By on January 18, 2012

Yesterday’s Junkyard Find from 1993 wasn’t the kind of car most of us would find interesting enough to seek out today (though I’m considering buying a Dynasty, caging it, and starting a new race series: Spec Dynasty). Today’s ’93 car is a different story. A Bonneville with 205 supercharged horses under the hood? I’ll take one!
Granted, the fascination that Detroit had with plastic body cladding in the 1990s made for some not-so-attractive cars, especially after the sun went to work on the plastic for a decade or two, but: Roots supercharger!
The Bonneville SSEi (and its blown Buick cousins) haven’t held their value well, since I see solid examples in wrecking yards and on 24 Hours of LeMons tracks on a regular basis.
And, really, the SSEi’s power/weight numbers are pretty close to the contemporary Ford Crown Victoria’s… and, as someone who drove a P71 Crown Vic as a daily driver for years, I can say that we’re not talking about eyeball-flattening acceleration here. But still: Roots supercharger! These cars do sound great with the pedal mashed to the floor.
This car has “SSE” and “SSEi SUPERCHARGED” logos everywhere, including this one printed on the underhood insulation.
Perhaps the fate of this car (which I found in the same Denver self-serve yard that holds the Dynasty) is to be a supercharger donor for somebody’s Buick Skyhawk project.

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53 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1993 Pontiac Bonneville SSEi...”


  • avatar
    Omnifan

    Wish I still had my 98 Bonne. Comfortable ride, huge trunk, and 20 MPG city/30+ highway.

    • 0 avatar
      Idemmu

      Those leather seats would be the perfect addition to a Chevy B-body..

    • 0 avatar
      Joan Tski

      I still have my 1998 SSEi AND I STILL LOVE IT; My husband bought it as a birthday present for me and this must have been the one car ALL the quality department worked on. Have only 135k on it after 14 years of ownership and it still looks nearly new when I get it detailed which is every 6 months; rarely had any problems with it and only once the electronic master module had to be replaced but it was still under warranty at the time; after the 10 year warranty ran out my husband took over the day to day manintenance and it has performed flawlessly – I just love the BOSE stereo system in this car and the climate controlled AC and heater works to this day;
      I especially love all seat controls, power roof and the built in Compressor in the trunk which has come in handy on several occasions; This car had all the bells and whistles as this car is loaded !! And not to mention the Turbo charged engine that can get you out of any highway situation – running 20mph city and 28 highway but only use regular gas in it after I put 50K miles on engine and it is a beast; sorry all you others had lemons but I Love my Bonnie and will be heartbroken when she finally dies.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I still love those old tanks. Between the Olds LSS, the blown Buicks and these SSE/SSEi Ponchos, this would be the one. I’m a bigger fan of the 2000-2005 versions, but this would version do just fine, too. These cars were meant to gobble up miles of interstate in a single bound.

    Off the top of my head, the front clip seems like it belongs to a SSE. The SSEi was the supercharged car, the SSE was one step below. I wonder if this car came this way, or was hit in the front and the wrong clip installed?

    • 0 avatar
      Wodehouse

      I once did a road trip from Philadelphia to Las Vegas and back in a ’92 Bonneville SSE. It was an effortless cruiser and very comfortable.

      This is the correct SSEi clip. The other Bonneville trims had the auxiliary lights at the far ends underneath a differently shaped bumper.

    • 0 avatar
      KalapanaBlack

      The one to have, if you’re an oddball (like me) would be the ’91-92 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Touring Sedan. It optionally had this supercharged engine.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      I rented a base ’93 Bonneville for a week to tool around California. I was surprised how much I liked it. Yeah, the materials were less than stellar, but the ride was great, handling surprisingly decent, power was good enough, and mpg surprisingly high, I think I was pushing 30 on the highway. I expect to be looking for a cheap ride in the near future, the Bonny will be on my list.

  • avatar
    MattPete

    This car is why Pontiac is no more and GM is almost out of business.

    Everything about this car is faux and crap. My 7-year-old (1984) Mazda 626 had a nicer interior.

