The Truth About Cars » polaris http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 18 Nov 2014 01:36:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » polaris http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Update: Texas DMV on Elio’s Trike Status http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/update-texas-dmv-elios-trike-status/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/update-texas-dmv-elios-trike-status/#comments Fri, 14 Nov 2014 23:53:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=945233 The Texas DMV has refused to register the new Polaris Slingshot, saying that motorcycles must be ridden from in a saddle, not driven from on a seat. The Slingshot and proposed Elio trike are both being marketed as motorcycles, as three-wheelers do not have to meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for automobiles. Elio has […]

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The Texas DMV has refused to register the new Polaris Slingshot, saying that motorcycles must be ridden from in a saddle, not driven from on a seat. The Slingshot and proposed Elio trike are both being marketed as motorcycles, as three-wheelers do not have to meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for automobiles. Elio has told TTAC that they’re exempt from the Texas standard because their vehicle has an enclosed cab. We asked them if they’ve had discussions with the Texas DMV about their status. Elio’s vice president for governmental affairs, Joel Sheltrown, told me in an email,

Yes.. I confirmed this with TX DMV. Also the helmet and m[otorcycle] license exemption. We qualify in every instance to be registered in TX ..as a motorcycle. We will easily meet their requirements.

Below is a statement Sheltrown forwarded to us that Elio Motors received from Gus Bernal, who is in charge of  Title Services Policy and Procedure at the Vehicle Titles and Registration Division of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. Note, Bernal’s reference to NHTSA certification of meeting FMVSS regulations has to do with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s rules for motorcycles, not those applicable to automobiles.

As promised, below is my follow up e-mail regarding our conversation from yesterday.

I’m responding on behalf of Clint Thompson. The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (TxDMV), Vehicle Titles and Registration Division (VTR) administers the title and registration laws for the State of Texas therefore, we can only respond to the questions that pertain to VTR. The questions as stated below pertain to two different State Agencies, the TxDMV (for title and registration) and the Texas Department of Public Safety (for driver license and vehicle safety inspection).

The TxDMV may title and register an Elio vehicle as a “Motorcycle”, if the proper application, fees, and required ownership document (e.g. Manufacturer Certificate of Origin) are submitted to the department. Note: The vehicle must meets FMVSS safety standards (NHTSA certification).

Transportation Code, Sec. 521.001. (6-a), “Motorcycle” includes an enclosed three-wheeled passenger vehicle that:

(A) is designed to operate with three wheels in contact with the ground;

(B) has a minimum unladen weight of 900 lbs.;

(C) has a single, completely enclosed, occupant compartment;

(D) at a minimum, is equipped with:

(i) seats that are certified by the vehicle manufacturer to meet the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 207, 49 C.F.R. Section 571.207;

(ii) a steering wheel used to maneuver the vehicle;

(iii) a propulsion unit located in front of or behind the enclosed occupant compartment;

(iv) a seat belt for each vehicle occupant certified by the manufacturer to meet the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 209, 49 C.F.R. Section 571.209;

(v) a windshield and one or more windshield wipers certified by the manufacturer to meet the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 205, 49 C.F.R. Section 571.205, and Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 104, 49 C.F.R. Section 571.104; and

(vi) a vehicle structure certified by the vehicle manufacturer to meet the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 216, 49 C.F.R. Section 571.216; and

(E) is produced by its manufacturer in a minimum quantity of 300 in any calendar year.

In regards to your questions about helmets, driver license endorsements, vehicle safety, road tests, and driving reciprocity, you will need to contact the Texas Department of Public Safety. You may contact Cindy Flores via e-mail at cindy.flores@dps.texas.gov for more information.

Lastly, for information about Texas Manufacturer’s or Dealer’s License, please contact the TxDMV’s Motor Vehicle Division at 1 (888) 368-4689.

