Automotive History/Curbside Classic: 1964 Pontiac Bonneville Brougham – The True Father Of The Great Brougham Epoch?

Pontiac Brougham Bonneville_Vista_1964_by_AF-VK_02Renderings by Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman – click images for full impact

(first posted 12/11/2015)     Having coined the term The Great Brougham Epoch™,  I then gave the 1965 Ford LTD the credit for launching it. Did I jump the gun, by one year? And give credit  to the wrong car? Quite possibly. The 1964 Pontiac Bonneville Brougham was the very first car of the modern era (post 1950) to actually use the Brougham name (other than the long-running Cadillac), which alone gives it bragging rights over the LTD. And it wrote the the Brougham Era playbook: a more luxuriously-appointed version of an existing model, with the requisite badging, plush interior, and even a standard vinyl roof. For all I know, the ’65 LTD was just a blatant copy of it. Although sold for seven years (1964-1970) before being replaced by the 1971 Grand Ville, it’s never received any credit for its pioneering role, until now. 


Pontiac Brougham 1964 fqimage credit for all ’64 Brougham photos: Dave S’ photostream

Given the Brougham’s prominent place on the cover of the 1964 Pontiac brochure, there’s little doubt that its maker had aspirations for it. Pontiac in the sixties was on a roll, due to its innovative spirit and ability to to sense where the market was going. The 1964 Brougham was a rather bold step into a new era of mid-priced luxury. But then Pontiac was anything if not bold in the early-mid sixties..

Pontiac GTO 64

There was of course another bold move by Pontiac in 1964: the GTO, the seminal muscle car. That was John DeLorean’s baby, and one wonders what role he played in the Brougham. Given that he was Pontiac’s Chief Engineer until 1965, it’s somewhat doubtful. But it’s a sign of Pontiac’s spirit of innovation to launch two new products, in quite different categories. One wonders what the expectations were for each of them? Certainly no one could have anticipated the huge success of the GTO. Compared to it, the Brougham was a minor player.

Pontiac Brougham 1964 side Dave S

Pontiac was certainly no stranger to bumping up against the senior Olds and Buick models, but the Brougham kicked that battle up a notch. Pontiac had always offered “senior” versions with an extended wheelbase, going back to its very earliest days in the 1930s. With its 123″ wheelbase, the ’64 Bonneville (and lower-trim Star Chief) had an obvious three additional inches between the end of the door and rear wheel opening compared to the 120″ wb Catalina and Ventura.

Ironically, that made these “senior” Pontiacs look a bit cobbled up, since it used the same rear doors as the Catalina, and the cutout at the bottom wasn’t really necessary. And that additional three inches was purely cosmetic; the interior dimension were unchanged from the shorter Pontiacs. Presumably, the trunk was deeper by that amount, a dubious benefit.

CC 178 149 800

The Bonneville/Brougham/Star Chief’s extended body might have cast a longer shadow, but were a wee bit crude in execution, especially compared the true C-Body Olds 98 and Buick Electra, which wore their even longer (126″) wheelbases more elegantly, with  tastefully integrated (and covered) rear wheel openings.

Oldsmobile 98 1965 Luxury sedan

The 1964 Bonneville Brougham’s march up the Sloanian ladder may help explain why Oldsmobile came out with its 1965 Ninety-Eight Luxury Sedan, with an interior that rivaled (or surpassed) even a Cadillac DeVille. The great luxury inflation was under way. And the last vestiges of the Sloan hierarchy were in tatters, although that had started long before.

Pontiac Bonneville Brougham 1964

The ’64 Brougham interior wasn’t quite in that league, but it was a substantial step up from the regular Bonneville. I’m not an expert on fabrics, so I’ll leave it to someone else to explain just what Preston cloth is. It certainly sounds more upscale than “Morrokide”.

Pontiac Brougham 1964 door int Dave S

The door interior panel had tufted cloth, a tasty chrome pull handle, and the requisite “Brougham” badge.

Pontiac Brougham 1964 badge

Of course, one also graced the C Pillar. By Fisher, too; lest their be any doubt who built all of GM’s car bodies. Well, maybe not the Corvette. The C-Pillar badge (“Brougham” or otherwise) became a prerequisite for any serious player in the GBE. And here’s the first.

Pontiac Brougham 1964 blk Dave S

With its standard vinyl top and tasty chrome details, the Brougham was a handsome and distinguished car, especially in this dark blue, or black. I’m always drawn to white cars, but I’d have to give the navy blue the nod in this case.

Pontiac Brougham 1965_Curtain-Hall_by_AF-VK

The ’64 was just the first in a line of Pontiac Broughams that extended to 1971, when the Grand Ville effectively replaced it. Here’s the ’65 version, where it’s called the Bonneville Brougham in the brochure. That wouldn’t be the case in later years.

Pontiac Brougham 1965 int

The ’65 interior now sported “Ponchartrain cloth”. Good luck finding that, if you should need to go shopping for replacement upholstery. “Poncho-train”, perhaps?

Pontiac Brougham 1966 Prestige-02-03

In the 1966 brochure, it was just called “Brougham”, with its own section, although the “Bonneville” name is clearly still on the front fenders and elsewhere. Let’s not forget that the ’65-’66 LTD also was just a variant/model of the Galaxie 500 series until 1967, when it became its own series.

