(first posted 11/9/2015) It is a true statement to say that full-size sedan sales are slipping, as they have been for some years now. Once about as common in every American driveway as was an ashtray in every living room, this former status symbol fell out of favor in the way of smaller, more efficient and better-handling sedans, and more recently, SUVs, then crossovers. Despite the fact that many full-size sedans currently on the market are more appealing than ever, 2015 sales of these cars are down double-digit percentages even over 2014. The modern full-size sedan may be becoming largely passé, but apparently that hasn’t phased the owner of this remarkably preserved 1972 Pontiac Bonneville.
The Bonneville nameplate dates back to 1954 and Motorama, where it appeared as a Harley Earl designed, two seat roadster called the Pontiac Bonneville Special. The name Bonneville was used three years later as a limited production high-performance luxury convertible model within the Star Chief lineup. In 1958 (pictured above), the Bonneville became its own model outright, positioned above the Chieftain, Super Chief, and Star Chief as Pontiac’s costliest and most prestigious full-size line of cars. The ensuing years saw the 2-door hardtop and convertible Bonneville lineup grow to include 4-door sedans, hardtops, and wagons, and the Bonneville would continue occupying the spot of Pontiac’s to dog through the model year 1970.
With the 1971 redesign of all Pontiac’s full-sizers, the Bonneville moved down a rung to become Pontiac’s mid-range offering between the base Catalina and the new premier Grand Ville. This move caused Bonneville sales to decrease considerably, as Pontiac’s mid-range full size car (previously the Executive) historically ranked third in sales after the value and then top offering.
Standard power came from a 455 cubic inch (7.5L) V8, formerly the top engine choice for the previous generation Bonneville. In 1972, it made 185 and 250 net horsepower with two-barrel and four-barrel carburetors, respectively. These numbers were down significantly from those advertised 1971, as faced with stricter emissions standards, manufacturers switched from advertising gross horsepower to the SAE net horsepower ratings in 1972. By 1975, the 4-barrel only and now optional 445’s net horsepower would drop to 200 due to tighter emissions controls. Standard power by this point came from a 400 cubic inch (6.6L) V8 rated at 170 horsepower.
Front end styling was heavily tweaked for 1972, with 1971’s “beak” largely done away with in favor of a more conventional power bulge hood and flatter center-only grille. The grille was still a full-height affair, but the bumper now intersected it instead of going below it, minimizing this effect. A new hood, cornering lights, and single-piece dual headlights rounded out the Bonneville’s substantial second-year refresh.
Interiors were largely standard fare for a mid-range large car in 1972, which could best be described as pretty basic by today’s standards. Front seats were a single piece bench covered in a combination of cloth and vinyl (or optional all-vinyl). By the looks of its owner’s homemade booster seat, height was not one of the manual seat adjustments and this car does not feature the available tilt steering wheel. AM, AM/FM, and AM/FM radios with either a stereo cassette (modern tech for 1972!) or eight-track player all were available. This car’s owner has installed a rather clever mount for an aftermarket (and now somewhat antiquated) CD player.
Manual windows, door locks, and seats pretty much completed the list of standard features. According to the brochure, the very artificial looking fake wood trim was simulated to replicate “the look of rare teakwood”. I’m all for interesting color interiors, but this asparagus green doesn’t look particularly appealing.
Utilizing the GM B-body, these 1971-1976 Pontiacs were among the largest cars the brand ever produced. Riding on a stretched 126-inch wheelbase shared with the Grand Ville, overall length for 1972 Bonneville came in at 226.2 inches and width at 79.5 inches. Base curb weight for the Bonneville with the 445 V8 rang in at 4,388 pounds. By this generation’s final year, 1976, curb weight had risen to over 4,600 pounds, a result of federally imposed bigger bumpers.
It’s often lamented about how cars have been growing larger in recent years, but even modern full-size American sedans like the Taurus and Impala still come in a few inches narrower and almost 25 inches shorter. Even long-wheelbase versions of the current BMW 7-Series and Mercedes S-Class are still approximately 20 inches shorter and 5 inches narrower. In recent memory, only the 221.4-inch long and 78.5-inch wide Lincoln Town Car L comes close to the 1971-1976 B-bodies in exterior dimensions.
The full-size car market may be shrinking, but seeing cars like this ever-large Bonneville still on the road is a clear sign that there are those who still prefer a big sedan with immense road presence and titanic proportions. To some, bigger will always be better.
I am not aware of any full sized sedans currently being produced. I just bought one of the last ones, a 2006 Mercury Grand Marquis LS Ultimate edition with 47,000 miles on it in near new condition. There are a couple of other American V8 powered RWD sedans out there, but I wouldn’t consider them full sized. This car is twice the size of my crappy blue FWD 2001 Chevy Malibu, has a V8, RWD, and BOF construction. Yet the mileage is almost the same. I love it.
