The Pontiac Bonneville was a full-size automobile built by the Pontiac division of General Motors from 1957 to 2005. It was introduced as a limited production performance convertible during the 1957 model year. The Bonneville (known as the Parisienne in Canada until 1981), and its platform partner, the Grand Ville, are some of the largest Pontiacs ever built; in station wagon body styles they reached just over 19 feet (5.8 m) long, and were also some of the heaviest cars produced at the time (2.5 short tons, 5,000 lb or 2,300 kg).
Early development: 1954–1957
The Bonneville name first appeared in 1954 on a pair of bubble-topped GM Motorama concept cars called the Bonneville Special. It entered the production lineup as a high-performance, fuel-injected luxury convertible within the Star Chief line in the 1957 model year and was loaded with every conceivable option as standard equipment with the exception of optional air conditioning. This put the Bonneville in a Cadillac-like price range of $5,000 - more than double the base price of a Chieftain four-door sedan. A fully equipped Bonneville could cost more than a Cadillac. Only 630 units were produced that first year, making it one of the most collectible Pontiacs of all time. The following year it would become its own separate model, and it would endure until 2005 as the division's top-of-the-line model. The name was taken from the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, the site of much early auto racing and most of the world's land speed record runs, which was named in turn after U.S. Army officer Benjamin Bonneville.
Bonneville became a separate model in 1958, available as a coupe or a convertible. It paced the Indianapolis 500 in its first year. As a separate model Bonneville had a significantly lower price tag of around $3,000 thanks to the demotion of most of the luxury items found on the 1957 Star Chief bodystyle from standard equipment to the option list. Also a 300 horsepower (220 kW) 370 cubic inches (6,100 cc) V8 with four-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts was now standard equipment. The fuel-injection system offered with the standard engine on the 1957 Star Chief bodystyle was now listed as an extra cost option but very few 1958 Bonnevilles were so equipped due to a towering price tag of over $500 USD, which was not considered a very good value considering that for less than $100 USD, a Tri-Power option was available with three two-barrel carburetors and even more power. The electric clock was standard.
In its third year, the 1959 Bonneville became a full top-line series with the addition of the four-door hardtop sedan and Safari station wagon body styles. The Bonneville played an important part that year in the introduction of two of Pontiac's greatest marketing inspirations — the split grille and the Wide Track slogan. The latter was not just ad copy, either, as Pontiac pushed its wheels further out toward the fenders than anyone else and created what were considered to be the best-cornering full-size cars in the industry. Both the grille design and the Wide Track phrase remained part of Pontiac's image up to its termination. A "Safe-T-Track" differential, used to minimize wheel spin, was an option beginning in 1959.
The Bonneville remained as Pontiac's costliest and most luxurious model throughout the 1960s and was instrumental in pushing Pontiac to third place in sales from 1962 to 1970.
The Bonneville differed from its lesser Catalina and Star Chief counterparts by featuring more luxurious interior trim with upgraded cloth and Morrokide vinyl or expanded Morrokide upholstery in sedans and coupes, expanded Morrokide in Safari wagons or genuine leather seating in convertibles. Bonnevilles (with the exception of Bonneville Safari Station wagons) were also (along with Star Chiefs) built on a longer wheelbase version of GM's B-Body. Also found in the Bonneville were instrument panels and door panels with walnut veneer trim, carpeted lower door panels, grab bar on passenger side of dash and courtesy lights and rear arm rest. Beginning in 1964, a Bonneville Brougham option package was available that included an even more luxurious interior trim level with front and rear seats featuring center armrests, upgraded door panels and a standard Cordova (vinyl) roof with "Brougham" nameplates.
Bonneville models were standard equipped with Hydra-Matic (through 1964) or Turbo Hydra-Matic (1965-on) automatic transmissions. Other options included power steering and power brakes as well as air conditioning. Other popular options included power windows, power seats, radio, cruise control, and 8-lug aluminum wheels that included integral brake drums for improved stopping power. The Bonneville also had more powerful standard V8 engines than other full-sized Pontiacs including the 389 cu in (6.4 l) or 400 cu in (6.6 l) V8s with four-barrel carburetors (power ratings of 303 to 340 hp (226 to 254 kW) depending on year) with many optional V8 offerings available including Tri-Power (three two-barrel carburetor) options on both the 389 cu in (6.4 l) and 421 cu in (6.9 l) V8s that offered up to 376 hp (280 kW) through 1966. For 1962, Pontiac also offered the 421 cu in (6.9 l) Super Duty with two four-barrel carburetors, rated at 405 hp (302 kW), as a US$2,250 option (when the base Bonne listed at US$3,349).