    1) Nasty/playskool light-gray switches and knobs
    2) 10million identical buttons = high-tech (for the gullible).
    3) control panels (e.g. the nasty Delco radio) that are not integrated with the dash and look tacked on.
    4) Logos, logos, everywhere! I bet good money that those wheels have “ABS” written on them, to let other drivers stuck sitting in traffic know that this car has ABS brakes. I bet that the brake pedal has ABS stamped on it, too. And the trunk lid. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was stitched into the seats.
    5) Plastic body claddy (“ribbed, for her pleasure”).

    a 1993 Honda Civic (contemporary of this car) had a much nicer interior.

    • 0 avatar
      Bonnieguy

      Alot of people ragged on this car but i’ve owned two an SE and now an SSEi. It to me is considered a modern muscle car. Even now thers very few cars that can stand up to one of these cars all out. And the ones that do have mods while this came from the factory with hp. The 3.8 liter engine is not only dependable but can take a beating and require simple fixes to keep it going. I dont know about everybody else but seems to me i see bonneviles and their cousins the buick and olds from the late 80′s and throught the 90′s everywhere! Cant say the same for the hondas or mazda 626. And though they may have looked nicer inside they werent nearly as roomy or comfortable…

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Haha, that’s not really an accurate blanket statement “Even now thers [sic] few cars that can stand up to one of these cars all out.”

        Pretty much any later GM version of that engine could stand up to it, even a Buick LaCrosse.

        Or any BMW.
        Or any Audi.
        Or any Lexus.
        Or most SUVs.

    • 0 avatar
      CarGal

      The reason Pontiac is no more is increasing rate of market share loss.

      You have a 1984 Mazda 626 and it’s only 7 years old? How exactly does that work? The 626 is a solid running car with a efficient dash console control system….but that’s about it.

      1: The 626 also has plastic controls.

      2: The buttons are not identical. They all have a function.

      3: Delco has always produced a decent quality low range radio and speakers. It’s not Bose and nobody should expect it to be. As long as you’re not the type of kick the volume up to 10, the speakers will last as long as the car.

      4: “Logo’s Logo’s everywhere” is an exaggeration. 5 on the outside hardly qualifies as ‘everywhere’. They can also be removed.

      5: The one thing we agree on.

      I owned a SSEi and it was one of the best rides I owned. Reliable, sounded fantastic, comfortable, never gave me a single issue in the 5 years I owned her. Can’t ask for much more than that.

  • avatar
    Boff

    It does not have the correct SSEi rims, either. My stepmother had one of these in British Racing Green. It was not a bad car at all, until you put it head to head with the Acura Legend my dad drove. The Bonne won on number of buttons and that’s it.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    I did and do love these… http://www.curbsideclassic.com/my-curbside-classic/my-curbside-classic-h-is-for-heavy-breathing/ they taught me that FWD cars could be made to handle well.

  • avatar
    JCraig

    As bad as this is compared to its import rivals at the time, it still absolutely shames the Diplomat. What a state the big 3 were in. As a little kid I thought these were neat, all the buttons and red lighting. Looking back I wonder how GM managed to pass off all those nasty generic looking light grey buttons.

  • avatar
    jeanpierresarti

    Friend’s dad had one. Abominable all around plain and simple.

  • avatar
    tmkreutzer

    I really liked these back in the day, but when we I test drove one when I was used car shopping a few years ago I thought it drove like a truck.

    I also shopped the later models and really thought about buying a newer GXP, but something snapped inside when I looked at all the buttons inside. More buttons mean more things to go wrong and I swear that iteration of the Bonneville had at least 50 different buttons on the dashboard.

    In the end I bought a 2003 Chrysler 300M Special and I am glad I did. Of course, still wish it was blown.

  • avatar
    johnhowington

    tupperware plastic really does last 19 years, thanks GM for the experiment.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    One of our many kids had one of these. Bought it new with an extended warranty. The blower went south 1kmi before the end of the warranty.

