Pontiac Lemans

Pontiac LeMans Sport front view

The Pontiac LeMans /ləˈmɑːnz/ was a model name applied to compact and intermediate-sized automobiles offered by the Pontiac division of General Motors from 1962 to 1981. The LeMans was replaced by the downsized Pontiac Bonneville for the 1982 model year. In 1988, for the 1989 model year a badge engineered Daewoo LeMans was sold briefly until 1993.


Introduced as the top-of-the-line version of the compact Pontiac Tempest at the end of 1961 on GM's new Y body platform, the Tempest LeMans was essentially a trim package featuring sportier and more luxurious trimmings than the Tempest, including different badging and bucket seats. That year the name was used only on a two-door pillared coupe. In 1962, LeMans continued on this path, adding a convertible to the offerings and I4 4bbl carbureted engine. Though all four body styles—coupe, sedan, convertible and station wagon—were available as Tempests, there was no four-sedan or station wagon LeMans. There was also no pillarless hardtop version of either Pontiac. The next year, in 1963, the LeMans name was still used only on coupes and convertibles, but the name was officially made its own model. This would last for just one year. It's these 1963 cars of both nameplates that had the high-performance 326 CID V8 option (actually 336 cid for that one year only) and specially modified versions of them became the Super Duty cars of racing lore.


The Tempest line was upsized to an intermediate-sized car on the new GM A platform in 1964, and the LeMans returned to its role of Tempest trim upgrade with a new 215 CID six-cylinder and a redesigned 326 CID V8 (now actually 326 CID). Shortly after the start of the 1964 model year, the LeMans became available with a new performance package designated as the GTO, or Gran Turismo Omologato. The GTO option was priced at just under US$300 and included a larger 389 CID V8 from the full-sized Pontiac line that put out 325 or 335 hp, a four-speed floor shift Muncie manual transmission with Hurst shifter, heavy-duty suspension, red-line Tiger Paw tires, and GTO nameplates. GTO sales ended up at 32,000 for the first year, well beyond initial estimates of 5,000 units and accounted for a large share of Tempest/LeMans sales. The success and the image of the GTO helped increase sales of lesser Tempest and LeMans models in the coming years, placing the Pontiac brand into third place in total industry sales after Chevrolet and Ford.

The GTO became a separate model of its own for 1966, though retaining the same basic body as the Tempest and LeMans models. For 1966, all Pontiac intermediates got swoopier styling featuring tunnelback rooflines on two door hardtop and pillared coupes. While the GTO continued as a big-engined muscle car, the Tempest and LeMans models got a new SOHC 230 cubic inch six-cylinder engine as the base engine. The new SOHC I6, the brainchild of Pontiac Chief Engineer John De Lorean (who became Pontiac's general manager in 1965), was available in an economical one-barrel carbureted, 165 hp version that was standard equipment on all Pontiac intermediates except GTOs. Optional on all Tempest and LeMans models except station wagons was a Sprint package that included a hopped-up four-barrel version of the 230 CID OHC six that also included higher compression ratio and hotter cam, resulting in 215 horse power, along with an "all-syncro" floor-mounted three-speed automatic transmission with Hurst shifter, suspension kit, and body striping. Those who preferred a V8 engine could get either the base two-barrel 326 CID V8 rated at 250 hp (the most popular Tempest/LeMans engine) or a 285 hp four-barrel 326 HO V8 with higher compression ratio, high performance cam and dual exhausts.

The Sprint-optioned Tempest and LeMans models were not very popular during the mid-to-late 1960s as they were greatly outsold by the bigger-engined GTO that was heating up the muscle car wars. Buyers of regular Tempest and LeMans models definitely preferred V8 power, as the 326 and later 350 CID V8s were the most ordered engines. The Sprint option and SOHC six-cylinder engine were discontinued after 1969 with an ordinary Chevrolet-built 250 CID OHV six-cylinder engine, becoming the base engine from 1970 to 1976 in most Pontiac intermediates. 1970 Pontiac LeMans coupeInitially, the LeMans included a pillared coupe and convertible for 1962 and 1963 as no hardtops were offered in the compact Tempest. For 1964, a hardtop coupe was added followed by a four-door pillared sedan in 1965, which was replaced by a four-door hardtop in 1966 and a four-door Safari station wagon in 1968. Generally, the four-door and station wagon models were differentiated from the coupes and convertibles by featuring conventional bench seats or notch-back bench seats with folding armrests as opposed to the Strato buckets seats standard in coupes and convertibles. Other LeMans upgrades over lesser Tempests included carpeted lower door panels, deluxe steering wheels, courtesy lighting, and full wheel covers.


