The Legacy of a Pontiac Bonneville

Bonneville 1

She came off the assembly line in the motor city in the summer of ‘64. She had gleaming white paint and a white vinyl soft top. She was laden with all the options of the day: power steering, air conditioning, heater, even an am/fm radio. She was 19 feet of American engineering and passion. Her huge frame had presence, yet a hint of grace. She rolled down the streets of Detroit with the power and prestige a Kenya Ivory White Brougham Edition 1964 Pontiac Bonneville deserves.
I saw the Bonneville 42 years later in front of an Albuquerque mechanic’s shop whose owner knew little of the car’s history. “Well, the engine and transmission have been rebuilt and it’s on its third paint job,” said Mechanic Ed. It was true. The car was no longer white. She was now a dark charcoal grey. She had gone from sleek Detroit muscle to secretive mob boss status with the addition of pigment. I loved her. I bought the Bonneville immediately.

The Bonneville and I started our relationship in August 2005. I wrote Mechanic Ed a check for $2,750 and gleefully took the title.

Everyone thought I was insane. I already own a cute little commuter car, why would I need a tank? The truth is that I have always wanted a 1962 Bonneville. I own a book called “Detroit Muscle” that has huge pictures of every car built in Detroit from 1950 to 1980. I saw a picture of a Bonneville in it when I was 10. I was half-heartedly looking for one since then. When I saw the 1964 parked on the street, I knew that was the car I wanted.

The Bonneville has the feel of a pirate ship. She’s huge and dark. The word “drive” is not qualified for this car, I have to navigate her. I have to plot out courses. Parking is a job for Chuck Norris—only the confident and brave can even attempt it. The old girl seems menacing and dwarfs modern cars. The car looks and feels like something out of this world. She’s solid and low to the ground. The doors are heavy, the dash is streamline, the front and rear seats are ancient couches. There are no cup holders, no rear-view mirrors, and no GPS. The car is hardly a car by today’s standards. I feel important and commanding while piloting her.

We got off to a rocky start. The Bonneville and I had different ideas of how a car should be driven. I wanted to drive fast and show off, but she wanted to slowly prowl the pavement. I wanted her to start up immediately and be ready to go, but she wasn’t easily stirred from slumber.

Our first incident happened three days after I bought her. I thought that everyone needed to get a ride in the beast. We were on our way to pick up my friend Kelsey, when the Bonneville promptly decided to stop running. The car died in Kelsey’s parking lot. “Really good buy,” said Kelsey when she saw the beached whale. Thanks Kels, you’re a big help.
I couldn’t figure out why the Bonneville wouldn’t start. I turned the key in the ignition, pulled on the choke, and tapped the gas pedal. Nothing worked. It wouldn’t catch. I was frustrated. My latest investment seemed like a stupid mistake. Why did I buy this damn thing? It’s just going to break down. That’s what cars from 1964 do, they break down.
I regained my cool and had Kelsey drive me to Auto Zone in her defiantly able Volvo. On the way I called a few of my friends to see what they thought. Everyone suggested something different. I remember Mechanic Ed saying something about spark plugs, so I bought some spark plugs. We went back to the Bonneville and I painfully put in the spark plugs. Then I tried starting it. Still nothing. Maybe it was a bad starter. Maybe there was a fuel problem. I went back home.
On the way back, I thought of something. Maybe she’s just out of gas! No, that would be stupid. The gauge is on full. Then again, it’s been on full since I bought the car. I just thought she had a magical gas tank. I had my roommate take me to get a gas can and some fuel. We went back to the deserted Bonneville and pumped it full of its life-blood. I tried starting her up. Nothing. Oh man. I tried again. Still nothing. Come on! Ok, one more try. She started up like one of her long lost sisters at Talladega Race Way- roaring to life and with the will to perform. “This whole time! It was just gas!” I yelled. My friends just rolled their eyes.

