Bill Collins Helps Recreate the #50 Pontiac Tempest
Published on: December 22, 2022
Bill Collins with Jim Luikens and Roger Rosebush

Ray Nichels’ 1963 American Challenge Cup-winning #50 Pontiac Tempest Super Duty 

One of the key sources of information for Rosebush Racing’s acclaimed recreation of the 1963 American Challenge Cup-winning #50 Pontiac Tempest 421 Super Duty was one of the men behind the design of the original Tempest, William “Bill” Collins. Collins, still going strong at age 90, gave us important insights about the Tempest’s ingenious four-speed rear transaxle.

After graduating from Lehigh University with an engineering degree, 22-year-old Collins landed a job as a project engineer for GM’s Pontiac Division in 1954. When he returned to GM in 1958 after a two-year gig in the Army, Collins was named Advanced Design Transmission Development Engineer for the 1961 Pontiac Tempest.

Important Meeting

During a 2015 meeting with RD Holdings founder Roger Rosebush and partner Jim Luikens, Collins explained how he designed and engineered the Powershift transaxle that was used on the original #50 Tempest. He showed them the original schematic pointing out important details.

They enjoyed listening to Bill’s history and learned a great deal of information about the original Tempest’s build and setup.

He told them, “I was flown into Daytona for the 1963 American Challenge Cup weekend with a crew of other mechanics. Pontiac wanted to make sure I was on site for the race in case any changes needed to be made to the car’s setup.”

“After the race,” he continued, “the whole team was proud of what they had accomplished that day.”

He went on to say how disappointed he was at the car’s equipment failure during the three-hour Daytona continental race the following day. Driver Paul Goldsmith and the #50 Tempest were forced out of the race on Lap 3 while vying for the lead.

Photo courtesy of the Bill Collins collection. Paul Goldsmith (second from left) is shown working on a plane engine at the speedway.

Powershift Transaxle

Bill developed his own creation, the Powershift transaxle, for the 1963 Tempest 421 Super Duty drag racing cars, building 13 of them himself. The stock Tempest’s two-speed automatic “Tempestorque” transaxle (similar to a Corvair Powerglide) wouldn’t be able to cope with the performance demands of the higher-powered 405-hp 421 SD engine, so his answer was the beefed-up, four-speed unit.

Ray Nichels retained the four-speed unit when he converted one of the 12 or so Super Duty drag cars for road racing. Collins’ Powershift transaxle performed flawlessly when Paul Goldsmith drove the #50 to victory at the February 16, 1963 American Challenge by two laps over a bevy of heavily favored ZO6 Corvettes and Ferrari GTOs.

Move to GTO and Delorean

After GM banned its divisions from direct involvement in racing shortly after that 1963 race weekend, Bill moved on to develop the 1964 Pontiac GTO with Pontiac Chief Engineer John DeLorean. The GTO was a runaway success and is considered the first modern muscle car.

In the mid-1970s DeLorean lured Bill away from GM and by 1976 Bill was nearly two years into the design and development of the DMC-12 sports car at the DeLorean Motor Company (DMC). To this day, Bill owns and drives a DMC-12 DeLorean.

Bill with his DMC-12 DeLorean & on the right, the Vixen 21 TD

Building the Vixen Motor Company

After DMC, Bill founded the Vixen Motor Company to produce the influential recreational vehicle of the same name. The Vixen was compact enough to fit in a typical garage, handled far better than the average RV and, thanks in part to an advanced shape developed in a wind tunnel, could deliver 30 miles per gallon. Bill worked with his wife, Nina, who designed the interior, and his daughter Jennifer, who developed the nautical-style bathroom and came up with the name “Vixen.” The Vixen Motor Company ceased production in 1989 after 587 units. Bill then went on to do some consulting for Pontiac and a few other firms before retiring in 1992.

The #50 Pontiac Tempest team was honored to have had the expertise of someone who had actually designed and worked on the original Pontiac Tempest. His experiences and advice helped us tremendously along the way.

Published by: Roger Rosebush

With 54 years of racing experience and over 40 of them in the Automotive Aftermarket, Roger is in a unique position to speak to those wanting an insight into many areas of interest in the industry.


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