Thank you,

Gus Bernal || Title Services Policy and Procedure
Vehicle Titles and Registration Division

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Texas Stops Registration of Polaris Slingshot Trikes. Elio Motors: ‘Not a Problem’ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/texas-stops-registration-polaris-slingshot-trikes-elio-motors-problem/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/texas-stops-registration-polaris-slingshot-trikes-elio-motors-problem/#comments Fri, 14 Nov 2014 21:59:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=945177 The makers of the spate of reverse three wheelers now on, or about to be on, sale including the Morgan 3 Wheeler, the proposed Elio Motors vehicle, and Polaris’ Slingshot, now just arriving at dealers, have used the fact that their vehicles are legally considered motorcycles, not cars to ease their passage through regulatory waters. […]

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The makers of the spate of reverse three wheelers now on, or about to be on, sale including the Morgan 3 Wheeler, the proposed Elio Motors vehicle, and Polaris’ Slingshot, now just arriving at dealers, have used the fact that their vehicles are legally considered motorcycles, not cars to ease their passage through regulatory waters. As some critics of the Elio project have pointed out, those that live by their legal classification as not-cars, may also find legal realities that get in the way of selling their “motorcycles”. For example, will drivers be required to wear helmets in those jurisdictions that require them on motorcycle riders? With some already considering the Elio to be a form of birth control for single guys, having to wear a helmet inside it would make it even dorkier. Elio claims those problems are moot. Perhaps so, but just as Polaris is launching the Slingshot, a reverse trike starting at $20K, powered by a 2.4 liter GM Ecotec 4 cylinder engine, they have discovered that the State of Texas will not let the vehicle be registered there.

Though Polaris had already received approval from Texas to sell the Slingshot in the state, according to a letter to dealers posted on a Slingshot forum on November 4th they were notified by the Vehicle Titling and Registration Division of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles that the DMV was going to be taking the position that even if dealers are licensed to sell it as a motorcycle, owners of the Slingshot will not be able to register it because it is not street legal as far as Texas motorcycles are concerned. Jesse James moved to Texas and his choppers are street legal, despite their apparent near lack of vehicle dynamics short of straight line acceleration, but the Slingshot, which comes with seat belts and roll bars as well as brakes on all of its wheels, is not. That’s because the Texas DMZ says that the rider of a motorcycle must sit in a “saddle” position and they’re interpreting that to mean that the seat must be between the rider’s legs. As with other reverse trikes, the Slingshot has seats, not a saddle that is straddled.

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As can be imagined, both Slingshot dealers and customers in Texas who have placed deposits are not happy. Polaris has told dealers that it’s in discussions with higher-ups  in the Texas DMV to resolve the situation. I’d imagine that Polaris is raising the issue of the Morgan and the Campagna T-Rex, both of which feature side by side seating with automotive type seats and haven’t had problems being registered in Texas. It seems to me that they could also raise the issue of  the fact that many motorcycle “saddles” are in fact seats that are sat upon, not astride, even if the gas tanks (or the stylistic replicants thereof) sit between the rider’s legs. The seats on Polaris’ own Victory and Indian motorcycle brands, at least their touring bikes, are probably closer to those in a car than to the saddle on my Litespeed bicycle.

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It’s ironic that Polaris has run into this problem. They’ve been trying very hard for the Slingshot to be a not-car. When I contacted the company’s press apparatus a couple of months ago about getting a review vehicle for TTAC, I was told that they are deliberately not working with the automotive press. Since local dealers love publicity, as TTAC’s reverse trike guy I’ve still been able to make arrangements to have access to a Slingshot for a capsule review when demos arrive in the next couple of weeks, but the Polaris company and Slingshot enterprise are trying very hard to not be considered an automobile.

Though with it’s tandem seating layout the Elio reverse trike has a similarity with actual motorcycles that the side by side Slingshot does not, Elio Motors is not concerned about the Slingshot’s registration woes in the Lone Star state. TTAC asked Elio for a comment and we were told, “it is our understanding that this does not apply to Elio because we have an enclosed cab and safety belts.” Since the Polaris Slingshot also has automotive seat belts, the fact that the Elio has three point harnesses  seems moot, but the fact that it’s an enclosed vehicle may make a difference, at least in terms of how Texas regulators see it. If you'[re trying to convince a regulator that your vehicle is legally a motorcycle, is it a good idea to point out things like like Bela Barenyi-style crush zones, airbags and other automotive safety features?

