Here’s a rare birdie. Spotted today on Seattle Craigslist, this ’76 Sunbird was corporate sibling to the Chevy Monza Towne Coupe, most of which dissolved by around 1990. I’d much prefer a Bonneville Brougham or Grand Prix LJ if we’re talking ’76 Pontiacs, but my radar locked on to this one due to its scarcity.
In the comments on my ’69 Grand Prix post yesterday, one of our commenters, dejal, mentioned that he wasn’t sure if he ever saw one of these sans vinyl top. I had a dim memory of spying one, and after work today dived into ‘The Vault’, to check.
Given the number of times I have referenced the 1979 Bonneville sedan my dad had when I was about three years old, it probably won’t come as a surprise that I am a big fan of the full-size 1977-79 Pontiacs. While they were not nearly as popular as their Caprice, Delta 88 and LeSabre brethren, when fitted with Brougham trim and ordered with an indulgent eye on the option list, these cars could do almost everything a Coupe de Ville or Sedan de Ville could, save snob appeal.
Pontiac’s full-size cars sort of floundered during the ’70s. They were perfectly serviceable as daily drivers, but had lost the ’60s style, flash and appeal for which they’d been renowned. Exactly what was a big Pontiac supposed to be now? A cut-rate Electra 225? A slightly more deluxe Caprice? A plus-sized Grand Prix? Even Pontiac didn’t seem sure, and suffered for it. But things started to pick up with the downsized full-size ’77 cars.
So, this Wednesday afternoon, it’s a little gloomy and just a bit too cool for sitting out on the deck with a cocktail, but as usual I was perusing car classifieds online, and lo and behold, espied this gem. A 1978 Pontiac Bonneville Brougham coupe.
I’ve always loved the 1977-79 Bonnevilles. The first cars I remember riding in, ever, were my mom’s blue on blue ’77 Volvo 245DL wagon, and my dad’s metallic root beer brown ’79 Bonneville sedan. I have memories of walking around that Pontiac when Dad was washing it, and not being much taller than the bottom of the window sills.
One of the things that has gotten me excited the past few years is how many of the current diecast model companies have been releasing makes and models I never, ever expected to be produced in scale. Cars from the ’70s and ’80s that weren’t Camaros, Mustangs and Corvettes. Cars I remember from my childhood and various and sundry ’80s TV shows watched in my formative years.
Case in point. Greenlight has recently released the Colonnade Pontiac LeMans wagon in several different versions. They’ve even released a wagon version of Buford T. Justice’s Montague County, TX LeMans. Yes, really, I saw one at Hobby Lobby last week.
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.”
Once upon a time in the 1970s, most moms hauled their kids around, not in silver silvermist combover pseudo-lux conveyances, but in large, ornate and oftentimes wood-sided station wagons. V8, rear wheel driven, glorious station wagons.
The 1971-76 GM ‘clamshell’ station wagons were the biggest around when they debuted in Autumn 1970.
So called due to their ‘disappearing’ tailgate and rear window glass, they were available in the expected Chevy, Pontiac, Olds and Buick versions. And as usual, were available in higher-trimmed versions with Di-Noc woodgrain appliques along the sides, further accentuating their road-going Chris-Craft image.
Note: Today’s post is by a friend of mine, Mike Massey. As a fellow member of The American Brougham Society on Facebook, he shares my love of full-sized, woodgrained station wagons, and owns a Roadmaster Estate Wagon, among other vintage GM rolling stock, today. I’ve always loved the 1977-79 B-body Pontiacs since my dad had a brown 1979 Bonneville sedan. That car was the subject of my first-ever car memory. Anyway, here’s the story of Mike’s dad’s special-ordered ’78 Grand Safari! -TK
OK I get lots of questions on comments about this car, so HERE is the long “novel” of our ’78 Pontiac Grand Safari, which we owned from 1978-1986, and how we came about owning it.
For decades, folks stepping up to a Pontiac from a Chevrolet meant getting a genuinely nicer vehicle. Unlike in later decades, from the 1940s through most of the 1970s, the differences went beyond the grille, taillights and trim. For example, the 1972 Pontiac Catalina. The most basic full-size 1972 Pontiac you could get, but it still came equipped with a standard V8, power steering and power brakes. For the miser’s special, you’d have to go across the street to the Chevy dealer for a Turbo-Thrift Six, three-on-the-tree Biscayne, because there was no such animal from Pontiac Motor Division-unless you were in Canada and snagged a Laurentian with the 250 CID six, that is!
The 1970 Pontiacs that preceded our featured Catalina were very different from the sleek Pontiacs of the early- to mid-’60s. They were all-around nice cars, despite a facelift that made them a bit baroque-looking in front view. A year later, they would be replaced by a super-sized version.
If you’re in the market for a midsize car today, you have plenty of choices. Well, for now, as the ever present crossover is rapidly compelling the manufacturers to kill off the traditional midsize sedan. Several nameplates from which to choose–Camry, Impala, Fusion and Optima and of course Accord, to name a few. And they all come in the same flavor of competent albeit repetitive design and styling. Where’s the flair, man? Once upon a time, before safety standards, emissions and plain old public demand trumped style, a buyer could get virtually whatever their heart desired, right down to colors, options–and yes, Virginia, even a body style other than the now-ubiquitous four-door sedan. Want an aqua Skylark convertible with a white interior, V8 and four-speed? Done! How about a red Lark Wagonaire with a red interior, 350 McKinnon (nee GM) V8, power retractable roof over the cargo area, and automatic transmission? No problem. You could have those cars and everything in between–in 1965. Everything from cheapskate beige two-door post with manual everything to fully loaded sports convertible with a fire-breathing powerplant. So let’s set the way-back machine to Autumn 1964 and see what we can get.