(first posted 11/5/2012) Given the number of times I’ve mentioned the ’79 Bonnie sedan my dad had when I was but a tot, it probably won’t come as a surprise to you if I profess my love for the 1977-79 Pontiac Bonnevilles one more time. That said, these B-bodies were not nearly as popular as their Caprice, Delta 88 and LeSabre brethren; as products of GM’s de facto sporty division, perhaps these luxo-cruisers seemed a bit anomalous. Nevertheless, when fitted with Brougham trim and ordered with an indulgent eye on the option list, these cars could do everything a Coupe de Ville did in terms of comfort, ride and handling–that is, everything but offer snob appeal.
As I mentioned in a previous ’72 Catalina CC, Pontiac’s full-size cars sort of floundered during the 1970s. They were perfectly serviceable as daily drivers, but had lost the ’60s style and flash for which they’d been renowned. Exactly what was a big Poncho supposed to be now? A cut-rate Electra 225? A slightly more deluxe Impala? A plus-sized Grand Prix? Even Pontiac didn’t seem to know, and they suffered for it. But things started to pick up with the downsized ’77 Bonnies and Cats, at least to an extent.
I think we all know that the 1977 General Motors B-bodies were introduced at the perfect time. Their clean, uncluttered “sheer” styling, efficient packaging and unexpected room made for a lineup of fine family cars. Although the Chevrolets promptly blew the other divisions’ Bs out of the water, the platform’s inherent goodness helped increase the sales of all the GM full-sizers, including Pontiac’s.
By this time, the midsize segment dominated by the Cutlass Supreme claimed the vast majority of coupe sales; although GM still offered full-size coupes, they were seen far less frequently than their sedan counterparts. The Bonneville (and its Canadian-kin Parisienne, seen above) was quite handsome indeed–perhaps so much so that by the late ’70s, the Catalina was no longer the largest-selling full-size Pontiac. Buyers desiring a big Pontiac opted for the flossier Bonneville and Bonneville Brougham models, leaving the LeMans to other shoppers who simply wanted a plain sedan.
That was probably just fine with Pontiac, which certainly made more profit on a Bonneville. It was easy to distinguish a Bonneville from a Catalina, since the Bonnies had a more “important”-looking grille, wider taillights, fender skirts, a gold sunburst hood ornament, and sunburst side badging on sedan C-pillars and non-Landau-roofed coupe B-pillars.
Frankly, the Catalina (and its Canadian Laurentian counterpart) was starting to look a whole lot like a fleet special that was more (recently departed) Bel Air than Impala–and even less like Catalinas of just a few years earlier. The Bonnevilles simply did “Brougham” so much better.
Between 1977 and 1979, Bonnevilles stayed pretty much the same, save the annual de rigueur grille and taillight updates. The ’79s also lost the chrome wind-split between the rectangular headlights, which were moved closer together, and the cool snowflake alloy wheels had been moved to the option list.
The 1977-1979 model lineup stayed the same, starting with the entry-level Catalina and moving up through the Bonneville and Bonneville Brougham coupes and sedans. One model that did not return for ’79 was the Di-Noc-clad Grand Safari, which was now dubbed the Bonneville Safari. Sadly, it didn’t offer the Brougham’s loose-pillow velour seating.
That ultra-cosseting, floating-pillow velour split-bench seating is the very reason why you’d choose the Brougham. What’s more, this was when interiors came in real colors like red, green, blue, tan, black and white, and not just sepia tones. When properly equipped, these cars could be as luxurious as any Cadillac.
Load up your Brougham: Add the snowflake alloys, whitewalls, Astroroof and power everything, and you had an awfully nice car–all for thousands less than a Coupe or Sedan de Ville. Just about the only thing you couldn’t get was a leather interior.
The Bonneville Brougham was a fine automobile, one built before the bean counters completely took over GM and accelerated its nosedive into trouble. The problem was that most folks passed up the Bonnie in favor of the Caprice Classic, which offered essentially the same car (and luxury options) for less money.
Actually, the Pontiac occupied a sort of anti-sweet spot: It not only had a higher sticker price than the Caprice, but for just a few more dollars Bonnie shoppers could buy a more prestigious Delta 88 Royale or LeSabre Custom. Even in the late 1970s, each GM brand had a distinct identity that reflected one’s station in life, and buyers knew it.
While a Bonneville Brougham cost less than a Delta 88, it was ever so much more prestigious to tell everyone at work that you got a new Oldsmobile as opposed to a new Pontiac: “A Pontiac, huh? So then it’s basically a Caprice…right, Bob?”
Hey, under the skin all the B-bodies were pretty similar; still, for whatever reason, Pontiac’s versions consistently owned the bottom of the B-body sales charts. When I posted my ’78 Bonneville CC last winter, it was suggested in the comments section that the Pontiac Bs were the least attractive of the bunch. Well, everyone is entitled to their opinion. Mine is that the Bonneville looks best–however, I freely admit that I’m biased.
image: PontiacChief’s photostream at flickr.com
Dad’s ’79 was the very first car I can remember, and also the first car I remember riding in as a toddler. That car really made an impression on me. Why else would I have such a serious jones for them 30 years later? I know, I’ve said before that if I ever got a Curbside Classic of my own I’d want a ’90-’92 Cadillac Brougham. Finding one of those would be easier than finding a ’79 Bonnie sedan, but I have to admit that I’d take the Bonneville over the Caddy.
As expected, the Bonneville Brougham was the swankiest full-size Pontiac. Peppered with extra features inside and out, the biggest difference from the basic Bonneville was inside. There was loose-cushion velour seating with a 60/40 divided front seat, a fold-down center armrest, deep-pile carpeting, electric clock, custom chrome-trimmed pedals and a ‘luxury’ cushioned steering wheel. Even the trunk was Broughamified, with velour carpeting on both the floor and the spare tire cover–how decadent!
Yes, the Brougham was quite the cushy, well-equipped car, with poofy seats, extra sound insulation and a bright red arrowhead adorning its chromed nose, but it just didn’t sell like the Caprice. However, the 1977-79 Catalinas and Bonnevilles did sell significantly better than their 1976 predecessors.
Pontiac was quick to point that out in the 1978 sales brochure:
“We called them ‘the right cars, at the right time.’ And we were right. Because America’s drivers purchased over 40% more 1977 full-size Pontiacs than they purchased 1976 full-size Pontiacs.”
And the numbers only got better. In 1977, 114,880 Bonnevilles were sold; 125,297 moved in 1978; and 1979 sales totaled 162,491. Not bad, but still a blip on the radar compared with Caprice sales of 284,813, 263,909 and 261,470 for ’77, ’78 and ’79, respectively. While that isn’t good news for folks seeking an affordable collectible, perhaps it still will work in the Bonneville’s favor as time goes by. The relative scarcity may one day enhance both its value and survival rate.
Yes, these cars are my favorites, but sadly are quite rare here in the Midwest. Besides the ’78 Brougham sedan I wrote about previously, over the past two years I’ve seen only a pale green ’79 Bonneville coupe at the junkyard and a white ’78 Catalina sedan (all before my camera-carrying CC days). Then, just a few weeks ago, I quite happily found this silver ’79 Brougham coupe. That’s the whole list. On the other hand, I’ve seen probably two or three dozen ’77-’79 Caprices during the same period.
That I even spotted this platinum beauty was pure chance. For some reason, while on my way to 16th St. I took a rarely-used street in Moline. When I glanced to my right at an intersection, I spotted this Bonneville. What luck! It was even a ’79, like Dad’s.
There was a fresh-vegetable stand across the alley, so after taking a longing glance at that coupe, I headed over to see if one of the customers there was the owner. Dan, the owner, turned out to be a very nice guy who was flattered that I was interested in his old car. I told him my Dad had owned one, and I asked his permission to take some pictures. Dan said that would be no problem.