As a followup, I’ve asked Elio Motors if they’ve had any discussions with the Texas DMV about getting their vehicle registered in that state.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Do I Really Want One of These? Kandi Viper 250cc Reverse Trike http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/do-i-really-want-one-of-these-kandi-viper-250cc-reverse-trike/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/do-i-really-want-one-of-these-kandi-viper-250cc-reverse-trike/#comments Sun, 30 Jun 2013 13:00:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=493660 I’ve been fascinated by reverse trikes for a long time. As young teens, my older brother and I made a reverse trike go-kart (he designed the frame and the drivetrain, I did the brakes and steering) because we didn’t have the money for a proper live axle setup in the back. The first hard turn […]

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Click here to view the embedded video.

I’ve been fascinated by reverse trikes for a long time. As young teens, my older brother and I made a reverse trike go-kart (he designed the frame and the drivetrain, I did the brakes and steering) because we didn’t have the money for a proper live axle setup in the back. The first hard turn taught us something about the inherent instability of three wheel vehicles. The inside front wheel lifted about 18″ off of the pavement (maybe that’s why I like the photo of Jim Clark’s Lotus Cortina cornering on three wheels so much). It took a bit more than a “dab of oppo” to settle it back down. I don’t remember if either one of us ever completely rolled it, but it was exciting to drive. Now comes word that Morgan’s revived 3 Wheeler, a car that seems to be able to drift and donut effortlessly while still keeping both front wheels planted firmly on terra firma, has become their best selling vehicle, prompting word of expanding the 3 Wheeler line. With that success my attention has once again been drawn to reverse trikes. I’m not the only one. Based on design patent drawings, it looks like Polaris will be soon introducing the Slingshot, a side by side reverse trike powered by a GM Ecotec 2.4 L four cylinder. From the styling the Slingshot looks to be aimed more at Ariel Atom fans than the traditional stringback driving glove set, so I don’t think the Morgan will lose any sales to Polaris, but either way, I think the Polaris will increase the popularity of three wheelers in general.

Polaris Slingshot design patent

Polaris Slingshot design patent

Everyone who drives the Morgan reverse trike says that it’s the most fun you can possibly have with a machine until they perfect sexbots. That kind of fun comes at a price. For what the Mog 3W costs, $45K and up, you can buy a couple of new, nicely equipped small cars. With that Ecotec engine and other automotive sourced components, I’m sure that the Polaris Slingshot will not be cheap either. There are other reverse trikes, like Campagna’s T-Rex models, but Campagna’s least expensive vehicle, the T-Rex V13R, starts at $56,000.

250MD_redMSo what can you do if you want to explore the world of road going reverse trikes, but you don’t want to spend multiples of $10,000? You could build one yourself, just search Google, Bing or YouTube for reverse trike build. I particularly like this Gold Wing based leaner called TBX3, and this wild small block Chevy V8 powered FWD trike based on an Olds Toronado, a little nicer build than this old Subaru based trike. However, if you want something ready to drive off the rack (well, almost, see below) that is relatively cheap, you’ll just have to keep looking to the east, China, where that country’s huge scooter industry has noticed the same things that Morgan and Polaris have.

