The LeMans was introduced as the top-of-the-line version of the compact-sized Pontiac Tempest toward the end of the 1961 model year on GM's new Y body platform. The Tempest LeMans was a trim package featuring sportier and more luxurious trim than the Tempest, including different badging and bucket seats. The trim option was available only on the two-door sedan (pillared coupe) body style.
For the 1962 model year, the LeMans was still a trim package, but now also available in the convertible body style, as well as with the I4 4-bbl carbureted engine. There was also no pillarless hardtop body style available in either the Tempest and LeMans versions.
For 1963, the LeMans name was still used only on two-door coupes and convertibles, but now was designated as a separate model in the Pontiac compact car lineup. This would last for just one year. Optional was a high-performance "326 CID V8" engine (actually displacing 336 cu in (5.5 L) during the 1963 model year).
The Tempest line was changed to an intermediate-sized car on the new GM A platform in 1964, and the LeMans returned to its role of Tempest trim upgrade. The LeMans trim over lesser Tempests included carpeted lower door panels, deluxe steering wheels, courtesy lighting, and full wheel covers. For 1964, a two-door hardtop body design was added. A new 215 cu in (3.5 L) I6 was introduced, as well as a redesigned 326 cu in (5.3 L) V8 that now actually displaced 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 included a 389 cu in (6.4 L) V8 from the full-sized Pontiac line that produced 325 or 348 in Tri-Power version.
The LeMans line was expanded to include a four-door sedan for the 1965 model year.
Horsepower ratings were increased to 335HP 4bbl and 360 Hp Tri power hp, a four-speed floor shift Muncie manual transmission with Hurst shifter, heavy-duty suspension, red-line Tiger Paw tires, and GTO nameplates. With the Introduction of the Tempest in 1961, Pontiac achieved the number three in sales and something it would hold onto through the decade of the sixties. The success and the image of the GTO also helped increase the image and sales of all the Pontiac line.
The pillared 4-door sedan was replaced by a four-door hardtop body style for the 1966 model year.
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 new 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 cu in (3.8 L) I6 as the base engine. This engine, as well as the early Tempest with the transaxle in the rear, were ideas of Pontiac's Chief Engineer John De Lorean (who became Pontiac's general manager at the end of the 1965 model year. This engine was available in an economical one-barrel carbureted, 165 hp version as 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 four-barrel version of the I6 that also included higher compression ratio and hotter cam, resulting in 207 horsepower, along with an "all-syncro" floor-mounted three-speed transmission with Hurst shifter, suspension kit, and body striping. Optional were a two-barrel 326 CID V8 rated at 250 hp or a 285 hp four-barrel 326 HO V8 with higher compression ratio and dual exhausts.
The Sprint-optioned Tempest and LeMans models were not popular during the mid-to-late 1960s as they were outsold by the bigger-engined GTO. The Sprint option and SOHC six-cylinder engine were discontinued after 1969, and replaced with a Chevrolet-built 250 CID OHV six-cylinder engine, becoming the base engine from 1970 to 1976 in most Pontiac intermediates.
The four-door Safari station wagon became available for the 1968 model year in the Tempest line. A new engine replaced the 326. This new engine was based on all existing Pontiac engine architecture and using the 326, 389, and 400 engines crank at 3.75" and expanding the 326's 3.72" bore to 3.88" to give 354.74 cubic inches. It was marketed by Pontiac as a 350, just like the original 326 was called rather that its true size of 336. For 1968 the 350 could be had in two versions at 265 hp 2bbl and 325 hp 4bbl.
In 1969 the engine came as 265 hp 2bbl and 330 hp 4bbl. The ten horsepower increase over 1968's engine is due to a different cam plus the use of the # 48 big valve heads, the same head used on the Ram air 3 400" 366 hp (273 kW) engine and the 428-HO engine at 390 hp. 1969 would be the last high performance version of the 350. It should be noted that the Sprint OHC six had gone from its original size of 230 inches to 250 cubic inches, and the horsepower had increased from the original 207 hp (154 kW) to 230 hp (172 kW) in its final version in 1969.
For 1970, Pontiac reshuffled its intermediate lineup with the Le Mans 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 Le Mans series was renamed the Le Mans 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/Le Mans models including a 400 CID V8 rated at 265 hp (198 kW) with a two-barrel carburetor or a 330 hp (246 kW) option with a four-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts. At mid-year the bottom Tempest line, which initially included only two- and four-door sedans, added the T-37 hardtop coupe which was initially described as "General Motors' lowest-priced hardtop (undercut by a base Chevrolet Chevelle hardtop coupe introduced a few weeks later). Less expensive than the GTO, the T-37 hardtop coupe offered a GT-37 appearance package that included striping, three-speed floor shift transmission, tuned suspension and other trim. The GT-37 was available with any Tempest/Le Mans 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/Le Mans models for 1970 was Chevrolet's 250 cubic-inch straight-six engine, while the 350 two-barrel was again the base V8 and the four-barrel 350 HO was discontinued.
In 1971, the Tempest nameplate was retired and Pontiac promoted the Le Mans 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 were detuned with lower compression ratios to run on lower-octane regular leaded, low-lead or unleaded gasoline. Brakes were 9.5" drums.
For 1972, all Pontiac intermediates were now Le Mans models and the low-priced T-37 line was replaced by a base Le Mans pillared coupe. The top-line intermediate was the Luxury Le Mans, available in hardtop sedan and coupe models, featuring upgraded interiors compared to regular Le Mans models. The Le Mans Sport was available as a two-door hardtop or convertible with Strato bucket seats and interiors from the Luxury Le Mans. The GTO was changed from a separate series back to an option package on Le Mans and Le Mans Sport coupes. Replacing the previous GT-37 option package for 1972 was the new "Le Mans GT" option, available on Le Mans 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 and handling items carried over from the GT-37.
