Car of the Week: 1971 Pontiac LeMans Sport

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Story and photos by Brian Earnest

Bill Hamann wasn’t setting his sights too high. He just wanted a fun car to work on, preferably a convertible that wouldn’t destroy his checkbook and would eventually be a fun car to cruise around in on a sunny day. Getting something that was a little uncommon and didn’t show up at every show-and-shine or cruise night would be a bonus.

Running his fingers over the fender of his handsome 1971 Pontiac LeMans Sport, Hamann can smile now and know he has checked off every one of those boxes. His well-dressed Pontiac is exactly what he was hoping for — something he could fix up and be proud of, give him another reason to look forward to the weekends, and not punish his wallet too severely.

“It’s something I can afford and drive it and not worry about it,” says Hamann, a resident of Oconomowoc, Wis. “I have had other cars where you had restored them to the point where you are afraid to drive them. You’ve got too much into it and it’s a nice car, and you’re afraid to take it out. This one, I can take it out and have fun.”

If he had his druthers back in 1999, Hamann would have been buying a GTO instead of a LeMans. Had that been the case, however, he might well be having less fun today. Instead, he stumbled across the next-closest thing to a GTO, but for a much friendlier price, and it turned out to be the perfect choice. “I always had a sweet spot for Pontiacs. I grew up with Pontiacs and I’ve had some GTOs, so I was looking at something like a ’71, ’72, but since I couldn’t afford the big-buck GTOs at the time, I was just looking for a convertible to enjoy,” he said. “I found this in the paper one Sunday — I had been looking at a ’72 LeMans because I like the front end better on those than the ’71s. This was advertised as a ’72. Turns out it was a ’71, but it had the Endura front, which was a cheap option at the time, but it was nice and I liked it. As much as it needed work at the time, they came down in price a little bit and it worked out.”

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Buying the LeMans Sport meant he had to sell another car, but Hamann said he didn’t mind. He enjoys the process of bringing a car back as much as the end result, and the ’71 LeMans Sport ragtop looked like an appealing subject car. “A lady who had bought it originally drove it well into the ’80s, or even the ’90s, and then her brothers were going to restore it,” he said. “They were into more expensive cars and this one just sort of languished, and they just decided to sell it.

“I was looking at that point for another project car. I had a ’62 Impala SS convertible, and that was pretty much done. I was looking for something a little newer and back to Pontiacs, so I sold that car and it gave me the money to buy this car and fix it up. It worked out good.”

By the time the 1971 LeMans Sports arrived, the LeMans nameplate had long since established itself as a mainstay of the Pontiac lineup. The name first appeared in 1961 — for the 1962 model year — as the upscale hardtop in the midsize Y-body Tempest series. For 1963, it became its own model and could be had as either a coupe or convertible.

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By 1970, Pontiac did some rearranging of its offerings and made the LeMans Sport its top-level intermediate series with a hardtop coupe, convertible and four-door hardtop sedan available. Of course, by this time, the GTO had also established itself as a dream machine for muscle car lovers, which no doubt influenced the decision by Pontiac brass to make the more muscular 400- and 455-cid V-8s available as engine choices in the LeMans Sport.

For 1971, the Tempest name was gone altogether, leaving all the intermediate models as part of the LeMans family. The following year, the GTO was also considered an option package on the LeMans and no longer its own model.

The 1971 LeMans Sports came standard with either a 250-cid, 145-hp six-cylinder, or a 350-cid, 250-hp V-8. The six-cylinder versions carried a base price of $3,125 for the hardtop coupe, $3,255 for the four-door hardtop and $3,359 for the wagon. The base V-8 added $121 to those totals. Buyers who wanted the two-barrel 400-cid V-8 had to kick in an extra $174, or $221 for the four-barrel. For buyers who wanted to thumb their noses at rising insurance costs and the impending gas crunch, another $358 could get you the 335-hp 455 H.O. engine.