“Full Size” is meaningless terminology. Full size in the 50’s might have meant the Fleetwood 75 sedans, which would then make everything else midsize or compact.
The EPA Fuel Economy Guide defines sedans in 5 size categories:
minicompact – under 85 cubic feet passenger plus cargo volume
subcompact – 85 to 99
compact – 100 to 109
midsized – 110 to 119
large – 120 or more.
Large cars include the Chevrolet Impala, Cadillac XTS, Chrysler 300…
Actually I have always considered the 98-11 Grand Marquis/Crown Vic, to be full size only in name and exterior dimensions only. The interior leave a lot to be desired to be considered fullsize.
I wanted to own one of those Panther cars but I found them too cramped for my 6ft 1 in tall 250lbs body. I ended up with first a 2005 Lesabre(that to me is how a fullsize car should be) which had gobs of room and then a 1995 Cadillac Deville (that is also what a fullsize car should be)
In fact the 1995 Deville actually has slightly more front leg room and 5.3 inches more rear leg room then the 2006 Grand Marquis.
a few folks that I know in used car sales claim that Ford really does not know how to maximize interior space in their cars and in the Panther cars I believe them. Other then the fact the 1995 Deville is slightly more wider then the GM/CV and has more leg room, the Deville actually is slightly smaller then the 2006 GM and yet feels much bigger then a Panther car.
I found the same thing in the Panther cars. I used to rent frequently from Hertz for business and was in the “President’s Circle,” which netted me a free upgrade when available. As such, I bounced between the 4th generation Taurus (1999-2006) and the Crown Vic/Grand Marquis every week for a couple of years. If there was any difference in interior space, it was not obvious to me. The exterior dimensions of the Panthers were of course much larger, as was the trunk. I found the mileage to be pretty similar too.
The ’05 LeSabre is indeed a nice car. The only issue I have with it is FWD. My last car (and first FWD car) was an ’01 Chevy Malibu. Though I put 128,000 miles on it, I never got used to the FWD, and it was a real pain to work on. And coming from a generation where cars were RWD, I also had some philosophical issues with the concept. The Malibu was too small for me. It had bucket seats, and was pretty comfortable if you didn’t move around much. When I needed to replace it, I wanted a big V8 powered RWD car, and the Panthers were the only thing available (I needed something capable of reliable cross country travel). Mine has a bench front seat (well, actually 2 buckets without a center console) and unlike the Malibu, a lot more room between me and the dash. Being 6′ 250, I could easily adjust the seat and wheel for plenty of room. I agree it does not have the interior room of cars like that ’72 Bonneville. And one of those old boats would be a dream car for a daily driver. But from the practical side, even finding one in decent condition would be very difficult, and a car that old would likely need a lot of work to be reliable for long distance driving. Now if it were possible to buy one brand new, or completely restored for an affordable price, I would definitely have one in my garage. I have a passion for ’72 and older American cars, especially big V8 powered ones.
I miss this type of car. Where or when in the history of autos could you find the economy engine on a standard mainstream model to be a 455 V8 with a 2 barrel carb. The economy engine on the current Impala is a 150 cubic inch inline 4. The basic level of the interior, still color coordinated shows just how low the price and cost point of this car was.
So to some up, an average buyer got a 455, a roomy wide interior, a trunk roomy enough for the family, with hd rts probably the best full size handling of the time, a thm 400 one of the best transmissions of the time. The dash board wrapped around the driver better than most current BMWs. The 455, with it’s choice of turnpike cruiser or 4 barrel dual exhaust fun. Don’t forget to peruse the long list and choose just the right axle ratio, not something that will happen much longer. The do gooders who know better will be strangling the engine and then shrinking it soon, the big bumpers will add weight, velour will be coming soon, so pick up[ your 72, and enjoy it the way this car owner has. You could do worse. Thanks Brendan
You’re not alone, I miss these cars. I prefer them instead of currents SUV.
I agree it’s a stretch to call any sedan made today “full-sized”, but it’s a losing argument; the rental car companies and manufacturers have created their own terminology. Rented a “full-size” at Hertz last week and was presented with a Chrysler 200, which is like calling a trumpet a trombone. The Panthers, DTS, and Park Avenue were pretty much the end of anything resembling full size.
Changing topics, these middle trim, middle brands of yore always interest me because they demonstrate how little the mid-range buyer in 1972 expected and would be satisfied with. Was it frugality carried into the 70s by depression-era kids? Certainly these types of cars represent the end of an era of more basic trim interiors and also group rather than individual oriented seating. Yet until about 1980 many of the more “basic” types of trim and options carried up well into the mid-range…the base trim Electra is not a whole lot different save some more power accessories and armrests.