Dan is the one-and-only owner of this Brougham, which he purchased brand-new at Horst-Zimmerman Pontiac-Cadillac in downtown Rock Island, trading in a ’73 LeMans. He’d also looked at Bonnevilles at Perry Snower Pontiac-Buick, in Moline, but since they wouldn’t deal the silver coupe in Rock Island became his. What I find interesting is that Horst-Zimmerman was right across the street from Illinois Casualty, where my dad worked as an investigator. I find it fascinating that at the same time Dan was doing the deal on his silver Bonneville coupe, Dad was most likely about 50 feet away, sitting at his desk while his brown Bonneville sedan sat in the parking lot. Small world!
Dan’s Bonneville is equipped with many options, including power windows and door locks, a gauge package, Landau roof, sport mirrors and Rally wheels. He said the car cost about $10,000 in 1979 and that they’ve been through a lot together since then. Dan related an amusing story of a hit-and-run in which the driver of an early ’80s Town Car took off after hitting him. Fortunately for Dan, the “master criminal” behind the wheel left his license plate behind for Dan to take to the local constabulary! Aren’t stupid criminals amusing?
Currently, Dan’s Bonneville has just shy of 90,000 miles on the odometer. It’s not a show car, but still very nice for a thirtysomething-years-old car in the Midwest. Dan still has the fender skirts, too. As you can see, the interior is really nice–and, I’m sure, still very comfortable.
I did a little digital editing of this shot to add fender skirts. It must have been awfully sharp when new–sporty and Broughamy. The fender skirts make the Landau top work a little better, though the non vinyl-roofed Bonnevilles looked even better with their stainless steel B-pillars and razor-edged rear quarter windows.
After taking way too many photos than I needed to (I TOLD you I liked these cars!) Dan and I parted ways. It was great to get to check out his car up close, and chat with its original owner. Big cars like these really were GM’s forte, as confirmed by the many, many B-bodies (but far too few Pontiacs) still in circulation around here. What a shame, since they really were the best ones!
There were tons of these in Canuckistan. The 1979 seems to be the one that sold the best here since the roads were thick with them. In those days, both buyer and banks were very conservative in Canada and few would ever step-up past a Pontiac. A Poncho was a sign you had made it, even the stripped out base models the sold here.
My brother had a Pariesenne Brougham and it was a very nice car. His was a steel roof, two tone blue on blue. Really nice car and he bought it a year old and saved a nice chunk. The driving experience was pure B Body, meaning good for the day. Heck, a new B Body was very nice driving car. The 305 2V was fine but the THM200 died like a month after he got it, causing him no end of shame since GM blue blood pumped in his veins.
It was eventually sold off to a family friend, an interesting man who was somewhat like a hermit. The last I saw it was about 1998, looking much the worse for wear. It had enormous kms on it by then but it still ran. I have a lot of respect for these GM Canada cars, most were quite good. That’s why the Pontiac was so popular here.
Back when the Automotive Task Force (ATF) here in the US was trying to decide what to do with GM & Chrysler, the logic to keep Buick alive and kill off the other mid-level car lines was the fact that Buick has a large following in China.
Having visited Canada numerous times, I knew that Pontiac engendered especially strong feelings there (about the only time I ever found Canadians annoying, eh?), and I thought to myself: If the ATF can keep Buick alive for Communist China, why can’t we (the US) keep Pontiac alive for our Canadian ally? We do a lot more business with Canada, couldn’t we afford to give them at least one Pontiac?
My calls to Steven Rattner went unanswered. You see the results…
I have asked myself the same question. When Herr Harper bailed out GM with my tax dollars, our Borrow-and-Spend Conservatives claimed it was to keep GM jobs in Canada. Instead, GM gutted its Canadian operations and moved much of the machinery to Mexico.
That said, Canada is small market and GM always took it for granted. The Japanese, however, did not and now the largest manufacturing operations in Canada are run by Honda and Toyota, neither of which has ever received a hand-out from our tax-payers.
Good points! The question remains did GM save Buick in order to sell more Buicks to the Chi-Coms or did GM save Buick in order to make GM more appealling in a sale to the Chi-Coms? I am still perplexed and angered that this great marque, that gave us the GTO, the first muscle car shot across the bow in the Muscle Car Wars………the Firebird and the Trans Am………..the Grand Prix……..the Fiero……the Solstice. Wide Track, 455’s, Jim Wangers, Woodward Avenue, the GTO Judge with it’s psychedelic paint colors in tune with Sammy Davis, JR on the old Laugh-in skit (the court’s in session and here comes de Judge!)………the Bob Lutz GTO………the Rockford Files……Richard Petty piloting a Pontiac on the Daytona high banks……the SD-455, the last of the great Detroit muscle car engines. So much history gone in an unseemly manner. I mourn the death of my favorite GM brand!
Excellent write up by Tom and what a fantastic catch! To have survived all of those Upper Midwest winters is a testament to what a well built car it really was!
I am not sure what a Chi-com is but I do know that the Buick brand is very popular in China and is often used as a livery car for lower-end officials. In fact, the GM brand is partially owned by the government of Shanghai, and the name of the company is Shanghai-Buick. They thus have a huge captive market.
The brands sold by GM China are totally different to that is available here and include a bunch of Deawoo stuff. I would seriously doubt that any changes to GM in North American would have had anything to do with Shanghai-GM.
@Canucknucklehead: Chi com = Chinese communist.
Granted, what is sold in China is a fair amount different than what we see in North America, but like Michael Notigan said, it’s possible that this was done to make GM more salable (possibly) to the Chi coms. FWIW, GM China does sell the Chevy and Cadillac brands, but again with different models than what are sold here.
Another train of thought was, during the ATF process, Pontiac was killed off in order to make room for the Dodge brand, as they were considering either merging Chrysler and GM or killing off Chrysler (Corporation) entirely and adding one or two of their brands to the GM portfolio. (I was thinking Jeep and Dodge would have survived.) When everything shook out, GM and Chrysler were NOT merged in any way shape or form, but by then Pontiac’s demise had been sealed.
OTOH, GM has not sold off the intellectual property (IP) rights for Pontiac and still retains all of them. (Oldsmobile is in the same situation, too.) Saturn’s and Hummer’s IP’s were put up for sale, but as we know it all fell apart. I don’t know if this means that if GM regains some sort of health that we’d once again see Pontiac- and Oldsmobile- branded cars, but it is nice to dream…
I see, can I call you guys Am-caps or Rep-facs?
Even before GM bust, the China operations were the only thing making money.
I always thought they should’ve kept Pontiac in North America and made Buick a China-only brand, like how they’ve been calling the Opels they sell in Britain “Vauxhall” for decades now.
In México it happened something similar but far more years ago. In the early sixties the Mexican government issued a decree which banned the luxury marques (Cadillac, Lincoln, Imperial) and the lower ones (Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Chrysler, DeSoto -about to die soon- Mercury) later. Thus, the only makes we saw for many many years were Chevrolets (Impalas and Chevelles), Fords (Galaxies, Mustangs and Falcons) and Dodges (Dart) and Plymouths (Valiant, Barracuda). This governmental decree stated that to protect and develop the Mexican auto industry the components of a vehicle must be 80% of Mexican origin, so, the factories either had to leave or accomodate to the order given by the President of the country in turn. As a result, the people was buying the very low-end makes and one way or another, they became the “status” symbol in our country, but the worst thing that I believe it happened was that the newer generations became so ignorant as the origin of the makes when they were imported again. When my mother got her ’91 Sedan deVille IT HAD TO BE purchased at the Chevrolet dealer. So many a guy thought that IT WAS A CHEVROLET! When the car’s warranty was over, I took it to a common mechanic to get a tune up and when he saw it told me: “Oh, it’s a Chevrolet!” I strenously denied it and told him that was a CADILLAC, again, he said “Well, its made by CHEVROLET! (!) And he made the tune up with Chevrolet codes by introducing a computer terminal into the lower dashboard connector, a thing I didn’t know in the moment, but when I went to retrieve it from the shop and the moment I left, I noticed that the gas gauge was getting lower the more I was driving! I went back and make a claim, but the mechanic told me that everything was OK, that he had used the Chevrolet codes for the tune up! There was no use for me in order to make him understand that Chevrolet and Cadillac were related only in a small degree. He was firm in the job that he’d done, and I had to ask very humbly at the Cadillac dealer to repair the situation. You see, before we had Cadillacs, Lincolns and Imperials again, in 1983 or 84 we had New Yorkers, Centuries, Cutlasses and Thunderbirds and Cougars, but many people in México tended to denominate them by the dealer where they were sold. So, a New Yorker was a Dodge, a Century and Cutlass were Chevrolets, and Cougars, of course, Ford. That probably was the cause that all these fine cars went to the junkyard sooner than if they would have been cared taking into consideration the origin of the car. The sole name, Buick, for example, would have been enough to denote that it was a fine car, nothing to do with Chevrolet. What a shame for us, ignorant people!
