Lead the charge on bringing wagons back into fashion
The 1959 Bonneville wagon was a flashy family hauler
Remember Pontiac? Remember the Bonneville? Well, you should. For decades, it was Pontiac’s top of the line car and many memorable Bonnevilles were produced and admired between the late ‘50s and mid 2000s. Fuel injected convertibles, stylish hardtops, Broughamified Di-Noc woodgrained wagons with 8-track players and near-Cadillac equipped, fender-skirted luxury sedans. While their size and appeal fluctuated depending on what decade you’re in, they were all interesting in their own way. At least in your author’s opinion.
The very early Bonnevilles were strictly sporty, with a sole convertible available in inaugural ’57, and a hardtop coupe joining it in 1958. But in 1959, Pontiac changed the Bonneville’s focus from fast and sporty models to more of a premium full line of cars. The flashy and attractive two-door hardtop and convertible remained, but there were additions.
Said additions were a Vista four-door hardtop (with the new GM ‘flying wing’ roof with wraparound rear window) and a rather flashy four-door station wagon. As the premium Pontiac, there were no pillared two- or four-door sedans. Standard features on 1959 Bonnevilles included all the extras seen on the Star Chief models (which shared the longer 124-inch wheelbase with the Bonneville-Catalinas had a 122-inch span-shared with all station wagons, regardless of model, incidentally).
Bonneville extras included dash courtesy lights, a padded instrument panel, door interior reflectors and the expected fancier interior upholstery, door panels, and extra chrome trim on the exterior.
The station wagon was both the most expensive Bonneville ($3532) and the rarest, with only 4673 built. The wagon tilted the scales at 4,370 pounds, and was available only as a six passenger model. Which is kind of at odds with the classic “Van and Fitz” artwork of the wagon further up, which shows a third-row rear-facing seat, but oftentimes the brochures were printed before all trim, options and features had been nailed down.
Yes, the wagon was indeed more expensive than the ritzy Bonneville convertible, which had a base price of $3478 and saw 11,426 built. Rounding out the line was the Vista four-door at $3333 and the two-door hardtop at $3257. Production of those two, respectively, was 38,696 and 27,769.
All Bonneville wagons had Hydra-Matic automatic transmission, except for sixteen of the 4673. That small batch had the three-on-the-tree synchromesh manual transmission, which was standard even on the flossy Bonnevilles.
But regardless of transmission, all Bonnevilles built in 1959 had a V-8. The 389-cubic-inch engine, with a bore and stroke of 4.06 x 3.75, had 300 horsepower at 4600 rpm when equipped with a manual transmission, and 260 @ 4200 with the synchromesh. All breathed through a four-barrel Carter carburetor.
As previously mentioned, the station wagon had different dimensions than the other Bonnevilles, due to all Pontiac long-roofs sharing the same body and chassis. Thus, the wagon was 214.3 inches long with a 122-inch wheelbase, while the Bonnie coupe, convertible and sedan had a 220.7-inch stretch and 124-inch wheel-to-wheel span.
And as with virtually every American car of this time period, options, options, options were the watchword! Plenty of extra-cost goodies were there for the taking: power windows ($85 on four-doors, $48 on two-doors), a six-way power seat ($81), Wonderbar radio ($100), dual exhaust ($26), a power antenna ($20), tinted glass ($35) and 2-tone paint ($11). Those who selected a wagon could also get a power tailgate window, for an extra $27. Such a deal!
I spotted this remarkably nice Bonneville wagon at the Classy Chassy car club’s monthly cruise-ins at Coral Ridge Mall, in Coralville, Iowa, back on July 26, 2013. I have family in the Iowa City/Coralville area, and it’s become routine to drive west on I-80 on the last Friday of the month to see my Aunt Lori and Uncle Dave, check out the cars at the show, and then have a nice dinner at one of our preferred local restaurants.
We came to the end of a row, and there stood this magnificent wagon. Holy cow! I was immediately smitten. Especially with that amazing, three-tone interior! I’d never seen one before. I knew they were rare.
But it was not until researching for this article last weekend that I discovered just how rare. I’m glad I took plenty of pictures, because though I continue to attend this monthly event to this day, I never saw this Bonneville again. What a showboat!