The History Of Pontiac Bonneville

The Pontiac Bonneville was an 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 19feet (5.8m) long, and were also some of the heaviest produced cars at the time (2.5 tons, or 5,000lb (2,300kg)).

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 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 Bonneville endured 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.

The Bonneville added a coupe in 1958, and it paced the Indianapolis 500 that year. This year's Bonneville had a significantly lower price tag of around $3,000 thanks to the demotion of most of the luxury items found on the '57 model from standard equipment to the option list. Also a 300horsepower (220kW) 370cubic inches (6,100cc) V8 with four-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts was now standard equipment. The fuel-injection system offered with the standard engine on the '57 model was now listed as an extra cost option but very few '58 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.

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 are still part of Pontiac's image today. 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. 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 or 400 cubic inch V8s with four-barrel carburetors (power ratings of 303 to 340hp (254kW) depending on year) with many optional V8 offerings available including Tri Power (three two-barrel carburetion) options on both the 389 and 421 cubic inch V8s that offered up to 376horsepower (280kW) through 1966.

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 389cuin (6.4L) V8 with 283bhp (211kW). Next up were two 421cuin (6.9L) V8s with 10.75:1 compression ratios: a four barrel making 353bhp (263kW) and the Trophy 421 HO (High Output) with triple Rochester two-barrel carburetors operated by a progressive throttle linkage, rated at 370bhp (280kW). 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 400cuin (6.6L) V8 as the standard engine for Bonneville and other full-sized Pontiacs to replace the previous 389, while the 421cuin (6.9L) V8 was replaced by a new 428cuin (7L) engine that offered as much as 390horsepower (290kW). For 1969, a 360hp (270kW) 428 became the standard Bonneville engine, which in turn was replaced for 1970 by an even larger 455cuin (7.5L) V8 rated at 370hp (280kW).


From 1971 to 1975, the Bonneville was de-emphasized somewhat as Pontiac used the Grand Ville name for its highest-price model. During these years, the Bonneville dropped to mid-line status between the lower-priced Catalina and the Grand Ville. During these years, the Bonneville was offered in three bodystyles including the 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 of both years reflect the changes in power measurement between those two years as was common throughout the auto industry at the time). The year 1971 was also the first 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 250horsepower (190kW) 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 emerged as the top-line full-sized Pontiac series for 1976 with the Bonneville Brougham models featuring the same luxurious interior appointments as 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 about a foot shorter in length and reduced in weight by some 800 pounds compared to their 1976 counterparts but maintained the same interior roominess 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 135horsepower (101kW) and optional engines included a 170-horsepower 350 or 185-horsepower 400 cubic-inch V8. 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 or optional Chevrolet 305 cubic-inch V8 or Oldsmobile 350 cubic-inch Diesel V8. The 1982 model was officially known as the "Bonneville Model G", after the platform on which it was based. The wagon was dropped after 1983 in favor of the front-drive Pontiac 6000 wagon introduced for 1984. The Bonneville sedan continued in both base and Brougham versions through 1986.

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 economy cars to full-sized, V8-powered cars, as noted by increasing big cars from Pontiac's competitors such as the Chevrolet Caprice, Oldsmobile 88, Buick LeSabre and 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 150hp 3.8L 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.


A host of trim level changes and a new engine became standard for the front wheel drive Bonneville's second year. First, a revised version of the LG3 was introduced. Renamed the LN3, it was the first use of the "3800" name. Featuring sequential-port fuel injection, the LN3 produced 165hp (123kW) and 210lb·ft (285N·m). Also new for 1988, the base model is dropped making LE the base model. Two new models are added, the midlevel SE (went from option package to trim) and line-topper SSE. The latter features an extra deep rear valence, lower body cladding, a digital compass/ trip computer, an eight speaker premium sound system and much more.

For 1989, a compact-disc player became optional and in 1990 a remote keyless entry system was added to the options list for all models. Suspension changes greeted the 1991 model year.

In 1992 the exterior and interior of the car was completely redesigned, this was a generation that hosted quite a few Bonneville firsts, the car not only became quicker, but it also became a lot safer. One of the most notable improvements over the previous generation was that the Bonneville SE now came standard with a driver airbag, optional ABS brakes (with sport appearance package), the SSE models came with standard ABS, standard traction control, The trims were redone once again, the LE trim was removed, the SE was now the base model, the SSE was now the mid grade and a new top of the line trim was now added, the SSEi. It should be noted, according to GM's Pontiac division, these trim acronyms have no implied meaning. The new N/ A 3800 Series I (RPO: L27) engine was used, producing 170hp (127kW) and 225lb·ft (305N·m), as well as the newly designed force inducted Series I 3800 (RPO: L67) equipped with an Eaton M62 roots type supercharger which made 205hp (153kW) and 260lb·ft (353N·m). The newly revised N/ A L27, for the 1992 model year only, was not equipped with an EGR Valve, which can reduce performance, decrease fuel economy and raise combustion temperatures, which tends to cause burnt valves down the road. In 1993, the EGR returned to the naturally aspirated L27.