    I have a hard time with moving that much weight reliably over a long period with a blown v6 versus a v8. I am not so sure I am happy with where our automobile industy has gone but I’m still going to drive.

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    For their size and cruisability, at the time the big H-cars with the 3800s were MPG leaders, including over most imports. But at GM we referred to them as button farms. And I was at the division that built the electronics.

    These were far from the quality/reliability low-point for GM cars. Another few years had to pass for that.

    • 0 avatar
      texan01

      Mom’s ’92 LeSabre was a dog under warranty, but after it hit 35,000 miles it was flawless. Parents sold it in 2004 just because they were bored with it. It had 140,000 miles on it.

      Yes it had peeling chrome on the power window switch, yes the Dynamush suspension was a bad joke, but it’d take a corner, and that 170hp 3800 would embarrass more than a few rice rockets who though me driving a living room on wheels was easy pickings at stoplight drags. It was a damn sight much better than our B-body ’84 Olds Delta 88.

      The biggest gripe with it I think was the standard HVAC controls, it would develop a fault where it would switch to defrost anytime it felt like, and after about 4 trips to the dealer dutifully replacing the control head each time it finally started behaving. The last thing it went to the dealer for under warranty was the PASS key system failed resulting in a no-start. I hot wired the starter and drove it in while completely befuddling the service writer on how I got it there. Never mind the fact that we had the FSM for it and I read the schematics on the system and figured out where the kill swtich was .

    • 0 avatar
      texan01

      Mom’s ’92 LeSabre was a dog under warranty, but after it hit 35,000 miles it was flawless. Parents sold it in 2004 just because they were bored with it. It had 140,000 miles on it. It did get 18-21 in town and 30-35 on the highway. It had absolutely no problem hitting the speed limiter of 108 in 2nd gear.

      Yes it had peeling chrome on the power window switch, yes the Dynamush suspension was a bad joke, but it’d take a corner, and that 170hp 3800 would embarrass more than a few rice rockets who though me driving a living room on wheels was easy pickings at stoplight drags. It was a damn sight much better than our B-body ’84 Olds Delta 88.

      The biggest gripe with it I think was the standard HVAC controls, it would develop a fault where it would switch to defrost anytime it felt like, and after about 4 trips to the dealer dutifully replacing the control head each time it finally started behaving. The last thing it went to the dealer for under warranty was the PASS key system failed resulting in a no-start. I hot wired the starter and drove it in while completely befuddling the service writer on how I got it there. Never mind the fact that we had the FSM for it and I read the schematics on the system and figured out where the kill swtich was .

  • avatar
    cdotson

    My wife drove one of these just before I met her in college, a similar vintage in dark green (but a true SSEi model). It had already died before I met her; with something like 220k miles on it the supercharger gave up the ghost just after she pumped a full tank of 93 octane into it as she was trying to leave the gas station. Luckily those were the days when the 87 octane I was putting into my Ramcharger was about $0.93/gal, but she was putting the Bonne’s gas on her dad’s Exxon card anyway.

    She really enjoyed that car, piling her friends and roommates into it for road trips up and down the highways of southwest Virginia. One our earliest outings together was when I took her to the junkyard that bought it to turn over the title etc. She cried, and to this day I carry in my wallet the cheap Home Depot-copy of the key to that car that she gave me as “the key to her heart.”

  • avatar
    I've got a Jaaaaag

    I have often thought of finding a clean 2 Door Olds Cutlass Ciera and dropping a Supercharged 3800 in it. My father had a 4 door Ciera in 1989 and it was pretty quick for the time.

    • 0 avatar
      KalapanaBlack

      Growing up, I would have KILLED to swap an L67 into a last-gen Toronado. I’ve always had a soft spot for those cars. The 170 hp 3800 Series I just didn’t have enough juice to back up the suave looks. I realize they are mostly rusted/junked/non-running in rural yards these days, but I still love ‘em.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        I had a soft spot for these as well and seriously considered buying a 90-92 Toronado but what made me leary was the electrical issues and cheap Rodger Smith bean counter era interior plastics. Finding one and upgrading the motor to the Supercharged 3800 would have been great. I never understood why GM did not offer the Supercharged 3800 in these since these were a premium aka halo car for the day. I went for a 95 T-Bird 4.6 instead which I am quite happy with.

