempest cars were considered 'used cars'. You could pick up a two door Tempest with high compression 350 engine, rust free body and 70,000 miles for about 500 to 800 bucks. This was a fairly lightweight car with a strong engine and makes for a very fun, quick driver.

69 pontiac tempest custom s dennis diane 350 ps

Unfortunately most of these cars remained on the treadmill of routine commuter duty and then junked as if they were just another generic used car. Many served as clumsy incorrect GTO clones. Worse yet pristine all original well cared for examples would be butchered for rear quarters on a GTO project and then the entire car was scrapped because it was 'just' a Tempest.

What a relief to see a concours correct restoration of a 'mere' Tempest Custom S. Dennis and Diane's original owner car has been meticulously restored and retains refurbished all original parts. Here is a Tempest Custom S exactly as it appeared back in the day. This was a reasonably priced car but it is a great looking and with the optional 350 it's actually a decent performer.

The Custom S model only existed for one model year in 1969. The Custom S bridged the gap between base Tempest and upscale LeMans and GTO. Tempest had a plain bench seat and flat door panels and less chrome trim. The Custom S had fancier seats, door panels and chrome accents on the body. The LeMans and GTO were top dogs with a more lavish interior. There were 46,886 hardtop Custom S cars built. It was also available in most of the other body configurations: convertible, 4 door hardtop and sedan and station wagon.

Back in Fresno, California in summer 1969 Dennis and Diane were married with a growing family. Their light blue used 1966 Ford Mustang couldn't withstand a visit to the Pontiac dealership. It is a testament to the great styling of the Pontiac Tempest that Dennis could seamlessly shift from his beloved ponycar to an intermediate and not sacrifice looks, handling or responsive performance in the process.

It was Sunday afternoon, June 22, 1969. Dennis was 'just looking' at cars without any intention of buying. When he spotted the great looking 1969 Pontiac Tempest Custom S on the lot of Herman Theroff Pontiac he had to have it. See a story about Theroff Pontiac in the DEALERSHIPS section of this website filed under CALIFORNIA/ San Jose Area.

Dennis was ready to buy the Custom S right away. He didn't even want to bother ordering a car to his personal specs. Dennis was smitten with the Limelight Green Tempest sitting on the lot and wanted it NOW. He would have preferred a floor shifter but the three on the tree manual shift didn't hold him back. This was the first new car Dennis and Diane ever bought.

69 Pontiac Tempest Custom S Dennis Diane rear

An interesting detail of this car is that the white roof is painted and not a vinyl top. This was fairly common in the 1960s. The vinyl roof was starting to become popular but in the 1960s many two tone cars had painted roofs that contrasted with the rest of the car. In the case of this Custom S the white roof helps reflect the harsh sun of California and cools the car. Dennis also liked the idea of avoiding the litany of rust issues so common with vinyl roof cars.

Dennis didn't have cash on hand. The spontaneous decision to buy was nurtured by the salesman who allowed Dennis to drive off in his new car without paying. The salesman kept the Mustang in trade. On Monday Dennis cut out of work early to get the cash together from the bank and then early on Tuesday, June 24 he paid for the new Custom S. Once paid for the car was registered and plated in his name within minutes. With a 'Y' prefix Dennis has one of the last California black license plates issued before the State switched to the blue plates.

Below is the original Pontiac Protect-O-Plate with final VIN digits removed. The owner last name and former address have also been edited out of the image for privacy reasons. This card was created at Pontiac headquarters and then mailed out to owners and served as the warranty. The top right numbers 06 69 refer to the month that the Custom S was placed in service.

The second line lists codes. 246= Midnight Green interior, HC indicates a two tone paint job. H is Limelight Green lower paint and C is Cameo Ivory roof.

The third line lists Dennis' name.

The fourth and fifth line lists Dennis' address.

69 pontiac tempest custom s dennis diane protecto

The VIN prefix 235379Zxxxxxx decodes:

2= Pontiac

35= Tempest Custom

37= 2 Door hardtop Sport Coupe

9= 1969 Model year

Z= Fremont, California final assembly plant

The final digits of the VIN are the sequential number (not now shown here for privacy reasons).

The cowl tag displays a date code of 03D which decodes as a build date in the fourth week of March, 1969. The Tempest was likely shipped to the dealership towards the end of March or beginning of April which means it had been on the lot for nearly 3 months when Dennis spotted it.

69 Pontiac Tempest Custom S Dennis Diane dr side 350

The optional V8 350 engine in this Custom S is rated at 265 gross HP. Dennis comments that the car was actually pretty fast when mated to the 3 speed manual transmission. Back in 1969 there were few weight adding smog controls or safety items.

69 pontiac tempest custom s dennis diane

The Custom S model is already positioned about halfway between the base Tempest and the plusher LeMans but Dennis and Diane's Custom S also has some options that spruce it up some more.

69 Pontiac Tempest Custom S Dennis Diane pedals

The bench seat interior is augmented with the optional 3 spoke deluxe steering wheel and wood grain trim on the dash, pushbutton AM radio, tinted soft ray windshield and chrome pedal trim.