Probably they were just going for ‘more modern’ looks, plus easier badge-engineering, which of course happen to be cheaper to make if they can sell them. (Of course once they can sell that they don’t want to go back to something more fancy) Only got worse when American carmakers decided to make cars seem ‘more economical’ by making them look and feel *cheaper* inside, as much as people complain about ‘brougham-itis’ and all, but the plain interior options probably upsold a number of *those* as well, even if they were just more stuff stuck on the same designs.
Anyway, the ‘frugality’ would likely be more on GM’s part. (Seems to have been less of an affliction for Mopars, anyway. )
Anyway, stuff like that’s usually in context, …like people wonder in part why framed windows came back when frameless ones were so cool… Partly cause so many of those were rattly and falling apart by the time the late Seventies and early 80’s came around that it seemed reassuringly solid to have a windowframe on the doors. Sometimes things that are cool now were things people were getting tired of then, etc. 🙂
“Changing topics, these middle trim, middle brands of yore always interest me because they demonstrate how little the mid-range buyer in 1972 expected and would be satisfied with. Was it frugality carried into the 70s by depression-era kids?”
Believe it or not, this example was pushing into the realm of an upscale car at time – many buyers were people like my parents, in their 30s and with a largish family, so on a budget and a large comfortably equipped car was the ticket.
Interestingly, my Grandparents generation, that had been through the Depression, were the ones buying the flashy cars of the ’50s. And, if they had the money, they were buying the high trim / high option cars as a treat for their retirement years in the 1070s.
The subject car is not a particularly inspired design, and having the dullest wheels covers ever made isn’t helping matters. But, with a big V-8, automatic, power front disc brakes, power steering, air conditioning and a radio, this car was equipped well above the standards of the average car just 10 years earlier.
What a time capsule.
In 1988, right before I turned 16, our neighbors bought an immaculate ’72 Bonneville. Unlike this example, theirs was loaded, in addition to it being a four-door hardtop, it had power windows, locks, and a whole host of optional goodies. It had like 19,000 miles on it. They bought it from an older couple who had kept it under quilts in the garage. They drove the snot out of it, getting 9 to 13 mpg with its 455. As she said, it would pass anything but a gas station.
On fundamental difference I see between cars such as this Bonneville and the current crop is that the Bonneville’s of the world weren’t designed to appear like mini-Sherman tanks. Sure, it’s big in every dimension, but the lines on it flow. In comparison, the Taurus (and Impala, to a lesser degree) looks like a blunt instrument. We ought not talk about weight too much – the Taurus SHO is only 59 pounds less than this Bonneville. And we ought not talk about fuel consumption!
“Sure, it’s big in every dimension, but the lines on it flow. In comparison, the Taurus (and Impala, to a lesser degree) looks like a blunt instrument”.
You’re so right about this.
I took a picture of my ’79 Caprice parked between two Smarts, thinking it would be funny to see a Sherman-sized car next to one of the tiniest automobile built today.
Well, I was disappointed because the Caprice, with its low beltline and big greenhouse, didn’t seem so big next to the Smarts.
High beltlines and arrow slit windows makes cars look bigger (and fatter) than they actually are (plus the fact that you can’t see anything when you’re going reverse…).
If you really want to shrink your Caprice, park it next to a Prius. It’s just shocking how the modern taller architecture seems to shrink the older style cars.
Blunt is just the style right now, which I will admit is probably driven at least somewhat by the new regs about pedestrian impact safety and the higher beltlines that’s brought.
Even in sedan form, this is a nice-looking car! Although most cars were designed to be pillarless hardtops first, this one wore the window frames and pillars very well.
I said often that the 1972 Chevy full-sizers were the last beautiful big cars GM built, I would have to add some of the later models to the list, too, until the 1977 downsized models.
The stretched-wheelbase models added the length to the rear doors for added passenger room.
Those things were enormous!
The Pontiac, being a sedan, probably rode a lot firmer and quieter due to the added stiffness of the pillars, because GM cheaped out so much on the pillarless hardtops, that they rattled and you could actually push on the middle pillar the back doors were hinged on and made them flex! I did just that on a new Caprice Sports Sedan in the showroom at Daoust Chevrolet in Marysville, Ca, and swore off any and all full-sized cars then and there! Can you imagine getting T-boned in one?
From then on, it was mid-sizers and smaller for many years.
“GM cheaped out so much on the pillarless hardtops, that they rattled and you could actually push on the middle pillar the back doors were hinged on and made them flex! I did just that on a new Caprice Sports Sedan in the showroom”
Wow! Not even close to my experience. I owned this fine example for several years, from beauty to beater after a couple of accidents and rust started to attack. My hardtop was quite solid even in its declining years.
