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Bon Voyage, Bonneville

New trends drive longest continually-manufactured model, others from market

By DAVID PERRY, Sun Staff​

In 1957, America was on the go, ready for big fun.
The post-war boom was in full swing. Ike was in the White House, Elvis invading the jukebox, and the nation's interstate system was spidering like veins across the nation, carving out open-road possibilities for an optimistic populace.

That year, Pontiac introduced the Bonneville, a massive, stylish automobile, powered by a 347 cubic inch engine.

Now, after becoming the longest continually-manufactured model on the car market, it's going away.

Earlier this month, Pontiac announced it is ending production of the Bonneville, succumbing to the tastes of car buyers, who prefer mini-vans, sports utility vehicles and trucks.

This is bad news to a guy like Merle Green of Pepperell, a Pontiac man since before the first 630 Bonnevilles rolled off the line in 1957.

John Cannava of Littleton, standing by his 1979 Pontiac
Bonneville, fell in love with the car 37 years ago and
hasn't owned any other vehicles since.,

"The thing with those cars is, people wanted bigger, and Bonnevilles were huge," Green says. "People wanted flashy, lots of chrome. And huge engines. And it was a big car. In the trunk of a 1960 Bonneville, you could easily fit six or seven people. You could probably put half your possessions in there."

People were traveling by car, too.

"Jets were really just coming in," Green says, "The interstates were being built, and you could travel by car. These were big land-cruisers. The idea was, bigger is better."

These days, drivers add in gasoline prices, and buy for mileage. The gas-gulping chariots of steel appeal to car buffs.

Green likes the chrome, the big engine, the steel, and the space the old Bonnevilles offered. It's part style, part performance. Automotive muscle.

Green owns a few Bonnevilles, but his main passion runs toward another Pontiac, the GTO.

His allegiance toward the 1966 GTO he bought in 1967 (and still owns) goes a long way toward explaining why some loyalists mourn the demise of an American classic like the Bonneville.

"You know," says Green, "if I ever put my GTO up for sale, my wife would have me committed, and the kids would probably wonder what was going on, too. That car's been everywhere. I got married in it, it was on the honeymoon, it's been to California and back. It's been to, I think, 30 different states."

The car has 180,000 miles on it.

He bought his first Bonneville in 1990, the first of two 1959 Bonneville Wagons. He also owns a '60 Bonneville four-door hardtop, and a 1974.

Never looked back

Cannava, 83, left with a blue Bonneville and has never turned back. He traded that car in for a new, metallic brown, 1979 Bonneville four-door sedan. He's logged 166,000 miles on it. "Mechanically, it's great." The body has only a few small "dings."

"Since 1968 to now, I've owned only Bonnevilles," says Cannava, a retired Raytheon worker.

"The Bonneville sold me. I know I can drive it safely. If I hit a patch of ice, I'd know how to control it. Those vans today, I wouldn't know."

He likes the car's consistent style.

"That flat front, long hood, big trunk. Used to be, I could pick out any model car. Today, I wouldn't recognize them. They're not distinct, all the same to me."

And he understands why man grows attached to machine.

"I'd go out and take the car to work every day. I still take it down to the post office. It's part of your life. For a while, I was driving 60 miles a day. I'd go to Florida once a year, and back. You end up with your car more than your spouse. You bring up children and if you're paying attention, they turn out OK. A car is like that."

'Looks like the Batmobile'

"It looks like the Batmobile," says Martin, 37. "It's mechanically perfect. It's not gonna win World of Wheels, but I love it."

It has 126,000 miles on it.

"Pontiac made GTOs for younger people, but the Bonneville was for the older crowd," he says. "It was somewhat sporty, but with four doors, it was a family sedan. A grocery-getter. Mom's car. The trunk is big enough to put five or six kids in there."

Which came in handy for sneaking friends into the drive-in movies, another casualty of changing times.

A machinist by trade who works as a maintenance supervisor for a paper mill, Martin vows he will "have this car forever."

He's restored and maintained six cars.

"I think it's really sad they're stopping the Bonneville," Martin says. "I hate to see anything die out. And this is an American classic. What a shame."

He's at least encouraged that Ford has brought back its classic Mustang design.

In the company's marketing for its 2006 Mustang, it notes a return to "one of history's most celebrated muscle cars."

'Been a real good car'

Doris Carbonneau of Lowell likes her 1995 Bonneville, but sheds no tears over the model's demise.

"Oh, no, if I need another car, I don't know what I'd get, maybe the best price," says Carbonneau, 77.

She got it when it was a year old, "and it just happened to have a big trunk. My husband had a wheelchair and it was big enough for that. It's been a real good car, though, been good to me."

She drives it on errands, it's been to Foxwoods, and it ferries her to the most important of appointments: Bingo.

The car, which has 92,000 miles on it, posed just one problem -- she had to have the air-conditioning fixed.

"I've been lucky."
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