The Parisienne. The final big Pontiac. Though essentially a stopgap, they kept interest-and sales-up for those wanting something a little fancier than a Caprice Classic in the mid 1980s. So, how did the big Pontiac become a Parisienne and not a Bonneville? I’m glad you asked.
See, back in the early ’80s, the brain trust over at Pontiac Motor Division decided that full-size cars were on the way out. Historically, Pontiac had sold the least B-body cars of all the other divisions since about 1971-72, though they got a healthy bump when the fresh, downsized 1977 Bonneville, Catalina and Grand Safari appeared. But the ’74 and ’79 gas crises increased interest in smaller cars (for a while), and with sportier models like the Trans Am (aided and abetted by that ’70s classic, Smokey and the Bandit) selling at a rapid clip, it was decided that Pontiac would have a leaner, lighter model line.
And so, the midsize LeMans received a Mini-Me version of the 1980-81 Bonneville nose, got a much plusher interior, and was introduced in 1982 as the “Bonneville Model G.”
Meanwhile, in Canada, the Parisienne nameplate had been around since at least the 1960s, denoting a Dominion-built Pontiac with Chevrolet running gear. Though U.S. built Bonnevilles were generally available from Canadian dealerships as well. Thus, in 1982 you could still get a B-body Pontiac, though it was essentially a Caprice Classic except for grille, taillamps and emblems. There was even a Canada-only Parisienne coupe.
And then a funny thing happened. The giant gas shortage didn’t happen. And suddenly, folks in the States were buying big cars again. In 1983, sales of Caprice Classics, LeSabres, Delta 88s, LTD Crown Victorias and Grand Marquises all increased.
And increased further for 1984 and 1985. And Pontiac Motor Division missed out, because all the other GM divisions had kept their biggies in the lineup.
As a result, Pontiac rushed the Canadian Parisienne into the line for 1983. It didn’t appear in the full-line showroom brochures, but a separate Parisienne only brochure was rushed out, along with the car itself, a few months after the traditional new model year unveiling.
Like the Canadian version, it was basically a retrimmed Caprice, but at least they had a large car to offer. Parisienne, Parisienne Brougham (with more chrome and plusher velour interior, naturally) and Parisienne station wagons were offered.
Sales were perhaps not remarkable, but people bought them well enough for the division to pony up more cash to further differentiate them from the Caprice.
Somehow, the dies for the 1980-81 Bonneville rear quarter panels, trunk lid, taillights and rear bumper were located, dusted off, and pressed back into service.
The resulting 1985 Parisienne sedan was much more in line with the 1980-81 Bonneville. Even the ’80-’81 Brougham seats and door panels were once again available, though the Caprice instrument panel remained. The Parisienne Safari wagon carried on with no substantial changes from 1983-84.
The new car was much more impressive, with the more formal quarters and fender skirts. I liked these ’85-’86 sedans very much. Back when they were new cars, a lady at my dad’s office had one as a company car, a 1986 in gold with beige top and beige interior. I got to ride in it one time, and as I was already into domestic luxury cars even at 6-7 years old, was smitten.
Such cushy seats! Fender skirts! Hood ornament! This was quite different from the Volvo 240s my parents owned. I liked it. I liked it a lot.
As with its less-plush Caprice brethren, engine choices were the 4.3L V6 and 5.0L V8. The V6 was standard on sedans, and had 130 hp. The 305 CID V8 was optional on sedans, standard on the station wagon, and made 150-165 hp.
Parisienne sedans and wagons rode a 116-inch wheelbase, and sedans had an overall length of 212.3; wagons, 215.1.
So, the new/old Parisienne, with its more important-looking quarters, plush interior on Brougham models, and swank fender skirts was on the move, right? Wrong. Unfortunately for fans of this car (like your author) in 1987 Pontiac rationalized their line.
The old ex-LeMans Bonneville went away, replaced by the brand new H-body Bonneville, and the Parisienne was discontinued.
1986 Parisienne production came to approximately 85,000 units: 27,078 sedans, 43,540 Brougham sedans and 14,464 Safari station wagons. Parisienne Broughams like our featured car had an MSRP of $11,949.
The Parisienne wagon remained in the line, but was renamed simply, “Safari.” It would last through the 1989 model year.
I always wondered why it was killed off. The Caprice lasted all the way to 1990, and sold well in its essentially 1980 form to the end, but then they had taxi and police sales.
The tooling was long amortized, so I have frequently wondered over the years why they didn’t just continue it to ’90 like the Caprice. Even if sales went down, each sale would be essentially pure profit, due to the age of the design. Oh well.
Today’s featured car is owned (for now) by my friend Anthony Gozzo. He runs a vintage car dealer, Specialty Motor Cars, and his inventory is heavy on Broughams, so of course I’m always interested in seeing new arrivals.
Such as this beautiful Parisienne Brougham. Really, is there a better color combination than black with a red or burgundy interior?
As Anthony related, this final year Parisienne Brougham is a “One owner car that was just acquired from the 86 year old owner. Garaged in the same bay since it was new.” It has only 67,000 miles on the clock. He had it available for $7995.
But between then and this article going to press, it’s since sold. Whoever got it, got a good one! Those GM B-bodys, no matter which model, are robust, comfortable cruisers, even today. And if anyone makes a diecast model of a 1985-86 Parisienne Brougham sedan, your author will be buying one in a heartbeat.