Concept Cars Pontiac

1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special Concept Car

1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special Concept Car

When it comes to concept cars, there is cool, then there is James Bond cool. The Pontiac Bonneville Special is definitely the latter. Pontiac has built some cool concept cars before, but the  1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special Concept Car is among the most desirable we have ever covered. The Pontiac Bonneville Special was the first 2 seater sports car ever attempted by Pontiac. This was the also the first use of the name Bonnevile by Pontiac, however it would not be the last. The Pontiac Bonneville name was used from 1958 to 2005  for a popular line of mid-size and full-size cars.

1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special Concept CarInspired Design

This particular car was named Bonneville due to an inspirational road trip. The designer had recently taken a trip to the Bonneville Salt Flats, and wanted to create a car that conveyed speed and performance. The Pontiac Bonneville Special was designed by legendary designer Harley Earl. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know Harley Earl as the designer of many of the cars we have showcased in the past. If you think the 1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special, pictured in green below, is in some ways similar to a 1954 Corvette, which is shown below in white, this is no coincidence. Harley Earl was also the designer of the Chevrolet Corvette, which was introduced in 1953. The headlights and nose in particular are a dead giveaway that these cars are cousins.

1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special Concept Car

The 1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special Concept – Made For Touring

The 1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special Concept Car was designed to be a grand touring sport coupe that was also capable of racing at Bonneville. This car was meant to be unlike anything else ever produced, and there is no doubt that goal was met. Unique features included a plexiglass canopy, gull-wing windows, and an all- fiberglass body. The curved rear windshield and plexiglass canopy were designed specifically to give this car the ‘bubble top’ look. This configuration also provided excellent visibility with no blind spots. However, these innovative ideas also presented new challenges.


1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special Concept Car

The body, like many cars in the early 1950s, was meant to appeal to the fascination the general public had with the emerging space age. The rear featured a circular spare tire holder surrounded by square fins, which gave the car a ‘rocket’ appearance. The taillights are meant to look like twin rocket boosters, surrounding a larger rocket booster. This configuration is similar to the modern Space Shuttle, with its large main booster and smaller side boosters. The use of a wind tunnel helped designers sculpt the body into the smooth, streamlined shape, which was designed to be aerodynamic for racing. Louvered fenders and twin Pontiac “Silver Streak” hood ornaments adorned the body to serve as further eye candy.

1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special Concept Car

Spartan Features Meant More Challenges

The twin air scoops near the windshield, shown below, were one of the most unique features of this car. These scoops were designed  to solve a specific problem, however they were not there for the usual purpose. Typically, hood scoops are there to funnel air into the engine bay, which helps increase horsepower by providing cool air to the engine. The twin scoops on this car are near the windshield, which would not help engine air flow.

These scoops were added with a different purpose in mind. In 1954, air conditioning was uncommon on cars in general, and even less so on performance cars like the Bonneville Special. Air conditioning adds weight and consumes 3 or 4 horsepower, so performance cars did not have it.  1953 was the first year for production air conditioning as an option on some of the more expensive cars in the USA. Packard and Cadillac tried to experiment with air conditioning in 1940 and 1941, and both were miserable failures.

1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special Concept Car

Engineering Challenges Solved Creatively

Since air conditioning was uncommon, consumers were accustomed to driving with the windows rolled down to get a bit of breeze in the car. Gull-wing windows obviously could not be opened while driving, and the clear bubble top caused the interior to be rather uncomfortable on hot summer days. The identifying features of this car were causing engineering problems that had no obvious solution. A creative yet simple solution to the problem was needed. The answer was to draw in cool air from outside, which was the innovative reason for the twin cowl scoops. The twin air scoops collected fresh air as the car was moving. Instead of routing the collected air to the engine, ductwork routed the collected air into the cabin. This simple solution provided some relief from the heat, as the cabin was small enough to benefit from this feature.

Granted, it didn’t work when the car wasn’t moving, and the air coming in was the same temperature as the air outside, but it was better than nothing.  If you have ever been in a car in summer with the windows rolled up, its easy to see how important this feature was to potential buyers. Any bit of moving air can make a big difference while the sun is beating down on you through the clear bubble roof. The scoops also gave the car an aggressive look, which was an added bonus.


1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special Concept Car – Interior Made For Racing

The interior in the 1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special Concept Car was highlighted by a large speedomer with multiple analog gauges strewn across the entire dash. The 3 spoke racing steering wheel, twin leather bucket seats, and generous use of chrome was typical of sports cars in the 1950s. Although the interior was somewhat spartan by today’s standards, the Bonnevile was considered to be the best mix of function and form for a Grand Touring sports coupe of that era. There were no creature comforts such as radio, air conditioning, or carpet.


1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special Concept Car

Performance To Match The Looks

The 1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special Concept Car was powered by a bright red Pontiac “Special 8” engine. The “Special 8” was a bored out, high compression, 268 cubic inch 8 cylinder flathead straight 8 engine. In this configuration, all 8 cylinders are in a row, like the modern 4 cylinder, as opposed to the more common V configuration. The “Special 8” used in this car was a modified version of the production Pontiac Silver Streak engine. Modifications included a long duration cam and 4 Carter YH side draft carburetors using open mesh breathers.

The “Special 8” was estimated to produce around 300 horsepower. Although that doesn’t sound like a lot, 300 horsepower would push this little car around quite well. T0 put that number in perspective, the 1955 Corvette had 195 horsepower, and was about the same size. As such, 300 horses was considered  to be plenty for a car of this size. The “Special 8” engine was coupled with a 4 speed Hydramatic automatic transmission.

Pontiac Bonneville Special Concept Car

Fate Had Its Way With The 1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special Concept Car

Unlike most concept cars, where only one is ever built, there were two 1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special Concept Cars made. In addition to the Emerald Green Metallic car featured here, there was also a Pontiac Bonneville Special painted Bronze Metallic. One of the cars was featured in New York at a trade show, while at the exact same time the other was in Los Angeles at another car show. Executives wanted to ensure everyone got a chance to see this new roadster in all its glory, and the New York and LA car shows were the biggest car shows in the USA at the time. Sadly, the Bonneville Special never made it to production, even though the public loved the car.

Another odd fact about this James Bond style concept car is that both of the cars are still in existence, yet neither of them is on display in a museum. Typically, concept cars go straight from the show circuit to the museum, or they get scrapped. Concept cars rarely get into the hands of the public. Both Pontiac Bonneville Specials were sold to private collectors, and are both still in excellent condition. The Emerald Green model shown here was sold at auction for $3.08 million to a private collector, so it is possible the car could be for sale again at some point. Save your pennies if you want to bid next time! Tell us what you think – do you like this car? Comment down below and let us know!


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