KD-250MD-3Zhejiang Kangdi Vehicles  (NASDAQ:KNDI) makes scooters, motorcycles, go-karts, golf carts, ATVs and neighborhood electric vehicles, 80% of which are exported to the U.S. and Europe. Maybe that’s why the parent company and American importer use the easier-to-pronounce-by-westerners Kandi. I believe that the first reverse trike that Kandi made was a 250cc knockoff of Bombardier’s Can-Am Spyder, though it doesn’t have the Can-Am’s stability control that keeps the Spyder from lifting a wheel without having to lean the trike. If you want a  trike that leans, Kandi offers them too. Now they’ve come up with something a bit more like the Morgan and Polaris trikes, something more like a car than a motorcycle or ATV, the Viper reverse trike. Powered by a single cylinder 250cc water-cooled 4 stroke engine that puts out 16.6 HP (some dealers advertise 20 HP), with an automatic CVT that has reverse, from the video posted on YouTube it looks like a real blast to drive. It’s also not terrible looking, kind of cute in a Bugeye Sprite or Lotus Seven way, at least up front. Maybe I just dig cycle style fenders that turn with the front wheels. With microcar level power you won’t get there quickly, but it looks like you’ll have fun getting there. Come to think of it, with a scooter engine in back it might be as much like a Messerschmitt as a Morgan. Depending on where you buy it, it will cost you somewhere between $5,700 and $7,000 delivered (with some assembly required usually), a fraction of the price of the Morgan or what I expect the Polaris Slingshot to cost, let alone what a restored Kabinenroller can run these days.

250MD_pic10Actually, for that price you get at least some some sophistication. The engine has electronic ignition. Some dealers say that it also has electronic fuel injection, but this video from SuperSportz says that it has a carburetor. The suspension for the front wheels uses a standard double wishbone setup, with coilover units for springing and damping. The rear end uses a swing arm, as expected, but surprisingly they didn’t just use a scooter drive train, which typically has the engine and transmission as part of the swingarm assembly, increasing unsprung weight. Instead the engine and transmission are mounted to the main frame and there’s a chain drive back to the rear wheel. Rather than a monoshock in back there are twin coilover units. All three wheels have hydraulic disc brakes with ABS, with twin discs on the back wheel, like many sportbikes’ front wheel brakes. An auxiliary hand activated parking brake is also included.

viper-8_smallDriver and passenger sit side by side in racing style seats with safety harnesses and there’s a rudimentary roll cage. Bodywork is made from plastic, ABS and fiberglass. The frame and suspension components are made of steel tubing.  Thirteen inch cast aluminum wheels are standard, mounted with 145X70 radial tires. The Viper is operated with a steering wheel and other automotive style controls. There is a small instrument panel in the middle of the dashboard and the shift lever for the CVT sites between the seats. It’s fairly spartan. Some dealers offer an optional windshield. From the looks of the yellow Viper pictured here, you can replace the stock muffler with sporty dual upswept exhausts. There is no radio or heater. SuperSportz says that future models will have a more enclosed interior, but for the time being you’re sitting right in front of the engine, so it’s noisy, and the radiator sits right behind the passenger seat so maybe a heater isn’t needed.

viper-1_smallCruising speed is said to be about 60 MPH (some dealers say 80, others say don’t believe them) so it should be suitable for urban use and maybe even hopping on the freeway for very short distances. Fuel economy is up to about 70 MPG (some dealers say 90). Both figures are of course dependent on load and road conditions. Maximum load is about 400# so you and your passenger might have to watch your weight. At least one dealer sells it under a different model name, Cyclone (see a pattern here? Caveat emptor and all that).

viper-45-5As you can see from the video at the top of this post, it can even drift a little. However, watching the Kandi Viper scamper around that parking lot gives me a little pause. At about 20 seconds into the video, the driver takes a hard left turn, and you can hear the back wheel’s tire skittering as it loses and gains traction. What you can see, though, is what concerns me. At peak cornering forces the rear wheel appears to have noticeable positive camber. While there is some body roll, the camber on the wheel seems to exceed the roll angle of the body. That means that there’s some flexing going on, possibly in the rear swingarm subframe or in its mountings, maybe in the main frame as well. If you pay attention to other times the Viper is cornering hard, you can see the rear end twisting.

viper-view-tail2Now camber changes happen all the time on regular cars if you pay attention, but combined with the video there’s also the question of Kandi’s quality control. If you spend some time looking at videos and comments posted by Kandi buyers a recurring theme appears – rather poor quality control, though many buyers seem perfectly satisfied. Though they are sold said to be 90-95% complete, many buyers report that the assembly that had already been done wasn’t done properly, with some bolts left untorqued and even components switched left to right.

