1958 Pontiac Bonneville
It's hard to believe now, but in the mid 1950s the Pontiac brand was equated with older buyers. Much like Buick today, Pontiac was languishing in the GM stable and had the image of being a so-so vehicle that hardly anyone noticed. To solve the problem, GM executives brought in "Bunkie" Knudsen, the now-famous auto executive who was known to work miracles.
Knudsen set to work to completely revise the image of Pontiac, starting with a nearly 50-horsepower increase in the engine and removal of some outdated trim. He knew buyers wanted some sportiness and power and the best thing he could do to bring Pontiac out of the doldrums was to give them what they wanted.
He came to Pontiac too late to influence the basic styling of the 1958 cars, but he did dictate major changes in the side trim and instrument panel that would presage where the brand was going. To bring that message home he focused on the Bonneville.
The model designation of Bonneville first appeared in 1957 as a convertible, and then only around 600 were built. For 1958 Knudsen made the decision to make the Bonneville its own series. It used a shorter chassis for its two models (hard-top and convertible) and offered fuel injection as an option.
To make the Bonneville appeal to more discriminating buyers it came with a big list of optional equipment. It was one of the first cars to offer a "memory" power seat. A tricky radio option was offered called the "sportable." It could be lifted out of the dash and played wherever anyone wanted, as it had its own internal speaker and battery. A locking differential was offered, called Safe-T-Track.
1958 Pontiac Bonneville
Engines in the Bonneville could be ordered in six different tuning stages, from 240 to 310 horsepower. Air suspension was offered for the first time, called "Ever-Level." Unfortunately, it proved to be troublesome and earned a bad reputation.
Then there was the chrome - lot's of it! 1958 was a year of chrome excess and Pontiac certainly had its share. From the huge bumpers, dual chrome-encased headlights to its full-length side trim spears, the Bonneville sported a couple hundred pounds of trim. Everything had shiny accents and the interior showed chrome appointments everywhere. Instruments, controls, seat trim, door trim, etc., all had heavy chrome accents.
The 1958 cars were solidly built but quite heavy, at nearly 3800 pounds. Brakes were barely adequate to stop the faster cars and tire technology was very primitive compared with today.
1958 was a recession year and car sales were pretty poor across the board. However, there was an upturn of Pontiac sales so Knudsen was given the go-ahead to do whatever he wanted to continue the growth of Pontiac.
For 1959 he added the famous "wide track" feature to the product line and never looked back. Engine options, suspension upgrades, sporty appointments and all the other things that eventually led to Pontiac's image as the "performance" brand at GM.
There are more aficionados toward 1958 Pontiacs than most would imagine. Show-condition cars are going for over $40,000 in convertible form and about $10,000 less for hardtops, but if you find a fuel-injected model be prepared to up the price by nearly half. For those restoring such cars be prepared to budget a lot of money for chrome plating.
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