By on March 10, 2020

Pontiac is one of the most featured marques of the Rare Rides series, and to date there have been seven of its models represented here. Today’s Rare Ride was in showrooms the very same time as the odd and short-lived Sunbird Safari Wagon, but was intended to entice a much more traditional customer.

Let’s have a look at the upright and respectable Bonneville coupe.

The well-known Bonneville nameplate entered its sixth generation for the 1977 model year. Riding on a new version of the B-body platform, Bonneville was accompanied by Buick, Chevrolet, and Oldsmobile brethren that formed General Motors’ mass-market large sedan offerings. Consolidation and downsizing occurred at the end of 1976, and new B-body designs debuted with wheelbases decreased by seven inches and overall lengths shortened by 14. The Chevrolet Caprice and Pontiac Bonneville were the largest sedans on offer at either brand; Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac still offered larger C-body cars in the Ninety-Eight, Electra, and De Ville respectively.

The new Bonneville was available with two doors like today’s coupe, or with four doors in sedan and wagon guise. Stylish hardtop versions of the prior generation were gone, but customers were consoled with optional opera windows on the coupe. For those who could not abide by the luxurious Bonneville’s price, its plain-Jane entry-level sibling was the Catalina.

Engines were many, ranging from a 3.8-liter Buick V6 (available in 1980), through V8s of four, five, and six liters displacement. The top of the range was the 403 Oldsmobile V8, with a close second given to Pontiac’s own 400 cubic inch (6.6L) version.

Worth noting here is Pontiac’s interesting branding strategy in Canada. GM did some badge work for Canadian customers, and rebranded the Catalina as the Laurentian. The Bonneville was not sold in Canada, but a light rework of the Caprice was marketed as Parisienne. But all the names in the world couldn’t help the full-sizers at Pontiac sell. Their sales were the worst of any B-body offering, and 1979’s recession helped to seal their fate.

1981 was the final year for the sixth-gen Bonneville and Catalina. 1982 saw the Catalina disappear and the Bonneville name fall to the mid-size class. It joined the Chevrolet Malibu on the rear-drive G-body platform. That same year, Pontiac’s new American-market full-sizer arrived from north of the border: bonjour, Parisienne. The brand was mostly downhill from there, really.

Today’s Rare Ride is a loaded up Landau trim coupe, with magnificent color matched mag wheels and green on every available surface. 1978 was the last year customers could order their Pontiac with the Pontiac 400 V8, and so the original owner did. With 69,000 miles and already repainted in its original factory Sea Foam green, the Bonneville asks $10,995.

[Images: seller]

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65 Comments on “Rare Rides: A Stunning 1978 Pontiac Bonneville Coupe...”


  • avatar
    redgolf

    That’s a nice looking ride, I once owned a 63 Catalina, 2 dr hard top, black, bought it used off a lot for $1000, I was 18 single and free!

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    GM put a lot of thought and money into those ’77 B-bodies. No one was sure the country would accept the first round of “down-sizing”. The goal was to reduce weight and heft without sacrificing interior room and cushy ride. One of the few times GM did NOT phone it in the results were pretty good cars that people seemed to like. This Pontiac is a good example of those B-bodies

  • avatar
    gtem

    Beautiful car but they’re asking about double what I’d consider is a reasonable price on one. These B bodies are climbing in price, the Chevy variants in particular.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      I’m also very suspicious of those bubbles under the vinyl roof. Not a good sign

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      People seem stuck in the past on old car prices. Inflation is a thing, and these are not getting any more common. I have no interest in such a thing, but $10K is beer money in 2020 to most anyone who has the means to buy a toy car at all. And this is very much a toy, not transportation.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        These B bodies are $4-6k cars all day from estate sales across the Midwest. Unless it was absolutely perfect (it isn’t), $10k is a stretch.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          I agree, the price of “special interest” cars has doubled in the last couple of years to the point of being ridiculous. This Pontiac isn’t a rare classic, it’s an old car in good condition and should be priced accordingly

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        Inflation? To buy a dollar’s worth of 1977 you need $4.42 of 2020. So the base price of $5395 back then is $23,189 today. A bargain!

