- The Washington Times - Friday, April 5, 2002

In the early 1930s, soon after Pontiac displaced Oakland as the General Motors division between Chevrolet and Oldsmobile, "Big Bill" Knudsen took the helm at Pontiac.

In 1934, the distinctive "Silver Streak" strips of trim down the lengths of the engine hood and trunk lid were added to help differentiate the Pontiac from other cars. The "Silver Streak" brightwork would remain on Pontiacs throughout the 1956 model year.

"Big Bill's" son "Bunkie" took the reins of the Pontiac division in July 1956 near the end of that model year. Although the 1957 Pontiac was already virtually complete, he did what he could to add spice to the car. Bordering on blasphemy, he directed that the "silver streak" trim be eliminated. Then, halfway through the model year, he decided to build a promotional car. It was based on the senior Pontiac Star Chief convertible and was named Bonneville. The base price was $5,782.

A total of 630 of those cars were built. Number 287, a Kenya Ivory convertible, with Bonneville Red spears on its flanks, was sent to a dealer in Owasso, Mich. The interior was an "off the shoulder" style red and charcoal combination.

Owners one through four lived in Michigan. While the Bonneville was being passed around Michigan, a standard Star Chief was being driven around Alabama by Joe Bonaiuto.

Mr. Bonaiuto purchased his Pontiac in 1963 and sold it in 1966. He immediately realized the mistake he had made. For the next 29 years he was on the lookout for a clean, low-mileage 1957 Pontiac convertible.

The fourth owner of the Bonneville restored the car in 1978 before selling it to its fifth owner in Delaware.

In 1990, the car was displayed at a show in Waldorf, Md., which is where it was first seen and admired by Mr. Bonaiuto who, at the time, was still searching for a 1957 Pontiac.

Five years later a Bonneville was part of an estate sale in Newark, Del. Mr. Bonaiuto went to inspect the car and recognized it as the one he had seen five years earlier. He says the Franklin Mint folks used the car as the basis for the model car they now sell.

Mr. Bonaiuto, a retired engineer, bought the Bonneville, becoming the sixth owner on Dec. 29, 1995. He trucked his treasure home to Waldorf and set about getting the fuel-injected engine to run like new.

Mr. Bonaiuto says, "98 percent of the fuel injection system was there."

The previous owner had merely set everything atop the big V-8 engine so that the Franklin Mint people could see how the engine should appear. Nothing, however, was connected.

Mr. Bonaiuto was directed to a supposed early Bonneville fuel-injection expert who told him, "Rip the fuel injectors out and put a four-barrel carburetor on it."

That's not what Mr. Bonaiuto wanted to hear. He persevered, got the car running and actually enjoyed driving it for a year or so. Then, he pulled the automatic transmission, as well as the engine, and sent them off to be overhauled.

With most of the drivetrain removed, Mr. Bonaiuto began to clean the undercarriage. "I removed a couple buckets of sand and rocks," he recalls. Then he decided to go ahead and remove the body from the frame and properly restore the 5,425-pound Bonneville.

With the body stripped of paint, imperfections were readily apparent. Mr. Bonaiuto found only minor spots of rust, a couple of plastic patches and both rocker panels that needed attention.

"Parts of the car were shipped out everywhere," Mr. Bonaiuto remarks. They eventually came back replated, rebuilt or refurbished.

The rear bumper is composed of five pieces. Because the dual-exhaust pipes exit through the bumper, the surrounding hooded chrome parts were corroded and perforated.

Mr. Bonaiuto discovered a rare pair of rear-fender gravel shields in South Dakota. He also had the cracked steering wheel recast.

In lieu of a hood ornament, the 1957 Pontiac Bonneville has a lighted plastic and chrome ornament atop each front fender.

The two-speed electric wipers rest at the base of the tinted wraparound windshield near the chrome-plated cowl vent.

The 8.50 x 14-inch white sidewall tires support the big Bonneville on a 124-inch wheelbase. The wheels were first painted black. Later, the side on which the three-blade spinner wheel cover was mounted was painted to match the color of the spear on the side of the car in this case, red.

With the Pontiac cosmetically restored, Mr. Bonaiuto reinstalled the like-new engine and transmission.

The gear selector indicates gears from the left: Park-Neutral-Drive 1-Drive 2-Low-Reverse.

Beneath the dashboard is, Mr. Bonaiuto says, "A must have option a tissue dispenser."

Also, under the dashboard is the single speaker for the Wonderbar radio. The power antenna is on the right rear fender.

Other power equipment includes:

•Windows.

•Steering.

•Brakes.

•Seats.

Mr. Bonaiuto considered adding a second outside mirror. However, he decided to keep the car as it left the factory.

The restoration task was almost complete by May 2001. "It was all done except for the fuel injection system," Mr. Bonaiuto reports. He happily affixed the three "FUEL INJECTION" labels, one on each front fender and the third on the trunk lid.

"I've probably driven it 50 miles since it was restored," Mr. Bonaiuto says.

As the odometer approaches the 84,000-mile mark, he is making plans to take his rare 1957 Pontiac Bonneville to the national Pontiac gathering in West Virginia in July.

"It's such a pleasure to drive," he says.

He definitely will not be selling his treasured 1957 Pontiac Bonneville.


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