Pontiac Brougham 1966 conv coupe

And there were also coupe and convertible versions, although I doubt the convertible was sporting the Ponchartrain.  The new split front seats, with bucket-like backrests and folding armrest was standard in the two-doors.

Pontiac Brougham 1966 specs

As can be seen, the Brougham even got its own unique columns in the specs in the 1966 brochure. One wonders if Pontiac considered making it a truly separate model, without the Bonneville badges still on its sides. Since the Brougham is not broken out in my Encyclopedia of American Cars, I have no production numbers; I wonder if any exist. And my guess is that it wasn’t a very big seller, purely based on my memory of how relatively few there were to be seen.

Pontiac Brougham 1967

Here’s the 1967, still called just “Brougham”, with its own section.

Pontiac Brougham 1968

And the 1968, referred to both as just “Brougham” and also  “Bonneville Brougham”. The Brougham suffered a bit of an identity crisis.

Pontiac Bonneville 1970 4-Door_Hardtop_Humplmayr's_by_AF-VK

1970 was the last year for the Brougham. I’m not certain this is a Brougham on the cover of the brochure, but I suspect so, and it makes a nice book end to the somewhat similar 1964 cover, near the top of this post. Of course, the clothing styles have changed a bit, but it still conveys a formal air.

Pontiac Brougham 1970 coupe

Inside, there’s only one picture of a Brougham, but then this is a full-line brochure.

Pontiac Brougham 1970 int

But the Brougham interior (left, obviously) gets plenty of attention, although the fabric is not specifically named. Carmine will know. The standard Bonneville Morrokide interior is in the inset.

Pontiac Grand_Ville 1971 4-Door_Hardtop_Cannes-Do_by_AF-VK

In 1971, the Brougham was effectively replaced by the Grand Ville, subject of a post here recently.  Unfortunately, I don’t have ready access to the additional cost of the Brougham package for the Bonneville. The Grand Ville was 5% more expensive than a Bonneville, and I rather suspect that was the case with the Brougham too, although it’s possible the earlier Broughams were more expensive (and exclusive).

Ford charged a very hefty 20% more for the LTD vs. the regular Galaxie 500, with a base price of $3313.  A ’65 Bonneville started at $3443, so depending on how much the Brougham package cost, it likely wasn’t all that much more expensive than the LTD, and probably had more standard equipment.

Pontiac Grandville 1973

The 1971-1972  Grand Ville and Bonneville still had a lengthened wheelbase, but starting with 1973, that ended too. The big GM cars were huge enough as it was, and GM was already at work planning smaller replacements, so the old tradition of longer wheelbases without any commensurate interior space increase (which was the case with all of these longer Bonnevilles/Broughams), just didn’t make anymore sense. And who cared? Or had anyone ever really noticed? It was an archaic concept, to splice in some useless extra length to help justify extra prestige and cost. The growth of Mercedes and Cadillac’s Seville changed the equation forever.

Ford LTD 1965 ad

So back to the question we posed at the top: was the Bonneville Brougham the true father of the Great Brougham Epoch? It’s not an easy question to answer definitively. Obviously, the Ford LTD was more successful, sales wise; undoubtedly due to a very aggressive advertising campaign. Pontiac never pushed the Brougham in its advertising.

Lee Iacocca

Lee Iacocca’s brilliance was not in being a true innovator, but seizing upon others’ ideas and running with them, faster and harder. Lee has acknowledged that the 1965 Mustang was a direct response to the surprise success of the 1961 Corvair Monza coupe. The 1965 full-size Fords were obvious copies of the 1963 full-size Pontiacs, a car that changed the paradigm for design in its class and had everyone scrambling to imitate it. It’s hardly a big leap of imagination to presume that when Lee saw the 1964 Bonneville Brougham, a Ford “Better Idea” light went on. The essence of The Great Brougham Epoch was the commodification of “luxury”, and the 1965 Ford LTD did that unlike any other car, thanks to Iacocca’s ability to see its potential and sell the hell out of it.

Pontiac Brougham 1964 ad

That’s where the Bonneville Brougham loses much of its claim to the title. Pontiac didn’t have enough faith and commitment in the concept, and never aggressively sold the Brougham beyond its appearance in the Brochures and this one sole ad, the same basic rendering as the brochure cover. Quite the contrast from what the GTO received, one of the most highly orchestrated publicity campaigns.  The result was that the  Pontiac Brougham never made a significant impact on the market (except likely on Lee Iacocca); its sales were undoubtedly modest, and it never entered the public’s awareness. Meanwhile, the LTD was a huge success, and utterly transformed the market.

So we still need to answer the question. If the assumption that Lee Iacocca got the idea for the ’65 LTD from the ’64 Brougham is true, than perhaps it’s more appropriate to call him and the LTD the mother of the GBE, having been impregnated by the Pontiac Brougham father. But in lieu of a confession from Lee, which is unlikely, or genetic testing, we’ll never know for sure. Perhaps a paternity suit is called for?

image credit for all ’64 Brougham photos: Dave S’ photostream

Related reading: 1965 Ford LTD: It Launched The Great Brougham Epoch