Introduced for the 1961 model year, the Tempest featured either the 215 V8 or a 195 ci (3.2L) 4 cylinder which was actually the right half of a 389 V8. Nicknamed "The Hay Baler" due to the nasty shaking if it was out of tune, nonetheless it came with options of a 120 HP low compression single barrel, or 4 barrel high compression version with an output of 155 hp and 210 ft pounds of torque. Not bad for a 4 banger with the technology of 50 years ago. The 215 was no slouch either, producing 215 hp, one for each cubic inch.
What made the Pontiac Tempest unique was its front engine, rear transmission layout, giving the car a 50/50 weight distribution, making it the best handling mass production American car not named Corvette.
For 1963, the LeMans dropped the 215 option due to lack of demand in all of GM's lines, and introduced the 326 (5.3L) V8, with 260 hp and 350 ft lbs of torque, numbers usually associated with tractor-trailer engines. Pontiac also replaced the dicey swing axle rear suspensions with a completely independent rear suspension. The weight distribution of the heavier 326 of course moved more to the front, but still had a very good 54/46 balance. After dropping the front engine rear transmission configuration in 1964, this setup would not be seen again in American cars until the 1996 C5 Vette.
Not only was the 1963 LeMans a muscle car that could corner, it also figured in the acquittal of Ralph Maccio's character in My Cousin Vinny.