An interesting bit of trivia on why Buicks are so popular in China is because the former (and the last) Emporer of China owned several Buicks and for one reason or another, that prestige has survived to this day. GM has used this to their advantage and now Buicks (and Caddys) are selling BIG in China, which partially helped to save GM. \
Here’s an interesting article on Buick and Buicks in China. Its from a cigar mag, but still an interesting read for us car guys!
I really think brand equity wise, Pontiac and Buick were a toss up, with Pontiac having a slight edge. The lutz GTO may not have sold well and the G8 pretty much entered the scene within months of the division getting the axe, but the idea of using the division for those RWD Holden models really was in the frame of the 1960s excitement division more than ever. Buick? Same old interdivisional crap they’ve been vested in for decades, now with uninspiring badge engineered Opels.
Pontiac may be seen as tarted up Chevrolet, but Buick morphed into a tarted up Pontiac too.
One possible reason for the poor sales of the big Pontiac vs. the Olds and Buick: If you sprung for a Ninety Eight or an Electra, you got an extra 3″ of wheelbase compared to an Eighty Eight or LeSabre. The Pontiacs, on the other hand, came in only one wheelbase, which means for the extra expenditure to buy a Bonneville, you only got trim differences compared to the Catalina.
That’s correct, and for that very reason, the fact that PONTIAC did not have a C body of its own, meant that the Bonneville Brougham very much slotted above, and was MORE CAR than any Delta 88 or Buick LeSabre. It’s unfortunate (and unfair to PONTIAC) that it didn’t have more brand caché with customers.
Although I will stick by my opinion that the Olds 88 was the best looking variant of this body, The Bonneville comes in second – provided it is equipped with the fender skirts. It always seemed odd to me that Pontiac (the performance and excitement Division) was the only one to equip the cars with fender skirts, while the more luxurious Olds and Buick (and even Cadillac) eschewed them. My mother’s 74 Luxury LeMans had them too, so I guess Pontiac must have been the fender skirt division in the 70s.
I believe that these cars were among the first to really break down the old GM hierarchy. In my eyes at the time, a LeSabre was not really any more luxurious than these, and it just came down to the look you preferred, or the dealer where you preferred to go.
As for the wheels, I have to vote for the 5 spoke mags. They just scream “Pontiac”, and make the car look just right. A nice find, Tom. I have not seen one of the big Bonnies in a long time.
Agreed on points 2 and 3 – the fender skirts really set the Bonnie apart and made it look more luxurious. Without them, they look like a Caprice.
And by the 70s the lines between competing divisions had been blurred so much that the choice of Bs was purely preference.
2 more reasons why Bonnie’s were the least popular: Chevy fleet sales and, more importantly, brand-captive audience. While many buyers liked to move up the GM hierarchy as they improved their situation in life, some preferred to stick with a specific GM division and move up within that. Those who just loved Pontiacs were primarily the ones who bought these. Maybe their last car was a Catalina or a LeMans. But, if someone was a B-O-C guy, then they probably wouldn’t get one of these. That includes the millions of Cutass owners looking to trade up. And for the Chevy guys? Some of them moved over to Pontac for something different, while others moved up to Olds. Thus, in a world dominated by Chevy and now Olds, the Bonnie was the odd man out.
One more thing, for what it’s worth: my hometown of Creve Coeur had a fleet of ’75 or ’76 Catalina cop cars, but then starting in 77 and going to at least 81-82 they were driving LeSabres. That was always stranger to me than the luxury fender skirts on the Poncho, but I guess the police chief wanted his force to hand out tickets in style…
Olds, of course, added fender skirts to the 1980 Ninety-Eight redesign. Nice ones, too.
Thank you for mentioning that, gottacook. Thought I was the only one who appreciated the lines of the 80 Ninety-Eight reskin, so glad to know im not alone.
Still think its a looker, even though they are hardly collectible and rarely seen.
They still catch my eyes. I imagine that if I was in the market for a new car back then I would have had a terrible time deciding which one I wanted, as I found all of the A, B and C cars attractive back then.
I always felt at this point Pontiac dipped back to where they were up until 1959: Flashier Chevrolets. Only this time they didn’t necessarily have different engines. It was if all of the 1960s were voided for the big Pontiacs (and soon the Midsize ones too) and being the “Mercury of General Motors” started to set in.
The skirts are obviously a matter of taste, because I’ve been looking at that silver one without skirts and thinking how much better it looks. To me, the Bonnevilles have always looked pudgy in the rear compared to a Caprice or a LeSabre, and the skirts made them look even pudgier. My first choice among B-Body coupes is the ’79 LeSabre Palm Beach edition with its unique two tone paint scheme and plaid interior.
I agree with you & think these cars look better without the skirts. However my first choice would be a Holiday 88!
The LeSabre was much nicer looking and actual sportier than the Bonneville….What was the Pontiac B-body niche? Sporty? nah…luxurious? not really.
Chevy was value and volume and Buick at that time was developing a sports image with its T-type options and 3.8 turbo, while still retaining a luxury image…Oldsmobile was resting on its Cutlass laurels, eventually naming everything “Cutlass” and then starting the “not your fathers Oldsmobile” campaign which just reminded everyone that it still was their fathers Oldsmobile…Other than the Trans Am I think this is where Pontiac was really starting to lose its way.
Nice car, it would be my choice if I was looking for a late 70’s B-body for a toy.
Great article too, thanks!
I always find the perception of moving from Chevy to Pontiac to Olds to Buick to Cadillac kind of interesting. I know it might seem kind of weird, but I still have this feeling in my mind. I felt like I was moving down market when I purchased my Cruze Eco last year. I still refer to my wife’s 08 Grand Prix as our “good car”, not including the keepers I have hidden in various garages.
One little bit of Trivia….Jimmy Hoffa’s last ride was a Bonneville coupe (74 or 75 I think). I think that adds a little bit of bad ass legend to the Bonneville…at least in my narrowly focused mind…
I read somewhere that he had a Grand Prix.
Maybe it was a Grandville coupe? Hard to tell from this photo.
I was reading an article recently about yet another excavation to find Hoffa’s body, and they said it was a Grandville.
It was a GrandVille coupe, is that a picture of the actual car?
I stand corrected-I guess that was the closest he could get to a Caddy, what with his limited means, being just released from prison.
Yes sir, that is a crime scene photo of his Pontiac at the police station. From what I understand they expected to find his body in the trunk…as we know, it had a big trunk, but not big enough to hide the Hof
Had the Gran Ville survived after 1975 and made it through the 1977 Downsizing Program, the Gran Ville “MAY” have become Pontiac’s RWD C-Body to compete against its Divisional Cousins such as the Oldsmobile 98 Regency, Buick Electra 225 & Cadillac Sedan deVille/Fleetwood Brougham especially since the Pontiac Catalina/Laurentian & the Bonneville/Parisienne were strictly RWD B-Bodies much like the Chevrolet Impala/Bel Air (CANADA)/Caprice Classic, Oldsmobile Delta 88 & the Buick Le Sabre.
You know, I felt the same way once too. A few years ago I traded an Olds Alero for a Chevrolet HHR. The dealer made the comment that I was getting such a better car, and I said, “But I still feel like I am trading down from an Oldsmobile to a Chevrolet!”
When I had the Alero, I ALWAYS referred to it as “my Oldsmobile”.
Nice find Tom!
I’m from rural, eastern kentucky (bonafide hillbilly! 🙂 ) and Pontiac B-bodies were pretty obscure up there. The only one I recall distinctly was my high-school math teacher’s Parisienne, which was a slightly odd lemony-green color. LOTS of Chevys and Oldsmobiles and a few Buicks driven by the more well-to-do.