My new friends would have been more understanding. Since I bought the car, I got initiated into a special society of oddballs. I now was an owner of a classic car. I was equals to old men who collected cars and the local vatos in lowriders.
I met one such man recently. He was both an old man and a vato. I met him on the side of the road. I was driving my Bonneville and noticed another Bonneville on the side of the road. It was a 1962, just like the one I originally wanted. But it was not restored. It had original paint, which means original rust. It had ratty seats and motor problems. “What’s up, ay?” the gentleman inquired. “Hey man, what’s wrong with your Bonneville?” I replied. He wasn’t sure, but he was working on it. “That’s a nice ride, ese. My name is Johnny,” he said. We talked for about half an hour while we tried to fix his car. “Maybe it’s out of gas,” I joked. We became friends immediately. It was like we belonged to a club of Bonneville owners. We just had an understanding. He got his car running and bid me adieu. “Later brother,” he yelled. I knew I would see him again.

People in other old cars wave at me as if we are old pals. A baby blue 1964 Bonneville in better condition than mine honked at me in December. I waved like every guy in a car does, I lifted a few fingers on my left hand that was gripping the top of the steering wheel. I was with my brother at the time. “Who was that guy?” he asked. “I have no idea,” I said.

In the past few months I have been trying to sell the old car. I thought that she was becoming more trouble than she’s worth. She’s huge and difficult to deal with. Each outing is a mechanical adventure. I have to make sure I drive her when I have free time because she could break down at any moment. I have to plan out stopping in traffic because she takes so long to stop. But after getting one offer I decided not to sell her. The reality of losing her set in.

I love this old car. I couldn’t get rid of her. How many people have a car that is twice as old as they are and still works like a champ? How many people can say they are driving history? I can, and I do not want to give that up. The car has nostalgia. I feel like I have traveled back in time to the 60’s. A time when big American muscle was the trend. A time when cars were judged on size and performance instead of gas mileage and resale value.

The Bonneville is more than a car to me. She is more than a possession. She is part of me and helps define me. I am the guy in that huge old car, and I like that. She’s a unique piece of machinery. When I see her I swell with pride. “Yeah,” I tell old dudes, “She’s mine. That charcoal grey 1964 Pontiac Bonneville with the white top.”

BonnevilleBonneville LightsBonneville Butt

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6 Responses to “The Legacy of a Pontiac Bonneville”

  1. steven hagebusch Says:

    I know what you mean with the old car “friends” I bought my first classic 3 years ago a 66 Grand prix it sat in a barn since 78 age was the only problem when I pulled it out in to the sun light for the first time in almost 30 years just shut in a garage and i fell in love 2 years later bought(stole) a 64 2 door hard top for $7oo that just rolled 100k both original to the hubcaps and drive them very little, only in warm wheather which is only 4 months or so the rest of the time they set in the garage and the 66 lincoln sits in the drive way all from a 24 year old that wasnt lucky enough to remeber there days and never having to see any thing but these beutiful cars

  2. cory eades Says:

    hey man, i just pick up a 64 pontiac bonneville out of the woods. some of the chrome is still good. its beyond repair so im turning it in to a bomber racer. um would you be interested in buying some of the orig. parts. i’ve got the door handles, the back seat windows, parts of the dash, just let me know and i’ll hang on to it. eadescory@yahoo.com.

  3. consortiumoffools Says:

    Sorry man, I’ve already sold the Bonneville. It really was just too big and gassing the beast up was a nightmare.

  4. I bought a 1964 Bonneville when I was 17.Love at first site.The rear end alone is enough to be a panty wetter.I have bought and sold this car 6 times since I was 18.Had the 428 origanally sold to a kid who blew engine and tranny,has 350 now(easy to find parts for.Does’nt have the save stomp it used to.Can I turn this whale into a mean muscle car or is it just destinrd to be a floater?Any advice is great.Moving the car from N.M to L.A.Thanks Cat

  5. Israel Delgado Says:

    Hey, I guess I am too late – you already sold it. Big mistake. I made the same mistake in 1966. Sold a 1959 Bonn convertible that I had bought the year before from a cop in NJ for 300.00. I had to sell it to my next door neighbor for the same 300.00 night before my parents moved to Miami. That car was like out of the dealer. Beautiful light blue/black top. I now own and am ready to repaint a 2dr white with original factory 3 color interior 1962 Bonneville. What a car. Well good luck and if you find another Bonn go for it – they are nice cars.
    Regards,

    Israel

  6. yu want tu sel it???

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