65 Bonneville Story

1965 PONTIAC BONNEVILLE CONVERTIBLE

Even though in 2003, I was still restoring my 1928 Lasalle five passenger coupe, I learned in conversations with my neighbour that his brother in Kentucky was interested in selling his 1965 Bonneville convertible. I had sold my 1927 Chevrolet sedan giving me room in my double garage so…l was hooked!

That year I purchased the car basically sight unseen and arranged for it to be shipped from Kentucky by a local auto transport company. Once the car was in my garage, decisions on its restoration began.

HISTORY OF THE CAR

In the glove box were registration documents from California and Kentucky. The earliest California registration of Bonney showed Lodi, California 1982. The earliest Kentucky registration showed Pine Grove, Kentucky 1986. In the trunk were three license plates. A California plate and two of the same Oregon plates with a sticker stack in one corner on each plate with the date of 73.

I was interested in the Oregon plates as the owner in Kentucky mentioned to his brother that Bonney was originally owned by a doctor in Oregon. This year under advice, I took one of the Oregon plates and put a hair dryer to the stack of sticker dates. Carefully, I was able to remove the pile revealing the date 66. Those plates indicated I assumed that Bonney was owned by one person in Oregon from 1965-1973.

So far I have been unable to learn about Bonney’s ownership from 1973-1982. I bought Bonney in Kentucky from the owner who owned the car from 1982-2003.

Looking through the Bonney binder in my garage I found some note paper dated June 2/03. I must have wanted a record of my initial repairs on Bonney. Reading the list 16 years later kind of takes me back a bit. There are 41 items on those three pages. Bonney was the first newer vehicle I restored so I had no idea what was involved but it was 38 years old. Those listed items were required as far as I was concerned for a safe driving vehicle.

THE 389 ENGINE

The list of replacements on the 389 were numerous but not really unexpected. The previous owner’s wife used it as a daily driver for many years. Items such as plug wires and plugs, coil, heater hoses, clamps, etc. were not onerous repairs. I continued to drive Bonney and as I did other items needed repairing or replacements. The exact date has slipped me but between 2006-09, we pulled the engine and took it to a reputable shop belonging to a friend of mine for a rebuild. The shop did a great job on that motor.

I moved from Calgary to Airdrie in 2010 and continued to drive Bonney and continued with upgrades for a better term. In discussions with my buddy who works on old cars as well as Corvettes, we came up with the idea of installing a tri-power to replace the original four barrel. We located one via the Internet and my buddy installed it in 2016. What a great addition to the Bonney!

CLEANING, REPLACEMENTS, REPAIRS

Once Bonney was in my garage the cleaning commenced inside and out, top to bottom. I was rewarded with my diligence when I found a dirty, old US dollar bill. I still have that bill on the wall of my garage. It’s a great conversation piece. One part on the inside of Bonney which could not be cleaned or repaired was the cracked wood appliqué on the dash. Replacements were available online so it was ordered and I replaced the old pieces. The new wood pieces on dash look great!

The trunk was a mess which was expected. It was cleaned out, scraped out and painted. My upholstery buddy made a Pontiac vinyl cover for the spare tire and material lined the whole trunk. It is a very nice, seldom seen part of the car.

One of the tail light bulbs was burned out so it was replaced ASAP. It was not difficult to replace the passenger side bulb, clean the housing, replace the plastic lens and secure the fixture. The driver side was another story. Once removed the lens was cracked and broken. It was necessary to glue the multi-piece lens to make it useable. Years ago this repair was done and the lens is still holding. During the years since the repair, I have been on the Internet looking for a passenger side replacement lens. It was not to be. The only Internet hit was a US character offering both NOS rear Bonneville lenses for an outrageous price. We are still looking for that passenger side lens after 16 years!

THE 8 BOLT WHEELS

Unbeknown to me, the wheels that came with Bonney were a sought after option. When I started to clean the wheels after removing the tires, I noticed they were aluminium and painted between the fins. Once cleaned, sanded, polished and painted, they were an awesome addition to the Bonney. The centre hub caps were in good condition and the chrome rings were replaced with after market ones.

When I took these wheels in for balancing, the shop owner said they could not balance the wheels. They required a special adaptive plate. Through car friends I was able to get a pattern which I took to a Hutterite Colony I have used in the past. They made me the plate which I took to the tire shop so they could balance my wheels. That blue painted balancing plate sits on the spare in the trunk.

THE BONNEY INTERIOR

The interior upholstery on the front and rear seats and the side panels had aged badly and needed to be replaced. My car buddy who happens to be an experienced upholstery installer ordered in the whole pearl white interior. In addition, he ordered the top which had the special option with the tan underside to compliment the interior as well as a glass back window option rather than a plastic one. Sorry but no slurpees, pets or children allowed on these new seats.