Here it is in peak condition……..
I’m sure there were variations, but I’ll never forget that experience!
I’m happy your experience was considerably better.
For the record, I’ve driven and ridden in many hardtops from those years in Buicks and such, and haven’t been able to flex the middle pillar like I did in that showroom.
I have never been fortunate to own a hardtop. I’m happy my dad did.
Interesting point. I’ve often wondered how the center stub post was attached to the frame on pillarless hardtop 4-drs. When I was a kid my Dad had a ’69 Ford Galaxie 4-dr hardtop and I remember it being solid as a tank, it never seemed to rattle and the doors closed smoothly and tightly even when that car was 10 years old. There were, however, a few minor water leaks thru the frameless door glass when going thru the carwash.
GM’s ’71-’72 full-size sedans probably helped to kill the type. My boss owned one of these when it was nearly new, and I had to ride with him on business trips. Uncomfortable as hell. The seats had less room than compacts like Dart and Hornet, and the trunk was small and hard to reach. In other words, the entire purpose of a big car was erased by poor design. All the length went into the engine compartment.
Yes, these are huge cars. On the outside. I wonder if this breed of barges (I would love to have one; as a hobby vehicle) offers more interior room than a current E-segment sedan (like a Mercedes E-Class), let alone an F-segment “full-sizer”.
Vastly more space in these old barges. I sit in an E-Class almost every year at the auto show – beautiful cars. But, there is a reason the sedan market is drying up and everyone is moving on to the much more spacious crossover segment. The taller body structure and more upright seating make them so much more spacious and comfortable.
One thing people don’t recall about these old cars is that the wheel housing did not intrude in the front foot wells. We call that “space inefficiency” these days, but that standard of construction was terrific for a person like me – long legs and big feet. I miss cars that acknowledge that some of us have a size 13 left foot that needs some place to go.
When I look around here, the B- and C-segment crossovers have become very popular. Cars like the Renault Captur (B-segment) and Nissan Qashqai (C-segment). Of course the hatchbacks in these segments are also still bestsellers.
Bigger cars, so Mercedes C-Class / E-Class / S-Class, are still low-riders. And mostly German. Sedan, wagon or coupe. Although there are no top-segment wagons, I must add.
Of course there are exceptions, like the new Renault Espace. Clearly a crossover.
Even the so called compact or more correctly mid sized Rambler Classic or even American had no wheel well intrusion in the front like my ’95 Taurus does. And as far as a more upright stance of a car the Studebaker due to it’s older frame from the Lark and it’s various offshoots were and are still today are criticized for their high stance which is today the norm. Just in my opinion cars that I would not buy and consider are everything built after 2000 which are to me to be an abortion of a car.
Less room then a Dart or Hornet? Just not possible.
These cars were much larger, inside and out, than the compacts. Just look at Brendan’s photos above. There is a lot of space in these.
The compacts of the time suffered the same generally inefficient design, just at 7/10 scale compared to the big cars. For the most part, if you put a tall person into the front bench seat in a compact, the rear was only useful for small children.
We took my ’72 Pontiac on several road trips, including a ski trip with 5 in the car. We simply had plenty of space and the trunk ate up a ton of luggage – those trunks were over 20 cubic feet! I could put four huge golf bags in it with room to spare, my 10 speed bike (big frame, I’m pretty tall) could be dropped in and the trunk lid would close no problem.
I spent a lot of time traveling with my dad in his ’72 and ’74 Oldsmobile 88s, and they were very comfortable road cars.
I wouldn’t mind stretching out in my old Poncho now!
Looks can be deceiving.
My 1988 Buick Electra (FWD) had more rear-seat legroom (by far) and more headroom than the 1971 Ford LTD sedan that we owned for 30 years.
It seems like over the not-quite-decade between the first Mustang and the first oil crisis Detroit applied the long hood/short deck look to almost every new design. I wonder if the Dart/Valiant was so popular for so long because it was just about the only domestic car without at least a foot of wasted space between the grille and radiator.
Nice car .
I remember these well , I don’t want one but they’re sorely missed nevertheless .
prius Taxis ? I think not .
I’ve been in a Prius taxi. Not recommended for the airport run – three on board with luggage on our laps.
I remember the Grand Ville in its last year (1975) and even as a kid I always thought “Grand Ville” was a boring name for a car. Apparently so did the Pontiac people as it lasted only 5 years. I like the name Bonneville.
This brings up a question that has me puzzled.
What is GM going to do with all those cool Pontiac nameplates? And even the Oldsmobile names that may be worth salvaging?
What’s wrong with a Chevrolet Trans Am? I suppose some of the Oldsmobile names might be a little archaic. Would anyone today buy a car called the Delta 88 Royale Brougham? But what’s wrong with Toronado? Or Chevrolet Cutlass?
