The Pontiac Bonneville

1964 Pontiac Bonneville Tri Power V8
1964 Pontiac Bonneville Tri Power V8. Photo by Mark Gittelman

The Pontiac Bonneville is said to receive its inspiration from the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Located just west of the Great Salt Lake's it's the home of many land speed records. In fact, many of these records still hold today.

Join me as we explore the Pontiac Bonneville. A car that represented the very best the GM division had to offer for 47 years. Learn more about the first automobiles to wear the nameplate and uncover the most valuable, rare and collectible versions.

The First Bonneville's

The Pontiac division of General Motors first used the Bonneville moniker to designate a luxury trim level. However, the name first surfaced in 1954, attached to a concept car. The experimental two door sports coupe, dubbed the Bonneville Special, appeared at the General Motors Motorama show. Designed by the world-famous Harley J Earl, this futuristic car gave us a glimpse at what the Pontiac version of the Chevrolet Corvette could look like.​

With the name well received at the GM show, Pontiac decided to use it as a top-of-the-line trim designation. In 1957 the Pontiac Star Chief Custom Bonneville convertible wore the emblem proudly. Along with this level of trim, Pontiac included just about every option in their arsenal. Unfortunately, this raised the price to around $5800.

Back in the late 50s, this was an extraordinary amount of money. For this reason, it puts the automobile in direct competition with the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham Edition. Therefore, only around 600 Bonneville, Star Chiefs found a home in local driveways. On the flip side of this equation, these cars are some of the most treasured Pontiac's of all time.

The Most Collectible Bonneville

In 1958 Pontiac made the Bonneville a standalone model for the first time. They only made the automobile available in a two door variety. However, you could get it in a convertible or a hardtop version. This is just one of the things that make the 1958 models highly collectible.

The following year the body style would change and you could get the Bonneville in a two door, four-door, and even a station wagon. When it comes to a 1958 Pontiac Bonneville, it's often the engine residing under the hood that determines its ultimate value. The 370 CID engine became standard equipment in 1958. Equipped with a four barrel carburetor and dual exhaust the standard engine produced an adequate 255 HP.

For $500 more, the 370 CID Tempest fuel injected engine produced 310 HP. They only built a few of these, because you could also get the Tri Power, option Tempest engine with three 2 barrel carburetors. In this configuration the motor produced 300 HP. This is $400 less than the fuel injected model. For this reason, 1958 Bonneville's with fuel injection are extremely rare. It's estimated they only built a few hundred 370 CID fuel injected V8's.

The Affordable Pontiac Bonneville

One of my favorite years for the Bonneville's is the 1964 version pictured above. In previous years General Motors lined up the quad headlamps in horizontal positions. Starting in 1963, they stacked them in a vertical arrangement.

This allowed for an aggressive and different looking front grille and bumper assembly. Flexible engine selection including the Super Duty 389 Tri Power V8 made this third-generation Bonneville a little more interesting.

Nevertheless, standard equipment remained the same 2 barrel 389 they put in the Pontiac Catalina, but you had two additional choices. Buyers had the option of upgrading to a 400 CID V8 producing 340 HP. The most powerful engine available at the time was the mighty 421 CID Super Duty V8. With two 4 barrel carburetors, they conservatively rated the engine at close to 400 HP.