For 1970, Pontiac reshuffled its intermediate lineup a bit with the LeMans nameplate downgraded to the mid-line sub-series previously known as the Tempest Custom and included two and four-door pillared sedans, while the previous top-shelf LeMans series was renamed the LeMans Sport in the same three body styles including a four-door hardtop sedan, two-door hardtop coupe and convertible. This year, bigger engines - which had previously reserved for GTOs - were made available on lesser Tempest/LeMans models including a 400 CID V8 rated at 265 hp with a two-barrel carburetor or a 330 hp option with a four-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts. At mid-year the bottom-shelf Tempest line, which initially included only two- and four-door sedans, got a low-price T-37 hardtop coupe which was initially billed as "General Motors' lowest-priced hardtop (undercut by a base Chevrolet Chevelle hardtop coupe introduced a few weeks later). To offer younger buyers a mid-sized muscle car that was less expensive than the GTO, Pontiac offered the T-37 hardtop coupe with a GT-37 appearance package that included striping, three-speed floor shift transmission, tuned suspension and other tinsel. The GT-37 was available with any Tempest/LeMans V8 from the standard 350 two-barrel to the 400 four-barrel. Replacing the Pontiac-built OHC six-cylinder as the base engine for Tempest/LeMans models for 1970 was Chevrolet's 250 cubic-inch inline six-cylinder engine, while the 350 two-barrel was again the base V8 engine and the four-barrel 350 HO was discontinued. 1970 Pontiac LeMans convertibleIn 1971, the Tempest nameplate was completely retired and Pontiac promoted the LeMans nameplate to full-series status to identify all of its intermediate models, which still included the GTO. At the bottom of the line was the Pontiac T-37, previously known as the Tempest, and now expanded to include two- and four-door sedan along with the original hardtop coupe. The GT-37 option was available on both the two-door sedan (pillared coupe) or hardtop coupe. Engine offerings were carried over from 1970 and Pontiac's 455 cubic-inch V8 (offered only on GTOs in 1970) was now available as an option on all Pontiac intermediates in both base four-barrel with 325 horsepower or the 455 HO option with 335 horsepower. All 1971 engines, per GM corporate policy, were detuned with lower compression ratios to run on lower-octane regular leaded, low-lead or unleaded gasoline.

For 1972, all Pontiac intermediates were now LeMans models and the low-priced T-37 line was replaced by a stripped LeMans pillared coupe. The top-line intermediate was the Luxury LeMans, available in hardtop sedan and coupe models, featuring plusher interiors than regular LeMans models. The LeMans Sport was available as a two-door hardtop or convertible featuring Strato bucket seats and plush interior fittings from the Luxury LeMans. The GTO was changed from a separate series back to an option package on LeMans and LeMans Sport coupes. Replacing the previous GT-37 option package for 1972 was the new "LeMans GT" option, available on LeMans pillared and hardtop coupes with any V8 ranging from the 350 two-barrel to the 455 HO four-barrel, and also included the same appearance/handling items carried over from the GT-37.

In the film adaptation of The French Connection, Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle commandeered a 1971 LeMans sedan from a citizen. He then used it to chase an overhead train at high speed through the streets of New York, in what is widely considered one of the most exciting film chases in cinema history.


From 1973 to 1977, the LeMans and other GM intermediates were much larger in size than previous models due to evolutionary changes that resulted in larger cars year after year and federally mandated 5 mph crash bumpers that added weight and length. During this period, Pontiac's intermediate lineup included the base LeMans, LeMans Sport Coupe, GTO (1973 only), Luxury LeMans (became the Grand LeMans in 1975), the Euro-styled Grand Am from 1973 to 1975, and the 1977 Can Am. Body styles were all based on GM's Colonnade hardtop design for both sedans and coupes (no convertibles offered after 1972) that included center pillars for improved rollover safety standards but eliminated true hardtop design, along with frameless windows similar to a hardtop. Two-door coupes featured triangular "fixed" rear side windows that did not open, which were covered with louvers on the LeMans and GTO sport coupes, and the new Grand Am coupe.