This was especially odd as there was always a pretty strong Pontiac presence in the area…Lots of Le Mans, Grand Am, Firebird/Trans Am, Grand Prix and even Fiero owners, when those were new. As a matter of fact, I remember being slightly surprised when my math teacher bought his Parisienne,as I didn’t even realise they existed!
The two-tone grey and silver ’77 Bonneville Coupe (third picture down) is pretty damn sharp…Would look especially nice with a set of those snowflake wheels off the ’79 coupe pictured further down!
When as a young child in the late 60’s, I became aware of the Pontiac brand; it seemed to be the car of choice for female school teachers. Not the exciting smaller ones, but Laurentians or Parisiennes. Not too flashy but somewhat less blue-collar than a Chevy, Ford or Plymouth.
The pictured blue-and-white 1976 Bonneville is fantastic. The opera windows look definitely larger than those on the Coupe De Ville don’t they? Love these small fender skirts too.
Those were big windows — visibility was very good in that year/bodystyle. I’d love to have a ’76 Bonneville Brougham .
Actually, my late step-grandmother had a beige ’76 Bonneville Brougham coupe — she lived in Florida near the coast which baked the interior & rusted the exterior under the awful Landau vinyl top. The interior had gotten so hot the top of the dash actually turned black (not to mention the bazillion cracks in it!) After she quit driving, my dad ended up with it (unfortunately). The car looked awful but it only had about 40K on it & was very heavily optioned.
At the time I had a near perfect 1973 Golden Olive Bonneville coupe with maybe 30K on it. My car looked like a million bucks but the ’76 rode & drove so much better. The doors closed “like a Ford” & my father frequently ground the starter because he didn’t realize the engine was running — there was zero road noise — the car must have had a LOT of sound deadener in it.
It’s such a shame that he beat the crap out of that car because I thought it was a very very nice vehicle in spite of its appearance. I cannot stress how differently that car drove than my ’73. Even the steering box was different — it had a quicker ratio or something.
Thanks for sharing these memories. I don’t think I have ever seen a 1976 Bonneville Coupe in the metal (how many of these can be on the road in 2012??) but I remember there were still quite a few later-year Parisiennes in the Vancouver area as I was living there in the early 1990s. I really loved these. Most were still looking good despite these tremendously rainy BC winters. They were very nice and strong cars. I miss’em! Pontiac was a great marque.
The Bonneville coupes looked GREAT, although I’m not a huge fan of the padded Landau roof on them. The cars in pictures #3, 5 and 7 are outstanding. Love the two-tone gray silver, the full vinyl (non-padded) roof and the all black with honeycomb wheels. I normally despise fender skirts on anything this modern, but the effect works for me on these. It works less on the sedan, but still not bad – and I actually think this Landau-clad CC ends up looking better without them. Great color, too!
It’s awesome that this car is an original owner example still faithfully serving it’s intended purpose. I haven’t seen one of these in forever… in fact, if I ever see a Pontiac B-Body it’s the later Parisienne version. I’m glad you went crazy with the pictures on this. I never really took notice of how intricately detailed these taillights were, and what a unique design it was for the time. Good stuff…
I’m with jpcavanaugh on B-Body hierarchy. When it comes to the 2-door models, I liked the Delta 88 best but these are a very close second. IMO, the Chevrolets were the best looking in sedan form, but Pontiac and Olds both did a great job setting apart their B-coupes from the rest of the bunch. It’s too bad fullsize 2-doors were on their deathbed at the time. I’d love to have a car just like this.
This Bonneville Brougham is almost identical to a 1977-79 Bonneville Brougham that I jog past on a regular basis in Arlington, Virginia. Same color, vinyl roof, and overall external condition, although “my” Bonneville is in better external condition, lacking the C-pillar rust weepage and having all of its external brightwork intact. (I have never looked inside carefully enough to determine whether it has the rectangular cluster of multiple gauges – a great feature.) Having fond memories of these B-Bodies from being a passenger in many of them as a child, I have often been tempted to leave an “If you are considering selling, please call …” note on the windshield. This article makes me think about doing so right now!
DO IT! I should do the same thing for a 92 Oldsmobile 98 in white with a blue leather interior that I see several times a month in downtown Gallup parked at one of the local hair salons. Dash rug, mint condition except the white paint peeling on the trunk lid…
I should leave my business card under the wiper with an offer on it.
Robert, if you get a chance please get some pictures. I’d love to see ‘your’ Bonneville!
I agree Dan!
They are great cars.
I ran into the couple I sold my LeSabre to today. They told me that it made to Florida and back with zero problems and they are still in love with it. It made my day 🙂
Feel like a trip to MN Dan? If so, here you go! Looks remarkably nice for $1200. Just needs some Rally IIs.
Those gauges are one of my favorite features of these. Some even had a fuel economy (vacuum) gauge in the square normally occupied by the shift quadrant & clock. (One could order the UE8 digital clock which resided neatly between the two center A/C vents — so you could have both features.
Well, I give up on the CC clues – I haven’t gotten one right, yet.
The GM B bodies – the 1977 Impala with the kinked rear glass really did it for me, as I wanted one BADLY!
After that, they really had little attraction to me, but by that time I was so mad at GM for what turned out to be almost 27 years, they could have given me a Corvette and I woud have turned it down!
A good subject was raised, however. Those plush seats – that appears to be the real selling point with these cars, and if the seats were more comfortable than one you could option for in a Chevy, why indeed would you spend more for a Cadillac? To me, all these B bodies were the same with only varying degrees of trim and not a hint of “sport” anywhere.
Count me out. At least our little 1976 Gremlin we owned at the time these came out was fun to drive, ditto for our soon-to-come Reliant in 1981!
I disagree, respectfully of course, about the Cadillac comparisons. The Bonnie was definitely luxurious, but the Caddies were even more so. The ride of the Cad was noticeably smoother and cushier; the variable rate steering, combined with the Bakelight steering wheel that felt cool to the touch, the nicer dashboards and carpets, and the larger size, when taken together, really set the Cads apart.
I remember as a little kid comparing my friends parents 79 Bonnie Brougham to our 78 De Ville (with the d’Elegance pillow seats and thick shag carpet). The Pontiac was definitely impressive, but it was no Cadillac.
Exactly, close but no cigar. A vinyl top and fuffy seats dont make it a Cadillac. Don’t get me wrong, a nice Bonneville witha 400, loaded up with the full gauge cluster is a really nice car, (and downright awsome with the Valencia interior) but a Coupe deVille, no, its not quite there. The Cadillac comes with a Cadillac 425 and turbo 400, for starters, then there are all the standard Cadillac appointments, the rear armrests, the rear courtesty and door warning lights, the lamp monitors, the fact the Cadillac is on a C-body not a B, etc etc, the Bonneville is very nice, but its not a Cadillac.
Not fun to drive? This is where I’d disagree with you my friend…
My wife’s second car (this sounds like its own article…) was a 1977 Delta 88 Holiday Coupe with the 403/THM 350 FE3 HD suspension etc.
I got into a little bravado contest (I was 19 or 20…) with some ridge runners in West Virginia back in the day. The Olds more than held it’s own on the windy, twisty mountain roads. I was more than impressed as I was not certain my (then-current) car would be able to keep up as well as the Delta did.
Considering my car then was a 1980 Mercury Capri Turbo RS (which was a whole category smaller and lighter) I thought it was quite the accomplishment.
We enjoyed that car for several years after, I foolishly convinced my wife to trade it in on a 1985 Capri RS 5.0L. It was only a foolish decision after year two of ownership of that car, it started falling apart on us. In the five years we owned the Olds, we only ever put service items on it (brakes, tires, plugs & filters). Well, and one EGR valve…
Your wife’s car sounds like the B body of my dreams!
See my reply to Sean Cornelius below, but I had no clue.
Seriously. No clue…
That sounds like an awesome car. The Olds 403 was arguably the best engine available on the B-Body cars from this generation. I think the Chevy 350 and Pontiac 400 may have been available early on too, but most of them were wimpy lo-po 305’s or 307’s. The FE3/heavy duty suspension options are also usually night and day different from the standard junk on most GM cars.