With a 60″ wheelbase and a front track of 57.3″, it’s the size of a [very] small car. The carton it comes in ready to finish is 145x80x31.1 inches so either have access to a fork lift or a loading dock or expect to possibly pay for residential lift gate delivery. If you pay to have a dealer fully assemble it, you’ll have to pick it up at a shipping depot. You can get a rough idea of what assembly involves from this video of another Kandi trike. If you’re reading this site and you have a set of wrenches and sockets, you can most likely put it together. Some retailers advertise how they go over their scooters before shipping to make sure all the bolts are fastened etc. Some buyers report engines being DOA or failing soon after purchase. The fact that another frequently advertised feature is an optional warranty probably also says something about Kandi’s QC at the factory. Some dealers do a better job of prep and after sales service than others, from online comments.

250MD_pic9However, I don’t see anyone else offering a car-like two passenger reverse trike for anything near $6,000, and to be honest, I’d be more concerned about QC in terms of safety than reliability. It looks like the frame is made up of steel tubing that’s only about 1 inch in diameter. While both front wheels look like they’ll stay on the ground, I’m worried that if you stress the rear end enough, you won’t just get some positive camber. Images of the entire rear end twisting itself free come to mind. As mentioned, the roll cage looks rudimentary and there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of side barrier protection. In most states you’d register it as a motorcycle. My guess is that in a collision you’d probably be about as well off as on an actual motorcycle. To really check quality, though, I’d have to see a Kandi Viper close up and hopefully drive one but the closest Kandi dealer is hundreds of miles away in the Upper Peninsula.

viper-left3Still, it looks like it’d be a ball to drive and cheap to operate, possibly even a cheaper commuter than either a battery EV or a smart car. Obviously, judging a vehicle’s safety based on one short YouTube video and comments on the internet is not a serious appraisal. If someone at Kandi USA, SuperSportz or another of their dealers reads this and would like to demonstrate the performance and safety of the Kandi Viper I have an open mind and I’d be happy to do a full review of the trike if you can arrange the loan of a test vehicle.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

250MD_redM KD-250MD-1 viper-1_small Polaris Slingshot design patent viper-8_small viper-5_small KD-250MD-5 viper-45-5 KD-250MD-3 viper-view1 viper-view-tail2 viper-left3 viper-right4 viper-45-6 250MD_pic10 250MD_pic9 250MD_pic7

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Curbside Classic: 1963 Tempest LeMans- Pontiac Tries To Build A BMW Before BMW Built Theirs And Almost Succeeds http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/12/curbside-classic-1963-tempest-lemans-pontiac-tries-to-build-a-bmw-before-bmw-built-theirs-and-almost-succeeds/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/12/curbside-classic-1963-tempest-lemans-pontiac-tries-to-build-a-bmw-before-bmw-built-theirs-and-almost-succeeds/#comments Tue, 14 Dec 2010 17:25:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=376863 In the thirties and forties, GM pioneered and brought to market some of the most innovative, successful and lasting new technologies: diesel-electric locomotives, the modern diesel bus, automatic transmissions, refrigeration and air conditioning systems, high compression engines, independent front suspension, and many more. But GM’s technology prowess was just one facet of its endlessly warring […]

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In the thirties and forties, GM pioneered and brought to market some of the most innovative, successful and lasting new technologies: diesel-electric locomotives, the modern diesel bus, automatic transmissions, refrigeration and air conditioning systems, high compression engines, independent front suspension, and many more. But GM’s technology prowess was just one facet of its endlessly warring multiple personalities. Planned obsolescence, chrome, fins and financial rationalization were the real moneymakers, especially during the technically conservative fifties. But in the period from 1960 to 1966, GM built three production cars that tried to upend the traditional format: the rear engined 1960 Corvair, the front-wheel drive 1966 Toronado, and the 1961 Tempest. And although the Corvair and Toronado tend to get the bulk of the attention, the Tempest’s format was by far the most enduring one: it was a BMW before BMW built theirs. If only they had stuck with it.