The 1973 LeMans, along with all other GM intermediates, was new from the ground up but retained the same wheelbase lengths of 112 inches for two-door coupes, and 116 inches for four-door sedans and station wagons. All models featured the federally mandated 5-mile-per-hour front bumpers along with single headlights. Handling capabilities were greatly improved on all models due to new front-suspension components shared with the F-body Pontiac Firebird and Chevrolet Camaro, improved rear-coil suspension and bias-belted tires (except Grand Ams, which got radial tires). Engine offerings were carried over from 1972 with revisions to meet the 1973 emission requirements. Standard on base LeMans sedans and coupes was Chevrolet's 250-cubic-inch inline six-cylinder engine, while the LeMans Sport Coupe, Luxury LeMans sedans and coupes, and all Safari wagons got Pontiac's 350-cubic-inch V8 with two-barrel carburetor rated at 150 horsepower standard (optional on base LeMans models). Optionally available on LeMans, Sport and Luxury LeMans was a 400-cubic-inch V8 with two-barrel carb and 170 horsepower, a 230-horsepower 400 four-barrel (standard with the GTO option) and a 250-horsepower 455 four-barrel was optional on all models. Planned and listed as an option for the 1973 GTO but never materialized was a 455 Super Duty V8 rated at 310 net horsepower for which introduction was delayed by Pontiac management due to emission issues until the spring of 1973 and then only in the smaller Firebird Formula and Trans Am pony cars. A three-speed automatic transmission was standard on LeMans and Luxury LeMans models while the GTO came with a floor-mounted three-speed with Hurst shifter. Available at extra cost was the three-speed Turbo Hydra-matic with all engines while a four-speed manual with Hurst shifter was available with the 230-horsepower 400. 1973 Sport CoupeChanges for the 1974 LeMans included new split grilles with horizontal bars on base LeMans and LeMans Sport models, while Luxury LeMans models got chromed vertical bar split grilles. Model offerings in each series were the same as 1973, except for the addition of a new Luxury LeMans Safari wagon and the deletion of the GTO series from the intermediate line to the compact Pontiac Ventura series. Out back were new federally-mandated 5 MPH bumpers to match the similarly mandated front bumpers of the previous year and less curvaceous rear end treatment with vertical taillights and license plate/fuel filler moved above the bumper. Base LeMans coupes retained the fixed full triangular rear side windows while Luxury LeMans coupes got a smaller vertical opera window similar to the Grand Prix along with an optional Landau rear quarter vinyl roof. LeMans Sport Coupes were now available with two rear side window treatments - the louvered triangular version carried over or the opera window with Landau vinyl roof from the Luxury LeMans. All engines were carried over from 1973 including the 250 inline six, and V8s including the 350 two-barrel, 400 two- and four-barrel and 455 four-barrel. New to the option list for 1974 was a 350 four-barrel. The same assortment of three- and four-speed manual transmissions were carried over for 1974 along with the three-speed Turbo Hydra-matic. New to the option list for 1974 on all models were GM-specification radial-ply tires manufactured by GM's usual tire suppliers that included revised suspension tuning.