Agree 100%, was glad to see the Bonneville name return to its proper spot for 1976! 40 years ago they came to their senses. The Grand Ville name is forgettable, sounce like a trim level of the Grand Prix.
Probably thought they could do a cut-n-shut of the Bonneville and Grand Prix nameplates. Never sounded right to me. Still, Bonne Prix would have been worse!
I would love one of these beasts with 455 4brl power but I would’t kick a brand new Impala (V6 – leather) or a Taurus SHO out of bed for eating crackers either.
I more badly miss the full size station wagon than the full size sedan.
The 1972 was the last year of the long wheelbase full sized Pontiac. Through 72 the interior of the lower level long wheelbase (Star Chef/Executive/Bonneville) was the same as the higher level short wheelbase (Ventura/Catalina Brougham). In 1973 only the short wheelbase car was made because the difference in appearance and space was not noticed and the middle level car left was the Bonneville. In 1975-6 the model was driven by the body style with option packages for interior upgrades. Catalinas were pillared sedans and less formal coupes and Bonnevilles (and Grand Villes for 75) were hardtop sedans, formal coupes, convertibles, and rolling chasis for hearse conversions.
Wow, what a time capsule! This looks just like the bazillion of these that were once all around me but which I completely ignored because they were so boring.
The booster cushions made me laugh. I had a teacher in middle school who drove one of these (a 2 door, maybe a 73) and she stood less than 5 feet tall. The rear seat room must have been limo-like with her driving it. My mother at 5-2 used to sit on a cushion to see better back before the days of power seats with height adjustments.
I am starting to have a begrudging respect for these, purely because of the quality of the powertrains. I always found the bodies underbuilt from a structural standpoint and the basic interiors were not appealing at all. But time has softened me. I would drive this car now.
The Pontiacs in particular were a bit boring, especially the ’71 – ’72 versions. If you went down to a Catalina with no options, they were really boring.
But, if you got a loaded up hardtop with all the trimmings, it did stand out as at least handsome, if not particularly inspired. That, and being a time capsule as far as condition was what attracted me to my ’72 Grandville.
I posted this picture earlier, but this would have been a better place for it….
Familiar with the booster cushions here too. My Mom (5’1″ tall and not quite 100 lbs) drove with a cushion underneath her and a cushion behind her in our Malibu (which had only two positions for its manual bench, “up” and “back” and in the Parisienne (which had power seats but they didn’t adjust far enough for her to have good sightlines). They were deemed no longer necessary in the Crown Vic, but the back cushion has reappeared in the Grand Marquis. Maybe she’s shrinking as she ages (or maybe it’s that the recline adjustment on the power seat is broken!)
An interesting fact:
I have wondered about the major change in automobile design, as far as once being low and wide like this 1972 Pontiac, to now being tall and narrow.
Many people comment on how large my 1972 Riviera is, even when viewed from the front or the rear. However, this is an optical illusion of sorts. As an exercise, I did a simple fact check.
Width of my Riviera is 80″, the Height is 54″ = sectional area of 4,320 sq. in.
Width of a 2015 Challenger is 75″, Height is 58.2″ = sectional area of 4,365 sq. in.
So, what is the deal? New cars are more chunky than older cars. SUVs are even more so, in the way of being tall and narrow. When they roll over, they roll and roll and roll like a ball. Older cars are flatter and roll once – plop and that is it!
I personally think that the low and wide is more attractive. Tall and narrow look great for rockets, but they travel vertically! I have heard that it was hard for today’s car designers to adjust to a design that was tall and narrow. The public in general apparently does not understand or care about design. Maybe they didn’t back in the day either, but the designers did.
The lower a car is, the further down you have to bend to get in and out. The wider it is (and the longer the doors) the less likely it is to get the door(s) fully open in a crowded parking lot. A tall, narrow, chunky 4/5 door model offers the best day-to-day usability.
Hybridization and electrics will accelerate this – it’s relatively easy to position the heavy battery pack down low (under the seats, in the center console, even as a false floor between the cabin and the actual floorpan) to allow a tall overall height with a low COG.
Best day to day usability like a toaster. Toasters have no intrinsic value – when they break, throw them away. Same as today’s cars. 50 yrs from now the cars of today will long since thrown away.
You hit the nail on the head with the hammer. Exactly as it is.
And when mass-produced cars of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s were around, people tended to hold onto their cars for a much shorter period of time as in many cars, a car was pretty spent by 100,000 miles. And older folk then probably said, “Oh these cars aren’t as special as the cars of the pre-WW2 era! 50 years from now, they won’t be collectible and they’ll be thrown away!”
