1968 was a major change year for the Pontiac Tempest series. 1967 was the final year for the “Coke Bottle” styling with vertically stacked headlights. The new styling was smoother, with a shorter and sloped rear deck and side-by-side headlights.
The Pontiac Tempest is best known for its sporty Le Mans trim at the high end of the model range. The 1968 Tempest was available in three trim levels: Tempest, Tempest Custom, and Le Mans. Le Mans models cost approximately $200 more than comparable base or Custom models.
In keeping with the era, body style choices were elaborate, including 4-door sedan and hardtop, 2-door coupe and hardtop coupe, 2-door convertible, and a 4-door station wagon. The 4-door sedan was not available in Le Mans trim. All 4-door models were built on different chassis with a longer wheelbase than 2-door models. By far the most common Le Mans available is the 2-door hardtop coupe, with over 110,000 made, and an additional 40,000 in Tempest Custom trim. All other Le Mans bodies saw production of less than 10,000 units.
The base engine was a 250 cubic inch overhead cam inline 6-cylinder rated at a healthy 175 horsepower. Buyers could opt for a “Sprint” package that included a four-barrel carburetor, 3-speed heavy duty manual transmission, upgraded shock absorbers, and OHC-6 emblems on the rocker panels. Upgrade engines included the 350 cubic inch V8 at 265 or 320 horsepower, depending on the carburetion, or a 400 cubic inch engine at 366 horsepower. Transmission options included 2-speed automatic, heavy duty 3-speed manual with floor shift, or 4-speed manual. Over 75% of Tempests delivered were equipped with the automatic transmission – for Le Mans series cars, the figure is over 90% for automatic.
Station wagon fans will want to seek out the 4,414 cars equipped with the Safari package, with wood paneling inside and out and a “Safari” badge on the front of the car. Muscle car aficionados will of course be looking for the 400 engine mated to a manual transmission. A total of 8,820 Le Mans convertibles were made, and an additional 3,518 Tempest Custom convertibles.
Savvy muscle car buyers will do well to perform careful inspection of both car and provenance to verify that a Le Mans offered with a powerful engine was indeed originally so equipped. Many base Tempests and Tempest Customs have been “upgraded” to Le Mans status over the years. Genuine Le Mans models have a VIN that starts with 237. VINs beginning in 233 are Tempest, and 235 indicates a Tempest Custom. Safari wagon VINs begin with 239.