Pontiac Bonneville Special

Pontiac Bonneville Special -

The Pontiac Bonneville Special is a purpose-built concept car unveiled at the General Motors Motorama in 1954, the first 2-seater sports car Pontiac ever produced. Designed by renowned designer Harley J. Earl and hand built by Homer C. LaGassey Jr. and Paul Gilland, the "Special" is an experimental car, a two door, grand touring sport coupé that incorporated innovative breakthrough styling like an all-plexi canopy with gull-wing panels on a sleek fiberglass body. The name "Bonneville" was inspired by a trip by Earl to Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah while observing speed trials there. It was in fact the first car at GM to have been named after it, and would become Pontiac's top end performance platform for 47 years.

Two "Special" prototypes, one painted metallic bronze and one emerald green, were built with the intention of unveiling them simultaneously at the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf in New York and the Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles in 1954.



The design of the "Special" drew its visual impetus from America’s fascination with aeronautic and rocket design in the 1950s, employing a wind-tunnel inspired profile and high-tech bright work throughout the body, hood and grill. Glass covered recessed headlights, two rows of louvers on the fenders and twin "Silver-Streaks" on the hood that lead to functional air scoops were among its most distinguishing features. The rear end styling was its most over-the-top visual cue. Featured between two rather bold fender fins were ultramodern twin exhaust chrome-ports, similar to today’s Porsches, and a custom spare tire enclosure with space-age wheel disc that gave the car a jet-powered appearance.


Interior styling in the "Special" was state of the art for its time, and indeed would pass muster against today's computer-designed automobiles. The dashboard was a sleek, wing like design that incorporated a clean horizontal layout of working instruments that gave the interior a futuristic cockpit look. Even underneath the dash, the gauges were sealed in by a contoured metal facia with brushed finish, assuring by Earl that no detail would go unnoticed. Between unique, parabolic shaped, leather bucket seats lay a matching metal, center console with functionally modest gear shift handle, twin vent-control levers, and ignition key slot. Centered over the three spoke, Corvette-style steering wheel was a single, large speedometer that read a top speed of 120 mph (193 km/h). Passengers gained entry through conventional lower doors and gull-wing panels incorporated into the monocoque-style canopy that swung upward.

Design legacy

Design carry-overs of the Bonneville Special quickly made it into production models the next year, and in the years that followed. Most obvious were the pairs of silver-streaks, which appeared again on the 1955 and '56 Chieftains and Star Chiefs, not to mention Pontiac's concept car for 1956, the Club de Mer. The twin scoops, designed to channel cool air into the driver's compartment - also on the Club de Mer - resurfaced again on both the 1967 Firebird and 1968 GTO. The louvers, emblazoned horizontally on the fenders, behind the front wheel wells, appeared again as vertical slits on the 1957 Star Chief Bonneville and 1965 2+2. The bold tail fins were replicated faithfully on the 1955 and '56 Pontiac. The 1958 Bonneville had an instrument panel that matched the sleek stainless steel style of the "Special", while the finned wheel covers became a design cue for Pontiac's famous 8-lug, aluminium rims that were introduced in 1960. And finally, the colour was seen again on Pontiac's modern two-seater, the Solstice, which was also painted metallic bronze.

Power plant

Under the hood lay the "Special"-8, a bored out, high output 268 in³ engine that was painted bright red and detailed in chrome. This was a unique configuration for the "eight", installed in the only two Specials ever made. Called the Silver Streak in de-tuned production cars, it was Pontiac's most powerful engine to date in the early 1950s. Similar in appearance only, this was a high compression variant that was modified with a long-duration cam and aspirated naturally through four Carter YH side-draft, single barrel carburetors, the same used in the 1953 Corvette, under open-mesh breathers. Total output was the highest ever for the "eight", rated at 230 bhp (172 kW), though some estimated it at nearly 300 bhp (220 kW). Like the "Special", only two of these remarkable variants were ever made. Gearing was controlled through a 4-speed Hydramatic automatic transmission.

Note: Pontiac’s new V8 was being considered for use in the "Special" but was instead held back by GM marketing. They directed that the straight-8 be used, to keep the "vee" a secret from consumers for one more year until its debut the following year.