Car of the Week: 1960 Pontiac Bonneville

Story and photos by Brian Earnest

Jack Canfield didn’t really have a “Plan B” when he went to Colorado to adopt a cool Oldsmobile convertible a few years back. But when things didn’t work out and it looked like he was about to get gypped, Canfield unexpectedly stumbled into a pretty nice backup plan.

“I was looking for a ’57 Olds Ninety-Eight convertible. I was all excited and talked to the fella that owned it, and after I talked to him four or five times we worked out a price and I gave him some money down,” recalled Canfield, a resident of New Brighton, Minn. “I was supposed to come down and pick the car up, and he had told me there was no rust whatsoever on the car, and I was paying a fair enough price and I didn’t want any rust.

“So we get down there and he happened to have a hoist in his garage and we put the car on the hoist and I could tell right where all the rust spots were. I said, ‘I can’t take this car. It’s not represented right. I’d like to have my money back.’”

Unfortunately, the owner of the Olds wasn’t in the mood for refunds.

“He said, ‘No, I can’t give you your money back, but I have another car — a 1960 Bonneville convertible — that’s about 90 percent done with a restoration, and I might want to sell that,’” Canfield continued. “So we went and looked at the car and I was happy with it.

“I was a little concerned. I didn’t think he should have kept my money, but it was his prerogative, I guess. But after I saw the [Bonneville] I said, ‘I’m interested, let’s work out a price.’  The next morning before we left to come home from Grand Junction, Colo., he called and said, ‘OK you can have the car.’”

Canfield still wasn’t sure if he had been taken in the deal after he went to pick up the handsome Bonneville. The car didn’t start at first, and it was temperamental for many months after he got it home.

“For two years I worked on getting it started. It would start, then it wouldn’t start,” Canfield said. “So I got a little bothered with that, and I took it to one of my old customers, and he put his meter on it and he found out there was only 3 volts going to the points system, and what happened was there had been two resistors put on instead of just one, and it was cutting the voltage down.

“So I took that second resister off, disconnected it and it started right up and it’s been starting ever since for the last 7 or 8 years.”

Indeed, Canfield has been so pleased with the beautiful Pontiac ragtop that he has collected three of them. “I have two more, so I can compare when one is not [running right],” he joked. “One does not have bucket seats like this one. One is just about as nice as this, all-white with a white top, bucket seats that has factory air conditioning, so it’s very nice.”

Canfield had his dark red convertible for about a dozen years and has been showing and driving it periodically for “the last 7 or 8 years.” Before he began taking it to hobby car gatherings, Canfield had a few details to finish up on the car. He went through a couple of starters before he discovered the extra resistor. He said he’s also rebuilt the carburetor twice. The power top needed some electrical work, the transmission was a bit balky, and there was some chrome and stainless steel that needed attention.

The heavy lifting on the restoration had been done by the previous owner, however, including the bodywork, paint and new interior.

“It’s the original Coronado Red,” he said. “He did the whole interior out of leather. It’s not vinyl, it’s leather. A lot of times when they replace that now they replace it with vinyl because leather is a little costlier.”

It wouldn’t seem right to cut costs on Pontiac’s top-of-the-line machine for 1960. That year, more than 17,000 of the luxurious drop tops were built at a base price of $3,478. You could also buy Bonnevilles in two-door and four-door hardtops. Any of them were a good choice for buyers who wanted smooth cruising and handsome looks combined with a big V-8.

By 1960, the Bonneville nameplate was entering its fourth year. The model had debuted in 1957 as a spectacular, fuel-injected, convertible-only offering. Only 630 Bonnevilles were built that first year, but that was enough to get the model rolling into the future. In 1958, a coupe was also offered and the Bonneville became its own series. A four-door joined the lineup in 1959 — the same year the all-new, redesigned “Wide-Track” Ponchos arrived.

The Bonnevilles were certainly some of the most visually appealing American cars on the market for 1960, with their signature split grilles, distinctive fender scripts, V-shaped crest on the lower front fenders and beltline moldings that ended with three dashes of chrome at the rear. Quad headlamps were integrated into the corners of the grille with two pairs of round tail lamps capping off the long, rounded “fins” in back. Padded dashboards with walnut inserts, courtesy lamps and padded rear seat cushions were just a few of the creature comforts.

The interior is a dazzling combination of stainless and wood trim with pleated upholstery. Canfield’s car is dressed inside with red leather and carpet to match the Coronado Red paint. The black convertible top is hidden under a red boot. “I really enjoy and appreciate the interior. I think it’s one of the finest-looking interiors of the ’50s and ’60s,” Canfield noted.

Under the hood was a 389-cid V-8 that drank through a Carter four-barrel carburetor. The setup produced about 281 hp with the synchromesh and 303 with the optional Hydra-Matic.

Canfield’s car features several noteworthy options, including fender skirts, power steering and brakes, a stainless tissue dispenser below the dash and cruise control. “This was the first year they had cruise control, and it also has the brake lights so when you put the emergency brake on, there is a light that shines so you don’t burn the rear brakes out… There is also a three-mast power antenna and naturally, the power steering and power brakes,” he added. “It’s got the Day-Night mirror; bucket seats, which is very, very sought after; it also has the rear trunk light — you can wheel it out and put it by the front wheel so you can change a tire at night.”

Canfield never dug much into the history of his first Bonneville. He’s not sure how many owners had their hands on the car earlier in its life, and the odometer had been restarted at zero during the car’s restoration. Since then he’s put only a little more than 1,000 miles on the convertible. That’s not many over the span of about eight years, but he insists they have been very happy miles. “It’s just like a modern car because I put radial tires on it, so it drives down the road at 60 or 70 [mph] just as nice as a modern day car, the only difficulty is that it doesn’t have disc brakes. And it’s a heavy car — probably about 4,600 lbs.

“We took it to Back to the 50’s all three days and we take it to the local car shows. I try not to drive it more than 20, 25 miles from home. That’s about it.”

Canfield figures three 1960 Bonneville convertibles is just about the right number for him now, but he admits there probably wouldn’t be any if that Oldsmobile he was after had just been a little cleaner. He’s not complaining, though.

When a backup plan works out this good, you just roll with it.

“I didn’t want that Oldsmobile because it had rust … But I wouldn’t have wanted this if that car hadn’t had rust,” he laughed. “It’s turned out very nice. I’ve been blessed.

“I’ll keep hanging onto this one, I think. I couldn’t ask for anything better, really.”

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2 thoughts on “Car of the Week: 1960 Pontiac Bonneville

  1. Paul V. Battaglia

    Hi Brian,

    Jack Canfield should have pushed that seller for his money back-truly. Second, would you or anyone else then go ahead and do business with that seller on a second car right afterward? NO. I am very glad this all worked out for Canfield in the end, but the fact that Canfield also had problems with staring his Bonny speaks volumes about the seller-a slick guy.

    I am not entirely convinced that this story is accurate. I have a difficult time fathoming the buyer would not engage the services of an apprasier beforehand. Is common horse sense that rare, Brian??

    Very truly yours,

    Paul 800-225-7264

    1. Ray Franks

      I don’t know that the seller was trying to be slick, or just dumb! I’ve been working on old cars for forty years (heck, even my ‘new’ stuff is old now!), and I’ve come across stuff where, like the resistor, if one is good, two aer more better! Oh, well…

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