A high performance four cylinder engine with four-venturi carburetion, four-wheel independent suspension; four speed stick shift; perfect 50-50 weight distribution; a light, compact yet fairly roomy body; decent manual steering; and neutral to over-steering handling qualities: sounds just like the specs for the all-new 1962 BMW 1500/1800. Or a Mercedes, or a Rover 2000 perhaps? But none of them had this: a rear transaxle and a totally revolutionary flexible drive shaft.  When GM gave its engineering talent the freedom to innovate, the results were often extraordinary. But in true GM fashion, penny-pinching resulted in the 1961 Tempest arriving flawed, like the Corvair. But unlike the Corvair, The Tempest never got a second chance to sort out its readily fixable blemishes. If so, the result would have been even more remarkable than the 1965 Corvair.

John DeLorean may be more famous for the ’59 Wide-Tracks, the GTO, the Pontiac OHC six, and the ’69 Grand Prix during his tenure at Pontiac, but in my opinion, the 1961 Tempest is his most ambitious and creative engineering effort. He was aware as anyone of the limitations of the Detroit big car formula: too big, thirsty, front-heavy and dull-handling. With the 1960 Corvair in the wings, DeLorean’s lingering plans to build a truly advanced and practical car finally came to (not quite ripe) fruition.

DeLorean was particularly interested in the benefits of independent rear suspension that so many European cars like the VW, Porsche and Mercedes had been using since the thirties. In the mid fifties, his engineering team developed an even more radical evolution of the Mercedes approach for the 1959 full-sized Pontiacs: a rear transaxle to balance weight distribution, and connected to the engine with a flexible shaft drive inside a rigid torque tube. That innovation was his alone, and he received a patent on it. And please don’t call it “rope drive;” good luck trying to send power through anything resembling a rope. It was a single flexible piece of steel, more akin to a torsion bar or a speedometer drive shaft.

The big 1959 Pontiacs arrived with their ad-friendly wide tracks, but were otherwise utterly conventional. But GM wanted to foist the new rear-engine Corvair on Pontiac, in order to spread its high development and production costs. The prototype Pontiac Polaris (above) was classic badge-engineering: a ’59 Pontiac-ish front end grafted on an otherwise unaltered Corvair. But the Pontiac brass Bill Knudsen, Pete Estes and DeLorean weren’t buying it, in part because DeLorean was already familiar with the Corvair’s tricky handling and nasty habit of spinning or even flipping when it got pushed too far.

DeLorean’s initial plan was to use the Corvair body, but turn it into a front-engined car while leaving the whole Corvair rear suspension and its transaxle in place, not even turning it around to face the motor. By using a hollow shaft, the Corvair transmission would actually be “driven” from the rear of the car, resulting in the torque converter hanging off the back of the differential, where it would normally have mated up to the Corvair’s rear engine.

Very creative indeed, and rather bizarre to see the torque converter just sitting there in the open like an appendage (above).  The drive shaft had three inches of deflection (curvature), and that curvature was strictly induced by applying the appropriate stresses on each end; there were no intermediate bearings necessary to locate it within the torque tube.

The rigid torque tube’s benefits went well beyond resulting in an almost-flat floor. It was a key component to adapt the four cylinder engine and help tame its vibrations. A four cylinder theoretically has perfect primary balance. But because it has only two power impulses per crankshaft rotation, second order and torsional vibrations can be quite significant, especially in a larger displacement motor. Traditionally, Europeans kept fours to two liters or less for that reason. Mitsubishi reintroduced the balance shaft with its 2.6 liter four in 1975, and it is highly effective and now very common in smoothing large fours.