    • 0 avatar
      texan01

      I had plans to do that to my ’86 6000-STE instead of the spunky 2.8

      Instead of a redline limited top speed of 125 (3 speed auto in it) It’d go to 170 before drag would slow it down (theroretically) I simulated this swap on a program called Car Test and 0-60 would have been about 5.5 seconds in a 2900 pound car instead of 8.9, AND it would have gotten better mileage despite the extra 61 cubes and nearly double the horsepower.

  • avatar
    red60r

    The best thing about that model was the Patrick Stewart voiceover in the TV commercials. Engage!

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    The powertrains were always better than the rest of the car when it came to the Bonnevilles.

    I’ve probably had about a dozen of these models over the years. They hate the sun. Creak like crazy unless you use copious amounts of lubricant on the hinges. The electronics overall are surprisingly decent and the interior plastics are pretty much the cheapest put in a 1990′s sports/luxury sedan.

    But if you liked this type of car 7 to 10 years after their release, they were among the best road car values you can imagine. I have a good auctioneer friend of mine who has driven nothing but Bonnies for 15 years. He usually buys them at auctions with between 80k to 100k for $5000 to $7000. Then sells them once it reaches 250k for $1500.

    The same can be said for 88′s and LeSabres back in the Clinton era. Cheap interior materials. But durable powertrains if you care for them.

    • 0 avatar
      brokeguy

      Steven, i’m currently driving a 1996 model of this car. The plastics (and leather) are pretty cheap but the electronics really are pretty durable. I picked mine up for $400 because it had a couple of minor issues (fuel line leak and broken “vent” window) and was high mileage (204K) it’s my DD, and the 3800 is tough as a 10p nail. Parts are relatively cheap and easy to replace, and it actually handles pretty well for what it is. If i can keep the rest of the car around the engine, i hope to get another 3-4 years of tooling around town out of it.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    How do you know when you go too far if you don’t go too far?

    The SSEi went too far.

    This is the most overtly sexualized interior since bordello red burgundy disco interiors of the 1970s. The interior of a 1974 Imperial back seat could be explained by the popularity of Shaft, poppers and cocaine, but what’s up with this 1993 SSEi interior? The seats look like they were designed by Brookstone and a Japanese S&M dominatrix. The last thing we need to see is these seats in stained leather, ripped up like one of Marv Albert’s dates. Even when new, this interior looked as friendly as a Stranger Danger driving an Good Humor truck. Push the wrong button and you found Steely Dan with Patrick Stewart’s voice.

    A ten year old Mall massage chair used at a naturist senior center looks more sanitary.

    There was no way anyone could clean around all those buttons. After a year, this dashboard and seat accoutrement buttons looked as clean as the keyboard of a frat house computer used for surfing porn. You had to have this car detailed every month to keep ants from snacking on the half ton of crud hiding around every gray button. From day one of this car, you could see that an owner would have to buy disposable paper toilet seat covers to keep their clothes clean.

    Gray! I never did understand the appeal of NO COLOR used on the IP of this era’s GM vehicles. Between the invisisilver color of the exterior and the invisigray color used on the dash, you would think Pontiac was trying to hide something from us. Did the gray help tone down the eye-ulcerating orange dash lights? Thanks to the eye cones and rod lacerating qualities of this Pontiac dash, Lasik surgery was discovered. Owning a Pontiac, a Subaru or other orange-lit dashes cured myopia.

    The reason for all the badges, tags, decals, embroideries, and wood burning lithography on this vehicle is due to a belief at that time that owning a Pontiac was somehow cool. In the Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum in Niagra Falls Canada is a Pontiac Trans Am with a plague stating:

    At one time, these overwrought ostentatious vehicles were commonly found on our roads, driven by people who needed to believe that mullet hair styles were fashionable, leopard-skin parachute pants were attractive, and Marlboro Light cigarettes were more expensive than generic, but were less cancerous.