BONNEY’S UPGRADES

In addition to the tri-power for Bonney’s 389 engine, there were a number of other options I learned about such as a tilt steering wheel and power front seat. My car buddy also informed me there was an over the counter 4 way flasher available. Some vehicles came equipped with 4 way flashers in 1966 and others in 1967. Governments mandated 4 way flashers in 1967 or 1968 depending on the source one reads on the Internet. We ordered in a NOS flasher which was installed in Bonney. One more cool accessory.

There are two more options to be added to Bonney. Awesome is all I can say, namely, the front power seat and the tilt steering column. I knew zip about power seats being an option for Bonney. Once I heard about it from my knowledgeable car buddy I wanted one somehow.

It turns out that my buddy and his friend were on a business trip east of Calgary and decided to stop into a junk yard they knew about in Tilley, AB. In this collection of wrecks, my buddy and his friend saw a number of wrecks from the 60s and 70s which they knew had power seats. My buddy established a working relationship with the owner by delivering some parts when he returned to Calgary. We talked about the trip and that there were probably working power seat mechanisms in some of those wrecks.  We planned a trip there once the weather improved so it would be dry.

My buddy’s friend also wanted to return with us for a look see so we took off in my truck on a nice warm dry day. My buddy took along his tool kit as he knew it would be needed. When we got there, we asked the owner for a snoop through his collection. The friendly guy gladly agreed so we left and spent a long time looking through his rows of wrecks. During the tour my buddy narrowed down his choice to one wreck which he believed would contain a working power seat mechanism appropriate for Bonney. It was a 1971 Olds station wagon with the passenger door missing and the hood leaning against the opening.

We went back to the office where the owner lent us a battery and cables to test the power seat. Yup, it worked! He had told us to drive my truck to a turn off at the back of the lot so we would be closer to the wreck making it easier to haul the seat to the truck. My buddy and his friend crawled into that mouse infested wreck, unbolted the seat and seat belts and hauled it out the passenger side opening. It was an easy haul to the truck. We drove back to the office so my buddy could negotiate a price for the seat. The agreed upon price was $125.00. Wow, we stopped at the Brooks’ McDonalds so we could celebrate.

We put that disgusting mouse dropping seat with the beautiful power seat mechanism in my back yard and covered it with a tarp until we could get at that power unit. I knew it worked but I had never seen or touched one. Days later, I very carefully removed the mechanism and the side aluminium seat trim which held the controls and placed the whole mechanism on my workbench. The seat I threw into the back of my truck and hauled it off to the dump for only a $6.00 cash dump fee, if you please! I did not touch the mechanism until my buddy showed me what to do.

The parts that needed painting without sand blasting I painted in my backyard. The rusted tracks and lift parts I took to a buddy’s machine shop in Crossfield and sand blasted them. Back home, I painted them and waited for my car buddy to have the time to come over to show me the next step. When he did make it, he showed me that the six worm gear units had to be disassembled, photographed, cleaned reassembled, black greased. He then was able to install these worm gears into the two lift units. It was a messy job but rewarding as we were one step closer to a working power front seat.

Installing that 1971 Olds power seat unit into my 1965 Pontiac seat took experience and ingenuity which lucky for me my car buddy has. The power mechanism needed some fine tuning to fit into the Bonney seat resting on a table in my garage. We had waited till the weather was right to remove and install the seat in the Bonney. My friend had moved Bonney without a seat into the street and backed it up my sloped driveway so that the doors remained open rather than propping them open. That is experience playing out for sure. While he installed the mechanism in the seat, my assistance was definitely not required. I was given the task of cutting out the power controls in Bonney’s seat trim to match the one in the Olds. Once I traced the holes in the aluminium trim piece, I dug out Dremel and files and got at it. Being very careful was time consuming but worth the effort. The power unit looks good and worked when tested.

My friend was ready to install the seat in Bonney. He had already set out the bolts we needed for installation on the front floor. The seat was carefully lifted into position and bolted into place. He hooked up the power and that power seat humming away in all positions was rewarding.

Now the last up grade going in the Bonney is one tough task for my friend. I know zip about tilt wheels. My 27 Chevrolet didn’t have one, neither did my 28 Lasalle nor my 40 Ford so I was again out of my comfort zone. We ordered in a 1965 Pontiac tilt steering column from the Internet. When it arrived, my friend dismantled it and took lots of photos on my workbench.

I was allowed to clean and paint certain parts of the column while he did the same at his place for the upper parts. Please note the separation of powers. When the pieces were dry and time permitted, my buddy returned to assemble the unit. Unfortunately, we decided that the three levers had to be chromed so they were dropped off at a Calgary chroming shop. It would be up to a three week wait. Not to worry. During that delay the power seat was installed with time to spare and wait for the chroming.

My buddy was able to pick up the newly chromed tilt steering levers from the Calgary chroming shop. With diagrams, experience and finesse, the complicated Bonneville tilt steering column was reassembled and installed. What great addition to the Bonneville!