  • avatar
    bufguy

    The 400 was a pretty rare option…most buyers opted for the 301 V8 or maybe the 350… This also marked the end of division specific engines as Pontiac would soon drop their 400…Everyone else at GM, excepting Cadillac, would use the Olds 403 as their big engine which would no longer be available after the 79 model year.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Was the 403 considered the “better” motor as implied in the article? I vaguely recall that both were offered in the Trans Am, and the 400 was considered the hot ticket. But could be wrong.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        the 403 had less horsepower but fatter torque curve, so it would probably have been preferable in a big car. the HO Pontiac 400 was the hot ticket in the Trans Am, but by 1979 was only available with a manual trans.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          The 403 was criticized by some for the measures that went into it to lighten its weight but I’ve also heard that there were gentlemen who drag raced lightly modified 403s with no durability problems.

          Oldsmobile V8s had a reputation as being built for torque over horsepower.

          • 0 avatar
            st301gpman

            It was all about emissions. Oldsmobile redesigned its heads in the late 60’s and one of the improvements was emissions. Both the Chevrolet and Oldsmobile engines were cleaner burning than the Pontiac. Those cars were typically the California emissions cars. Any late 70’s Pontiac that was the top high-performance model still got the 400 Pontiac motor.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    It’s beautiful .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    The history of Pontiac in Canada is most interesting. Starting circa post WWII and for 5 generations, full sized Pontiacs were manufactured in Canada on Chevrolet Impala ‘platforms’ but using Pontiac ‘bright work’ (grilles, trim, chrome, tailights, etc) and interiors.

    They (we) also used Chev engines meaning that unlike in the USA you could get a full sized Pontiac with a 6 cylinder.

    They were branded as Strato-Chief, Laurentian and Parisienne. Later there was a Grand Parisienne using primarily Caprice components.

    This combination allowed full size Pontiacs to be priced very close to their Chev siblings but with ‘better’ features. The gap in price between Pontiac and Chev being much less in Canada than in the USA. Therefore these ‘large’ Pontiacs sold very well in Canada, comparably much better than in the USA. At one point selling up to 70,000 units per year in Canada, and being the 3rd best selling marque/vehicle.

    I particularly remember the 1967 and later ‘hawk nose’ models being plentiful in my neighbourhood.

    Smaller Pontiacs such as the Tempest, Grand Prix and GTO were imported into Canada from the USA and therefore sold at something of a ‘premium’.

    For a while all Firebird production in North America was out of the St Therese plant in Quebec. So Firebirds also sold well in Canada.

    Large rear wheel drive Pontiacs were sold in Canada until 1986. They had previously been discontinued in the USA and therefore the Parisienne was imported from Canada for a while.

    Canadian Pontiacs were also exported ‘world wide’ and in particular to other Commonwealth nations. So if you find a full sized Pontiac outside of the USA it is probably a Canadian product.

    There are some websites/petrol heads/historians who specialize in research regarding Canadian Pontiacs. So if I have made any errors, please forgive me and make any corrections to my posting.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      I remember in the early 80’s and being able to get Vancouver TV channels, the ads noted that the Chevy and Pontiac offerings were from CPC Chevrolet Pontiac Canada.

      CPC also produced their own homegrown less than full size nameplates for sale at Pontiac dealers. The Acadian a very lightly or not even disguised Chevy II/Nova or later Chevette and the Beaumaunt a slightly better disguised Chevelle.

      That way the Pontiac Buick GMC dealer had cars to sell in the low price field. Though from my understanding you could get a US Poncho it was just at a significant premium.

    • 0 avatar
      deanst

      Chevy was always less popular in Canada (versus U.S.), with Pontiac models often outselling Chevy. Even today, GMC models can sell at similar volumes versus Chevy (eg. pickups).

    • 0 avatar
      redgolf

      “For a while all Firebird production in North America was out of the St Therese plant in Quebec. So Firebirds also sold well in Canada.”

      Production February 23, 1967–1969
      Assembly Lordstown, Ohio, United States (1967–1969)
      Van Nuys, California, United States (1968–1969)
      Norwood, Ohio, United States (1969) I worked at the Norwood plant 86 – 87 until they closed, didn’t think they were “made in Canada”

    • 0 avatar
      DownUnder2014

      The Pontiac Laurentian and Parisienne were assembled in both Australia and New Zealand from Canadian kits. The main difference was that the Australian-assembled versions had rear amber indicators added (and due to regulations, more local content) and the NZ-assembled ones retained red rears (and more Canadian content), as NZ did not ban them until 1995, whereas Australia had banned them by the early 1960’s…

      The Chevrolet Bel Air and Impala were also assembled in Australia (between 1965-70). GM-H later imported and converted Impalas between 1971-74. I’m quite certain they converted Canadian-assembled models, due to the reasons noted below.

