Main photo: The No. 50 Pontiac Tempest driven by Paul Goldsmith sits on pole as the field takes its warm-up lap on the Daytona Speedway oval. Billy Krause is outside in the Mickey Thompson Corvette Sting Ray.
Back in 1963, a specially built Pontiac Tempest driven by Paul Goldsmith set the racing establishment on its collective ear, when it bested all comers at Daytona’s 100-lap, 250-mile American Challenge Cup, a race dreamed up by NASCAR’s Bill France, scheduled two weeks before the Daytona 500. The purse was $20,000.
This special Tempest Coupe was one of six lightweight versions built for drag racing when Pontiac was pursuing that direction in motorsport, but it was sent instead to Ray Nichels Engineering in Merrillville, Illinois, specifically to be modified to run at Daytona.
The Nichels group added a roll cage, beefed up the suspension, and dropped in a 421 cubic inch, 405hp Pontiac Super Duty V8 with dual quads, and it featured a Powershift transaxle, a 4-speed, semi-automatic design.
With Goldsmith at the wheel for the Challenge Cup, it faced off against two lightweight E-Type Jaguars, five Ferraris, two 1962 big-brake Corvettes, and nine Z06 1963 Sting Rays. One of those Ferraris was a GTO, driven by stock car great Glenn “Fireball” Roberts, more than familiar with driving on Daytona’s big, banked, D-shaped oval.
The weather that day was miserable, and running in the rain, Goldsmith not only put the No. 50 Pontiac on the pole but also ran away and hid from the pack. The Tempest was then entered in the Daytona Continental road race the following week but dropped out with transmission troubles and was a DNF. That was the extent of its racing history.
What happened to the Tempest after that is somewhat of a mystery, because just before the Daytona 500 that year, General Motors issued an edict that it would continue to adhere to the 1957 Automotive Manufacturers Association (AMA) ban on racing and competition, rendering cars like the Tempest stillborns.
The story goes that Mercedes purchased the Tempest for what was called competitive reconnaissance, probably curious about the unique double transmission transaxle arrangement, and it disappeared and hasn’t been seen ever since.
Michigan motorsport enthusiast Roger Rosebush asked his friend Jim Luikens about what one of his favorite cars was, and he brought up the Pontiac Tempest that raced at Daytona. Rosebush was looking for a new project and gave lots of thought to the Tempest. He decided to re-create that famous No. 50 race car, undertaking the project with his friend that proved extremely effortful. That meant extensive research, obtaining many photos from different sources, showing sections of the car inside and out. He wanted to make the car as true to the original as possible.
Starting off, Rosebush discovered a salvage yard in Muncie, Indiana, that had 10 Tempests collecting rust and he thought they should be able to put together a Tempest Coupe from all the different donor cars. Even that proved challenging, since parts from Tempest sedans, coupes and convertibles are not all interchangeable.
“That was about half of what we needed, so we chased around the country looking for everything else, easier to buy a car off a farmer’s field rather than creating a whole new thing from scratch. Simple items like seat frames and correct nuts and bolts can be tough to find. Then we recycled the remains of the donor cars to others who needed the parts.”
Rosebush began the project in his own shop, then sent it to a paint shop in Ashley, Michigan, and there they began working on the body pieces until they got all the sheet metal in order. For prep work on chassis components, back to Rosebush headquarters it went, then on to Steve Leavitt’s chassis shop in Mooresville, North Carolina. That’s where the roll cage was fabricated, and the chassis welding was completed on what was originally a unibody car.
Rosebush reflects, “We wanted to have a NASCAR-level roll cage. Steve welded everything together and powder-coated it and then we slipped the body back in place, so we had 360-degree welds and nice finished paint when the body went down for the final fitment.
“John Lombardi, retired from the GM Tech Center, is completing the hand-built side exhaust, brakes, plumbing, clutch pedals, wiring and all the finishing touches. And Ronnie MacLoad hand painted the No. 50 graphics on the car, old-school style.
“There’s more than 50 people who made a contribution to the car to get it to the point where it is today. No one took advantage of me and either donated what we needed or sold it to us at a reasonable price—everything from the Nov. ’62 Super Duty engine block to the radiator that was one of a very few, new old stock pieces still in the original box.”
See this beautiful and correct re-creation of a famous car long gone missing at the Eleanor and Edsel Ford House, Sunday, June 19, 2022, 1100 Lake Shore Road, Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan. Open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and tickets are $35 for adults. Call 313-936-1966 for ticket information. This year’s theme is “Designed for Speed.”
This is a benefit for Henry Ford Health System’s Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology, Eyes On Design is a major source of funding for the DIO’s research, education and support group programs for the visually impaired. The DIO is a division of the Department of Ophthalmology of the non-profit Henry Ford Health System.
More details about the event including ticket information can be found HERE.