I’ve been seeing this big, increasingly grungy Bonneville around town for years, but have never had a proper close encounter. I shot it once from some distance through a chain link fence in the parking lot behind the county jail, which made me wonder if it belonged to a guard or inmate. I suppose they don’t exactly provide parking for inmates, so we’ll safely assume the former.
I thought it might have been retired, as it’s been a while, but here it was, sitting in a parking lot across from the middle school, although it gets used for other purposes too. It’s quite the contrast from the sea of Outbacks, other CUVs, Prii and pickups. And finding it gave me the excuse to determine just what made the Bonneville longer than the Catalina. Hint; it’s all in the tail.
One of these days, we’ll have to do a complete guide to all of the GM full-size car bodies, as the various tweaks made to their basic body shells in GM’s decades-long shell game can be mystifying. Today, let’s focus on this Bonneville, which is not a C-Body like the top Olds and Buicks, but an elongated B-Body.
All these full-size Pontiacs had an extra two inches in their front ends, compared to the Chevrolets, with 121″ wheelbases for the lower-tier Catalina and Ventura. Of course, if I’m wrong, someone correct me. But the 124″ wb Bonneville (and Executive) had an extra three inches wheelbase, as well as seven more inches total length. That 3″ plug is clearly visible in the extra long gap between the rear edge of the rear door and the wheel opening. But since that accounts for only three of those inches, the other four must be in the longer tail.
It seems a bit hard to believe, but the tail really is longer, based on measurements I took with a ruler from the centers of the wheels to the tip of the rear bumper. I should have reduced the size of the blue Ventura in order to make the comparison a bit more accurate. That’s what your extra money bought you: a longer tail to make parking this barge even that much harder.
Here’s what it didn’t get you: extra rear leg room. I don’t have the stats at hand to prove it, but that rear seat back edge follows the contour of the door opening, and is clearly not set back like the axle was. OK, so the trunk was a couple of inches longer; that’s useful, when you have a long corpse to haul.
Sorry, but the rain on the windows made my shots a bit…runny. Nice big armrest in front, but none in back. That’s another game GM played over the years: it used to be armrests in the rear for the nicer-trimmed models, but at some point about this time, GM realized that these cars were occupied in the front about 90% of the time, and who gives a damn if the kids have an armrest? Better late than never, although that thinking eventually got GM into a lot of trouble.
Frankly, this Bonneville’s interior isn’t exactly very, uh, luxurious. Looks more like an Impala, never mind the Chevy Caprice. There was the Bonneville Brougham, but that never seemed to be very popular in its day.
Anyway you look at it, it’s a very different body configuration from today’s tall and short-overhang CUVs. You may not be in love with them, but these tall wagons sure are a whole lot more practical than carrying around a helipad on your tail end, an extra long-one in this case.
Of course there’s one on the front end too, although not quite as flat as the one on the rear. Handy though, to have two. This Bonnie is showing asymmetrical effects of our wet winters. Or maybe someone started washing it and didn’t finish. Odd about how the beak is clean.
Is there any need to talk about what’s under that long hood? Well, yes, since a bit of perusing my Encyclopedia brings up an odd fact:
The standard engine for the Bonneville with the THM automatic is the 325 hp 400 CID V8. But get this: the standard engine for the Bonnevilles equipped manual transmissions is a 333 hp version. Really? Pray someone tell us what’s the difference between these two. And just how many Bonnies were sold with the manual three-on-the-tree? Or the optional four speed?
These cars are really starting to stand out in today’s parking lots. It’s one thing to see a cherry Bonneville coupe or convertible on a sunny Sunday or at a car meet, but as a 50 year old grungy daily driver, it’s getting to be a bit of an anachronism. It’s not unlike like if you dropped one of these on the streets 40 years before its time; think how it would stand out among a sea of short, tall, upright Model As and such. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the longer, lower, wider era was a historic anomaly. Like it or not, today’s CUVs are just getting back to the historic mean. But it was fun while it lasted.
related Pontiac shelf-butt reading: CC 1962 Pontiac Star Chief JPC