The Chevy 350 was available in 1977, it was the engine that many sued GM over. It was advertised as a “rocket” engine. Knowledgeable folks recognized the differences and filed suit. Having worked on both Olds and Chevy engines in B-bodies, I too, would sue. Mostly because the Olds engine was much easier to access the spark plugs.
Later in the production lifetime of these cars, the 5.0L (305’s or 307’s) were standards, with the exception of the Buicks and the 231 V6’s. But the first series B-bodies (1977-1979) usually had 350 ci/THM 350’s as standard. And yes, the FE3 suspended models could hang with much more expensive machinery. When you drove a standard suspension B after a FE3 car, you knew what you were missing.
I came from a Ford family before dating my wife; I was raised to believe that any Ford was better than anything else made in the States. I had a low opinion of domestic GM cars (and most others). I didn’t know what her car was when I first encountered it, now all of these years later, I ruefully (if symbolically) kick myself in the rear for letting the car go.
It was never an issue in Canuckistan because we were used to having Chevy engines in our Pontiacs from almost the beginning.
A lightly optioned 1977-79 B Body with a 350-4v tuned to Canadian emissions was in fact a pretty hot car for the day. The best were the Olds 350, however, and we did see them in imported Catalinas from 1977.
Ya, I would look across the big lake (Erie) wishing I could get the Canadian stuff in Ohio. The mashup of Pontiac and Chevy really started in the 60’s and we here in the States had this weird orthodoxy of how our cars were to be equipped. The Canadian GM operations had no problems going “corporate”, but I think there were two reasons why it worked in Canada and not the US…
I know Canada’s auto market is way more price sensitive than the US, and two, there was the whole business about importing whole Pontiacs into Canada and the associated tariffs (in the 1960’s), but one of the trade agreements nullified that problem. GM Canada was already building Chevys up north, adding Pontiac body panels was cheaper than importing Pontiacs from the US. Canadian Pontiacs were Chevys under the skin.
But of course, one could argue that ALL GM models were the same under the skin since the rationalization of chassis and bodies in the late 1950’s; the only differences were a few mechanical ones, and even those were largely eliminated completely by the late 70’s. (Hence the lawsuits in the US over the Chevy “Rocket” motor) And that set the stage for the complete devaluation of the brands, via brand wars of the 1980’s. Of course, the dealer pleas to have competing products within the same corporation should not go unnoticed…
When did Canada’s cars start getting the crapalytic converters? “We” got them in ’75 which meant no more dual exhaust on any GM car.
Canada also got them in ’75. However, we kept US-75 standards until 1988. From then on, they were harmonized.
Don’t forget about the smaller Poncho engines though: the downsized 301 and the even smaller 260, both backed by the cheapo TH 200. Wondering out loud how many T-T/As we’re sold (and how many DIDN’T have their turbos disconnected).
I happened to have the 301 in my first car, a 79 base GP. Luckily, I got rid of the car before the tranny inevitably crapped out.
What’s weird is that I’ve seen a lot of 1977 Grand Prix cars with the 301 engine & Turbo 400 transmission. Talk about overkill! The Turbo 400 had it easy in one of those cars — they must have been incredibly slow..
I bet so too. Mine wasn’t fast and it was 700 pounds lighter. But I bet that engine/Trans combo would far outlive that car’s useful life.
I think I’ve posted in the past how I used to flip the air cleaner lid over to give it that throaty, 4bbl sound. It really hurt performance, but it sure did sound good.
Then again, I was also fond of putting the tranny in low gear and driving around the neighborhood in 1st gear.. Can you imagine the internal damage I was causing at a sustained 30mph?
I still remember my friend’s ’77 Impala -the THM 200 crapped out in front of my parents house on a frigid New Years Eve, 1978. All he was doing was lightly rocking it to get it unstuck from a snow rut.
“Not fun to drive? This is where I’d disagree with you my friend…”
Ha ha ha, Geo! Of course I had never driven one of these, so indeed, how would I know?
You must understand, at the time, during the 1970’s and into the 1980’s, I was anti-luxurious everything, never owned a vehicle with A/C until I married and enjoyed wifey’s 1970 Mustang convertible!
Cars had to be basic or sporty or both, no frills. How else do I explain buying a used Gremlin?
Things are MUCH different now…
I also think there’s an exception to the B-bodies not being fun to drive. The buff books heaped praise on the Caprice’s F-41 suspension. Equipped with it and the right tires, the Caprice was unusually agile for a full size car.
I have no strong feelings about these, but looking at the ’77 brochure shot of the silver and gray car, I’d say the skirted landau-free Bonnie coupe is the best-looking B-body they ever made.
The late 70’s Pontiacs were nice cars, but compared with the Pontiacs in the sixties they had lost their distinctive appeal-it lacks the aggressive styling that characterized that era.
It had become virtually interchangeable with its Chevrolet, Buick and Oldsmobile cousins.
You mean a “gage” package, don’t you?
I refuse to acknowledge the GM spelling 🙂
Dropping one letter must have saved costs on printing manuals.
When they downsized the various big GM cars in 1977, the full-size Pontiacs chopped a few extra inches off the back. To my eyes, the proportions just never seemed right.
That said, I always liked the hood ornaments on these, the chrome strip down the centre of the hood, and the seats in these were superior to most years of Caprice. I believe there was even an option for a corduroy-like pattern.
I had a Bonneville hood ornament for a key ring for a number of years, until someone caused me to drop my keys and then she tripped and stepped on it and broke it 🙁
These were definately upscale from our ’83 Caprice wagon. I remember when I was a kid I thought they were the nicest looking of the B-Bodies. Now I find the taillights a bit awkward and the skirts flat out cheesy. I still like the front end though.
Growing up with cars like this, it’s no wonder I have never really associated Pontiac with performance.
This was the beginning of the end of GM’s five-brand hierarchy. With the 1977s, GM cost cut by sharing door sheetmetal between the Chevy/Pontiac and Buick/Oldsmobile. That meaningfully reduced each brand’s styling distinctiveness — which had always been a key marketing advantage. Meanwhile, the brougham era induced a design conformity that was particularly hard on a more sporty and iconoclastic brands such as Pontiac. There stopped being a reason for a Bonneville.
When I was in undergrad in the late 90s I fell in love with a one-owner ’78 4 door. Same trim and wheel covers as the brown one above but in the light metallic mint green, with dark green velour interior. At the time I was driving a ’90 Camry in “businessman’s grey” as I called it, and this was just about the polar opposite. I really wanted to sell the Camry and get the Bonneville, but my parents owned the car and weren’t having it. My Dad, while still generally a GM guy (he only bought Toyota’s used, new cars were always GM), hadn’t gotten over the general craptastic-ness of the 77′ Firebird they had when I was born. He felt (and was correct for the most part) that the late 70s was the bottom of the barrel for GM build quality.
Check out this insane factory interior option that was available on the ’78 Bonneville…
It was also available in a 70’s tastic gold,cream and brown combo too.
I like this color scheme much better, easier on the eyes 🙂
I always wondered why they didn’t do a blue one? Dark blue, light blue, silver?
Ahhh so this is what the “Valencia” interior was! I’ve heard the name before, but never seen it. I somehow imagined it was something a little more sedate! This is great, though. I dunno if I would’ve been bold enough to order that myself, but I love that it exists.
See that stereo? They weighed like 10 lbs but they never, ever died.
Yup, I’ve grabbed a few cassette versions of the venerable Delco 2700 series for myself. I replaced the AM radio in my ’77 Chevelle with one from various B-bodies.
Only thing I’ve done to any of them was replace the belt for the tape player and resolder some bad connections.
http://i.imgur.com/CEYID.jpg here it is in my car.
Green interior…hmm…got any more shots of your Dangerfield edition Chevelle? 🙂
Here’s an album of pictures I’ve taken over the 3 years I’ve owned it.
Good lord, that’s trippy. I do like the gold one, though.
I would like a matching suit to go with that interior.