      Ford did the same thing. Early Galaxies were imported from Canada and converted locally. 1965-68 models were locally assembled from Canadian kits (although some LTDs and XLs were also imported from Canada in this time). 1969-72 models were again imported and converted locally.

      The Australian Dodge Phoenix between 1965-72 was essentially a Canadian Plymouth Fury converted to RHD and I’m certain Canadian kits were used as well…

      Only AMC used American kits in the local assembly. However, because AMCs and Toyotas were assembled essentially side by side, Australian-assembled AMC used certain Toyota parts to meet local parts regulations. They also used some Toyota colours, probably due to cost reasons.

      The reason why they used Canadian kits instead of American kits was because Commonwealth tariff concessions meant it was cheaper to get Canadian kits instead of American kits (at least in Commonwealth countries). This lasted into the early 1970’s, I think it ended around 1973…

      • 0 avatar
        DownUnder2014

        Also, I would like to add that the Pontiac Convertibles were imported from Canada, unlike the Coupe and Sedan, which were locally assembled. The Wagon was never assembled of imported, AFAIK.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I was a little dubious about the 400 at first, but the “Z” in the fifth spot in the VIN says it’s a 400 4-barrel, which means it should be backed up by a Turbo 400. I’m still dubious about the 400 emblems on the fenders, and the 400-4 decal on the air cleaner, though (since GM had gone to the “corporate engine” philosophy) – I think someone added those.

    • 0 avatar
      bufguy

      The “400” badging was not factory…It was added. The 400-4 decal on the air cleaner doesn’t deviate from the “corporate” engine philosophy as it does not say Pontiac…even though the engine was designed and built by Pontiac. I remember an insert was added to all of the GM brochures listing all of the engines available and what division was building them. This was was GM’s answer to Olds buyers who found Chevy 350’s under the hood of their Delta 88 and ended up suing saying they didn’t know they had an engine from another division. My parents 78 Buick Estate Wagon came with the 403 and the insert in the brochure explicitly said it was build by the Oldsmobile division….The beginning of corporate sharing.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      It’s a 400. You can tell by the valve covers and the lack of an oil filler neck up by the front cover.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Those “400” badges look awful and honestly make me more leery of the whole car. They would look a lot better centered directly underneath the Bonneville badges, and aligned and spaced correctly.

      Also… “collector quality” but you won’t let us see the seats or carpets?

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Use of fender skirts ultimately results in a dead brand. (There is a time lag, but the effect is real.)

    “Starting in 1977 only the Pontiac Bonneville retained the use of fender skirts on General Motors downsized cars. In 1980 the Oldsmobile returned the fender skirts to its 98 model… The General Motors EV1 had fender skirts later.”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fender_skirts

  • avatar
    TheMrFreeze

    My mother had one of these growing up…a ’79 Bonneville, white with blue landau roof and the 5.0L V8. 3-speed auto with a floor-mounted gear selector (which apparently was a rare option).

    The car is legendary in our family. When it was about 7-8 years old my brother and I reached driving age and mom foolishly allowed us to drive it to school now and again. We beat the living hell out of it…that car caught air more than once and the rear wheel wells were stuffed with the turf from the lawns of our enemies, but the car shrugged off all of the abuse. It was a tank.

    Upstate NY salt eventually did in the Bonneville but boy, did it show us a good time (and vice versa)!

  • avatar
    cprescott

    Those down-sized B-bodies were some of the finest GM vehicles ever made. Even though I loathe today’s GM run by the Witch Barra, I still find a certain fondness for these and those rear wheel down-sized Grand Prixs and Monte Carlos. Somehow GM knew how to build competent rear wheel drive vehicles. It was when they went nearly wholesale into front wheel drive that they couldn’t build anything worth spit.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    for both the g-body and the b-body, I thought Pontiac had some of the uglier front ends. The Monte Carlo, for example, looked cleaner than the Grand Prix – especially 1978-ish. The Oldsmobiles were probably the classiest of the bunch followed by Buick.

    And my dream of building a big block for a 2-door Caprice seems to be slipping away. To be honest, once I had a car with stability (and to a lesser extent traction) control, it is hard to go back. The first car I had with both, a 2004 BMW 325i, saved me from some of my worst mistakes – “why I can take this turn faster than that!”

