COAL: 1992 Pontiac Bonneville SE – The Next Generation

Note: None of the pictures in this post are of the actual car

Since we had received good service from our 1989 Bonneville, we decided that the next “new to us” car would be the 1992 Bonneville.  A friend had told us that the local dealer had one in the service bay, so we went over to check it out.

The new for 1992 Bonneville was the second series of front wheel drive Bonnevilles with the 3800 engine.  When we checked out the interior, we found that it had a HUGE back seat that was easy to get in and out of as well as being very comfortable.  Visibility was excellent due to the low beltline and copious amounts of glass.

The instrument panel was a vast improvement over the 89 Bonneville, except for the red back lighting of the gauges.  At night, these blended in with the orange needles that made it all look the same.  At least during the day, the lettering was white and the orange needles offered contrast.  Our car had the basic cloth interior with bucket seats and the center console.  The car was extremely comfortable and delivered excellent fuel economy (20 mpg city/30 mpg highway) along with good power.  The 3800 was developing a good reputation.  The only downside of that power plant was that if you had four people in the car, acceleration from a stop was good, but power began to wane at higher speeds.  You can’t have everything.

The 3800 engine was an EGR less design that featured tuned intake manifold runners.  The manifold was cast in aluminum, unlike those in later years which were made of plastic (Series II engines).  The later use of plastic would haunt GM as the plastic manifolds were subject to deterioration and eventual coolant leakage into the cylinders.  Series III engines would return to the cast aluminum manifolds.   The only engine problem that we encountered was a failure of the water pump, whose bearing seized up.  This caused the serpentine belt to come loose with the resultant loss of power steering.  Fortunately, the failure happened right next to a service station who could and did repair the pump.

The Bonneville had a HUGE trunk compared to the 1989 model.  With a low liftover height, it was extremely useful and easy to use.  GM’s excellence in packaging the space in this car was one of the major selling points when we decided to get this car.  With the great fuel economy and large interior/storage spaces, why drive a small car?

Now, wait just one minute!  Weren’t you talking about a Bonneville and here’s a picture of a Dodge Shadow?  It’s all related.  One day, we were going to have the house carpets cleaned.  The Bonneville was normally parked in the garage, but as I was working on a flipper car in the garage, it was parked in the driveway.  I had also just purchased a Dodge Shadow for $900, intending to make a quick flip.  How quick I would soon learn.

The Shadow was parked in front of our house on the street, and I needed to park the Bonneville also on the street.  So I parked it behind the Shadow in front of the neighbor’s house.  After the carpet cleaners left, we were sitting in the great room at the back of the house when I heard two dull thumps.  OK, what was that.  So I went to the front door of the house and saw a young lady coming up the walk.  She said she had a leg cramp as she came down the street and hit the Shadow in the front.  She then pushed it 20 feet into the Bonneville and pushed both cars another 10 feet.  Pretty good using a Chevy Cavalier.

The Shadow was crumpled in the front and in the back.  The Bonneville suffered a cracked bumper cover, cracked left front fender, and a damaged hood.  Since both cars were legally parked on the street, her insurance would cover the repairs.  The collision recommended by the insurance company made arrangements to collect both cars and provide for a rental.  Since I wasn’t driving the Shadow, I only took one rental car.

After several go arounds with the collision, the Bonneville was finally fixed to our satisfaction.  The Shadow, however, was determined to be a total loss.  The insurance company conducted a survey of used car prices and determined that the Shadow was worth $2700.  Where do I send the title?  I only owned the car three days and tripled my investment with no work.

This accident would not be the last for our Bonneville.  A couple of years later, my wife was stopped at a traffic light when two cars collided in the intersection.  One of the cars hit the front of the Bonneville.  It didn’t look too bad, with cracked fenders, cracked bumper cover, and bent hood, but it also had hidden frame damage.  Our insurance company determined that it was a total and made us an offer for the car.   We had over 100,000 miles on the car that were virtually trouble free, so I quit while I was ahead.  Although I was tempted to buy the car from the insurance company and fix it myself, my wife had other ideas.  That will be the subject of another COAL.