It’s a favorite of mine! And “Valencia Velour” was available on Grand Safari station wagons, too, and apparently even used on third seats (!) although I’ve yet to see that in “real life”. Might have been nightmare inducing for small children, but I love it now! In fact, I think I would rather have one of these ’77-79 Pontiacs in a wagon, because I like the front half of the car’s styling better than the back half anyway!
A Valencia Grand Safari would be a real find today! I can’t imagine it was very frequently ordered–not a very child-friendly material. Vinyl was probably much preferred. A friend of my Dad’s once had a ’77 Catalina Safari in Firethorn Red with red vinyl and color-keyed Rally IIs. I rode in it a couple of times and it was a very nice wagon!
I really like the Bahia Green Grand Safari in the ’77 Pontiac catalog. These look so nice with the Rally II wheels or snowflake alloys.
In the original post, Tom mentions no leather seating option was offered in 1979. However, leather was available by 1981. I sold a couple of them so outfitted. New car smell with leather interior is out of this world.
WOW — I LOVE it! I’ve only seen the poo-colored interior in the flesh & had no idea they offered it in red! Hmm….Green, yellow, & white would be nice….
Insane is the word when you think of today’s standards (= cars almost inevitably must have a black interior. Gee, we have become so serious). I love this kind of insanity! I wonder how many buyers picked it up.
Man that one doesn’t need a much work. I’d replace the headliner and the bumpers, do a little rust repair and give her a repaint, clean the whole thing from stem to stern…
This article reminded me of the time when my mom tried a 1981 Bonneville Brougham coupe. All I remember is that it was big and red. They let her keep it for the weekend (do they even do this anymore?). I just remember how big it seemed to me. But it was plush inside. Big red pillow velour seats, and a dash and hood which seemed to go on for miles!
Tom, I’m with you—I always preferred the looks of these Bonnevilles to the Caprices of the same period. I’m not a fan of the landau roofs or fender skirts, mainly because I think the basic design was good enough that it didn’t need the embellishments that Detroit was still so fond of at this time.
In the late 1970s I used to get a ride to school with a classmate whose father had a beige, cream, or light yellow Catalina wagon, either a ’78 or ’79 but it’s too long ago to remember for certain. It was a company-issued car, so he had little to no choice in color or model, but it was still a fun car to ride in.
Looks like the hottest combo on the ’79 Bonneville was a Buick 350 with a 3.03 rear end.
They are cool looking cars, but I wish GM sported-up the Pontiac versions a bit more.
You could still get a 403 in the 1979 Boneville.
…and bucket seats, console with floor shift, snowflake wheels, gage package, moonroof….
Wagons yes. But 49 state coupes and sedans top gas fired V8 was the 350 for 1979.
Check out the black 79 coupe 7 pictures down. That was quite a sporty coupe for the time period. It has the snow flake alloys, buckets, sport mirrors and probably gauge package and suspension upgrade. This would be my Bonneville pick but I would much prefer the Olds 350 motor to the weaker 155 HP Buick 350 with it’s external oil pump.
Great pix of a great survivor, particularly a one owner car! Wow!
Count me in as another B-body fan. Starting with the Olds then the Chevy or the Pontiac next. The Buick and Cadillac lastly, only because I didn’t have much interaction with those cars as compared to the others.
Cadillac never had a B body that era. ALL Cadillacs were C bodies.
Not including Eldorado and Seville, obviously.
As sad as I was to see Pontiac go, there just wasn’t enough difference between the divisions at this point to keep the name alive. GM’s market share fell all through the 1970’s and it didn’t downsize accordingly. Had to be the longest, most protracted restructuring in history.
BOB LUTZ had plans to revitalize PONTIAC.. He admitted the brand had been mismanaged for 30 years, and his idea was to return the brand to its performance roots. All Pontiacs would be RWD going forward, and would target BMW in terms of performance and handling, at a friendlier price. I wish we could have seen that. It was sad what Pontiac had been reduced to by the time the plug was pulled.
One can consider the RWD Pontiac G8 as a preview into what might have been had the brand been retained, but sadly, it was not to be, and the axe fell. Obama had initially demanded that in addition to Pontiac and Saturn, that GMC and Buick would be terminated as well, leaving only Chevrolet & Cadillac within the General Motors portfolio.
Bob Lutz continued: We were able to salvage Buick on the strength of it’s high regard in China.. It’s hard for an American to understand the strength of Buick in China. It’s as highly regarded as Mercedes Benz there.. They were also able to salvage GMC as being different enough from Chevrolet Truck division to rate a stay of execution. But government drew a line at Pontiac, and GM itself had axed Oldsmobile just a handful of years prior to that.
A selection of 25 of some of the more intriguing PONTIAC concepts can be found here:
To me the 77-79 Bonnevilles seemed sporty again as the 60’s. Road & Track featured a ’77 blue sedan with handling package and gave it good review. But, the 80-81 restyle made it look like cabon copy of Olds 88 or Cutlass sedan. Pontiac was trying to get Olds lux boat buyers. No wonder they dropped the B body for ’82.
But bringing the Parissiene 2 years later was for dealers to again go after Olds. Not an ‘excitement’ car to go with Fiero and Firebirds. The ’87 Bonneville was back to sporty again.
I know I’ve said this before, but my favorite (aesthetically) B-body is a Bonneville with rally (rallye?) wheels, steel roof, and no fender skirts.
The fender skirts confuse me: the car has an almost Chevy-plain front end combined with a dressed-up Caddy back end. No offense to its fans, but it’s an automotive mullet.
First off, I’d like to note that I think all the ’77-’79 B-body variants are better styled than the ’80+ models. I think the later cars are too formal, and I like how on the early cars, each division had their own coupe roofline (although the Buick and Pontiac ones are pretty similar).
I’ve got mixed feelings about the Pontiac. I hate the fender skirts on the Bonneville. On the other hand, these things look great with Rallye IIs. Still, you could buy a very nice Delta 88 or LeSabre for the same money.
My money would probably go for a LeSabre with the Buick road wheels and a 350.
“Frankly, the Catalina (and its Canadian Laurentian counterpart) was starting to look a whole lot like a fleet special that was more (recently departed) Bel Air than Impala–and even less like Catalinas of just a few years earlier.”
The Catalina still looked richer than an Impala. The Impala was pretty fleet-tastic from ’77 on, although it sold just as well as the Caprice until about 1980. A beige 1978 bounced around my extended family for almost 20 years, and looked and felt like cheap crap when it was still relatively new. It was my originally my grandma’s and she replaced it with an ’85 Ninety Eight Regency, go figure.
You have a point. After looking at the Impala in the ’78 brochure, the Catalina looks quite a bit flossier. I guess I’m just more used to the Bonneville’s looks!
I prefered the Catalinas to the Bonnevilles. I don’t like the skirts on the Bonneville, and tended to favour the less dressed up B-bodies on this vintage. A friend bought a nicely equipped ’79 Catalina brand new (his wife had a matching one too). He kept his until just a few years ago, and it was still in literally like new condition. Nice ruby red paint, which he had red done with a top notch base/clear job. Other than that all orginal, never saw a winter. He tired of the car and bought a late model Impala. Several months later he found out the new owners destroyed the car in a garage fire.
I was about 12 when the ’80s came out, and being a car spotting nerd kid, I already loved the ’77-79 GM B- and C-bodies, including my parents’ ’78 Caprice Classic. I couldn’t decide if I liked the new supposedly more aerodynamic look or not. Today, I like both, and it depends on the model which I like more in which generation. I probably commented on it the last time you posted a Bonneville, but I fall into the camp of preferring the ’80-81 on the Pontiacs. The skirts and sloping rear end just seem much clunkier on the ’77-79 to me. The ’80 Bonneville, especially the coupe, was really striking in its crisp formality, almost approaching the drama of the ’79 Toronado/Riviera/Eldorado (to my eyes). I thought so then, and still think so now. The fact that the body style was canceled after only 2 short years makes them even more attractive to me now! I mean, even the scale model looks delicious! (See today’s companion post).