Cars today are generally better-built, if more complex, and last longer.
Agreed. Cars have pretty much always been a mix of ‘appliance’ and ‘fetishistic adoration’ – regardless of era and dependent entirely upon the owner’s POV. There are cars today that will be the classics of the future.
I remember many people keeping their 1950s and 1960s cars, even when they were not in running condition. Some examples were the 1960s Thunderbirds and Lincolns and Rivieras (as only three examples). They were just to beautiful to part with, and were keep in barns storage places, etc. You can still find them in non-running condition – and yes, they did have there mechanical problems.
On the other hand, the first wave of Japanese cars of the 1970s and early 1980s were great little cars, but where are they now? When they were at the end of their mechanical life, why would anyone save them? You never never ever see one at an antique car show! They had no intrinsic value.
And the fact that they were so rarely kept is what makes seeing one such a treat today. I agree with you 1000% that a Thunderbird, Continental, Riviera, etc. from the 60’s is an automotive work of art. Much more enjoyable to look at, drive, be in the presence of than pretty much any of those original Japanese economy cars. However, there are so few left that I would probably be more excited to spot, say, a 1977 Datsun 200SX curbside than I would to spot a 1967 Riviera. Neither one is common anymore but you could probably go 10 years and spot more Rivieras than you can count on both hands, and still never see an S10 generation 200SX. There’s no comparison which is the better, cooler car that appeals more to the emotions, but saying that the oddball little 200SX (or any of its brethren of the era) has no intrinsic value is a massive overgeneralization.
Then again I guess it’s all opinion, after all!
Also, the world is getting more and more crowded. It just makes practical sense for cars to get taller and narrower, to take up less space on the road. (And we see buildings doing the same thing, especially in large cities.) I love the long, low look, but it’s very 20th-century.
My high school driver’s ed car was a 1972 Pontiac Catalina with the 455 4-barrel. Icebox white with a blue vinyl interior and an AM radio. Guess the local dealer thought it would be easier to sell used, so it was donated to the school for a year.
I miss cars that don’t have A pillars the width of oak trees!
I wonder how much people’s memories of these old family sedans being vastly roomier than cars of today is skewed by just how much larger people are now. The average American woman of 2015 is the same weight as the average man of 1965 at 166 pounds, according to the CDC.
That goes double for those of us who were young kids when these boats were common.
Always amazes me how similar the styling was of the big 3s full size sedans around this time. Compare this to, say for instance, a 72 LTD, or a 74 Fury; they all have the short fins running along the top of the fenders in one way or another, the rear door kicking up into the C pillar, the large horizontal tail lights etc. I think they’re great looking cars but at a distance they must have been hard to tell apart for some people.
The greenhouse was the most expensive thing to change, hence the similarities across the car lines. Small differences were able to be done at minimal cost, but that has been true since the 1950s.
Well, today’s bread and butter sedans also share appearance similarities.
It’s pretty hard to tell apart a Toyota Camry, from a Hyundai Sonata or a Ford Fusion, especially from the back, with their eyebrow or tear-drop shaped taillights.
I think all of GM’s car advertised both gross and net horsepower for the 1971 model year. Reviewing Pontiac’s brochures for 1971 the 455 was rated at 325 gross horsepower and 260 net. I think dual exhausts were standard with this engine. There was also a high performance 455. The dual exhausts were optional for the 72 model year. Pontiac’s 72 brochures that I found do not list horsepower.
One thing that I do know is that the horsepower ratings in the 60’s are “advertised horsepower”. What does this mean? Buick’s 430 CID engine (new for 1967) was advertised to have 360 HP. For the 1970 model year they had a 455 cid engine, rated at 370 HP. This is a 25 cid increase, which should have produced about 20 more HP, not 10. My point is that the advertised gross ratings are at best close, but not exact power ratings. The 1971 gross ratings are probably accurate, and are less due to the reduced compression ratios, but how much less is difficult to say.
regarding the Buick 430 vs 455 rating
The 455 was accurate but the 430 truly made around 345hp according to internal testing. There are some official GM testing information regarding the 430 on the internet. Horsepower rating back then were really sort of pulled out of the air.
In practice the 430 seems to get better fuel economy (specifically the 1969 version of the motor on the freeway getting around 20mpg ) with comparable amounts of power compared with the 455. Most of the high performance builders start with the 455 because of its advantage in displacement and slight advancements in the oiling system.
With the 401 rated at 325 HP and the 425 rated at 340, a new 430 CID engine should have been more than the old engines. An honest rating of 345 would not have gone over well. For the 71 model year the gross ratings were from 315 to 345 for the 455, which came in different tunes, but all designed for low octane fuel. The compression ratio change would suggest about 25 hp difference. This would suggest that the 1970 engine should have been around 340 to 350 HP with normal tune. The stage one engine probably more.
