The 1960-1961 Pontiac Ventura's development is a story of a detour that led from one successful line to another. Pontiac's instincts for creating the Bonneville -- making it sporty and splashy -- had been correct. The nameplate quickly became famous for its muscular flair. But when the division wanted to cash in on the Bonneville's reputation with a full line of family cars, it seemed to be abandoning a successful formula. Could lightning strike again?

Pontiac Image Gallery

1961 Pontiac Ventura
The 1961 Pontiac Ventura was the model's last year before it
morphed into the Grand Prix. See more pictures of Pontiacs.

The expansion of the Pontiac Bonne­ville from a specialty model into a full line of cars for 1959 set forth a chain of events that culminated in the introduction of the Grand Prix in 1962. There was a brief intermediate step in this progression, a car that blended hardtop style with touches of luxury and performance. Pontiac called it the Ventura.

For the first two years of its life, the Bonneville, the brainchild of Pontiac General Manager Semon E. "Bunkie" Knudsen, was a limited-edition technological showcase for the recently revitalized General Motors division. As such, it sported such leading-edge features as fuel injection, six-way adjustable seats, and, later, air suspension.

Though the 1957 Bonneville was based on the Star Chief, the largest of Pon­tiac's series that year, it was 6.9 inches shorter than the 1959 model. (Even more dramatic was the difference in length between the 1958 and 1959 Bonne­villes -- a full nine inches.) The longer, wider 1959 Bonneville was moving away from being a sporty performance machine and settling in as a more stately and luxurious car.

It was more family friendly, too, with a four-door hardtop and Safari station wagon joining the convertible and hardtop coupe. Performance powerplants such as the 389-cubic-inch Tri-Power V-8 were still available, as were manual trans­missions, but the Bonneville was heading in a new direction.

With the Bonneville's rise to the top of the Pontiac series hierarchy, a void was left in the division's product mix for a trim, sporty car with high-performance intentions and upscale ap­point­ments. This situation was rectified in 1960 with the introduction of the Ventura, and it was an instant hit with car buyers who had a different mindset than "bigger is always better."

Based on the 122-inch-wheelbase Cat­alina platform, the Ventura was offered only in two- and four-door hardtop body styles. A convertible was not offered; nor were pillared sedans and station wagons. The idea was to keep the model line a bit more exclusive, and offering the Ventura in all possible body styles would just dilute the concept.

For more picture-packed articles about great cars, see: