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1200hp Pontiac Tempest LeMans

by Tommy Lee Byrd

(Excerpt from Street sleepers : the art of the deceptively fast car published in 2011)


When you have 1,200 hp at the mercy of your right foot, it’s not difficult to obliterate a pair of rear tires in an afternoon of spirited driving. This car has run a best elapsed time of 8.92 at 162 mph through the quarter-mile. Rob also competes in standing mile top-speed events, where the car has trapped more than 215 mph! (Photo courtesy Rich Chenet)

A car can sometimes give away its big secret by toting around a big set of rear tires, and it’s rare that anyone can get away with it, even at the drag strip. It’s common to assume that big sticky tires equate to quick times, but you’ve more than likely seen some unbelievably slow cars rolling on slicks, so that logic doesn’t exactly make sense. For this 1963 Pontiac LeMans, the big rear tires are the only giveaway, but when you figure out how much power it puts down, you won’t blame the owner, Rob Freyvogel. His car is an ideal sleeper, and the extremely quick times and big horsepower more than make up for the slightly revealing slicks.

Rob bought the car for $900 a few years ago and built it into one of the best sleepers on the planet, with the help of Tom Napierkowski. The duo tackled every detail with intentions of making this a very sneaky car, and never really planned to participate in organized racing with it. When it was first built, the car didn’t have a roll cage or any safety equipment, and that’s when it was its sleepiest—it currently has a few more safety details, but the photos you see here are from 2007 to show off the car’s true potential as a sleeper.

The car is rough and ragged on the outside, bearing its original paint, which has certainly seen better days. It’s not perfectly manicured, or precise on the outside, but everything changes when you look beneath it or check out the engine bay. 

Originally, these Pontiac Tempests had a transaxle rear end that severely limited their potential as a performance car. Most folks, including Rob, ditch the original setup for a solid rear—a 1957 Olds for this particular car. The big rear end is narrowed 3/4-inch on each side and features a pair of 35-spline axles, but still utilizes the original 3.08:1 gear set. It’s strong enough to hold up to the big-block’s torque, and the rear suspension works flawlessly on prepped surfaces, as well as unprepped pavement. It’s a custom ladder bar design, with 175-pound-per-inch springs and double adjustable race shocks. The only modification to the front suspension is a pair of QA1 shocks.


Supporting all this horsepower is a mighty Oldsmobile rear end packed with 3.08:1 gears and 35-spline axles. Ladder bars and coil springs help put the power to the ground, while shaving 3/4-inch from each side of the housing allowed for the 28x11.50-15 street slicks. See anything unusual in this photograph? (Photo courtesy Rich Chenet) 

Rob says he drives the car on the street at least 1,500 miles a year, and attends the Flashlight Drags as often as he can. The Flashlight Drags events are held at various airstrips in Rob’s home state of Pennsylvania, and offer the street-racing feel with an unprepped racing surface, and limited rules. Before Rob installed the chrome-moly roll cage, the Flashlight Drags was the only racing he could participate in, because he’d quickly be run off from local drag strips with the car’s lack of safety equipment. Now that he’s upgraded the car to pass tech, he’s gotten into a new hobby, which is land speed racing. He enjoys running the Maxton Mile events, held in Maxton, North Carolina, where the car has run more than 200 mph in the standing-mile competition—215 mph to be exact! That’s an astonishing feat for any car, especially a brick, like Rob’s Pontiac. He did fabricate an air dam for the front to help matters, but it definitely surprised the regulars at the Maxton Mile.

Power comes from a 496-ci big-block Chevy, which started life as a basic 454. The big-block features an Ohio billet crankshaft, Oliver 6.385-inch connecting rods, and a set of custom Mahle forged pistons, so it’s safe to assume the bottom end is plenty strong. Atop the short block is a set of Brodix Big Brodie cylinder heads, ported by Rob and installed over a set of Fel-Pro MLS head gaskets to create a compression ratio of 8.6:1. Massive Ferrea valves are put into motion by a Bullet camshaft, which is designed specifically for lots of boost. The intake manifold is a Holley Strip Dominator, which has been modified to accept the modern fuel injectors (Bosch 160-pound), and to match the ports on the Brodix cylinder heads.


Under the hood, you see an engine coated in Pontiac Blue paint, and fit with an original-style air cleaner for a 326-ci Pontiac engine. What you may not notice is the big-block Chevy that hides under the Pontiac hue, and the small pipe that connects the air cleaner to the firewall. (Photo courtesy Rich Chenet) 

While the big-block would make plenty of power on its own, Rob relies on a pair of Holset HT3B turbochargers to make insane horsepower and give this Pontiac the edge on any unsuspecting competitor. The fact that Rob and Tom went to the effort to hide the turbochargers makes the car even more cool, and it certainly adds to the sleepy factor. The custom headers lead to the turbo piping, which is eventually routed back toward the engine after passing through an air-to-water intercooler. Again, they could’ve run the piping anywhere in the engine bay, but chose to route it directly out of the center of the firewall, into a stock Pontiac breather. At a glance, the piping is not visible, and the blue-painted engine tricks the eye into thinking this big-block is really an old Pontiac mill.

 Fuel delivery is controlled by an Aeromotive A1000 pump, which draws racing fuel from a 20-gallon aluminum cell. Ignition is controlled by an MSD 7AL box that sends fire to the MSD low-profile Pro-Billet distributor. 

Mike Doban of OST Dyno tuned the car on the dyno, using the F.A.S.T. XFI system, and it put down 1,247 hp at the rear wheels. That’s more than 1,500 at the flywheel, and it looks bone stock!

Obviously, Rob had to put a serious transmission behind the big-block, but he didn’t go for the obvious Powerglide. He installed a TMC-built TH400 transmission, which is a 3-speed automatic. The bulletproof transmission has lots of billet goodies inside, and a TMC electric valve body, which also features a trans brake. The torque converter is a Neal Chance 10-inch unit, which stalls to 3,800 at the line—plenty of RPM for the turbochargers to begin spooling up. Traction comes from street-legal tires, and Rob has switched back and forth between a pair of 325/50R15 Mickey Thompson Drag Radials and a pair of 28x11.50-15 Hoosier Quick Time Pro DOT cheater slicks. These are mounted to a pair of 15x10-inch steel wheels from Stockton Wheel. Stock poverty caps top off the beater look.

The end result of Rob’s work is a killer Pontiac that surprises everyone in its path. Whether it’s at the drag strip or on an abandoned airstrip making a top speed run, this Pontiac seemingly does the impossible—go fast! It looks like a beater, but has proven to be quite the performer despite its poor aerodynamics. Rob has run a best of 5.85 at 130 mph in the eighth-mile, and a best of 8.92 at 162 mph in the quarter—and don’t forget about a top speed of 215 mph. Rob has proven the potency of his Pontiac numerous times, and with quick elapsed times and mind-blowing top speeds, no one can deny this car’s ultimate sleeper status. 

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