1963 Pontiac Super Duty LeMans Coupe

Imagine if an unknown Van Gogh was discovered on eBay. In the musclecar community, the discovery of this Super Duty is no less stunning

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By the late 1950s, the horsepower race was on, and stock-bodied racing was the perfect place for Detroit to display its latest engineering feats. Pontiac was the car to beat, both in NASCAR and USAC stock car racing, and in NHRA drags. But by the summer of ’62, Pontiac’s competitive edge was beginning to wear off.

In a sport where a victory can be measured in the blink of an eye, weight was one major component to success. Engineers said 100 pounds equaled one-tenth of a second in elapsed time, and Chevrolet, Ford, and Chrysler were putting their Super Stock and Factory Experimental racers on serious diets while boosting horsepower.

For the 1963 model year, Pontiac created 14 special Super Duty Catalinas in the hope of gaining back their advantage. Many aluminum sheetmetal components were created and the frames had so many weight-reducing holes punched in them they became known as the “Swiss Cheese” cars. But the new Catalina was still at least 200 lbs too heavy, especially when compared to the mid-size Dodge 330s and Plymouth Belvederes. With the Winternationals approaching, Pontiac took drastic winner-take-all measures.

Two Pontiac Tempest coupes assembled in November 1962 were sent to the shops of Ray Nichols and Mickey Thompson. They each installed 421 cu.in. Super Duty engines in the compacts, and replaced the Tempest’s unique “rope” driveshaft and rear Corvair-based transaxle with a conventional transmission and narrowed Catalina rear end. The results were beyond fast – Bill Shrewsberry dominated the Winternationals A/FX class with Mickey Thompson’s Tempest, his 12.03 best time a good half-second faster than the competition.

On December 12 and 13 six LeMans coupes were built minus radio, heater, and sound deadening. Aluminum front clips were added, and 421 Super Duty engines installed. Pontiac engineers created a heavy-duty “Powershift” 4-speed automatic transaxle that included a 10.6″ clutch for launching off the line.

With a trunk-mounted battery and a 12-gallon fuel tank, the Super Duty LeMans coupes weighed around 3,150 lbs and had nearly 50/50 weight distribution. In January 1963, six more Tempest station wagons were given the same treatment, which resulted in bit more rear weight bias. The dozen compact terrors went to the best Pontiac teams and drivers, including Arnie Beswick, Arlen Vanke, and the legendary Mickey Thompson.

Detroit-area racer Stan Antlocer also bought one of the Super Duty LeMans coupes, through Stan Long Pontiac. Stan and his father ran a speed shop in the area, and campaigning throughout Michigan, Stan won often, with an amazing best time of 11.93 @ 123.95 mph. Since the Powershift transaxle could use only a 3.90:1 gear, the Antlocers replaced it with a conventional 3-speed manual and narrowed Catalina rear axle, running a 2.28 first gear and 4.30:1 rear. Stan Antlocer called his racer “the world’s fastest Tempest”.

On January 24, 1963, General Motors announced that it was suspending all racing activity. With as much as 53% of the American market, The General was always a target for anti-trust action from the Feds. Fearing exposure of their racing activities, GM announced the ban, with severe punishment promised to any employee who dared to ignore the edict. The factory support and engineering was suddenly gone, and spare parts dried up quickly. Some of the original Super Duty owners raced their cars into the 1964 season. Stan Antlocer remembers selling his LeMans to someone in Ohio in 1964, and this car, like most of the other ’63 Super Duty cars, was lost to history. Of the dozen Super Duty compacts built, only three are extant.

Thomas Glatch

Thomas Glatch - SCM Contributor

Thomas has contributed hundreds of texts and photographs to automotive publications over the last 25 years. Interests in architecture and design, history, and engineering combine with talents as a writer and photographer to produce stories that reveal the soul of an automobile, or the people that create, collect, or race them. Glatch has contributed stories to all the major Corvette, Mustang, muscle car, and Mopar magazines. His large-format photographs are frequently in Collectible Automobile magazine and have been used in a number of books and calendars. He works full-time for a Fortune 500 corporation as a data- and systems-analyst.

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