Pontiac full-size performance reached its peak in 1966. All full-size models got new sheetmetal for 1963, including stacked headlights. Performance enthusiasts once again turned to the Catalina, the lightest of the Pontiac full-size coupes. The standard engine was a 389 cu in (6.4 L) V8 with 283 bhp (211 kW). Next up were two 421 cu in (6.9 L) V8s with 10.75:1 compression ratios: a four barrel making 353 hp (263 kW) and the Trophy 421 HO (High Output) with triple Rochester two-barrel carburetors operated by a progressive throttle linkage, rated at 370 bhp (280 kW). For serious drag strip use, buyers could specify the Super Duty 421 which came in three states of tune which all benefited from an increase in the compression ratio from 11.0:1 to 12.0:1 and an increase in the maximum shift point from 5900 rpm to a screaming 6400 rpm. Straight-line ETs ruled the showrooms during the muscle car era and the early Pontiacs had impressive numbers.
A General Motors corporate edict that took effect with the 1967 model year led Pontiac to discontinue the Tri Power engine options on all of its cars. That year also brought a larger 400 cu in (6.6 L) V8 as the standard engine for Bonneville and other full-sized Pontiacs to replace the previous 389, while the 421 cu in (6.9 L) V8 was replaced by a new 428 cu in (7.0 L) engine that offered as much as 390 horsepower (290 kW). Also beginning in 1967, carburetion was changed. The previous standard 600 cfm Carter square bore four barrel and optional Tri-Power was replaced with the new Quadarajet spread bore carburetor delivering 800 cfm, equivalent to the previous 1966 Tri Power set-up. For 1969, a 360 hp (270 kW) 428 became the standard Bonneville engine, which in turn was replaced for 1970 by an even larger 455 cu in (7.5 L) V8 rated at 370 hp (280 kW).
The 1965-70 GM B platform was the fourth best selling automobile platform in history after the Volkswagen Beetle, Ford Model T and the Lada Riva.
For 1971, the Bonneville was moved down in the model hierarchy, as a new top line Grand Ville series was introduced. In effect, it replaced the discontinued Executive between the lower-priced Catalina and the Grand Ville. The Bonneville was offered in three body styles, a pillared four-door sedan, four-door hardtop sedan and two-door hardtop coupe. The standard engine for 1971-72 was a 455 cubic-inch V8 with two-barrel carburetor that was rated at 280 gross horsepower for 1971 and 185 net horsepower for 1972 and optionally available was the four-barrel version of the 455 rated at 325 gross horsepower in 1971 and 250 net horsepower in 1972. The on-paper power ratings reflect the change in power measurement undertaken by the industry for 1972. 1971 was also the first year for Pontiac and other GM divisions to reduce compression ratios on all engines across the board in order to enable use of lower-octane regular leaded, low-lead or unleaded gasoline, thanks to a corporate edict in preparation for the introduction of catalytic converters in 1975 to help meet increasing stringent federal (and California) emission requirements.
In mid-1971, a Turbo-Hydramatic transmission, power steering and power front-disc brakes became standard equipment on Bonneville and other full-sized Pontiacs (as well as other full-sized GM cars).
From 1973 to 1976, the Bonneville's standard engine dropped to a 170-horsepower 400 cubic-inch V8. Optionally available was the 455 four-barrel V8 rated at 250 horsepower (190 kW) for 1973-74 and 200 for 1975-76. In 1973, Bonneville was the only full-sized Pontiac to offer a "Radial Tuned Suspension" option package which included the steel-belted radial tires along with an upgraded suspension with Pliacell shock absorbers and front and rear sway bars. The RTS option was expanded for 1974 to all full-sized Pontiacs and radial-ply tires became standard on all 1975 models though an upgraded "RTS" package was still available as an option.
With the demise of the Grand Ville series after 1975, Bonneville once again became the top-line full-sized Pontiac series, with a Bonneville Brougham model featuring the luxurious interior appointments from the departed Grand Ville.
Bonneville would continue its flagship duties on the downsized big car line that was introduced for 1977. The downsized Bonnevilles (and Catalinas) were 14 inches (360 mm) shorter in length, over four inches (102 mm) narrower and 800 pounds lighter compared to their 1976 counterparts but had increased headroom, rear seat legroom and trunk space with much-improved fuel economy – a major selling point in the years following the 1973-74 energy crisis.
