The Tale of Two Pontiacs

My mother’s side of the family liked to drive Pontiacs. My grandfather, my mother, and my aunt and uncle all drove Pontiacs from around the 1940’s to the 1980’s. My aunt and uncle bought a 1967 Pontiac Bonneville, then two years later bought a 1969 Bonneville, which stayed within their family into the early 1980’s.

  

The car was dark green with dark vinyl bench seats, front and back. During that period of time, GM’s dashboards were “driver centric,” meaning the controls for heater and A/C, radio, etc, were all within reach of the driver, and there was a slight partition wall to the right, and the passenger side of the dashboard was almost blank. The looks of the cars would change every year. This model had 4 round headlights, a pointed nose, a two-piece bumper that wrapped around the whole grille, and rear tail lights that looked like a sideways “J”. Whenever I get behind a newer Volvo S40, I have to do a quick double-take to make sure it isn’t a ’69 Pontiac, especially at night, since the tail lights are similar.

         

      

(69 Pontiac)         (2018 Volvo S60)

Growing up in the 70’s, the family would come over to visit and I always liked their clean, green, road machine. My cousin Ed showed me this great feature they had – if you open the glove box, and reach in to the left, there was a button you can push that would pop the trunk – without having to go and get the key to open it! We didn’t have that feature in the $100 cars my dad would buy for my mom to drive.

In the Spring of 1980, I remember my other cousin James picking my parents and I up at the train station with the ’69 Bonneville. That car was in great shape, sounded great, and drove smoothly down the road. With the exception of a small area of bent aluminum trim on the dashboard, the car held up well for being 11 years old. Recently, Eddie told me about a time in the early ’80s, in his later high school days, when he had 5 of his buddies in the car, and a Dodge Challenger pulled up next to them at a stop light. When the light turned green, the 428 cubic inch engine with all of it’s 390 horsepower launched that Bonneville and it’s 6 passengers out from the intersection and blew that Challenger away.

Ed’s dad, my Uncle Al, also purchased a red Pontiac Bonneville Brougham in 1979. This was in the days when GM was downsizing the cars and making them much lighter, and squarer. The exterior of the car had 4 square headlamps and a center vertical column grille, rear grated taillights, and wire wheel covers. It was much smaller than the ’69 on the outside. The inside, however, was much more plush. The Cadillac-like seats were red crushed velour, “loose pillow” look with a pull down armrest in the front. It had power windows, a dashboard full of gauges, an internal manual adjustment for the outside rearview mirror on the driver’s door, and a small knob in the middle of the dashboard that manually adjusted the right side exterior mirror. This was a car that dreams were made of!

      

       

Time lapse to 1990, West Point NY, my cousin Ed is getting married. I brought my family to the venue in a recently purchased second car, a 1978 Oldsmobile Delta 88, with oxidizing blue paint and a few dents here and there. We took that car because we had more family room for this long ride. Pulling in the spot next to me was Uncle Al, in the 1979 Bonneville Brougham. The paint job on the 11 year old Pontiac was fading and peeling. The wire wheels were scuffed and rusted in spots. Looking in the rear window, you can see the sun was fading and ripping the tops of the rear seats. The dashboard looked cracked and warped. The velour on the seats looked unevenly worn.

I know Uncle Al took care of his cars. It was an obvious indication of the workmanship of our auto industry over the years – that the quality of our car building had declined rapidly in the ’70s, and even into the ’80s and ’90. As an 11 year old car, the 1969 Pontiac Bonneville held up well, being used by two adults and two teenagers, and the 1979 Pontiac, being used mainly by one person over the years, looked like a Rice Crispies box left out in the rain.

My grandfather had several Pontiacs over the years, from several large sedans, to his final car, which was a 1963 Pontiac Tempest station wagon. Pontiacs had changed drastically over the years, and lost their vision a few times until the brand’s demise in 2010. I can’t imagine my grandfather driving any Pontiac from about 1987 or newer.

Borrowing an expression from my mother – if Pop Pop could see the Pontiacs of the later years until their end, he would “roll over in his grave.”