For the full decade of the 1960’s, Pontiac had been on a miraculous winning streak. Hitting a stride walking into the decade, they found themselves the perpetual #3 brand, ousting long time 3rd favorite brand, Plymouth, from their customary slot with a blend of prestige, panache and performance.
The performance anxiety started to settle in during the late 60’s with pressures coming in all directions, as the stewarts of Pontiac’s swing to the near top of the industry left for better pastures or bigger paychecks. Where did that leave the Pontiac Bonneville in its 14th season as a perennial favorite chariot of the near-luxury field?
It left it pretty huge, for one. Pontiac had long adopted a 2 wheelbase approach for its large cars. This of course left the boundary blurring that the Star Chief, and the Bonneville that followed in this tradition, in a party crashing position for a long time.
The Bonneville had always been the brash little sister with a wee bit too much mascara, a dress probably two sizes too tight on its body and hair perhaps a little higher to heaven. The Bonneville seduced lovers of Ninety Eights, Electra 225’s and even perhaps a Cadillac Calais into a liaison with a cheaper, but equally as potent happy hour special cocktail. Nevermind all those other clients of Dodge Polaras, Chrysler New Yorkers or Mercury Park Lanes and the re-branded Marquis.
By 1970 however, after a decade and a half of being the swinger in the suburbs, that gluttonous run through the near luxury field left the Bonneville a bit porcine. Perched on a 125 inch wheelbase, the latest version of the big B sat only 4 inches shorter in length and carrying around not much less weight than a comparable Deuce and a Quarter over in Buick showrooms.
Of course, this added bulk was combated by a V8 that had grown from relatively modest dimensions of 389 cubes to a massive 455 cubic inches. Horsepower now sat at 360, to make sure buyers still knew Bonnie knew how to cut up a rug.
However, like most of us not knowing when to hang up on keeping with trendy fashions, the Bonneville wore a lot of details in design that signified a midlife crisis.
Like an aging hipster holding onto vintage clothing a tad too long, the 1970 Bonneville picked up on the younger, dieting Grand Prix’s massive, classic design inspired centralized grille meshed in between bi-plane bumpers, for an interpretation of 1930’s art deco through the lens of early 1970’s decadence. Elements like this, oddly, weren’t too different than what the Edsel was ridiculed for back in 1958, but was passably acceptable for Pontiac as a newfound conservatism took hold over the nation as Nixon took office.
Passable in the fact that Pontiac slipped out of the #3 slot it had held since 1962 in 1970. Plymouth reclaimed its traditional slot, as the middle 3 brands of GM nearly struck a 3 way tie with over 600,000 units that year.
An upsurgent Oldsmobile and a solid Buick line with stately styling across the board won more converts as extroverts became part of the crowd in the new decade, and resumed their task as the arbiters of middle class good taste for the remainder of the decade. Only 23,418 buyers bet their budgets of Bonneville Coupes that year.
Like the swinging sexpot on the block, everyone went back to automotive monogamy and respectability under the auspices of a more restricted time. It can be understood, after a tumultous decade, as Pontiac struggled for relevance and clung to their 1960’s heyday to their demise.
The lesson to learn from our friend Bonnie, is to remember the party always ends, so remember to clean up soon as possible, and prepare for the hangover.