History of the Bonneville
In 1963, the Pontiac Division of General Motors left factory competition efforts so the new Pontiacs could emphasize styling and luxury over performance. Pontiac's flagship product was the full-size Bonneville. It was Pontiac's most expensive and luxurious model throughout the 1960s. The Bonneville was built on an extra-long wheelbase, longer than the Catalina, giving it an overall length of 18'2" (by comparison, today's average automobile is 15' long). Bonneville Convertibles were the most expensive model and listed at $3,568, $219 more than a hardtop. They featured genuine leather seating (although mine had been replaced with vinyl seat covers), walnut veneer trim on the dashboard, carpeted lower door panels, a grab bar on the passenger side dash, courtesy lights, and a rear arm rest. The Bonneville was instrumental in raising Pontiac to third place in automotive sales from 1962 to 1970.
1963 Advertisement for the Pontiac Bonneville Convertible
Features & Performance
The 389 cubic-inch 4-barrel V8 engine
The Bonneville had an unusual shift pattern: " P N 'D' L R "
The standard Bonneville was equipped with a 389 cubic inch (6.4 L) V8 with a four-barrel carburetor that produced 267 HP. The engine was mated to a four-speed Hydra-Matic automatic transmission. The Hydra-Matic had an unusual shift pattern: "Reverse", which is usually located between "Park;" and "Neutral", was located to the far right (the bottom-most position of the shift column). There were two "Drive" positions, the little tick mark to the right of "D" was standard DRIVE, and the little tick mark to the left of "D" enabled the automatic overdrive. Virtually all early U.S. automatic transmissions used the P-N-D-L-R gear selector sequence except those from Ford Motor Co. Indeed, Ford's transmissions were the exception prior to the federal government's mandating the P-R-N-D-L sequence in 1964. This power train combination was enough to propel the 3970 lb. Bonneville from 0 - 60 mph in a respectable 12½ seconds. On the other hand, fuel economy was only around 10.7 miles per gallon.
I did not own a car in High School in Alabama. Although I learned to drive in a Chevrolet Vega, and had use of the family's Ford LTD, I rode the bus to school each day. But, as I prepared for college, I would need transportation and so my dad bought me my first car, - a 1963 Pontiac Bonneville convertible.
Note: Not all pictures on this page are of my car, some are representative.
My dad purchased the 1963 Pontiac from a man who had bought it to pull a travel trailer. When the transmission went out, he parked it in his yard and there it sat for several years. It wasn't in too bad a shape. The left rear taillight was crushed in from a backing incident, and through the years, the paint had faded to a chalky white revealing a poorly executed plastic body filler job on the driver's door. At some point, someone had removed the leather upholstery and re-covered the seats with a heavy blue vinyl. They covered the dash with the same blue vinyl used to re-cover the seats. I assume it was to cover a cracked dash pad. The carpet was ripped and worn, but everything else was sound. We strapped the immobile car to dad's pickup truck and pulled it home. I replaced the carpet with a mail-order brand, and I sanded and repainted the metal part of the dash board and front kick panels a royal blue.
Me putting in new carpet
The seats had already been re-covered with vinyl
I remember during the tow home, it was quite a scary drive steering without power steering and stopping without power brakes. We didn't take it home right away either. Dad had a mechanic friend that he really liked, so we dropped the car at his shop. He set about to repair the broken transmission and rebuild the engine. About two weeks later, I was riding the school bus and saw a shiny, baby blue convertible sitting out in front of the man's shop. I didn't realize it was my car until I got home and my dad said, "Let's go get your car- it's ready." I was surprised it was light blue, I thought the Bonneville we had bought was white.
My dad in Bonnie
Some of the optional items that could have been installed on your 1963 Bonneville included power steering, power windows, power assisted brakes and air conditioning. My Bonneville had none of these. After a few days of trying to steer the heavy car around city street corners, my dad had his mechanic install a power steering unit from a salvage yard. Another option was the AM-only monaural radio which had a single front speaker in the center of the dashboard and another speaker located between the rear seats. I cut holes in the kick panels and in the rear armrests to install a four-speakers and an AM/FM cassette stereo unit.
A single rear speaker sat between the seat
The huge trunk had a plastic mat
Where Is It Today?
The Bonneville was a very well-built automobile. I drove it to college daily, and on long weekends, I would make a 500-mile round trip from Anniston, Alabama where I lived, to Knoxville, Tennessee to visit family. I went up one weekend that happened to be the weekend of the rival Alabama-Tennessee football game. I was parked on the street in front of my Aunt's house, and some jerk took a knife and sliced open the fabric top. I don't know if it was because of my Alabama plates or not, but it was senseless and hateful. Other than that incident, the car gave me no major problems. At some point, we installed a rebuilt radiator, and the front left ball joint failed, and so I had them replaced. That's all the major repairs I remember. Until one day....
I had noticed the brakes were getting weak and so I rebuilt the master cylinder. I had already rebuilt the master cylinder and the clutch master and slave on the 1974 Spitfire, and I had planned this to be a week-end project. But it turned out I was having trouble getting the air out of the brake lines. I would have to leave it until the next weekend. Unfortunately, my mother took the car out and the brakes failed. She hit a pickup truck and damaged the front bumper and fender. I never drove the car again after that. I sold the car title to my mother, and she has kept the car in the family, storing it in garages and barns over the next couple of years. The car still sits in her garage today.
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