From 1973 to 1977, the Le Mans 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 Le Mans, Le Mans Sport Coupe, GTO (1973 only), Luxury Le Mans (became the Grand Le Mans 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 design for both sedans and coupes (no convertibles or hardtops 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 Le Mans and GTO sport coupes, and the new Grand Am coupe.
The 1973 Le Mans, 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 Le Mans sedans and coupes was Chevrolet's 250-cubic-inch inline six-cylinder engine, while the Le Mans Sport Coupe, Luxury Le Mans 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 Le Mans models). Optionally available on Le Mans, Le Mans Sport and Luxury Le Mans 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 Le Mans and Luxury Le Mans 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.
Changes for the 1974 Le Mans included new split grilles with horizontal bars on base Le Mans and Le Mans Sport models, while Luxury Le Mans 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 Le Mans 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 Le Mans coupes retained the fixed full triangular rear side windows while Luxury Le Mans coupes got a smaller vertical opera window similar to the Grand Prix along with an optional Landau rear quarter vinyl roof. Le Mans 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 Le Mans.
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 Le Mans 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 Le Mans (renamed from Luxury Le Mans) series cars and only revised nameplates and taillight lenses in the rear. Interiors were revised on top Grand Le Mans 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 Le Mans and Sport Coupe models carried over trim only slightly revised from 1974 including a revised Custom Cushioned steering wheel.
Pontiac's Maximum Mileage System consisted of GM's new catalytic converter that 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 Le Mans coupes and sedans while the 350 two-barrel V8 was optional and standard on the Le Mans Sport Coupe, and Grand Le Mans sedans and coupes, and optional engines on all of those models including a 350 four-barrel and a 400 two-barrel. Le Mans and Grand Le Mans 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 Le Mans and Grand Le Mans 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 Le Mans Sport and another one for the Grand Le Mans. The Chevy-built 250 straight-six was now standard on all Le Mans and Grand Le Mans sedans and coupes along with the Le Mans 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 Le Mans Sport Coupe.
Also new for 1976 was an "Enforcer" police package on Le Mans 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 1977 model year was the last for the Le Mans and Grand Le Mans 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 power plant 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 Le Mans 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. It was partially intended as a replacement for the Grand Am, whose departure had caused A-body sales to drop significantly, combined with the fact that the Pontiac models had always been the weakest sellers of the line with a high percentage of low-profit fleet sales.
For the final year of the Colonnade Le Mans 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 Le Mans sedans and Safari wagons and also had similar dimensions as far as length and width were concerned. The intermediates would have to wait one more year for downsizing, and although the new B-bodies made them redundant, it was still considered necessary to sell both as a hedge in case the B-body cars proved to be troublesome. In addition, many customers still preferred the tried-and-true Colonnade intermediates to the B-bodies and they continued to sell well for their final year, mostly thanks to the coupe models.
In 1978, the Le Mans 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 3.8 L 231 ci V6, Pontiac 265 ci V8, or optional Pontiac 4.9 L 301 ci V8 for 1978, (a Chevy 305 ci V8 in California). 1978 also saw Pontiac's 350 ci & 400 ci 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 four-speed manual transmission. Chevrolet's 350 V8 was available in 1979 LeMans Safaris (station wagon) only.
From 1978 to 1980, Pontiac's mid-sized lineup included the base Le Mans, Grand Le Mans, 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 1973–1975 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 Le Mans was 1981 with only base and Grand Le Mans models offered initially. They were joined mid-year by a new LJ trim level positioned between the base and Grand models. The car was given a new Firebird-eaque 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. A Le Mans driven by Cale Yarborough won the 1983 Daytona 500, and one driven by Tim Richmond at the 1983 Pocono 500. Engine offerings by this time included Buick's 231 CID V6, Pontiac's 4.3 L 265 CID V8, Pontiac's 301 CID V8, and Chevrolet's 305 CID V8 (for California only).
Because the larger Pontiacs were not selling well, GM decided to discontinue the full-sized Catalina and Bonneville for 1982. The Bonneville name was then simply swapped onto the smaller G-body models because GM reasoned that it carried a higher level of name recognition with customers than LeMans. This "new" Bonneville amounted to little more than the existing LeMans with revised front and rear fascia designed to mimic the departed Pontiac B-body. In Canada, this model continued to use the Grand LeMans name through 1983, after which it was badged as a Bonneville. Coupes were dropped while the sedan and Safari wagon continued. 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 301 V8. The New engine lineup now consisted of the Buick 3.8 L V6, Chevrolet 305 V8, and Oldsmobile 350 diesel V8. For 1984, the Bonneville Safari Wagon was dropped, while the Bonneville four-door sedan continued through 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 Le Mans nameplate was revived in 1988 as a rebadged Daewoo LeMans; a subcompact car sold in the North American and New Zealand markets until 1993 as a captive import. In North America, three-door hatchback and a four-door sedan body styles were offered. It replaced the Pontiac 1000.
The Pontiac/Daewoo Lemans was a rebadged variant of the Opel Kadett; Opel Kadett Combo (European markets); Vauxhall Astra Mark 2, Vauxhall Belmont, Bedford Astravan, Bedford Astramax (Britain); Chevrolet Kadett (in Brazil); and the UzDaewooAuto Nexia (in Uzbekistan).