69 pontiac tempest custom s dennis diane pass int

This Tempest Custom S has optional power steering but manual brakes. Manual brakes were common in the 1960s when cars weren't weighed down with 5 MPH bumpers and emission controls etc. As mentioned earlier this Custom S has the manual 3 speed transmission shifted through the column which was known as a 'three on the tree' back in the day. It uses the same lever that the automatic transmission cars used but of course doesn't have the shift quadrant guide above the steering column normally seen on automatic transmission cars.

69 pontiac tempest custom s dennis diane dash

The exterior of this Custom S looks a bit sleeker than standard with the hidden windshield wiper option. Pontiac hid the wipers by extending the top of the hood past the vents and wipers making the hood line sleeker and cleaner looking. The hood shields the vents and may have also cut down on the volume of debris that made its way into the intake vent. Snowbelt people complained that the gap in the trailing end of the hood acted as a snowcatcher but in sunny California this wasn't an issue for Dennis and Diane.

69 Pontiac Tempest Custom S Dennis Diane hidden wiper

The Custom S also came with deluxe wheel covers, and of course the Cameo White painted roof set off the lines of the car.

69 Pontiac Tempest Custom S Dennis Diane r mirror

At the same time that Dennis and Diane bought the Tempest Custom S her father bought a new General Motors A body as well. Diane's father brought home a Yellow 1969 Buick California GS with a 350 engine. The factory goofed up and put one 350 badge on the bottom of the chrome edge of the fenders on one side and a 400 badge on the other side. The Pontiac workers were more accurate with the Tempest which has 350 badges on either side of the bottom rear fender chrome trim.

69 pontiac tempest custom s dennis diane 350 lgoo

The Buick dealership didn't provide much gas when they sold the car. Dennis ribbed his father in law about how the Buick is supposed to be a higher end car than Pontiac and his Tempest came with a full tank of gas off the dealer lot.

When the evening wound down Dennis and Diane went out to the Tempest and it wouldn't start.

It was out of gas!

Inspection revealed that the car didn't have a full tank of gas when it left the dealership. A tag attached to the car explained that the Custom S needed to be returned to the dealership to repair a broken sending unit. The gas gauge was stuck on a full reading although the tank was bone dry!

Dennis had to make the embarrassing trip to the front door to ask his father in law to make a call. Dennis' father in law figured Dennis was just razzing him once more about the gas situation and slammed the door in his face!

The Pontiac Tempest Custom S proved to be a very enjoyable and reliable car. Diane drove it to and from work about 10 miles a day. She also used it on her lunch hour to run errands. The Tempest took the family on vacations through USA and even up to Canada. Daily driving the Tempest with dark green interior in the hot California sun proved that the white roof wasn't going to cool the car sufficiently. An aftermarket underdash air conditioning unit was installed.

Only one persistent issue cropped up with the Tempest over time: the alternator. The alternator was rebuilt several times. Luckily for the future providence of the car Dennis didn't do core exchanges. In each instance of rebuild the original alternator was rebuilt in its factory casing so the car has retained all of it's original parts.

Dennis and Diane had one close call with the car. They went out for an evening and left the kids with a trusted babysitter. The babysitter took off with the Tempest! She wanted to take it up into the mountains on a picnic but ran it out of gas around 8,000 feet above sea level. It had to be pushed home. The running out of gas theme returns! The car was thankfully unscathed from its misadventure.

Dennis and Diane's kids were into off roading and jeeps. The kids had no inkling of how cool a car the Tempest was. When Dennis and Diane took the kids to sports practice their sons asked to be dropped off a block away from the practice so no one could see them getting out of the 'old car'. They have since changed their tune after seeing the car win awards at car shows!

In 1995 the Tempest had clocked 145,000 miles and was parked awaiting some minor repairs. A few years later Dennis plunged into the world of Pontiacs and thoroughly absorbed the fine details of judging and restoration. From 2011-2013 the Custom S underwent a painstakingly careful restoration and immediately began winning awards at the highest level of judging: concours. This photo of the undercarriage emphasizes the level of detailing done to this car.

69 Pontiac Tempest Custom S Dennis Diane undercarriage

Seeing this magnificent restoration work applied to a Tempest is very encouraging for the hobby. The overlooked Tempest and LeMans cars are now getting some recognition! The Tempest Custom S now has dual exhaust and Rally II wheels. The aftermarket A/C wasn't reinstalled.

69 Pontiac Tempest Custom S Dennis Diane driveshaft

The details on this Tempest are factory correct. For example, the purple stripe painted on the driveshaft indicates a particular unit used in the V8 engine Tempest. The GTO with it's greater torque received a different driveshaft which was color coded differently to aid factory line workers in selecting the correct unit.

Dennis and Diane's Tempest has traveled a few hundred miles since the restoration and shows 145,900 miles. Despite not logging too many new miles the car has been trailered quite a few miles to some major shows where it has won Gold in judging. It is still taken out for drives on occasion.

Last Updated ( Friday, 09 September 2016 11:25 )