As for the ’77-’79 Bonneville, my parents’ good friends had a loaded Bonneville Brougham that they only kept a couple of years. It was replaced by a 98 Regency around 1982, and then a Cadillac DeVille (with cloth interior, horrors!) in 1984. Sort of a classic GM move-up, but I agree witih the above comment about how most people would have skipped Pontiac altogether. But maybe they got a good deal on the Pontiac or something — I think he had an Olds 88 company car before the Pontiac, but that doesn’t really count because it was free. A few years after the Cadillac, I found out these (admittedly older) folks were in a Toyota Previa minivan! Sadly, that’s also the classic pattern many customers followed, and we all know where that led GM…..
But anyway, I love GM B- and C-bodies of this period, have owned several and always enjoy reading about them. Nice article!
One more thing — no one said much about the dash, which was unique to the Pontiacs, as all GM makes got their own dashes and steering wheels. I never noticed until today that the Pontiac dash has a wraparound motif similar to the L-shaped or hockey stick taillights of late ’60s Pontiacs…. coincidence or not?
Also, as an aficionado of the “loose-pillow look” in car seats, which seemed to originate with the 1972 98 Regency (although Imperial had something rather similar that year), I noticed two interesting things about the ones in these Bonnevilles… first, they have the thickest pillow section I’ve seen, at least twice as thick as the ones in my 1979 Toronado, for instance. Second, the back seat passenger doesn’t get a loose pillow! How strange! Even a Cutlass with loose pillow seats got it in the back seat! It’s funny to see all these little design differences, and I wonder how they arrived at them.
The downsized B-bodies all had rather short rear seat cushions (likely to give the impression of lots of rear legroom with the big gap between the rear cushions and front seatbacks), and a thick pillow on the seatback would have reduced the lower cushion’s depth (and overall legroom) even more. None of the 1977 B-bodies had loose-cushion seats (including the Bonneville Brougham). Loose cushions up to that point were reserved for the stretched-wheelbase C-bodies which also had longer rear seat cushions, and if equipped, real loose-look cushions on the rear backrests. That changed in 1978 when the Bonneville Brougham got the new overstuffed seats (with crushed wrinkled velour in ’78, a smoother fabric in ’79) and Pontiac must have decided against thick cushioned rear seatbacks to preserve seat cushion depth and rear legroom. The 88 and LeSabre got loose-cushion seats starting in ’79, as did the Caprice eventually. The ’78-’79 standard Bonneville by the way was gifted the original ’77 Brougham interior.
Your ’79 Toro used an increasingly common trick to allow thick-looking loose-cushion seats without making the actual cushions all that thick. Only the edges – often just the left and right edges – got thick padding, which became thinner towards the center. The design and shape of the seat often disguised this well.
Tom, this was a fantastic find!
I’m glad you took all the pics. You might recall my Bonneville post from last year https://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-american/cc-capsule-1977-pontiac-bonneville-brougham-this-grandma-had-class/.
I like all the B’s for different reasons, but I have to agree that at least for the 1977-79’s at least, the Pontiacs get the nod from me stylistically.
I certainly do remember your post, that one was sharp too! I liked the Firethorn Red paint on that one.
I gotta say it looks much more ‘sporty’ without the fender skirts. Those should be for Olds’ only…..
I didn’t realize leather was not an option….weird since you could brougham the car out in every other aspect…..
I’m almost certain that Leather made the options list around 1980, as I have seen pictures of Bonneville Brougham interiors from that era with leather, they were as luxurious as anything else out there at the time.
You’re right, but the 1977-79s didn’t. The 1980-81 Bonneville interior with leather was very Broughamy!
Yes, leather was new for 80 on the Bonny, deep rich, pillowy leather…..mmmmmm.
Leather-and-vinyl bench seats had been standard equipment in Bonneville convertibles (and unavailable in other Pontiacs) from 1960 through ’66 and again in 1968, with bucket seats optional. In either case, only the central areas of the seats and backs (for four passenger positions) were leather; all the rest was Morrokide. In 1969-70 leather was offered as a bucket-seat option for the new-style Grand Prix, but as far as I can tell, that was the last Pontiac available with leather until the 1980 Bonneville.
(In addition to personal experience with my long-gone ’66 bench-seat Bonneville convertible, owned 1974-91, I checked all the relevant brochures at oldcarbrochures.com. Doing so helped take my mind off the election.)
Leather “Viscount” bucket seats (with open headrests) were optional on 1978 (through 1980?) Grand Prixs.
I love the write ups on the Bonnevilles from Tom and the Fleetwoods from Cavanaugh.
I like how you guys combine a history lesson on the car (complete with sale figures and pics) with your family’s ownership experience and then talk about the condition of the car sitting at the curb. You appeal to the mind, heart and pocketbook all at the same time.
We could use a few more on the shovel nose Buicks they were just as nice. I saw Tom’s write up on the 740 Wagon which is another favorite of mine.
Keep up the good work you guys certainly know your target audience.
I spent many a summer riding around in the back seat of my neighbors ’79 Bonneville. These were good looking cars to me in the day.
Theirs had the fender skirts that had a bad habit of falling off – usually about the time she’d pull in the driveway, we stop and pick them up and put them in the trunk or garage so that he could put them back on later. eventually they just left them off.
It had the 301 and would run comfortably to their hometown in New Mexico from Dallas. It did get the paint blasted off the front from a sand storm once.
She tackled a bus with it once, and lost the front bumper- bus lost the door.
It was done in but someone t-boning it in 1993, the new Crown Vic wasn’t near the car as the Bonnie was and it eventually gave way to an 06 Accord.
This is the first time I correctly guessed the CC clue. Of course, the reason is because I had a ’79 Bonneville.
Just out of high school I needed a car, and I got what I really wanted at a good price–a ’74 Gremlin X. I got a good job after Tech School, and had to commute 60 miles a day. Although I really liked that little car, the so-so mileage, the so-so ride and the factory standard biodegradeability of an AMC led me to look for a new car.
My Mom and Dad had been Pontiac people for years and so I naturally had to look at Pontiac. So I wandered into the local dealer and picked up the 1979 Pontiac brochure. In the middle of that brochure was the picture shown in the posting of the black 2-door with a camel tan interior with snowflake wheels.
That was it. I was going to have one. I went back to the dealer and optioned a black 2-door out. Camel tan interior, bucket seats w/console, air conditioning, full gauges, FE3 firm ride package, cruise control and the mighty Pontiac 301 2-bbl.
It was a wonderful car and I NEVER had to have it repaired, and I owned it for 20 years before I simply tired of it and sold it to my brother.
Thank you for the memories.
Lucky you; I would have loved to walk into a Pontiac showroom in ’79 and order one to my own specifications. I think I would have gotten a Brougham sedan in burgundy with no vinyl roof, red interior, snowflake alloys and the sunroof.
If you have any pictures of your car, I’m sure all of us at CC would be interested in seeing them. Thanks for sharing!
We had a neighbor that had a 1979 Catalina 2-door with a factory sunroof – not moonroof but sunroof! Talk about rare? I know they bought it used because my friend’s Mom wanted to buy that exact car when it was for sale at the local Cadillac dealer. They wanted too much for it so she passed it up. The people that bought it ended up being a street over from me growing up. It was a funky green color with a green vinyl top and interior. It had the deluxe wheel covers and if I remember correctly a cloth bench seat. I know that they had it for years; eventually they moved away so I don’t know what happened to that car. I just remember thinking how rare that car was and how cool it would be to own today.
“Dad’s ’79 was the very first car I can remember, and also the first car I remember riding in as a toddler. That car really made an impression on me. Why else would I have such a serious jones for them 30 years later?”
Same here for me, only mine was not a Pontiac but a Ford LTD like this one (but in a dark grey colour) with leather trim and power everything.
He had the car for 12 years/220+ thousand miles, I found out a few years ago that after he traded it was bought by a guy who either wanted the 351C engine for a boat or the whole driveline which was an FMX auto and a very stout version of the Borg Warner diff with 4-pinion carrier and 28-spline axles. I can’t recall which it was – because it is inconsequential as it killed any faint hope I had for finding that car one day.
i have a 1978 pontiac parisienne , coupe 2 doors with 76 000 km , 350 4 barel, fresh paint black, no rust, the brougham vinyl top have been removed( for removing a little rust under it) floor sans-blasted, …etc etc, she was for sale, she’s in pretty cool condition, headers, cam… ask for picture if your interested, located in province of Québec. can store for a serious buyer, firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to see it ^^ this model is my favorite car ever !