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      I still miss the “control” or lack there of pre-nannies. I had two identical cars one with the nannies and one without. Although the car with nannies is the better car and feels safer, the one without was much more engaging and more fun to drive

  • avatar
    JimZ

    I can’t understand why they used both the 400 and 403 alongside each other. At least in the Firebird it was a little more reasonable (400 = manual trans, 403 = automatic) but given the 400 maintained reasonable power levels all the way up to 1979 you’d think they’d have made the Firebird/Trans Am 400 only and just use the Olds lump for the boats.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Foley

      In the late 60s and early 70s, Buick, Chevy, Olds, and Pontiac each made a 350ci V8. Why would General Motors make four unique V8s of the same displacement?

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        “Why would General Motors make four unique V8s of the same displacement?”

        They _didn’t_ .

        Chevy had their own small block V8 and the other was a much better corporate “B.O.P.” 350 engine….

        -Nate

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          Yes they did, Nate. He said in the ’60s and ’70s, and that was true. The Chevy 350, Olds 350, Pontiac 350, and Buick 350 were all completely different designs. They also had their own different engines in the 400-455 c.i. range. Back then each division of GM was more or less run as its own company aside from platforms. The only commonality was that Buick, Olds, and Pontiac shared a bellhousing pattern (B-O-P) while Chevy had their own.

          in the late ’70s and early ’80s they couldn’t justify that anymore and started dropping engine families in favor of “corporate” engines. They pretty much settled on Chevy engines but used the Olds 307 in some vehicles until 1990.

          Oh, Cadillac still got its own engines up until about the ’90s.

          • 0 avatar
            jack4x

            Jim,

            It sells them short to say 400-455 ci range when in the early 70s it was possible to buy at the same time:

            A Buick 455
            A Chevy 454
            An Olds 455
            A Pontiac 455

            Truly a different time in product planning and manufacturing.

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            Thank you for the correction Jim . Jack .

            -Nate

          • 0 avatar
            R Henry

            Ah…Caddy engines..

            That lovely, simple, smooth running V8-6-4!
            The sturdy, powerful HT4100!
            The Northstar…with its everlasting head gaskets!

            What a history!

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            In the reality those 455s were all of different displacement but the edict from above was that BOP had to advertise them as 455 to not be able to one up against each other. But of course they could literally one up Chevrolet since they were the “low priced” brand.

            Sinking sales of Chevies and a strong surge from Oldsmobile along with emission controls and CAFE were the root of the switch to corporate engines.

            The Olds engine plant couldn’t keep up with demand for the 350s thanks to a massive increase in Cutlass sales, the 455 being dropped from the Cutlass and many choosing the 350 for their full sizer.

            Meanwhile the Chevy plants had excess capacity as their sales had tanked so the Chevolds was created, stuffing Chev 350’s in place of Rocket 350’s in Cutlasses.

            On the Emissions and CAFE side there was a need for a 6 cyl for the mid price cars and do it quickly. The Buick V6 tooling was bought back from AMC, bolted back in the exact same place it was removed from and rushed through the certification process.

  • avatar
    deanst

    The pet bowls under the radio are a nice touch!

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I always liked the looks of Pontiac s of this period including the Grand Prix. The B-bodies were good cars and I drove many of them during the late 70s and early 80s. My father had a 77 Impala wagon with a 350 4 barrel which was a great car.

  • avatar
    ravenuer

    Ah memories. I bought a brand new 78 Bonneville for $6250. Black/red, 301, “full power” as they used to say. Got scared by the gas crisis in 1980 and sold it to a coworker. Bought a new 1980 Datsun 510 wagon to replace it for…..$6258. Amazing what two years will do for what you got for your money!
    Gotta admit, that Datsun got some gas mileage!

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Not bad to look at and reminisce but at 10 plus K and at 69K – Grenade Mileage, expect this gem to start puking transmissions, ball joints and a host of fluid leaks. How do I know? Been there done that with this lot.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      As Jeff S says below this is almost certainly going to be a hobby car and not a “get to work” car. As such I don’t think having to do ball joint or an oil pan gasket or even a transmission rebuild is the end of the world.