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The hardtop coupe body style was by far the most popular body among LeMans Sport buyers, with 34,625 examples built for the model year. Only 2,451 of the four-door hardtops and 3,865 of the convertibles left Pontiac assembly lines. Standard equipment included dual horns, pedal trim plates, carpeted lower door panels, custom cushion steering wheel, a choice of knit vinyl bucket seats on coupes and convertibles, courtesy lamps on convertibles, and wheel well moldings.

One popular option, which came on Hamann’s car, was the Endura styling package that included the GTO-style Endura bumper, GTO hood and GTO headlamps. His car is also equipped with the 350-cid two-barrel V-8, power steering and brakes and premium hubcaps — which have since been swapped for Rally IIs. The eight-track player in Hamann’s LeMans Sport was put in by the first buyer and is still in the car. “The lady probably bought the eight-track right after she got the car,” Hamann said. “She actually had an AM/FM with cassette, and she put that in the glove box, for appearance sake, probably.”

The car had 99,000 miles on it when Hamann bought it. “They were trying to sell it figuring once it hit 100,000 the price would go down,” he laughs. “But it wasn’t worth a whole lot at the time. Rust had started getting into the rear quarters. The rear bumper was rusted out. The top had holes in it. The seats were ripped up. It was actually sitting outside, so the carpet was wet. It barely ran. I took it out for a test drive and it ran, but it had a bad stutter to it. Basically, it was in bad need of a tune-up. But the frame was solid enough … It had been Ziebarted when it as new, so it was in relatively good condition. I still had to replace the rear quarters and patch panel the doors down at the bottom, but the front fenders were decent and the frame was decent enough that you didn’t have to worry about it holding up.”

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Hamann wound up finding seat covers from Original Parts Group (OPG) in California, and he also tracked down some reproduction quarter panels and rear bumper. “I got a new top with the glass window. A guy in Oconomowoc did that for me,” he said. He turned over the paint work to “a guy who would basically do it on the side. He had the car for four or five months.”

The car was repainted its original dark brown Castillian Bronze, only this time using a base coat-clear coat approach instead of the original lacquer finish, and the results are stunning. “We tried to find the part of the car where the paint was most original and match that,” Hamann said. “We took off the mirror and had a body shop try to match the bottom side of the mirror, and it’s maybe just a touch lighter than the original color. I got a little of the original paint showing in the engine compartment. It’s an unusual color and it’s real close, and the white top sets it off and makes a nice combination with the Rally II wheels. I get a lot of compliments on the color. The body work isn’t museum quality, but that’s not what I paid for. His claim to fame is the paint, and he did an excellent job on the paint. Every time you buff it out, it comes out smoother and shinier. He really did a nice job.”

Hamann has added a few touches of his own to help the performance of his LeMans Sport. He added period-style dual exhausts, which were an option but did not come originally on his car, and mounted an Edelbrock 600 cfm carburetor. “It’s a nice carb for the 350 engine,” he said. “And I wound up putting a little better cam in it.”

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Perhaps the biggest change he made was swapping in a 3.23 Positraction rear end in place of the 2.56 “highway gears” that were originally in the Pontiac. “I talked to other Pontiac people, and they all said in ’71, that 350 with the extreme highway gears was, well, a dog I guess you would call it. Even with massaging the 350 a little with the cam, it didn’t want to get up and go.

“Now it pulls real strong. With that 3.23 Posi rear end, it will get up and go for a heavy convertible… It’s got everything the GTO has except the road-thumping engine. It’s got the 350 instead of the 400, but otherwise it’s the same car.”

With fewer than only 3,865 ’71 LeMans Sport convertibles built, and with many no doubt driven hard, examples as nice as Hamann’s are certainly few and far between. He doesn’t cross paths with many others, which only adds to its appeal.

The odometer now shows 112,000 miles and change, and that figure will likely grow now that Hamann says he’s finally done fixing and tinkering with his Pontiac. Now his main goal is just to drive the car as often as he can.

“I drive it whenever it’s nice, and it tends to make a lot of ice cream runs,” he laughs. “I make excuses to take it out and do something fun with it.”

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