    Such was Pontiac fashion.

    The exterior of this vehicle was also rendered in the Pontiac style fashionable in 1993. However, this being an SSEi required additional decals and plastic ground effects. The overall look of the 1993 Pontiac could be described as looking like a Chevy suffering from serious bloating and gas. The fender lines, the bumpers, the trunk deck stylings all suggest that in case of an accident or an overagressive car wash would result in an SSEi being popped like the bloated carcass of a two day old raccoon road kill in August. Why? Because when this car was originally designed, many auto manufacturers were attempting to create something bloated and round to address the popularity of the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable. Gaseous shapes were in. Even the Taurus twins jumped the shark in 1996 by trying to outbloat the competition.

    Fortunately, these cars were built with the dedication and quality of GM autos typical for those times, and sadly, today as well. As these cars aged, parts fell off, revealing taunt, attractive and sometimes, not rusted exterior panels more attractive than the original design. The effect would be like seeing a Phantom of the Opera mask fall off revealing George Hamilton’s orange face.

    Like the Turnpike Cruiser, let’s show some respect for gauche auto design!

    • 0 avatar
      GS650G

      So , generally speaking, you don’t like this car?

    • 0 avatar
      Geekcarlover

      Ahhh, a Vanilladude rant. Now I can move on with my day.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve really been enjoying your recent commentary…anything but vanilla, Vanilla Dude.

      Sales manager for a former employer owned one of these and I got to drive it down to the mountains for a work-related event. Suprising how comfortable and taut it felt but at the end of the day there was still just a twinge of “front-wheel-drive-ness”…an intangible quality I’ve never felt in a Taurus or my kid’s ’93 Accord or mom’s ’92 Subaru Legacy FWD(how it PAINS me, eternal GM guy to say that but it’s true!)…but shows up in every GM FWD car I’ve driven…even in a Cadillac DTS…that screams THIS IS A CHEAP-A** FRONT-WHEEL-DRIVE CAR!

      Peter DeLorenzo correctly called the interior color scheme “sea of gray”…I couldn’t have said it better.

      I know I’ll get some disagreement but I still say Pontiac had no reason to exist after 1982, when their unique drivetrains ceased to exist.

    • 0 avatar
      swilliams41

      That put me on the floor, so true, esp. the poppers and cocaine mention. Oh the bloated excesses of our past…not that I did those things. I remember folks talking about them.

  • avatar
    jtk

    Is this the one that had the heads-up display that you could only use if you were 5’7″-5’9″ tall?

  • avatar

    That interior is a joke. I think my brother’s Little Tike’s Cozy Coupe had a nicer interior, with better materials.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    There are still lots of these around, it seems. The owner probably just couldn’t afford to keep up the maintenance.

    Cars like this explain why Hyundai is doing so well today.

    • 0 avatar
      brokeguy

      Maintenance costs for these really aren’t that expensive, it’s just that when something major does go, like a transaxle or a supercharger, it often costs more than the car is worth to fix, tranaxle rebuilds are $1300+, a good used supercharger can still go for $600-700 just for the part, replacement is over 1k with labor. A half-way decent DIY-er could perform both fixes in their backyard with a proper set of tools. Unfortunately, most folks aren’t of the DIY sort.

  • avatar
    thrashette

    I don’t understand all the weeping about the car’s interior. It’s a car. Let it do what it needs to do. It doesn’t have to look like Joan Rivers’ living room. Maybe I’m the only person on the planet who prefers simplistic, functional interiors, but I like my car too look, and feel, like a car.

    • 0 avatar
      Macca

      Did you even look at the pictures? That is neither “simple” nor “functional”. 9 seat-adjustment buttons, on the center console, no less? 5 more buttons aside the gear shift (only 3 functional in this example)? You describe something along the lines of a basic Miata – all the fundamental controls ergonomically laid out, plainly. If you actually “prefer your car to look, and feel, like a car” then you probably wouldn’t feel at home in this Fisher Price mess of bulbous hard plastics.

