1957-1987 Pontiac Bonneville

1955 and 1956 Pontiac

This 1964 Bonneville-based show convertible was dubbed Club de Mer, recalling the 1956 Pontiac two-seat experimental.
This 1964 Bonneville-based show convertible was dubbed Club de Mer, recalling the 1956 Pontiac two-seat experimental.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Despite fresh styling and an excellent new V-8 for record-setting 1955 and 1956 Pontiac, the make couldn't budge from number six, though 1958 sales increased significantly to narrow the gap with Oldsmobile somewhat. The story was much the same for 1956, but volume was much lower in that year's industry-wide retreat, even though Pontiac boasted a bigger and brawnier V-8, four-door hardtops and more flash.

Then Bunkie Knudsen took charge. "We had to get rid of that 'Indian concept,'" he recalled in 1978. "No reflection on the American Indian, but old Chief Pontiac had been associated in the public mind with a prosaic family toting sedan from the time Pontiacs were first built ... I couldn't do much about 1957 styling. That had long since been locked up. [But] I did manage to get rid of those Silver Streaks on the hood. They looked like a pair of suspenders!"

Which, of course, tended to reinforce the very image he wanted to change. The irony was -- as every car buff must know by now -- that said trim was first applied by his father, the legendary William S. "Big Bill" Knudsen, back in 1935. (Though the rumor that Bunkie personally unbolted the streaks from the production prototype is untrue, his order did require a last-minute tooling change.)

But Bunkie wanted something more. A high-performance convertible with smart styling touches and some special feature to establish Pontiac as an engineering leader would help shake off the "Grandma" aura. The result was the first production Bonneville.

And limited production it was. Part of the game plan was to build only 630 examples, less than a fifth of one percent of the division's total output for the 1957 model year. This, then, was a car to be coveted. In fact, the Bonneville was supposedly intended for dealer use only, though it isn't difficult to imagine how long that notion lasted.

Not that it mattered much. At $5,782, the plushest, most powerful Pontiac in history was one expensive automobile. And though that figure is mere chicken feed now, consider that, for the same money, you could have had a Pontiac Chieftain hardtop coupe and a Buick Special convertible -- with $266 to spare!

For more on the 1957 Pontiac Bonneville, continue to the next page.

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