Abridged Safety Option List:

For 1993 the Sport Luxury Edition (SLE RPO: H4U) was offered. This is basically an SE sub-trim with more standard options such as leather seats, electronic climate control and premium sound. This option package designation remained only on the RPO sticker until 1998, when SLE badges were added to the exterior of the vehicle. This continued onto the '99 model year. Many more standard options were available with the SSE. The SSEi came standard with most of the available options in the lower models, including the Supercharged 3800 (RPO: L67).

In 1994, A new Generation III Eaton M62 supercharger came, along with new OBD-1.5 capabilities, raising the horsepower to 225hp (168kW), torque was raised to 275lb·ft (373N·m). Also this year introduced the new 5 spoke "Torque Star" wheels. A resonator also became standard on the exhaust to lower the raspy tone that the engine produces. Passenger airbags also became standard on all models this year.

In 1995 the car stayed the same appearance wise, but the SE and SSE trims received a new naturally aspirated engine, the Series II (RPO: L36). This engine made 205hp (153kW) and 230lb·ft (312N·m). The SSEi remained equipped with the Series I SC 3800 (RPO: L67) engine until the 1996 model year, when it too was updated.

In March 2008, GM announced that these engines and other GM engines supplied with Dexcool antifreeze coolant might be prone to intake manifold failure and other problems with the cooling system if proper regular maintenance is not correctly performed. After settlement of a class-action lawsuit, GM agreed to compensate owners of many vehicles that suffered damage, regardless of negligence on the part of the consumer, if the consumer can prove damages.


In 1996 the exterior of the vehicle had undergone design changes. Some things were subtly reshaped, and other things, such as the tail lights, headlights, grille, and lower body cladding were drastically changed. The gap narrowed quite a bit regarding the exterior trim between packages. The previous generation showed an entirely different style of cladding and rear lighting for the SSE and SSEi, while this generation, at first glance, remains the same between the trims, with of course, the exception of the unique front bumper and grille. Also for 1996, the supercharged version of the 3800 Series II engine was introduced for the Bonneville. The SSEi and optionally the SSE got a new supercharged L67, producing 240hp (179kW) and 280lb·ft (380N·m). This engine was used from 1996 until it was retired from the Bonneville in 2003.

A new transmission, the 4T65-E was introduced in 1998 for the naturally aspirated 3800 installed in SE and SSE models, and the heavy-duty version, otherwise known as the 4T65E-HD was introduced in 1997 for the supercharged 3800 installed in the SSEi models.

Engine availability

  • 170hp (130kW) L27 - SE (92-94), SLE (93-94), SSE (92-94)
  • 205hp (153kW) L36 - SE (95-99), SLE (95-99), SSE (95-99)
  • 205hp (153kW) L67 - SSE (92-93) optional, SSEi (92-93)
  • 225hp (168kW) L67 - SLE (95) optional, SSEi (94-95)
  • 240hp (180kW) L67 - SLE (96-97) optional, SSE (97) optional, SSEi (96-99)

The 2000 Bonneville was completely redesigned from the ground up with significant advancements in design. It remained on the H-platform.

The Bonneville regained a V8 option on the GXP trim for 2004, its first since 1986, as a result of the discontinuation of the Oldsmobile Aurora. This opened up a "hole" in the GM lineup between Pontiac and Buick, allowing Pontiac to expand upmarket somewhat. The engine is Cadillac's 4.6L (≈281cuin) Northstar V8, producing 275hp (205kW), 300lb·ft (407N·m) and giving 0-60mph in 6.5 seconds.

For the last year of production, Pontiac gave the mid-level SLE the new GXP styling. The 2005 SLE featured all GXP styling cues, except the wheels, badging, and muffler tips all remained unique to the GXP.

GM announced on February 8, 2005 that the Bonneville would be dropped from Pontiac's lineup for 2006. The last Bonneville left the assembly line on May 27, 2005. Only about 12,000 Bonnevilles were sold in 2005. With more than half of Pontiac dealers also selling Buick models, the Buick Lucerne (along with the Chevrolet Impala) continued as GM's only mainstream full-size cars until the introduction of the 2008 G8.

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