The 1975 LeMans received mostly trim changes including new crosshatch grilles on base and Sport models, and a distinctive vertical bar grille with more chrome on the Grand LeMans (renamed from Luxury LeMans) series cars and only revised nameplates and taillight lenses in the rear. Interiors were revised on top Grand LeMans cars to include the distinctive wrap-around dashboard from the Grand Prix and Grand Am models with simulated African Crossfire Mahogany trim, a notchback bench seat with armrest in sedans and wagons or a no-cost choice of the notchback bench or Strato bucket seats in coupes. Base LeMans and Sport Coupe models carried over trim only slightly revised from 1974 including a revised Custom Cushioned steering wheel. Big news for 1975, however, was Pontiac's Maximum Mileage System which consisted of GM's new catalytic converter which reduced emissions while improving drivability and fuel economy, a High Energy electronic ignition, and lengthened routine maintenance intervals. Radial tires were standard on all models and a "Radial Tuned Suspension" option was available that included upgraded radial tires along with front and rear sway bars. Engines were revised for 1975 to meet that year's emission requirements and mated to the catalytic converter, which spelled the end of true dual exhausts. The 250 cubic-inch Chevy inline six was standard on base LeMans coupes and sedans while the 350 two-barrel V8 was optional and standard on the LeMans Sport Coupe, and Grand LeMans sedans and coupes, and optional engines on all of those models including a 350 four-barrel and a 400 two-barrel. LeMans and Grand LeMans Safari wagons came standard with a 400 four-barrel engine that was optional on other models. The 455 V8 was discontinued for all LeMans models for 1975, but still available in the Grand Am. Transmission offerings included a three-speed manual standard with the six-cylinder and 350 two-barrel V8, with the three-speed Turbo Hydra-matic optional with those engines, a "mandatory" option with all other engines in sedans and coupes, and standard on the Safari wagons. The Hurst-shifted four-speed manual was no longer offered.

For 1976, the LeMans and Grand LeMans were the only Pontiac intermediate offerings with the discontinuation of the Grand Am series. All models received new rectangular headlights with distinct grilles unique to the base and LeMans Sport and another one for the Grand LeMans. The Chevy-built 250 six was now standard on all LeMans and Grand LeMans sedans and coupes along with the LeMans Sport Coupe with V8 options including a new "Oldsmobile-built" 260 V8 and Pontiac V8s of 350 and 400 cubic inches with two- or four-barrel carburetion (400 four-barrel still standard on all Safari wagons), along with the return of the 455 four-barrel V8 after a one-year absence. The three-speed manual transmission was standard with the Chevy six with Turbo Hydra-matic optional, the latter now the only transmission offered with all V8s except the small 260 which could be ordered with a five-speed manual in the LeMans Sport Coupe. Also new for 1976 was an "Enforcer" police package on LeMans sedans with either the 400 or 455 V8s that included Turbo Hydra-matic transmission, variable ratio power steering, heavy duty power front disc brakes and suspension tuning. The following year, 1977, an Enforcer police pursuit LeMans sedan was one of the featured cars in the motion picture Smokey and the Bandit.

The year 1977 was the finale for the LeMans and Grand LeMans built off the 1973-vintage Colonnade body. Appearance changes were limited to revised grilles and taillight lenses. Engine offerings were revised with Buick's 231 cubic-inch V6 replacing the Chevy inline six as the base powerplant in sedans and coupes. The base V8 (standard on Safari wagons and optional on other models) was Pontiac's new 301 cubic-inch engine based on the same V8 engine block as other Pontiac V8s but utilized many lightweight components. Optional V8s were pared down to Pontiac-built 350 and 400 four-barrel powerplants. The three-speed manual was the standard transmission on V6 models, while the Turbo Hydra-matic was optional and the only transmission available with the V8 engines. Those drivetrain offerings were available in 49 states. In California, Pontiac V8s were not offered for 1977 due to the inability to meet that state's more stringent regulations. In the Golden State, the Buick V6 was standard on most models but the V8 engines offered there were Oldsmobile's 350 and 403 four-barrel engines. Turbo Hydra-matic was the only transmission offered in California. A sporty-performance model based on the LeMans Sport Coupe called the Pontiac Can Am was a one-year only offering for 1977. The Can Am came standard with the 400 four-barrel V8 in 49 states or the Olds 403 four-barrel in California, along with Turbo Hydra-matic transmission, a Grand Prix instrument panel and console, along with Strato bucket seats, and rear spoiler. For the final year of the Colonnade LeMans models, they were joined by newly downsized B-body Catalina and Bonneville full-sized cars, which weighed a few pounds less than the "intermediates" and rode on the same 116-inch wheelbase length as the LeMans sedans and Safari wagons and also had similar dimensions as far as length and width were concerned. The downsized big cars of 1977 would be followed up with downsized intermediates for 1978 including the LeMans and Grand LeMans and the personal-luxury Grand Prix coupe.