The Stage 1 engine made 360-370 actual horsepower in stock form.
Gross horsepower ratings were done as a best case type scenario under controlled conditions which may or may not have included headers, optimal ignition timing, optimal coolant temperature, air cleaner and accessory delete, higher octane fuel etc. Even then there was some fudging of the numbers both up and down for marketing reasons.
In reality the 400-430-455 family was more powerful, lighter and more efficient than the nail heads it replaced.
The stock distributor in my 430 powered 68′ Electra made 26* of mechanical advance. The big block Buick prefers around 30-34* of advance to make optimal power. This difference alone would account for a healthy chunk of the difference between the gross and net figures of later years. I have tweaked the advance curve in my car so that it has around 6* initial with it peaking at 31* around 3500 rpm. This woke the car up big time along with some tweaking of the quadrajet and 2.5 inch dual exhaust blowing through flowmaster mufflers
With me and a passenger along with 200 lbs of tools and spare tire in my trunk my 5000+ pound battlewagon hits 60 mph in a little over 6 seconds and probably nails the 1/4 around mid 14s and thats with 2.73 peg leg rear end and a bunch of extra weight. Proper tuning cannot be underestimated
So long as you’ve filled the tank with leaded premium! I owned two high-compression big blocks (429 Ford and 472 Caddy) for quite some time – I lamented the day that Union 76 stopped selling leaded in the mid 1980s (at least in my area).
I live in California where the highest grade I can get a hold of is 91 octane. I am pretty anal about keeping the combustion chambers nice and clean. I also run a 180* thermostat (stock was 195*) so knocking is not much of an issue for me unless its over 100* outside and the car has been idling with the AC going for awhile. Big block Buicks do not need hardened valve seats and run fine on today’s gas minus a slight performance hit from ethanol and lower octane ratings.
I did have to replace some fuel hoses and the accelerator pump because the ethanol eats away at them though.
Today’s gasolines are rated with the anti knock index, a combination of the motor and research octane numbers. The leaded gasoline of yesteryear was rated by the research number. A 91 octane premium that we have now is about a 97 octane research number, or so some websites say.
As I recall, leaded premium was about 98 or 99 octane, with super premium 100 or more.
How about that ’58 Bonneville rear-seat center armrest that raised and lowered from the seat cushion? Perhaps the only rear armrest that did not fold down from the seat back?
I think Pontiac’s brochures -maybe more than any other make romanticized their cars with the dreamy, soft-light tropical settings. The ’67 brochure was amazing in that aspect -especially the illustrations for the Grand Prix.
Saw a kid driving a 70 Sedan Deville at work last night.
Nice find, Brendan! I love seeing clean, unmolested examples of these cars, as so many old full-size cars have sprouted over 20″ chrome wheels and sometimes suspension lifts and “ice cream paint jobs”. At least those modifications are usually reversible.
I still prefer the 1971 grill.
For me, the last GM full sized car was 1996, when they dropped the B body cars. I can’t even remember when Chrysler last built a true full sized sedan. I don’t consider the Charger and 300 to be full sized, but at least they are still RWD with a V8 option. From what I understand, the Ford Panther platform cars were selling well right up until the end. At 6′ 250 I do not fit well in today’s small cars. My recently acquired ’06 Mercury Grand Marquis fits me perfectly, and even has room left over. I also really love how much room there is between the seat and dash. It is about the same as my ’64 Fairlane. I was considering a full sized truck to replace my worn out Malibu, but the Mercury had more room and gets way better mileage. I’ve gotten close to 30 mpg hwy out of it. I would like to see the return of these cars. Sadly, it seems they have been replaced by the crew cab truck.
Wilderness Green I believe, same as the Grand Ville shown in the ’72 brochure. Terrific find Brendan!
The 73 Bonneville with the Pre-RTS handling package…SWEET!
I prefer the 71 front end, 71/72 Grand Villes had the 455 standard. This car drives like a dream on the highway…
Did you just happen upon this, Brendan? A 1971-72 full-size Pontiac is a very rare sight! And it’s green! The color looks like a close match to the one shown in the beautiful Art Fitzpatrick rendering from 1971. A friend I’ve lost touch with had a brown 1971 Grand Ville about 10 years ago (I think it was a junkyard rescue). I don’t think I’ve seen one since!
I liked the color coordinated interiors, preferably with fake woodgrain trim. One of the issues Americans had with “foreign” cars back in those days was the lack of a color coordinated interior. I remember when the VW Rabbit first came out. It had, like most European cars, a black interior. In the early years of the Rabbit, VW changed that to a color color coordinated interior, to help U.S. sales.
