Currently offered on Hemmings Auctions is a quite nice example of the rare 1957 Pontiac Bonneville, a model that was created expressly to elevate the image of the Pontiac brand. In fact, the ’57 Bonneville was intended to serve as a sort of showroom dream car, created to lure in curious patrons who would then, hopefully, purchase a lesser Pontiac after being suitably dazzled by the loaded top-shelf “Bonnie”.
The plan was hatched by Semon E. “Bunkie” Knudsen, who had been made general manager of Pontiac division in 1956. Knudsen had been interested in mechanical things since childhood, and pursued an education in engineering, leading him to General Motors. When he took the lead at Pontiac, his first order of business was the change the division’s image from that of a practical, stodgy car to something more exciting, reputedly saying, “You can sell a young man’s car to an old man, but you cannot sell an old man’s car to a young man.” Knudsen’s intent was to use high performance and aggressive styling to make Pontiac’s cars more appealing.
Back in 1978, Hemmings’ Special Interest Autos (SIA) magazine ran a story on the 1957 Bonneville in which Knudsen himself was interviewed, saying “The Bonneville was one of my ideas for changing the image of Pontiac from schoolteacher type car to something a lot more vigorous.”
The 1957 Bonneville was initially intended to be produced “for dealer use only,” according to the SIA story, and the 630 copies produced are said to have been enough for every Pontiac dealer to get one. Standard equipment seemed to include nearly everything Pontiac offered and then some, with big-ticket items like the Strato-Flight Hydra Matic automatic transmission, power steering and brakes, convenience equipment normally associated with high-end luxury cars like power seat and windows, along with Wonderbar radio, electric wipers, dual exhausts, and white sidewall tires.
But the most impressive feature was the fuel injection induction system topping the Bonneville’s 347-cu.in. V-8 engine. Chevrolet had beaten Pontiac to market with a “fuelie” option, but that did nothing to diminish the bragging rights the system provided. Pontiac held back specific output figures for a time, claiming only that it made “in excess of 300 horsepower,” (later pegging output at 315 hp) and a top speed of around 130 miles per hour was estimated, though evidently not confirmed. It didn’t matter—the Bonneville was more than capable of drawing gawkers who would often drive off in Star Chiefs and Chieftains. With a price tag of $5,782, the Bonneville cost substantially more than typical Pontiacs of the day—enough to purchase an entry-level Cadillac.
The SIA story from 1978 concludes by saying that the 1957 Bonneville was a rare car when new, and that, “If 50 are left out of the 630 it would be a lot.” More than 40 years on, the example currently on Hemmings Auctions is said to be in excellent condition, and still makes quite a statement in Kenya Ivory with Bonneville Red accents. The seller reports that this Bonneville runs and drives very well, and that the Rochester fuel injection works as intended. Bidding for our auction ’57 Pontiac Bonneville will conclude on Tuesday, September 24.