In 1978, the LeMans and other GM mid-sized cars were considerably downsized and lost some 600-800 lb in the process, as part of GM's corporate downsizing program following the aftermath of the Arab Oil Embargo induced energy crisis of 1973 - 1974. Pontiac's engines were also downsized, with the standard engine being the Buick 3.8L 231ci V6, Pontiac 265ci V8, or optional Pontiac 4.9L 301ci V8 for 1978, (a Chevy 305ci V8 in California). 1978 also saw Pontiac's 350ci & 400ci engine production shut down after many years of service as its hallmark V8's. A limited production run of 400ci engines was made, but were only available in 1978 and 1979 Trans Ams equipped with the 4 speed manual transmission. From 1978 to 1980, Pontiac's mid-sized lineup included the base LeMans, Grand LeMans, and a revived Grand Am; all available as a Coupe, Sedan, or Wagon. Although the new Grand Am was better suited in size and concept than the original '73 - '75 Grand Am as a European-styled touring coupe/sedan, it was not a tremendous seller. In 1980, the Grand Am was only offered as a coupe. With lacking sales, the "Grand Am" nameplate was again discontinued until 1985, when it was reborn as Pontiac's new compact car, a form the Grand Am would take for the next two decades, until being replaced by the Pontiac G6 in 2005. The final year for the mid-sized LeMans was 1981, the station wagon dropped and only the base and Grand LeMans models offered initially and joined at mid-year by a new LJ trim level positioned between the base and Grand models. The car was given a new slanted nose which made the 2 door coupe popular in NASCAR, especially as a superspeedway race car in 1981, which was the first year these cars were used in the series. The car had such an aerodynamic advantage over all other manufacturer's body styles that NASCAR stepped in and reduced the allowable rear spoiler area to a point that made the car dangerous to run on the big tracks. This resulted to most (though not all) of the teams moving to other makes, mostly Buick Regals. A LeMans driven by Cale Yarborough did win the 1983 Daytona 500 however, and also in the summer of 1983 Tim Richmond won in a LeMans at the Pocono 500. However, as this body style had been out of production after the 1981 model year, Pontiac could not use these victories in its advertising campaigns. Engine offerings by this time included Buick's 231 CID V6, Pontiac's 4.3 L 265 CID V8, Pontiac's 301 CID V8, Chevrolet's 305 CID V8 (for California only) and Oldsmobile's 350 CID diesel V8.

For the 1982 model year, GM undertook more cost cutting at Pontiac. It dropped its LeMans nameplate and rebadged the car platform as the Bonneville, a nameplate which had previously denoted the division's full-sized luxury cars for many years. The new Bonneville was reduced to one trim line available in a 4-door Sedan and the Safari Wagon. Due to GM cost-cutting measures, Pontiac's remaining V8's, the 265 and 301 were both discontinued late in 1981, with all engine development to focus on the Pontiac Iron Duke four-cylinder engines for GM's smaller cars. That engine was essentially half of a Pontiac V8. The New engine lineup now consisted of the Buick 3.8L V6, Chevrolet 305 V8, and Oldsmobile 350 diesel. For 1983, the Bonneville Safari Wagon was dropped, while the mundane Bonneville 4 door sedan lingered thru the 1986 model year. Beginning in 1987, the Bonneville nameplate was moved to a slightly larger front-wheel-drive sedan that shared its basic platform with the Buick LeSabre and Oldsmobile Delta 88.


The Pontiac LeMans was the subcompact car Daewoo LeMans manufactured by Daewoo Motors in South Korea between 1986 and 1994, although LeMans sales ended in 1993. It was only available as a two-door coupe and as a four-door sedan. The LeMans took its underpinnings from a European Opel design. In the case of the LeMans, the GM T platform-based Opel Kadett E was the donor vehicle—badge engineered in the form of the LeMans, and later the facelifted Daewoo Cielo. In markets outside of South Korea, the car bore the Asüna GT, Asüna SE, Daewoo 1.5i, Daewoo Fantasy, Daewoo Pointer, Daewoo Racer, and Passport Optima names. The model was also sold in New Zealand by General Motors subsidiary, Holden.


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