While I don’t think that Bonneville was the nicest looking of the big American land yachts, I would be proud to drive it. It would give me a very satisfying feeling when pulled up to a stoplight beside a Prius. I hope whoever owns that car keeps it going for a long long time.
As much as I loved my dad’s 75 Buick Limited Coupe, in those days, GMs cars all looked so much alike, you can’t really differentiate between the full-sized models, or the other sizes either for that matter. Other than the grilles and the fact that the full-sized Chevy Coupes had different rooflines in later years, they all looked pretty much the same.
I visited friends in Washington state in the ’70s, and they had bought a used but minty 1968 Pontiac Executive. It was very luxurious. Where did it fit into the full-size American Pontiac hierarchy?
In Canada, we had, in ascending order, the Strato Chief, the Laurentian, the Parisienne, and the Grande Parisienne, which I thought of as corresponding to the Chevy Biscayne, Bel Air, Impala, and Caprice.
So what about the Pontiac Executive? Was it like a Grande Bonneville?
Executive was between Catalina and Bonneville. It replaced Star Chief. Basically a Bonneville with less trim.
The Executive began as the Star Chief in the late 1950s; starting in 1961 it shared the Bonneville’s longer wheelbase (versus the Catalina and, as of ’62, the Grand Prix) but had a somewhat plainer interior. In those years the Star Chief offered a pillared sedan but the Bonneville didn’t, and the Bonneville offered a convertible and wagon but the Star Chief didn’t. The Star Chief became the Star Chief Executive in 1966 and then simply the Executive in 1967, when the line grew to include a wagon (Pontiac’s first full-size wagon with fake woodgrain on the exterior). Note: Both Bonneville and Executive wagons used the shorter Catalina wheelbase through 1970.
The distinction between the two lines became even blurrier in 1968 when the Bonneville started offering a pillared sedan. With the new-for-1971 cars, the Executive was renamed the Catalina Brougham and all the full-size models became more alike (allegedly the Grand Ville, which had a more formal roofline on hardtops and took away the convertible from the Bonneville line, had a longer wheelbase than the others, but I’m not convinced).
Why are ads covering half this article?????
I see the ads are gone. Thanks.
Was Pontiac the only division to offer a 2 bbl big block (400+)? I hope they were big ones.
Odd that the Bonneville had a 126″ wheelbase when the 88 and LeSabre/Centurion were 124″. Impala/Caprice were 121.5″, the same as the 1977-96 Cadillac C body.
All Divisions except Cadillac dabbled in 2bbl carbs atop large cube engines.
A nice preserved car but the interior is very Catalina like. As a kid my mother had a 72 Catalina. I Would have expected the Bonneville to at least have power windows and Velour brougham seats. This is just like the Catalina. This Generation rusted badly. By 77 there was rust spots all over it and the seats were split but it still ran decent and had lots of power. Alas it was traded on a fancier but underpowered 77 301 Grand Prix.
With the launch of small cars, Detroit decision makers believed that they needed to be prepared to lose money on them. So, they cheapened the full sized cars being sold in the millions and offered luxurious options in upscale lines like DLO, VIP, LTD and Caprice. If you didn’t want a cheap Cadillac, you could get a cheap one with lots of neat options. If you found the cheap Catalina unappealing, you could get the option-laden Bonneville. These loaded lines were still sitting on cheapened full sizers, however.
Quality suffered, plastics and polyester, vinyl and rubber were all noticeably tackier. You got a bigger car, a heavier car, but filled with stuff that suffered from cut corners. These full size cars were profitable, because they weren’t expensive to mass produce. Looking at these interiors was a let-down. Wood applique denoted luxury and chrome covered plastic was supposed to look expensive. They rusted quickly.
The Oil Crisis of 1974 changed things. It shook up Detroit. It created uncertainty and instability. It signaled and end to this era of big road cruisers, but it also signaled an end to big cheap road cruisers too. The market became competitive after a decade of full size complacency.
So, I am not a big fan of these cars. I refused to drive or own a full size car until 2013. Today I really enjoy the new versions of this style of car, but I have too many memories of these bloated lemons rusting bumper to bumper across Chicagoland forty years ago.
I’m not so harsh on ’em.
Good old rugged roomy Detroit iron.
The Pontiac would predictably need a timing chain, not a big deal, they weren’t a “valve bender” engine. Big B’s could easily take on anything Chicagoland could dish out, relatively trouble free for a decade. What else can be expected?
Chicago is a good test bed to observe, because no place will chew up and spit out a car the way Chicago can. Forty years ago, when Chicagoland was still loaded with Big Bs the newest versions were six years old, the first were at 10 years. Fuel economy concerns, road salt, and changing political winds be damned, the Big B’s held on en masse.
What was left of the import offerings from ’71 that could take on Chicago like that?