This is why Detroit shunned fours like the plague; in order to provide American-style torque and power, American fours had almost always been large. At low engine speeds, like in the Ford Model T and A, this was not too bothersome. A suitable six might have been perfect, but Pontiac had little choice but create a compact and low-cost four by building it the quick and dirty way: eliminating one of the banks of its 389 CID V8. This was very cost effective, because it used a high percentage of the V8’s parts, and could be machined on the same lines as the V8.

Rigidly mounting the four to the front end of the torque tube eliminated the need for the engine mounts to control its front-to-back movements, so it was possible to isolate it and its vibrations from the body to a much greater degree than if had been mounted in the usual fashion. The mounts on the four only had to control its vertical movements, so they could be very soft. That does result in an impressive display of vertical “jumping” when the throttle is opened from idle.

That’s not to say that the 195 cubic inch (3.2 L) four’s noise, vibration and harshness issues were all miraculously solved by DeLorean’s innovative mounting solutions. It’s a very big four, for better or for worse. It does have a fatter torque curve than a comparable six or eight for its displacement, and therefore is very responsive. And thanks to Pontiac’s high performance experience, it could be quite powerful; output started at 110 hp, and went up to 165 hp with the optional four barrel carburetor. That overshadows the 1961 Corvair’s 98 hp optional engine.

As it turned out, Pontiac didn’t have to use the actual 108″ wheelbase Corvair body after all; GM relented and let them share the Corvair-based but slightly larger 112″ wheelbase Y Body that Buick and Oldsmobile were preparing for their 1961 compacts. But Pontiac was given a very tiny budget to adapt it, so the 1961 Tempest (above) used most of the Olds F85 sheetmetal with a ’59 Pontiac-derived front end and a new rear end grafted on. But the four cylinder, flex-drive and Corvair transaxle and its rear suspension were retained, for better or for worse.

The worst was that it was a simple swing axle: rigid half-axles jointed only at each side of the rigidly mounted differential. This was the hot new thing in Europe back in the thirties, but its tendency to jack up in fast corners and create snap oversteer and flipping had become all-too well known.

That’s why Mercedes developed its innovative single low-pivot rear axle (above) with an anti-jacking compensating spring in the early fifties, a temporary step before it adopted a double-jointed irs in 1968. BMW’s “Neue Klasse” 1500/1800/2000 sedans first arrived in 1962 with a double-jointed rear suspension. As did the Jaguar S sedan. Europe was moving on, and GM would quickly learn this painful lesson in penny-pinching. The 1963 Corvette Sting Ray had a new double-jointed rear axle, which the 1965 Corvair also adopted to great effect.

I showed you the odd Tempest automatic transaxle earlier, but here’s the (leaky) four speed in the featured convertible. That round bolted cover on the end is where the Corvair bellhousing would have attached.

And here’s the front of the same unit, showing the shift linkage which the Tempest conveniently shared with Corvair too. It wasn’t a model of precision and quickness, but Porsche had to have something left to improve when it adopted a highly similar torque tube rear transaxle for their 928 and 924/944/968. The 968’s three liter four was only slightly smaller than the Tempest 3.2, and its ferocious torque showed to best advantage the benefits of a large displacement four with balance shafts. If John Z. had remembered about the 1904 Lanchester’s patented balance shafts and adapted them, the Tempest would really have been a milestone car.

Speaking of Porsche’s claims about their pioneering:

a minor error in the text

The ’61 and ’62 Tempests did also offer a version of the aluminum Buick 215 CID V8 optionally, but only 1-2% of them were built with it, and only a tiny handful with a stick. Theoretically, the combination of the light and smooth V8 with a four speed and the Tempest’s independent suspension and perfect weight balance would have potentially made a very appealing package. But the V8 was troublesome from the beginning, and Pontiac had to “buy” it from Buick, so the four was pushed heavily. And the hi-po four did make almost as much horsepower as the V8.

