Story and photos by Brian Earnest
It’s pretty hard to argue with Larry Schneider’s theory for why he has never seriously considered parting with his handsome 1969 Pontiac Bonneville convertible.
“ I figure if I sell it, sure I’ll have the money. But in five years, the money will be gone, and they’ll have the car!” he reasons with a laugh. “I’ll just spend the money, so I might as well keep the car!
“I’ve had offers about four times to sell it, but I enjoy it so much. If I sell it, I’ll just wish I’d kept it.”
That pretty much covers why the Fort Atkinson, Wis., resident has hung onto his big convertible since 1982. Back then, it was just a 13-year-old used car that nobody really seemed to want. Schneider figured that since he was a lifelong Pontiac buff, and he was interested in getting a convertible of his own at the time, he might as well be the one to give the Bonneville a new home.
“I used to live in Elgin, Ill., and it was in a dealership in a showroom there,” he recalled. “I looked at in June and the guy wanted 3 grand for it. I came back in July and he took $2,200 for it. It was just before they were kind of getting rare. You could pick them up halfway reasonable then, but even then it was a pretty good dollar for an older car.
“I always liked older convertibles and I’ve had Pontiacs since 1965, or somewhere in there. I bought a new GTO in ’69, and I just happened to love the colors of this car. I bought and have been fixing it up to get it where it is now.”
What it “is now” is one of those do-everything hobby cars that are hard not to admire. With its immense 428-cid, 360-hp V-8 under the hood and fantastic, cushy ride, the Bonneville is a superb road trip machine. Not only is it a great driver, but it’s in fantastic shape, even after 142,000 miles, and a worthy show car. Schneider takes it to several car shows every summer, and he drives it whenever the spirit moves him. Since taking the keys and title, he’s rolled up 44,000 summer miles over the years.
“It cruises beautifully! I just tuned it up and took it out and ran it up to 100 [mph] and it just goes – you get on it and it don’t quit,” he confessed with a laugh. “She’ll keep going until she’s buried!”
Schneider has done plenty of work on the big Pontiac over the years to get it in show-stopper condition — and to keep it that way. His first big projects were a rebuild to the engine and transmission. New springs and shocks were also added, and about 10 years ago, he had the body redone and the car given a new coat of Crystal Turquoise paint. “It was in good shape, but it just needed a little work here and there,” Schneider said. “I had a new interior put in it about two years ago.”
By the 1969, Pontiac was no stranger to the concept of building big, luxurious cars that would really move out, and the Bonneville for years may have been the hottest big Poncho built up to that point. At a hulking 4,130 lbs., the convertibles were no sports cars, to be sure, but with a rumbling 428-cid, 360-hp four-barrel V-8 under the hood, they were definitely not underpowered. For buyers who wanted even more giddy-up, the 390-hp version of the 428 was an optional upgrade.
Indeed, Pontiac advertising folks almost seemed to be gunning for a little stop light grand prix action when they poked at the competition with ad ad that mused, “Most makers of big, luxurious cars don’t go in for performance. Maybe they’re too busy thinking plush. Pontiac isn’t.”
Another ad from the day bragged that, “To underpower a car named Bonneville would be treason … Bonneville moves when it’s told.”
Certainly, Pontiac was betting that a test ride would sell any doubters when it invited car shoppers to “swing a Bonneville onto a piece of pike. Just so you’ll know how a big, luxurious car is supposed to behave.”
The Bonnevilles, which were part of Series 262 in Pontiac nomenclature, came in five flavors for 1969: convertible, four-door sedan, four-door hardtop, two-door hardtop and four-door station wagon. The base price started at about $3,626 for the four-door sedan, and topped out at more than $4,100 for the wagon — without options. Of course, the Bonnevilles were pretty well-equipped without checking many boxes on the options list. Standard equipment included the 360-hp V-8, power steering and brakes, thick foam seat padding, carpeted lower door panels, fancy disc wheels, fender skirts (Schneider’s car doesn’t wear them today), electric clock and a deluxe steering wheel. The convertible had all-Morrokide upholstery with leather accents.
Schneider’s car was loaded up with plenty of other goodies: Turbo Hydramatic transmission, power antenna , windows and driver’s seat, air conditioning, front disc brakes, heavy-duty battery, rear seat speaker, cruise control, AM/FM stereo, floor mats, cornering lights, vanity mirrors, gauge cluster and Rally II wheels. The grand total on the window sticker when it left Pearce Pontiac in Elgin, Ill., in 1969 was $5,384.59.
“I couldn’t believe all the options it had on it,” Schneider said. “This was when AC and stuff was just starting to get popular. Convertibles very seldom had air conditioning. This had air in it, power windows, gauge package, cruise control … power disc brakes — that was an option for the first time that year. Most people had rollup windows back then. And this has the six-way power seat.”
The Bonneville’s wheelbase grew by 1 inch to 125 for the model year — the biggest yet for the nameplate. The cars rode on 15-inch wheels The car’s distinctive nose was equipped with the shock-absorbing “Endura” bumper, which bisected the grille assembly and served as a “shock absorber outside of the car,” according to company advertisements.
As nice as they were, Bonneville sales for 1969 were down from what they had been in previous years, and they would fall even further in 1970, when a monstrous 455-cid V-8 came on board. One look at a car as nicely preserved and equipped as Schneider’s however, is all it takes to remind us that the Bonneville had a lot to offer in 1969, even as the auto industry and the consumer tastes were changing all around it.
Schneider, for one, seems to admire the car just as much today as he did when he first laid eyes on it.
“My plan was — I’ve had a few nice cars in the past and sold them or whatever. When I got it, it was at a time in my life where I wanted a nice convertible, and I decided when I bought it that I was going to keep it,” he said. “I really liked the car and just decided to bring it back to what it was when it was new and really enjoy it.”
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