    • 0 avatar
      probert

      Those desperate attempts to make carbs emission efficient resulted in a nightmare of plumbing and servos and …. No garage in the word wants to open a hood and see a quadrajet.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        Who is going to take a ’78 Bonneville to a general purpose garage in 2020?
        It isn’t quantum physics to keep these things on the road, guys. It’s just a car that’s likely to see less than 5,000 miles a year for the rest of its existence and there are large amounts of parts and information available for this powertrain.

  • avatar
    2manycars

    I’d like to think that every time that big V8 is fired up, somewhere a Tesla dies.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I doubt who ever buys this car is going to use it as a daily driver. This is more of a car for someone that wants an old car as a hobby to take to shows and to take for Sunday drives. Any 42 year old car is more of a hobby and not a daily driver. If this has a Turbo Hydramatic them this is a fairly bullet proof transmission and if serviced then it will hold up much better than today’s transmission although it would not be as efficient. Having a 77 Monte Carlo, 73 Chevelle, and a 78 Buick Regal Limited all with Turbo Hydramatics those transmissions never failed me.

  • avatar

    Knew someone back in the day with this car, US market. His Bonneville had a smaller engine, and IIRC, a chevette transmission. When the overstressed trans failed, he sold it and bought a new 280ZX. I considered it a win. The Chevette transmissions behind the smaller engine bit a lot of owners of these cars.

    It was a GM tank, rode very well, but was missing that waftable torque associated with big GM cars of the day. Velour fluffy pillow interior, looked good in deep red.

  • avatar

    Love this car and this kind of cars in general. Never drove one or in one. But opera windows – it is a dream come true. Totally impractical, with V8 that is ridiculous and with “I don’t care about climate change” attitude, only possible in America. That’s the American dream. I cannot imagine this car in boring places like Europe or anywhere outside of NA. I probably was born too late and in wrong country.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      As one just old enough to have experienced this sort of thing when they were relatively new, you aren’t missing a thing.

      But I guess the grass is always greener on the other side of the pond. I lusted after all manner of unobtainable Euro iron as a kid in the 70s, I imagine the Euro kids in the ’70s lusted after unobtainable Yank tanks.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, I did not live in Europe per se even technically I was in Europe> In Soviet Union anything American was cool starting with rock’n’roll and blue jeans made in America up to big fancy Cadillacs and Lincolns. Even Chevy Caprice was considered as a luxury car.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    It’s a pretty color, and I appreciate it as a very, very rare survivor.

    But yuck, it mostly just shows me how far we have thankfully come. 400ci, maybe what, 200hp on it’s best day? And 10mpg? All the fine handling of a parade float, and a ride that would make me carsick in 15 minutes or less. I didn’t get the appeal of these boats 42 years ago, and I REALLY don’t get it now.

  • avatar
    55_wrench

    I had a ’79 coupe, same vinyl top, white with red interior.

    It belonged to the local Chevy dealer service writer who ran the VIN and found there were only 14 Bonnevilles equipped better than this one.

    It had the Olds 350 4 barrel, dual exhausts, buckets, console, cruise, trunk release, ice cold air, factory AM FM, glass retractable sunroof, power seats and windows.

    By the time he had sold it to me he had removed the cats and boy, was it fun to drive…

    I had to put cats back on it. But even then it got 20 on the open road.

    What did it in was the sunroof drain on the right A pillar got plugged and caused major rust thru in a critical area. I hated to let it go, but it was an absolute blast to drive. I DD’ed at least 5 years, went 177,000 with no engine repairs.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    My 77 Monte Carlo (swivel bucket seats, rally wheels, and landau top) with a 305 2 barrel carb would regularly get 21 mpg highway and it was very smooth and comfortable. Not all big cars were gas hogs depending on how you drove them and what size of a motor or whether the carb was a 2 or 4 barrel. I wouldn’t mind having that car again but more as a hobby and not a daily driver. I like today’s safety features better but then that will be said today’s new cars in 20 to 40 years from now. You cannot judge a car of the past by today’s standards as to why that car was desirable during the time it was new. That would be like judging a Model T by today’s standards and asking why people during the time of the Model T bought a Model T.

  • avatar
    MeJ

    That is a damn fine looking car!

  • avatar
    st301gpman

    It was all about emissions. Oldsmobile redesigned its heads in the late 60’s and one of the improvements was emissions. Both the Chevrolet and Oldsmobile engines were cleaner burning than the Pontiac. Those cars were typically the California emissions cars. Any late 70’s Pontiac that was the top high-performance model still got the 400 Pontiac motor.

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