The 1959 Pontiac Bonneville brought the first of the "Wide-Track" cars and a big change in division fortunes. Not coincidentally, these were also the first Pontiacs to fully reflect the Knudsen/Estes influence.
That "Wide-Track" moniker was no mere Madison Avenue hype. Tread swelled by nearly five inches in front and more than 4.5 inches in back. Greater cornering stability and a smoother ride were among the results -- along with vigorous complaints from owners who found the 1959s too wide for an automated car wash. But there was pleasure in doing that job yourself, because the new bodies looked sensational.
Though the same two wheelbase lengths were retained, the 1959s were predictably longer, lower, and wider, but also more sculptured and much cleaner. Acres of glass, thin-pillar rooflines, an expansive hood and rear deck, and the first of Pontiac's distinctive split grilles contributed to a styling package uncommonly tasteful for its time.
For all this goodness, Bonneville would never be the same again. Like Chevrolet with the Impala and Plymouth with the Fury, Pontiac turned its limited edition into a full-fledged series for 1959, thereby rendering it far less distinctive. From here on, the Bonneville would change in lock-step with the division's other standard-size cars.
Thus, a "Vista-roof" hardtop sedan joined the convertible and hardtop coupe, all on the Star Chief's 124-inch wheelbase, and there was even a six-passenger Bonneville Safari wagon on the 122-inch platform of this year's new low-end Catalina series (replacing Chieftain).
A stroke increase (to 3.70 inches) took V-8 displacement from 370 to that soon-to-be-famous 389 figure, and standard Bonneville horsepower rose to 300. (Sticklers for detail will note that actual measurements were 369.4 and 388.9 cubic inches respectively.) Leg, hip, and shoulder room were also up -- which was only right, as the 1959 Bonneville was nine inches longer and over three inches wider than the 1958.
The 1959 Pontiacs met with overwhelming public acceptance. Car Life picked the Bonneville as the best buy in its price range, and Motor Trend named the entire line its "Car of the Year." Production soared by 77 percent as Pontiac overtook both Buick and Oldsmobile to become General Motors' second most popular make.
More importantly, the division at long last advanced in the sales race, rising from sixth to fifth. Though the price-leading Catalina quickly established itself as Pontiac's best-seller, Bonneville actually outsold the mid-range Star Chief. Bunkie had been vindicated.
See the next page to follow the Bonneville story into the early 1960s.
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