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Pontiac Bonneville Special

The Pontiac Bonneville Special is a purpose-built idea automobile displayed at the General Motors Motorama in 1954, the 1st 2-seater sports automobile Pontiac ever produced. Designed by respected designer Harley J. Earl and hand built by Hommer LaGassey and Paul Gilland, the "Special" is an experimental vehicle, a 2 door,

grand touring sport coup that incorporated inventive discovery styling like an all-plexi canopy with gull-wing panels on a smooth fiberglass body. The name "Bonneville" was provoked by a trip by Earl to Bonneville Salt Lofts in Utah while observing speed trials there. It was really the 1st vehicle at GM to have been named after it, and would become Pontiac's top end performance platform for 47 years. 2 "Special" prototypes, one painted emerald green and one metallic bronze were built with the objective of unveiling them concurrently at the Grand Dancehall of the Waldorf in NY and the Pan Pacific Auditorium in L. A. in 1954.





The planning of the "Special" drew its visual impetus from America's obsession with aeronautic and rocket design in the 1950s, employing a wind-tunnel galvanized profile and hi-tech bright work across the body, hood and griddle. Glass covered recessed headlights, 2 rows of louvers on the fenders and twin "Silver-Streaks" on the hood that lead to functional air scoops were among it's most distinguishing features. The rear end styling was its most OTT visible cue. Featured between 2 rather bold fender fins were ultramodern twin exhaust chrome-ports, like today's Porsches, and a custom spare tire enclosure with advanced wheel disc that gave the auto 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 cars.
The dashboard was a smooth, wing like design that incorporated a clean horizontal layout of working instruments that gave the inside a hi-tech cockpit look. Even under the dash, the gauges were sealed in by a contoured metal facia with brushed finish, assuring by Earl that no detail would remain unseen. Between unique, parabolic formed, leather bucket seats lay a matching metal, center console with functionally modest gear shift handle, twin vent-control levers, and ignition key slot. Targeted over the 3 spoke, Corvette-style wheel was a single, enormous speedometer that read a max speed of 120 miles per hour (193 km / h). Passengers gained entry thru standard lower doors and gull-wing panels amalgamated into the monocoque-style cover that swung upward.

Dashboard Gauges (l-r)



0-120 mph



Fuel Gauge


Manifold Temp

60-240 °F

Oil Pressure

0-80 psi

Fuel Pressure

0-20 psi

Oil Temp

60-240 °F.

Design legacy

Design carry-overs of the Bonneville Special car quickly made it into production models the subsequent year, and in the years that followed.
Most clear were the pairs of silver-streaks, which appeared again on the 1955, and '56 Chieftains and Star Chiefs, not to mention Pontiac's idea auto for 1956, the Club de Mer.
The twin scoops, built 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 behind the front wheel wells, emblazoned horizontally on the fenders, appeared again as vertical slits on the 1957 Star Chief Bonneville and 1965 2+2. The bold tail fins were duplicated faithfully on the 1955 and '56 Pontiac. The 1958 Bonneville had an instrument panel that matched the smooth immaculate steel style of the "Special", while the finned wheel covers changed into a design cue for Pontiac's famous 8-lug, aluminum rims that were introduced in 1960. And ultimately, the color 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 in engine that was painted bright red and detailed in chrome.
This was a novel configuration for the "eight", installed in the sole 2 Specials ever made. Called the Silver Streak in de-tuned production vehicles, it was Pontiac's strongest engine to date in the early 1950s. Identical in appearance only this was a high compression variant that was altered with a long-duration cam and aspirated naturally thru 4 Carter YH side-draft, single barrel carburetors, the same utilized 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 guessed it at just about three hundred bhp (220 kW). Like the "Special", only 2 of these outstanding variants were ever made. Gearing was controlled thru a 4 gear Hydramatic automated transmission. Note: Pontiac's new V8 car was being considered for use in the "Special" but was instead held back by GM promoting.
They directed the straight-8 be used, to keep the "vee" a secret from purchasers for another year until its debut the next year.

Engine name

Engine type

Displacement  in³ ( L)

Output bhp (kW) @ RPM

Torque ft·lbf (Nm) @ RPM

Carburetor series (bbl)


Inline I-8

268 (4.4)

230.00 (169.28) @ 3700

NA (NA) @ 2000.00

Carter YH 2206 (1) x 4