  • avatar
    Marko

    The funniest Pontiac interior touch of this era (well, a few years earlier, before airbags became mandatory) had to be the “calculator” steering wheel.

    http://carphotos.cardomain.com/ride_images/1/1089/781/2720390061_large.jpg

  • avatar
    ajla

    I got my ’92 SSEi for $900 from a lady that probably used the money to go buy some meth.

    It’s nice that you can hear the supercharger when driving it. I really like the engine. There are a lot of buttons, but the only ones I ever actually use are the “auto” and “off” on the climate control. Maintaining it is easy. Good on the freeway. The seats are okay. I don’t really give a damn about interior materials considering my purchase price.

    It could stand to offer a bit more “Driving Excitment” though. I enjoy driving my Diplomat more on dirt roads. A SHO, J30, or 190E would be more fun overall but probably less durable too.

    Quality is reasonable for a low priced used car, but the 1st-gen H-body Bonnevilles I’ve owned seem to be built better.

  • avatar
    CrapBox

    In my neck of the woods, Ottawa, tailgaters proliferate and the Pontiac Bonneville is their weapon of choice.

  • avatar
    Ian Anderson

    Arghhh, WHY did I pass on that ’96 Bonneville SSEI around the block for $1500 with 120K on it? Oh yeah the trans was slipping. Those 3800s can/do sound great and the torque can be addicting, add the blower and its noise/torque can make smoking into meth. Unfortunately the transaxles don’t like being beat on too much, as one of my buddies found out numerous time with his ’05 Impala SS.

    The good thing about any GM car with a 3800 and the Roots blower? There’s a hell of an aftermarket for that motor, and plenty of ways to beef up that transaxle (look up Fiero L67 swap). They’re cheap, too. If it weren’t for the whole FWD thing I’d own one.

  • avatar
    critchdizzle

    Great article. I have an ’06 Grand Prix GT with the blown 3.8, and every now and then when I’m getting on the highway I’ll stomp on it just to listen to that sound.

  • avatar
    toxonix

    I’ve been looking passively for one of the Eaton blowers from this car to adapt to a Mercedes M110 engine. Where else can you get a blow-job for around a hundred bucks? Don’t answer that.
    I don’t know if it has external oil pressure requirements or just uses unicorn/turbine oil like some of the other smaller displacement blowers do.

  • avatar

    I’m more interested in the 85ish Rivera right next to it.

  • avatar
    patrick8471

    Hi there I was wondering if you could help me see my 93 Bonneville is in need of some body mount/cradle bushings and I just can’t seem to find any if you could help me find some.

  • avatar
    DetroitMuscle

    I’m kinda surprised by the amount of hate this Bonneville has gotten, it’s not the pretties or fasts car from the Pontiac line in 93 but it wasn’t meant to be the end all be all. They took the basic Bonneville (an average sedan) and injected it with steroids. It’s performance is pretty respectable for the time, even when compared to it’s euro competition.

    A 1992 Bonneville SSEi (27K) with go from 0-60 in 8.0 seconds flat, a 1992 BMW 325i (28K) will do it in 7.7 sec, a 1992 Mercedes 190E (26K) 2.3 in 11.3 sec, and since it was brought up a 1993 Mazda 626 with do it in 11.3 sec for the auto and 7.6 for the manual. So on the performance front the Pontiac will give the BMW a run for it’s money and in the case of the Benz and the Mazda (the auto anyways)it will stomp them into the ground.

    As far looks are concerned it’s a product of it’s time and honestly it’s far from the worst looking car from the 90′s. Yeah all the SSEi, ABS, and Supercharged badges are kinda cheesy now but how is that different than back in the 50′s when car’s would have V8 badges all over the place. Same goes for the interior (which is no were near as bad as some people are claiming). Personally I’d take the cluster of switches as apposed to one button that does everything al la the “recent” BMW iDrive system. It’s kinda hard to take “your uncles car” and make it look cool, I think they did a great job with what they had to work with I think the car looks better in black with gold accenting and the gold honey comb alloys.


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