The 1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special is a concept car from the “golden age” of General Motors’ design. Just one year after the C1 Corvette had come out, Pontiac also created its first 2-door sports car and presented this Motorama concept car.
It was never intended for mass production. However, elements of this concept trickled down to Pontiac cars made into the 1960s. Some of the design elements are pretty wild, but we get the feeling some of the people involved wanted the Pontiac to have a Corvette of its own.
The very first Corvettes were quite experimental due to the unique body construction which hadn’t been used in Detroit before. Just like the C1s, the Pontiac Bonneville Special featured a lightweight fiberglass body. However, unlike the Corvette, the Bonneville also came with a bubble-shaped plexiglass top and gull-wing doors.
It’s said that Harley Earl, director of GM styling, got the idea for the car while watching the world land speed record attempts at the Salt Flats in Utah. In reality, this was an era of experimentation, to see how American automakers could compete with European exotics. In 1954, we also had the Oldsmobile F-88, sketched by Bill Lange.
A space-age Pontiac
American designers were obsessed with space and rockets in the 1950s, and this shows. The Pontiac Bonneville Special features top-to-bottom tail fins with lights reminiscent of the 1953 Corvette. There’s also a recessed spare tire enclosure at the back, resembling an afterburner.
The Bonneville concept came with the iconic Pontiac silver streaks, which made it into production on the 55 and 56 Chieftains and Star Cheifs. Four years later, Pontiac did have a Bonneville two-door in production, although it was big and not very Corvette-like. The 1958 Bonneville did, however, borrow the stainless steel style of the concept’s instrument panel.
While the Oldsmobile F-88 featured the same chassis as a 1954 Corvette, the Bonneville Special featured a 100-inch wheelbase, 2 inches shorter. It also featured the “Special-8”, a special high-compression 268 cubic-inch (4.4-liter) inline-8. Earl believed this unique configuration suited the Pontiac brand far better than the 235 cubic-inch inline-6 that the Corvette made its debut with. It also made 230 hp, an improvement over the C1’s 150 hp.
Only two Bonneville Special concepts were made. There’s a metallic bronze-colored one with a collection in Illinois that is in original condition, and this one was fully restored but keeps its Metallic Emerald Green paint finish.
It was part of the Ron Pratte collection until being auctioned off on January 17, 2015, at Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale. Its new owner paid $3.3 million, making this one of the most expensive GM concepts from the 1950s.