With the downsized 1977 models, only a pillared four-door sedan and two-door coupe (with optional opera windows) were offered as the hardtop sedans and coupes offered in previous years were discontinued across the board at all GM divisions. The Bonneville also regained the Safari station wagon as part of its model lineup for the first time since 1970 with woodgrained exterior trim and interior appointments shared with Bonneville coupes and sedans. The Safari was available in both 6- and 9-passenger configurations and featured a dual-action tailgate that could be opened to the side as a door or downward as a tailgate, rather than the disappearing clamshell tailgates found in 1971-76 full-sized Pontiac wagons.
The standard engine for Bonneville was Pontiac's new 301 cubic-inch V8 rated at 135 horsepower (101 kW) and optional engines included a 170-horsepower 350 or 180-horsepower 400 cubic-inch V8. A 185-horsepower Oldsmobile 403 cubic inch V8 was also an option. In later years, increasingly stringent fuel-economy standards mandated by the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations would lead to the discontinuation of the larger engines with a 231 cubic-inch Buick V6 becoming the standard engine on Bonneville coupes and sedans for 1980 and 1981 with the only optional V8s offered including 265 and 301 cubic-inch Pontiac-built gasoline engines or an Oldsmobile-built 350 cubic-inch Diesel powerplant.
The Bonneville/Bonneville Brougham models were discontinued after the 1981 model year along with the lower-priced Catalina due to sagging sales resulting from the second energy crisis of 1979-80 which sent many new car buyers to more fuel-efficient four-cylinder or V6-powered compact cars. The discontinuation of the American-built, rear-drive full-sized Pontiac also coincided with the demise of Pontiac-built V8 engines, which were last built in 1981. From 1982 onward, all V8-powered Pontiacs were powered by engines sourced from other GM divisions such as Chevrolet or Oldsmobile.
In 1982, Pontiac abruptly moved the Bonneville nameplate from a full-size car to a mid-size car previously known as the Pontiac LeMans in both four-door sedan and Safari station wagon body styles with engine choices including a standard Buick 231 cubic-inch V6, optional Chevrolet 305 cubic-inch V8 or Oldsmobile 350 cubic-inch Diesel V8. The 1982-1986 models were officially known as the "Bonneville Model G", although later models were not badged as such. GM also began marketing the Bonneville in Canada for the first time, as GM's full-size Bonnevilles in Canada were referred to as Parisienne.
There has been great confusion as to what these vehicles really are (A or G body). There is confirmation that at least some of these Bonnevilles from this 1982-1986 era are in fact A-platform cars based on actual original build sheets removed from the cars themselves explicitly stating: box o. "car line-A" which confirms an A platform/A body car even though the car is called MODEL G. Also there are confirmed Vehicle Identification Numbers with the letter A as the 4th digit. For at least this period, General Motors lists the fourth digit as the car's platform. GM changed the designation of the RWD A-body that was released in 1964 to G-body to avoid confusion with the FWD A-body released in 1982.
Introduction of the new front wheel drive A bodies in 1982, prompted this change to "model g" on these RWD cars. The wagon was dropped after 1983 in favor of the front-drive Pontiac 6000 wagon introduced for 1984. The Bonneville sedan continued in base, limited edition (LE), and brougham versions through 1986. The 1982-1986 Bonnevilles are direct descendants of the 1964 Pontiac Tempest. These 1982-1986 Bonnevilles were the smallest and the last of the old breed of Bonnevilles, having rear wheel drive, full perimeter frame (body on frame), and old-fashioned American car ride and styling.
Pontiac customers did not take to the change as the "downsized" Bonneville arrived just as many new-car buyers were switching their preferences from compact and mid-sized cars to full-sized, V8-powered cars, as noted by increasingly larger cars from Pontiac's sister divisions such as the Chevrolet Caprice, Oldsmobile 88, 98, Buick LeSabre and also Ford's Mercury Grand Marquis. Late in the 1983 model year, Pontiac reintroduced a full-sized car to the American market by bringing over the Canadian-built Pontiac Parisienne (which was essentially a restyled Chevrolet Caprice and powered by Chevrolet V6 or V8 engines). The Bonneville was then again one notch below the top of the line from late 1983 through 1986.
For 1987, Pontiac introduced a radically different Bonneville. Instead of using traditional rear-wheel-drive, the new Bonneville used a more economical front-wheel-drive platform. It joined the two-year-old H Body platform with the Buick LeSabre and Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight. Initially, a 150 hp (110 kW) 3.8 L V6 was the sole engine, mated to a 4 speed Hydramatic 4T60 automatic. The new Bonneville was placed on Car & Driver's 10 Best list for 1987, offering both a base model and LE model. For LE models, an SE sport package was also available that featured a quicker gear ratio, sportier suspension and more standard features.