Last weekend marked the 86th running of the biggest sports car race in the world. The 24 Hours of Le Mans. And while you can't buy one of the prototype racers that finished on the podium, you can buy a classic that wears the same name. Like our autoTRADER.ca Find of the Week, a 1971 Pontiac LeMans convertible.
Pontiac first started using the LeMans badge as a trim level on the Tempest, back in 1961. Why it got that name, though, has never quite been clear. It was a sportier trim offering way back then, which could be related to the race. But the Tempest wasn't exactly a sports car. And 1961 wasn't long after the 1955 running that ended in disaster and pushed Switzerland to ban auto racing completely. A ban that continues today.
But that's the name they chose. And it stuck. Pontiac wavered between making the car its own model, or keeping it as a trim level, but by the third generation of Tempest the LeMans name was growing more popular than the car it was based on. That's why, in 1971, Pontiac dropped the Tempest badge and made the LeMans their lead nameplate in the intermediate size segment.
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The 1971 model was the fourth year of the third generation car. It was based on the GM A-Body platform, which meant that it shared a chassis, and a fair bit of styling, with the Chevrolet Chevelle, Buick Skylark, and Oldsmobile Cutlass.
The LeMans came in a staggering array of body styles. Four-door hardtop, four-door sedan, hardtop coupe, regular coupe, convertible, and even station wagon. The LeMans Sport, like our Find of the Week, came in hardtop coupe, hardtop four-door, and convertible.
The Sport trim meant available Strato-bucket seats, more carpeting, genuine chestnut vinyl trim, and a padded dash panel. Even in the 1970s, Sport meant more stuff, not necessarily anything that actually made the car quicker.
The LeMans Sport was offered with five different engines and six transmissions. This one comes with a 5.8L Pontiac V8, that was badged as a 350, despite actually having 354 cubic inches. It's fitted with a two-barrel carb. That means 265 hp and lots of old-school V8 torque. Sending that power to the rear wheels is a three-speed automatic transmission. This is a car set up for cruising, not for blasting down the drag strip. If you wanted that, Pontiac offered the GTO, based on the same body but with a different nose and more power.
This convertible, for sale in Walkerton, ON, is a great-looking, if very 1970s combination of castillan bronze paint with a matching interior. The top and accents stripes in beige break it up nicely. It's not bright orange or red, but there's something to be said for these understated colours.
This car has the good options, like power windows, but more importantly power steering and brakes. There's no AC, but that's what the opening roof is for. The seller says that it has a little under 50,000 km, and the car definitely looks clean. It also comes with the Protect-o-Plate information plate that details the options of the car and is desired by collectors to check the originality of the car.
The LeMans nameplate would live on with Pontiac, although the cars that wore it went downhill on the cool scale from this one. What was a classic (if underappreciated) muscle car in this generation grew bloated in 1973. Finally, it ended with a rebadging of a subcompact Daewoo sold until 1993. That car, in its most powerful form, made just 92 hp.
If you're looking to win this summer, it's too late to head to France and the Circuit de la Sarthe. But you can still spend 24 hours in this LeMans, and cruise it down your own Mulsanne straight.