The Tempest was widely (and rightfully) hailed when it arrived. It won Motor Trend’s COTY, and accolades from the press: “a breakthrough for Detroit”…”a wonderfully refreshing automobile”…”a significant coup of major import”…”may be the forerunner of a new generation”…”unquestionably a prototype American car for the sixties”. Testers praised its 50-50 front-rear balance, which resulted in lighter steering, less understeer, better traction and braking, and a good ride. But its ability to create the dreaded snap oversteer in the wet or on quickly driven curves was not left behind with the Corvair’s rear engine. The Tempest’s handling could also be tricky, and its agricultural sounding four could not be fully tamed, even if some of its shaking was mitigated. Consumer Reports was not so enthralled.

1962 Tempest LeMans

The Tempest met its sales expectations, selling 100k in 1961, 140k in ’62, and 130k in ’63. That helped Pontiac clinch third place in the sales stats. But it suffered the same problem as the Corvair: profitability was not up to snuff. The extra costs in converting the Olds body and the drive shaft and rear transaxle bit into the already slim margins on compact cars. The whole ambitious Corvair/Tempest/Olds F85/Buick Special Y-body experiments left GM with a bad aftertaste, especially since Ford was doing so well with its utterly conventional Falcon and Comet. The dull 1962 Chevy II was the effective replacement for the Corvair, and the B-O-P compacts became highly conventional mid-sized cars in 1964.

Our next door neighbor in Iowa City, a Russian professor, drove a white ’62 LeMans convertible like the one above. I vividly remember the throb of the big four as I rode with her to Sears to get her lawnmower fixed. But the open top was even more effective than DeLorean’s other efforts to drown out its agricultural sounds, at least above thirty or so. And I once briefly drove a co-worker’s base ’61 sedan in LA: despite being elderly, its intrinsic balance (which could be all-too easily upset for amusing purposes) and decent steering for an American car was downright un-American. If only its engine ran sweetly like my Peugeot 404’s. But the trade-off was the torque: very American indeed.

Our featured car is a 1963 LeMans, which was the sporty/upscale variant analogous to the Corvair’s Monza with the same bucket seats and higher trim. The ’63s were restyled to make them appear bigger, wider and longer. This convertible has all the right options, at least for those that have a soft spot for the four. I found it in front of this shop where it had just been converted to the factory 165 hp four barrel setup. And it also has the four-speed stick. Not surprisingly, its owner turns out to be a ’63 Tempest junkie; it was the car he always wanted in high school.

Norman has over half a dozen ’63s in and a round his shop and back yard, including this sedan still on the trailer that he just picked up. And he has another convertible (below) with the optional 326 V8 that replaced the aluminum V8 for 1963. This was a prescient move by DeLorean, and foreshadowed the 1964 GTO.

The 326 is a 389 with smaller bores (and actually displaced 336 cubic inches), and although no lightweight, it still results in a quite decent 54/46 weight distribution because of the rear transaxle. With a two barrel carb, the 326 made a fairly modest 260 hp, but the Tempest was light (2800-3000lbs) so with the V8 it scoots right along.  Because of limited funds, the four speed was not upgraded to handle the V8’s torque, so as far as is known, all the 326s came with the three speed stick or the two-speed Powerglide/aka: TempesTorque automatic. Norman says his fours get 18 – 20 mpg, and the 326 around 16 – 18 mpg.

To mitigate its handling rep, the 1963 Tempest’s rear suspension was revised with a modified control arm geometry and other tricks. But it was still a swing axle, and the Tempest’s end was already in sight, to be replaced by live-axle conformity.

But in my imagination, I see a 1965 Tempest coupe based on the stunningly beautiful ’65 Corvair body, with the 230 hp Sprint OHC six under a lengthened front end and sharing that Corvair’s new Corvette-based rear suspension. What a genuine American BMW that would have been, right down to the dash (the BMW’s Tempest look-alike dash appeared on the ’66 1602). In my oft-repeated GM coulda-shoulda dreams.

A scan of an in-depth SIA article on the Tempest is here

Over two hundred other Curbside Classics are here

The post Curbside Classic: 1963 Tempest LeMans- Pontiac Tries To Build A BMW Before BMW Built Theirs And Almost Succeeds appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

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