My parents had a 1977 Pontiac Bonneville when I was growing up. It was Firethorn Red with a Landau top. Fully color-blocked with a fully red cabin – velour seats and plush carpet. It became my car when I got my drivers license. I drove that big beauty all through high school and college. While the B-body was leaner than it’s predecessors, we still considered it a “boat.”
Today, I have a 1978 Pontiac Bonneville Brougham. This one has a pure Cameo white exterior with matching Landau top. The interior is baby blue – complete with velour pillow top seats.
The 77/78/79 Bonneville’s are timeless classic coupes. My Pontiac is often mistaken for a Cadillac – people are often surprised when I proudly say, “Nope, it’s a Pontiac!”
Looks sweet in white over white!
I owned a 79 and a 76. The 76 was the better car with a much more powerful 400 engine drivetrain. The 301 engine was a dog all the way and the 79 model felt cheaply made as compared to the 76 .The transmissions were weak in the redesigned model. The 79 did not feel nowhere near as solid as the previous models were. People could sit on the hood on the 76 with no problems but try that on any newer model and it would leave a big crease on where you sat.
My mom bought a brand new off the showroom floor 1979 Pontiac Brougham 2 door coupe in Platinum silver in 1979…It had the Landau roof,skirts,full chrome stainless trim everywhere,and a dinky,weak 301cid engine that was weak at best,but it did have the th350 tranny that would fit any GM engine up to that time…3.08 rear gears helped with mileage somewhat..I got it in 81,and drive the wheels off that thing before I turned it into a street machine,lowered the front end,added 4 wheel disc brakes,a built 455/468cid 1972 HO/HD Pontiac engine,sent the tranny off to have it built by (I forget the company name now),added a 9″ stall converter,a custom built 9″ Furd rear with 35 spline axles,4.10 gears,MT N50-15s out back,14″ 70s up front,and later on added an overdrive unit behind the tranny for highway cruising at low rpms…Now I am wanting to find a complete,fairly rust free bone stock 79 with the blue interior I can restore to stock…
Ahhhhh being 51 I remember the high school parking lot of those folks who happened to own them or have use of their parents’ whips…. they were great to drive around in and get high but my old parents’ Volvo 240 humbled those boats in the twisties every time LOL.
We got most of our Pontiacs from Canada so they were always thinly disguised Chevrolets except of course for the later GTOs and its bretheren which we got from Holden though I do see the odd Poncho trimmed Commodore about and we have the Chevy versions of Holdens even Australia never saw, want to see a thoroughly confused car market? visit NZ sometime and just watch the streets.
The fate of GM’s styling (Pontiac, in this case) and ultimately GM’s management was determined by two individuals highly instrumental in Pontiac’s and then General Motors management/market share decline/debacle: Irv Rybicki and Roger Smith.
Rybicki who became vice president of GM design , the successor to Bill Mitchell, was chosen for that position as someone who would be inoffensive and compliant to management in ways opposite to the dictatorial/flamboyant ways of Bill Mitchell and Harley Earl who had so successfully managed GM design for prior decades. Incidentally Harley Earl had been at various times vigorously protected by the best ever Chairman and CEO of General Motors, Alfred Sloan, who understood the value of styling as the engine of GM’s growth.
In September 1970 Rybicki became head of exterior design of Chevrolet, Pontiac, and GMC, then in 1972 he was promoted to head Oldsmobile,Buick, and Cadillac. Then in 1977 he became head of GM design replacing Bill Mitchell. Throughout all this, there was increasing convergence of design, something that Bill Mitchell had successfully resisted. Rybicki went with the management dictated flow with increasing blandness of styling culminating in the styling look-a-like disasters of the 1980’s
The ultimate decline of the GM divisions and the importance of styling came about from the reign of the inarguable worst CEO and Chairman of GM, Roger Smith, the author of repeated GM manufacturing and styling blunders on multiple levels. The marked incompetence of both Smith and Rybicki is the real underlying reason for the ultimate, prolonged death march and demise of Pontiac, and then with successive management missteps resulting in the ultimate bankruptcy of GM with a government bailout.
Unfortunately, for the past too many years, GM styling, especially at Cadillac, has continued down a boring repetitive path followed by declining sedan market share. The sins of the fathers are repeated by the sons.
Is there a car that Rally II wheels don’t look good on?
I love the fact that your article mentions the Canadian twins! Yes, they are important. Late in 1983, after shrinking the Bonnie by swapping nameplates onto the smaller LeMans, G.M. decided to bring over the Canadian full-size Pontiac Parisienne (a restyled Caprice) to satisfy the buying public wishing for a full-size Pontiac.
There is a Parisienne for sale in my area. Went to look at it. Pretty good shape and not a bad price. The only problem was that it was a diesel. A 1979 GM diesel? I’ll pass.
I remember my amazement and shock when I first saw a Canadian car here in the states. It was surreal – I was wondering why the name was different from what I was used to seeing. I think it may have been a Parisienne coupe, possibly a 1975 or so. I was vacationing at the Cape around 1977 with my parents when I saw it. So cool.
It wasn’t just cars! In 1976, Canadian singer Shirley Eikhard released her version of the Fleetwood Mac hit ‘Say You Love Me’ in Canada, several weeks before the FM version was released here. Eikhard’s version was a hit here, at the same time FM’s version was climbing the charts. I played the excellent Eikhard version for an American friend at the time, and he said, ‘Where the heck did that version come from!?”
She sure nailed the husky Christine McVie voice!
God I love these things. These and the Oldsmobiles had my heart. A plus sized Grand Prix is how I find them, and I love them both.
Bought a new 1978 Bonneville sedan. To this day, I’ve no idea why I bought it. It was a comfortable car, but with the 301 2bbl, a dog. Sold it two years later.
To think I could have had a 78 Impala with a 350 and 9C1 package!
Does anyone have a screenshot or even the name of the special interior fabric option that replaced the Valencia striped velour in 1979? Recall it was a grey/black/white in a diamond pattern. Also an interior shot of the Laurentian that was a Canadian low-end special that was a counterpart to the Chevy Bel Air, both available in Canada though 1981. Supposedly the Canadian Pontiacs were lower-priced alternatives to Chevys for areas that didn’t have Chevrolet dealers, but the Pontiac dash looks so much more upscale than the non-woodgrained, plasticy Bel Air dash.
Though I’m likely in the minority, I much preferred the GM full-sized and mid-sized lineup, as well as the Chrysler M-bodies, with these roof treatments. Featuring the 45 degree angle roof at the rear. As opposed to the formal roof treatments they each adopted for the 80s.
My uncle owned a light blue 1978 Bonneville with a white landau top and color matched interior with the Rally wheels and skirts.
It was his first brand new car and he babied it, even getting it fixed when my cousin was driving it and got rear ended while waiting at a stoplight. 😞
Traded it for a 1985 Buick Le Sabre sedan, and trades that for his last car, a 1987 Pontiac Grand Prix. Why a GP from a Le Sabre? Goodness knows.
Yes, with the ongoing Broughamization of the Average American car, and the rationalization of GM’s powertrains across all its divisions, it could be said there was no point to a Cadillac any more, unless you liked the styling. And then GM rationalized that some more.
I do like the roof on these early coupes though; it gives the car a clean, athletic look, even with the vinyl rear. And score poiints tor the decent-size rear side window. With or without the skirts, these have a distinct look that says I-am-not-a-Chevy. A reason to buy.
My mother bought a ’79 Bonneville new…white with a blue vinyl half top and blue interior, 3-speed console shift automatic, 301 V8. It was the car my brother and I learned to drive on and take to high school in the mid-late 80s. We beat the snot out of that thing and it just kept going. My brother claims to have caught air with it while driving down a side street near our high school we dubbed “The Streets of San Francisco” for its stepped rise/fall. Eventually the upstate NY road salt did the car in, but if one presented itself to us today I don’t doubt either of us would buy it.