1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special Was Pure Automotive Americana
The 1950s were as close as the US will probably ever come to a golden age of Americana. Throughout the decade the nation enjoyed the fruits of victory that came with vanquishing both the Axis and the Great Depression during the 1940s. At the same time, the disillusionment and self-questioning of the 1960s was still years away. It was no wonder, then, that the cars of the 50s reflected such sunny optimism. One of the best examples of this attitude is the 1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special. The Special was the brainchild of arch-designer Harley Earl, who drew inspiration for it from a trip he made to the salt flats in Bonneville, Utah. Earl was an aviation fanatic, and this showed in the cars he built. The Special had a bold, sloping hood that’s Corvette-esque in its shape, with silvered accents over the twin air scoops, both of which were fully functional. RELATED: See More of the Stunning Pontiac Bonneville Special
The headlamps were recessed and covered in swept-back glass covers for better aerodynamics. Additional silverized touches marked the fenders and other components. The sleek lines continue throughout the fiberglass body, ending in a classic spare-wheel design in the rear. Though this look would later symbolize everything that was wrong with the 1970s, at the time it was coolness personified.
Perhaps the Special’s most distinguishing feature was its all-plexy canopy with gull-wing doors. The transparent panels swung upwards to admit occupants. This must have been done with aerodynamics in mind, though it seems to compromise the “wind in your hair” feel that’s an essential part of driving a convertible.
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The inside of the Special was also aviation-inspired. It had a clean, simple layout with brushed metal casings around the gauges, a speedometer that topped out at 120 mph, and a three-spoked steering wheel. Gear shifter, vent controls, and ignition switch were within easy reach on the metallic console between driver and passenger, both of whom rode in comfort thanks to the twin leather seats.
Under its hood the Special had a 268 ci I-8 painted brilliant red with chrome touches. Dubbed the “Silver Streak,” the motor led the way power-wise for Pontiac at the time. It was built for high compression and fed by four single-barrel carbs built by Carter. This was the same carburetor layout used in the ‘53 Corvette. Officially rated at 230 hp, the power plant actually topped out at closer to 300 hp. It fed power to a four-speed Hydramatic automatic gearbox.
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Earl had two units built, one cast in bronze and the other in green. As of 2008, both are still in existence under the careful eyes of private collectors. Like most concept cars, the Special never saw mass production. But elements from its design were used in production models like the ‘55 and ‘56 Star Chief and Chieftain, the ‘67 Firebird, and the ‘68 GTO. Like many of those who were ahead of their time, Harley Earl casts a long shadow indeed, as do his creations.
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