The 1957 Pontiac Bonneville: A Rare and Iconic Convertible

In 1954, General Motors introduced the name “Bonneville” on two futuristic concept cars known as the Bonneville Special. Later, in 1957, the Bonneville name found its way into production cars, representing a high-performance, fuel-injected luxury convertible within the Star Chief line for the Pontiac model year.

The 1957 Pontiac Bonneville made its debut on January 11th, 1957, claiming the title of the fastest Pontiac ever produced at that time. Its chrome-laden convertible design exuded elegance and power. Under the hood, the Bonneville featured a remarkable 347 cubic-inch fuel-injected V8 engine, offering an impressive 315 horsepower. However, Pontiac never officially disclosed a specific power rating for this engine, simply stating that it exceeded 300 horsepower.

This engine’s mechanical fuel injection system, ingeniously designed by Harold Barr and Zora Arkus-Duntov, differed from the one used in the 1957 Corvette. It featured a combined manifold heater and pipes, as well as a unique fuel meter placement, which some regarded as superior. Paired with the Hydra-Matic automatic transmission, power was smoothly delivered to a live rear axle, supported by semi-elliptical leaf springs. The Bonneville’s luxurious and comfortable ride was further enhanced by independent front suspension with coil springs and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes.

The exterior design, crafted by chief stylist Paul Gillan, was a second facelift of the original 1955 design. Illuminated front fender ornaments, body-color hooded headlight rims, and a bumper/grille ensemble with vertical slots that created a water-like effect added to its striking appearance. Fender hash marks behind the front wheels gave an illusion of speed. Elliptical taillights replaced the circular ones, flanked by chrome bezels under fins that angled back and up. The rear styling was completed with a chrome wraparound bumper featuring integrated dual exhaust outlets. Rocket silhouette chrome spear trim ran along the sides, accentuating the two-tone paint accents. “Fuel Injection” badges proudly proclaimed the advanced fuel-injection system, positioned above the front wheel arches and centered on the trunk lid above the bumper. Stylish “Bonneville” badging adorned the rear fenders above the spears.

The Bonneville name paid homage to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, where early automobile contests and world land-speed record runs took place. With its mechanical prowess and an extensive list of standard equipment, the Bonneville carried a hefty $5,782 price tag and a limited production run of only 630 units, with each dealer receiving just one.

Inside, the Bonneville boasted an array of standard features, including the Wonderbar AM radio, underseat heater, Hydra-Matic automatic transmission, tri-blade wheel covers, Autronic-Eye automatic headlight dimmer, padded dash, and full leather interior. Power-operated top, eight-way seats, windows, steering, brakes, and antenna added to its luxury. The list of available options was relatively short and included an air conditioning system, Continental Kit, factory clock, whitewall tires, a Kleenex dispenser, and deluxe carpet floor mats, among a few others.

The Bonneville’s introduction marked a turning point for Pontiac, transforming its reputation from builder of reliable but ordinary family cars to a brand associated with performance and excitement. Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen, who became the youngest General Manager of a GM Division in July 1956, played a significant role in reshaping Pontiac’s image. His famous statement, “You can sell a young car to old people, but you can’t sell an old car to young people,” set the tone for Pontiac’s direction until the late 1960s. Pontiac would go on to create a legacy of high-performance powertrain options aimed at NASCAR stock-car competition, including iconic models like the Catalina, GTO, Firebird, and Trans Am.

The 1957 Pontiac Bonneville Convertible not only captivated Pontiac dealers and enthusiasts but also went on to become one of the rarest and most cherished production cars of its era. Its timeless design and powerful performance make it a true automotive icon that continues to be celebrated by collectors and enthusiasts to this day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *